Sunday, 15 September 2013

Count the cost. Or not.

Proper 18 (2013) Year C RCL Principal

Count the cost.  Or not.

OK, how’s the lego – have you had fun building?  Show me what you’ve made… What do you mean you’ve not made anything???  Why is that?

Hmmm. So we will have to do something – any suggestions? 

Work together, now there is a good suggestion.  And if there are any young people, say, elementary and middle school kids, perhaps you’d like to go around the Church and ask folk if they would be good enough to give you their lego blocks.  I believe Craig is going to help you with some construction work at the back….

And for the rest of us.  What does this mean?  Why lego?

Well let me start with a little more of my story.  When I was first being encouraged to consider looking at this position of Rector I discussed it with Jo, who very quickly said that I needed to talk it over with my Spiritual Director.  My Spiritual Director is a very thoughtful woman with a lot of wisdom and grace which she shares generously.  I explained what I had learned of St John’s via the profile and various conversations and her response was ‘I’m not trying to sway you,but you must go, and be prepared for the cost.’

She carried on – this is a great opportunity for you, and may very well be where God is calling you.  It is exciting and will be challenging and whether you take it or not there will be grief and loss.  If you don’t take this opportunity, or they don’t appoint you, then you will wonder what you have missed.  It will probably be something that will always be a ‘what if’.  If you do go then you will have to deal with losing everything that you are used to.  You will move away from family, from the security and success (and even failures) that are a part of your present position.  You will leave your home and family and friends.

But I think you should go.

Elizabeth was right, as it turns out… But what I really really appreciated was someone laying out in start terms exactly what the cost of following this process of job application and discernment might be.

Sound familiar.  Well it’s Jesus way of doing things as well.  He says we must count the cost of being disciples, of being his followers.  In no more stark terms than in today’s Gospel reading.  Whoever does not take up their cross cannot be my disciple.

Crumbs, Christian life is hard.

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches.  Jesus compares following him to setting off to war, or preparing a major building operation, not something to be taken lightly, and not something to be undertaken without planning to see it through to the end.  Even more so he says ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’.

Crosses would have been a relatively familiar sight to the people Jesus was speaking to.  A grisly, agonising and long lasting form of execution it was used as much as a deterrent to those thinking of disobeying Roman law as a way of punishing lawbreakers.  Crosses were put in prominent places where people would see them, and before each crucifixion the condemned would be forced, as in the Good Friday story we know so well, to carry their cross to their place of execution – a very public spectacle.

So Jesus refers to something that is both familiar and shocking to try and give some idea of the cost of discipleship.  There is no hint in this passage, or indeed in any of Jesus words, that being a disciple is an easy option, or the route to a cushy life.  In fact throughout the Gospels Jesus talks of his own homeless status, about the need to endure suffering, about the threat of persecution, about working hard and about absolute devotion to God’s cause – a devotion that is equivalent to hating family, friends and even life itself.  It’s not an easy thing to hear, it’s not an easy thing to preach and it is a subject that Jesus touches on repeatedly throughout the Gospels.  Being a faithful follower is hard.  It will involve sacrifice, letting go, openness to God’s way of doing things, loving the loveless and the unlovely.  Being a disciple will involve suffering.

But this suffering is not an end in itself, it often comes as a part of the life of the disciple, part of every life – but we don’t follow in order that we might suffer, but we endure suffering that we might be faithful.  Our call is not to suffer, but to remain true to our faith and to the truth of Christ no matter what we endure.

And even from suffering God can bring life.  Jesus suffered and died on the cross that he might defeat the greatest suffering, that of death and the power of sin.  Then through his faithfulness was brought back to life again through the power and the love of God.

“But what has all this got to do with lego blocks?” you may ask.  Well, our life of discipleship is costly and we must be realistic about this.  We are facing change in our Parish and we must be prepared for the cost of that.  As individual followers of Jesus we are told through the Gospel, and in our reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah today, that being formed into the likeness of Christ can be, indeed will be, painful.  Like a potter who needs to break the clay, and mould it and shape it in order to create an item of beauty or usefulness, or both, then God’s work in us, calling us to let go of the things which distract and divert us from being formed into Christlikeness and in learning to seek and serve Christ in one another.

But even more as a community we are being called to consider the cost of our discipleship.  We are undergoing a major building project here, and no I don’t just mean the redevelopment project, but we are seeking to build up our community of faith, our community of worship, our community of worship.  This endeavour is something we have to mindfully set ourselves to doing, and to count to the cost.

Which brings me back to the lego blocks.  They didn’t have a lot to offer when we gave you each a brick on the way in.  But in working together, and in some of us giving up our bricks, and in some of us sharing our resources we, I hope have managed to create something….

In the church we must all take responsibility for the ministry of the Church and no longer leave it to someone at the front, or that the work of ministry will be done only by clergy, staff, or wardens – we all have some responsibility for our own spiritual growth, our education, our calling to serve in the name of Christ here in St John’s and the community to which God has called us.  

It means being willing to take up our cross and follow.

Let’s pray not that we might escape all the troubles of the world, but rather that through everything we may endure and be faithful, allowing the potter to reshape and create something new, fashioning from the struggle something beautiful and filled with purpose.  That we may mature through good and bad and grow up into Christ our head.  And let’s pray that we will have the faith to see God at work, even when it seems the struggle is too much.  Let us pray that we will be realistic about the cost of our discipleship, of being community, of serving our sister and brother in need and of becoming the people we are called to be.

May God bless us in all we endure, and give us strength, faith, hope and love.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The First Sermon for St John The Divine

Well, this is it, my opening sermon.  Don't get too excited, it won't win any preaching awards, nor lead to revival in BC, but I wanted to be clear and straightforward for my first Sunday serving in this place....

It will be available as a podcast soon (oooh, I hear you say, or maybe not)

Warning, I may have used the opening story before....
Eat Drink and be Merry ?

A priest takes up his new role as rector of a parish. All seems well during his first Sunday service and as people start leaving the minister says goodbye at the door and has the usual 'lovely sermon', 'thanks for joining us', 'welcome', 'glad to have you on board' etc from those leaving, until about ten people along a dishevelled looking man says 'long winded', and 'dreadful voice' and then wanders off back into the church. A few more folk shake hands and say farewell with 'thank you for your words for today', 'good to have you here' etc and the same chap returns saying 'boring', 'what have we done?', 'dreadful sermon'.

It happens two or three times, a dozen or so of the congregation come by offering welcome, with this chap returning and saying very negative things. At the end of the welcome following the service the new minister goes to the vestry and the Associate Priest asks 'so how was your first service, then? To which the priest answers 'it was great, though there was this one guy who seemed very strange.' “Oh, says the Associate, don't worry about him, he just goes around repeating what other people are saying.”

Hope I don't that kind of reaction....

I should say 'hello I'm Alastair and I will be your Rector for today... and hopefully a number of days to come” It is a huge privilege to be here, and to have the responsibility for serving you as your Incumbent, and to support you all in your ministry to this local community, and to the city of Victoria. It is a joy for me to be able to share worship with you and to offer some thoughts and teaching to you. In short, I am very pleased to be here, and I look forward to getting to know you and to being your minister.

So, you are probably wondering what your new Rector has to say for himself. I did wonder whether to hijack this sermon and take this time to say something about myself, but actually I want to start as I mean to go on and to offer some thoughts from the Scriptures set by the Lectionary for this Sunday. Also, you have plenty of time to hear about me, and you will discover that sometimes this pulpit, or the front of the dais, or wherever can take on something of a confessional aspect on my part – because I am sharing this journey with you. I am not standing here as the expert with all the answers, but as a fellow pilgrim on this strange, wonderful, disturbing, exciting, hopeful, life giving journey which is following Jesus, on being a person who is struggling with, celebrating and embracing the life of faith. So you`ll get to hear plenty about me. I look forward also to hearing your stories in these coming weeks and months.

When I read the lections for this week, and as I started to really think about how I might start my preaching ministry with you good people of St John the Divine I had a couple of reactions. One was oh yes, what a great set of readings, the second was that if I wasn`t careful I could easily come across as somewhat negative and grumpy as I tried to share something about these passages, particularly the Gospel reading for today.

What I mean by that is, for instance, that when Jesus is asked to sort out a problem for a person in the crowd – when he says tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me – Jesus says no, I am not going to do that for you. It would be too easy to apply that to a discussion on the role of a new Rector.

It`s true that I don`t come to sort everything out and I am not a miracle cure to what we might feel ails the Church! I heard Larry`s excellent last sermon (  and this passage fits beautifully with the idea of the rescuer, victim and persecutor. The kind of game playing, as Larry called it, that Jesus refuses to join in with! I could take that as foundation for my thoughts today and say that I won`t be the rescuer, should anyone feel in need of it! This may be true, but firstly you had a very good sermon on this two weeks ago and secondly what I am sure you would want to hear is what we are going to do, not what isn`t going to happen.

So what I want to do is ask some questions. Questions that I hope will characterise our life as a Church, and our own individual walk as Christ followers.

My first question is `where is God in this` I don`t mean in a simplistic `God turns up at the end of the parable`kind of way – but to ask something which we should ask about every part of our lives. In what way is God active in the whole thing, and in what way do we include God in our activity.

It strikes me that before the shocking denoument of this parable, where the `rich fool` as he is often called is struck down by a God who challenges the man`s self obsession – before that moment God is quite obviously, and deliberately, excluded from the story. In sharp contrast to last week`s passage from Luke`s Gospel where Jesus teaches the prayer we call `the Lord`s Prayer`, the rich man is not content with `daily bread` but stores up treasures for himself. He is concerned not just with fulfilling his needs but with getting as much as he can. He way well have done this through wise stewardship and thoughful planning, though it seems much more likely that is was just `luck` as the passage says `his land produced abundantly`. For this provision there is no gratitude, just a consolidation of the man`s own wealth. And in response to this bounty is not to give thanks to the giver, nor to use it in provision of others, but for this rich man to turn inwards.

`I will say to my soul, Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry`

One writer, Robert Hamerton-Kelly says this turn of phrase is no accident. The word translated `soul` is the greek word `psyche`- the man – with almost comic effect -formally addresses his own ego! There is no acknowledgement of a world beyond himself, but only of his own self-sufficiency, and a sense of self congratulation and, indeed, selfishness!

The result of this, in Jesus` parable is God`s direct, even vengeful, intervention. And a word of condemnation `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be

So where is God in all this.

God is there in the challenge to us, as we engage with this scripture, to consider whether we include him in our lives – not just in our church, but in our attitude to the things we own, to the things that fill our lives, our time, our families.

God is the there in the challenge for us to look beyond ourselves, both in the sense of being ourselves open to the need to engage with the other – in the form of neighbour, colleague, friend and stranger and in the form of the God who wishes to be a part of our every day. Another recent lection, the Gospel for July 14th just gone, sums up this outward looking attitude. Luke 10.27, a young man`s summary of the law to Jesus
`Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbour as yourself`.
In that summary we have balance between loving God with all that we are – intellect, emotion, soul, alongside loving our neighbour, and having an appropriate love for self! It should not be one at the expense of the other. But that may well be a sermon for another time!

But as we are challenged to look beyond our own internal world, we are challenged also as a church community to do the same. And this is my challenge to myself and to each one of us at the start of my service here in Victoria!

There is a phenomenal amount that St John the Divine can be pleased about in the way that this Church community engages with the world around, in the care and compassion that characterises so much of the activity and life of this parish. There is much to celebrate and give thanks for in the shared life and spiritual growth that this parish Church has obviously enjoyed over some years. This is much that is good in St John`s. There is so much going on that I find inspiring, exciting, and I have no doubt enjoyable too! Enjoyable is good, fun is good, inspiring and exciting is good!

But we cannot as a community, as the pilgrim people of God afford to rest on our laurels, to consider ourselves a `successful church`. I know there are things which we want to address and explore as a church in the coming weeks and months. I know there are issues, ideas, concerns and hopes. I`m glad I can be here to share these things with you, as you will all no doubt – as is says in investment advertisements - `past performance is no guarantee of success` we cannot just look to the past, to what we have achieved before and what we have done – but together we will, I hope, discern where God is leading us as his people serving downtown Victoria and one another in this body of Christ.

I believe that God is calling us together to continue to engage with our faith in worship, prayer, learning, wrestling with and understanding Scripture. I believe that God is calling us to engage with one another in this community and to continue to be a place where all are welcomed, embraced and have a place in our life together.

I believe that God is calling us to be a people who share our bounty with others. Who continue to reach out to the people beyond our walls and who help the needy, speak out for the oppressed and powerless, and seek the welfare of all.

I believe that God is calling us to challenge ourselves to grow, to be faithful, to be loving and to be willing to follow where Christ leads. And in all of this I believe the Spirit of God will be the life affirming, live giving inspiration that will help us do and be these things.

And so I will say again that I am very pleased to be a part of this next stage of the life of our Church of St John the Divine, Victoria. I look forward to being with you, to sharing all that is to come, and to laughter, life, love and faith held in common and enjoyed.

May the love of Christ dwell in us richly, and may we Christ indeed be all and in all for us.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

A Sermon For Pentecost

Woohoo - it's celebrate Church day!

Here are my thoughts and words from this morning, at least the script - there was a fair amount of departure from said script!

Year C Pentecost (2013) RCL Princpal

Celebrating Church

Today is a celebration – a day to celebrate Church!  Not a phrase we use very much – hooray let’s celebrate Church is not the usual attitude I have experienced in my years of ministry.  And for those of us in the business of leading within the Church our minds are more often than not on ‘how’ we are doing Church in any given week and how the component parts are going to fit together when we get there!

It’s not often, I suspect, that any of us really think about what it means to be Church and why we ‘do’ Church.  We just get on with it – sometimes struggling, sometimes anxious about what is going to happen.
So to hear the stories of Scripture – the amazing start of the Church at Pentecost, or Jesus talking in terms of doing things greater than him through his Spirit – seems a bit distanced, a bit abstract… not really the kind of Church that we are used to.


Why should the Church not be filled with the same life and excitement, the same peace, hope, love, faith, grace and wonder that we hear about in the stories of Jesus’ relationship with his friends?  Why are we not filled with the power and the worship and dedication that we see in this story of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost? After all, we have the same relationship with Christ. He is alive, and we are called to follow him and know him in our every day lives, to talk to him in prayer, to worship and obey him.  Jesus is here with us- we may not see him but he is! And we certainly have the same Spirit – the one who came as what appeared to be tongues of fire and like rushing wind, who inspired the apostles to speak in many languages and to proclaim the truth of faith – who transformed them from a fearful huddle into a group boldly sharing the life of Christ and who changed Peter from the faltering, stumbling, often blustering one who denied into one who would preach with such authority that three thousand would be added to the believers’ numbers that day!

Why aren’t we like that?  Well the truth is that even for the first apostles and those early Church members it didn’t stay like that.  Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit with signs and wonders soon became the everyday life of prayer, worship and sharing that we read about at the end of the chapter – the bit just after the reading from Acts we heard today.  We are told that they dedicated themselves, 
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds* to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home* and ate their food with glad and generous* hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

So the Church began to establish itself.  They met to pray, they learned to share, they supported and loved one another.  This is the honeymoon period of the Church, they are learning what it means to be Church, they are enthused and excited – but they are winging it, they don’t have a plan, they don’t have structures or any aims beyond growing in faith.  By the time we get to Acts chapter 6 they appoint Deacons to serve at table in the sharing of meals and of resources, they start to have a weekly pattern of worship and the Church starts to spread across the Roman world, learning to incorporate different types of person – slaves, soldiers, tradespeople, families, even eventually becoming the official Religion of the empire.

And as that happened the structures we recognise start to appear.  But they did keep this enthusiasm, they committed themselves to meet together, to share, to pray, to learn from the teachings of Christ, and to have fellowship.  Everything the early Church did was rooted in these things.

So we celebrate Pentecost in order to remind us of the wonder of that first flush of the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, and that way that inspired women and men to work together to grow in faith and to continue that wave of the Spirit – living, proclaiming and being the Gospel.

But we have to ask, and it is a hard question, why are we so far from that kind of expression of Church?  Yes we have two thousand years of experience (good and bad) since then, yes our world is different – but we have the same God, the same Spirit, the same saviour.  Have we tamed the Church, contained the wild and unpredictable Spirit within our buildings: quenched the fire and sheltered ourselves against the wind?
There is still much that this passage of Scripture has to say to us, there is still a challenge and hopefully, an inspiration within these verses.

First of all the promise of the Spirit is still real – still on offer, perhaps not being poured out as was the case in those first days, but promised to us in Baptism.  If we were to carry on with this passage we would read that the family of the Church had an ongoing commitment in which they were sustained – the Holy Spirit was not just for the big stuff, the wonder and ‘wow’ of Pentecost, but was alongside the believers as they learned what following Christ together meant. 

But in order to draw on the Spirit they had to meet together, together – we know how hard it is to get people to travel beyond their village boundaries to worship, but it is part of our calling as God’s people, God’s body, to be united and share together in worship.  Jesus didn’t pray ‘father I pray that they will meet in individual groups dotted around the country, as you and I do’ – he prayed ‘Father I pray that they will be one, as you and I are one.’  The reason for encouraging our parishes to meet together more frequently is NOT because it makes the life of the clergy easier – but because meeting together is what the Bible says we should do.  And when we do, we are encouraged, we grow in faith and we learn to love one another as Christ has called us to.

The story of Pentecost reminds us that the Church was, and should be, radically inclusive.  The Spirit gives different languages in this story so that none miss out on hearing the message.  Now I know that our Churches feel they are welcoming – and you are, you are lovely people/  And yet there is so much more we need to consider if we want to include the 96% of people in our country who have little or no contact with Church.  We need to consider whether the hymns and music that we enjoy are the kind of thing that anyone outside of the Church would get, or enjoy, or feel a part of.  We need to consider whether the words we use are understandable to those who have not heard of prayer books or bibles, and think about how we include them.  We should ask ourselves about whether a world which rarely uses books, where being handed a book or books and bits of paper is completely alien, is well served by all that we give out when people arrive, should we consider again the option of screens, or other ways of encouraging worship.  It is all very well saying “It’s good enough for us” or “I like it as it is.” But the Church is only ever one generation away from extinction, are we going to be the last generation?  We should consider whether our welcome, and our refreshments, are not just ‘good enough’ but make a statement about generosity and hospitality?  And we as a Church need to think whether we are truly able to cope with those who are truly different, those of different colour, or sexuality, or tattoo’d and pierced, the single parents, those who don’t ‘quite know how to behave’?  Do we reflect Christ’s values of being open to the outsider, the stranger, the difficult and the disturbed or would we rather Church stayed as it is for as long as we are a part of it?

And another thing we can take from the early Church, another challenge – they GAVE freely, they shared their money, nothing was withheld.  Now, there’s a lentil eating, kaftan wearing hippie inside me which says “wow man it would be so cool if we all lived in like a totally big house and shared everything.” But common sense prevails and I realise that the commitment was to give – and our own Churches need that.  It is our Christian responsibility to give to the life of the Christian community.  I know I don’t say that enough, but we should be making a significant contribution to the life of the Church if we expect our Churches to continue to stay open and to serve our communities.  We need to consider our priorities and ask whether we give generously in the way that the Bible expects us to.

And the last Challenge I want to consider from this story and that is who is given the Holy Spirit in this Pentecost account?  Well Peter and the Apostles at the start, but the Spirit is poured out on ALL – the work of the Church then proceeds apace and the Church grows exponentially – and though there are leaders and teachers, the work of the church, the ministry of the church, the life of the Church is sustained and maintained by the whole Church.  It is all God’s people that make Church possible – when each one is open to the life of the Spirit, then the Church grows.

We all have a part in the life of the Church.  We all have a responsibility for living and sharing the life of Christ.  It is not the province of ministers, Clergy or lay, or churchwardens or PCC members to ‘do’ church for us.  We are all one in Christ Jesus, called to his body.

So even as we celebrate we are challenged to devote ourselves again – to be devoted to learning from and about Christ, to be devoted to fellowship: meeting and working together, to be inclusive and completely welcoming,  to be devoted to giving and generous with our finances, time and energy and to be filled with the Holy Spirit that each one of us might find our part in the life of Christ and in the work of the people of God.
Thank God for the Church! Amen.

Monday, 25 February 2013

A Sermon on Trusting God and being honest...

Lent 2 (2013) Year C RCL Principal
Honesty and Trust

If someone came to the Rectory telling me that they hear the voice of God, I must admit that I would think the worst.  Just as if someone approached you telling you that they had conversations with the almighty then we might feel a little disturbed.   This is not the kind of person we want to sit next to on the bus….

BUT  Imagine what it would be like if we could talk to God freely and hear his voice!  If we shared such an intimate relationship with God that we were able to sit and chat and be chatted to in return.

That’s the kind of relationship that we are told Abram (he’s not yet Abraham in the passage we heard this morning, his change of name by divine deed poll comes later on) had wit God.  It’s almost chatty, and at times is quite forthright and perhaps even a little bit cheeky.  If we know the story of Sodom and Gomorra we would know that Abram negotiated with God that the Lord would spare the city if a certain number of righteous people could be found – and Abraham pushes his luck – and he knocks God down, we can imagine with a bit of a glint in his eye, and with God responding with a kind of humourous exasperation – to one righteous man. 

That is not to say that Abraham forgets his place: when God seems to ask for the sacrifice of Isaac, on whom all the fulfilment of God’s promises hangs, Abraham prepares the altar. But the ability to whinge at God, or even to question God, is one that Christian piety has rather bred out of us.  And this is the relationship that Abram had with God – a freedom, and openness, a relaxed attitude.  It didn’t distract from the worship, the awe and the respect he showed to God, but there was an ease about it that is inspiring and wonderful.

And this relationship is made possible by Abram’s honesty, by the fact that when God promises a reward to Abram in a vision Abram doesn’t grovel, he doesn’t worship, he doesn’t fall down – he responds to God with complete candour.  “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue to be childless…”

Abram tells God what really matters – he doesn’t beat around the bush (that doesn’t come until Moses!).  Abram let’s God know his deepest longing – no fluff, no diversions, straight to the point.  I don’t know about you but when I pray I sometimes fall into the trap of ‘O Lord you are so great and wonderful, and if you could just do this or this…’ Worship becomes a way of twisting God’s arm.  Sometimes prayer becomes a shopping list, or a bargaining session – well Lord if you’ll just do this then I promise I will do this, and if you’ll just do this then I will  etc etc’;

And God responds to Abram’s honesty by making a promise, that if Abram will trust then this deepest desire will be fulfilled – more than that, Abram’s descendents will be as numerous as the stars in the sky…  And Abrams’ response – this is perhaps the most amazing part of the story – verse 6 of Chapter 15 of Genesis ‘…he believed the Lord: and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.’. The enormous compassion of God in responding to what Abram desperately wants is matched only by Abram’s trust that God will deliver it. God sees his trust and “reckons it to him as righteousness”

This relationship is one of mutual trust, one of giving, of listening, of responding.  And to show just how solemn this trust is we have a ritual that was considered one of the most binding and important symbols of a contract that was possible in those days.  By cutting animals in half and walking between them a person was saying that they would keep their half of a contract, they would be bound to their promise, or allow themselves to be slaughtered like the animals they walked between.

And God passes through these carcasses in the form of a flaming torch and a smoking fire pot.  God is the one who makes this binding agreement, to give Abram the land which was to become Israel.  God responds to Abram’s trust and to his faith and to his honesty by piling on love, by graciously giving to Abram all he could long for.

And this theme of trust carries on in the passage from St Paul’s letter to the Phillipians that was our other reading for this week. Philippians picks up the theme of trust in God’s promises. Just as Abram trusts that God will give him a son and a land and an inheritance as incalculable as the stars in the sky, so, Paul urges his readers, we too have to trust in the bigger promise.

Paul offers harsh criticism too those whose trust is not in God, but whose ‘minds are set on earthly things’, as he says.  He actually calls these people ‘enemies of the cross’.  It’s a difficult thing to hear, particularly if we are trying to be as honest as Abram – for if we are honest we will probably all say that perhaps we are a little to focussed on the things of the world, and not really as open to God’s ways as we should be.

But that honesty is the basis for a relationship of trust with God.  If we trust God enough to confess our own lack of faith God will respond to that trust.  Apparently, this willingness on the part of God to accept our trust in him as the equivalent of actual goodness is an abiding characteristic of God. We see it over and over again, not least in Jesus’s response to the penitent thief on the cross.

So we have these two themes of trust and of honesty.  In our relationship with God one begets the other.  If we will be open with God then God can be open with us.   God will not turn his back on us, he will always give us the benefit of the doubt, no matter how inadequate our trust feels. 

And God will respond – we may not hear his voice, or see visions, or feel led to cut up animals – but our faith will grow, our closeness to God and to other Christians will grow.  And if we learn to listen we will hear the voice of God – through the Bible, in the traditions of the Church, through the teaching and words of fellow Christians, and sometimes in the blinding insight that seems to come from out of nowhere.  God will speak to us in so many little ways – and as we grow in faith we will learn to hear him more and more.

And so let’s begin by being honest with God about what we long for, and by being honest about our lack of faith and our need for God’s help.  Just as God does not laugh at Abram’s longing for an heir, so he does not laugh at our needs and desires. But their fulfilment will be his doing, not ours. Abram has the extraordinary and terrifying privilege of seeing the signs of God as he commits himself to his promise.

Now if we ask if God is still willing to keep his promises to us, we only have to remember that we have seen the Son of God allow himself to be slaughtered like Abram’s animals to fulfil that promise. May we all learn to trust in that promise more and more.