I have been asked to post todays reflection - which I do with some reluctance since it rarely seems to carry outside its context - while never in any sense a sermon I am reluctant to post sermons for the same reason - anyway as a one-off or in fact a final-off herewith - (with apologies for any mistakes for it is a transcript of what was said and I don't have time today to check it all that thoroughly.
Maybe it has something to do with saying farewells, or perhaps even people risking deeper conversations because they know I am leaving Yorkshire - but new people have been most wonderfully honest and trusting over the past five or six weeks - it simply brings home to be the possibility of genuine faith sharing which is made possible through Imagine and other free wheeling groups which sadly rarely seems possible in formal Church groups.
One common theme seems to be the struggle for faith in the face of the "state of the world".
This is fundamentally expressed as : "how can I believe in God in a world like this."
There seems to be two assumptions behind this thought which the Gospels challenge.
1. Firstly that things "getting better" personally is a sign of the presence of God - whereas the Gospels actually record that the greatest sign of the presence of God comes when, in human terms, things seem particularly grim. In Christian theology healing and hope is to be found at the foot of the Cross.
2. On a much larger canvas in the "cosmic order" of things there is a similar perception - that things "getting better" would be a sign of God presence. This comes in no small part from an increasingly perverse and prevalent interpretation of the Kingdom of God as some kind of "happy clappy wonderland" which is deceptively dualistic.
The Gospels, and especially Mark 13 indicate the reverse. Christ's return will not be heralded by a gradual ascent to meet him - rather as in the Incarnation, the return will be at a time of increased war and poverty and conflict. It will be at a time of increased polarisation between love and evil. As with the Incarnation the whole of the travelling will be dome by the cosmic Christ. Remember that although created by God, creation does not contain within it the seeds of its own redemption. Redemption is always by divine election and creation, not by intrinsic ability.
Travelling last week down from Scotland ( I am looking forward to travelling and driving more as a time to think)! I realised that many people "long to be able to believe in the world in order to be able to believe in God" - the Gospels require the reverse ie that we are called to believe in God in order that we can believe in the world.
The Christian festivals at this time of the year contain the potential to re-inforce the former in a way that is unhelpful.
The Feast of the Ascension is not about the separation of heaven and earth- indeed the reverse is true, it is about the fundamental sealing of the covenant between the two when humanity sits at the right hand of God. While at one and the same time it is the final flourish of the earthly present Jesus which emphases that he is no longer limited by space time, but can appear wherever he wishes and pass through walls etc.
In an associated way we need to avoid understanding Pentecost as the beginning of the work of the Spirit rather than a specific gift-experience of the continually dynamic Spirit (one of many throughout time with many more to come) - if we see it as a one-off which we seek to recapture then we will be blind to the ever-present activity in the present.
People have asked what I have learnt from our experience together - few outside have understood its dynamic - and few I think among us yet understand its potential - whether a stepping stone to some more formal community under the same name - or whether it remains a provisional entity.
I think that what I have learnt most ( and it is an important lesson for one who has been steeped in the life of the Church since birth)is that faith is present among the most tentative and the most questioning - among those who are on a journey. That if individuals are offered a group which has no limits in terms of sharing experience, no norms in terms of expected words, then something rather special can occur - something which I think I see particularly in Luke's Gospel when Jesus encounters particular individuals.
I have always passionately believed that to be a priest is first and foremost to be a person who is sensitive to the presence of God in people - not you note a person who brings God "in" as the biblical image of 'salt' is so often misinterpreted - but perhaps a litmus person which highlights what is already present and at work. I hope that in some small way I have been able to offer that priesthood among you.
What some of you will know is that it has been this experience of Imagine (among others over the years) which has given me the confidence that in my new role and ministry I can go to be a priest outside the confines of the congregational expressions of the Church (while remaining unequivocally a priest of the Church). This is what I mean by being a "mission(al) priest" - a person who seeks out where God is at work in the world around rather than focusing on inviting people into God-like territory which some mistakenly believe is the preserve of the Church
So I leave with my thanks to you, and perhaps more than a little amazed at the depth of thanks which you have expressed to me for which I am also grateful.
So we move into what I believe is the heart of the Christian experience - the greatest divine gift - the Eucharist. "