Rev. Andrew Cunnington
1st September 2013
Carving Out The Shape Of My Highway

As good people of Surrey, I am aware that when you travel from Redhill you prefer to move in a northerly direction. Towards the capital city! Southwark Cathedral! IKea! Oxford Street! The Kia Oval Cricket Ground and even to Bloomin’ Crystal Palace.

But you must have occasion to also travel south? At Least sometimes. Along the A23, your face set resolutely towards Brighton, and indeed to cross that most dangerous of borders – into the Diocese of Chichester!

And if you’ve passed that way this year, you will have come across the road works. The road works that slow your journey down to almost a standstill. Speed cut to forty, your way becomes slow and narrow as you crawl past thousands of bollards, great mounds of earth, long deep trenches, mechanical diggers and temporary huts. Signs which tell you there will be a free rescue if you had the misfortune to break down, I wonder about that! A rapidly changing billboard that warns you that 243 speeding offences were committed along this stretch last week, a sharp command to get in your lane and stay in your lane and then most worryingly of all – delays expected until mid 2014. How is anyone going to get home for tea!

I cruise along obediently, 40mph, with time to gaze at the mayhem and wonder if it will all get done in time or whether there will still be road works along the A23 when Brighton get to the Premier League or that Diocese finally does the right thing by women.

That part of the Epistle to the Hebrews which formed our first reading today is a challenging piece because it invites us to look long and hard at our lives and our motivations for doing and saying things. I think it invites us to consider our lives as roadway under reconstruction and to what extent the new shape being carved out reflects what we discover to be true in Christ.

“Prepare the way of the Lord” the prophet once cried and Hebrews painfully asks, so are you doing it and how?

Jesus proclaims “ I am the way, the truth and the life” and the Gospel tells us that this is an ever widening way. It is a way that makes room for people whoever they are and draws them towards a destination we have come to describe as a kingdom.

As my life of preparing the way and widening the way continues to fall short so I have to contend with the truth that there are always road works along my particular stretch. Bollards and traffic lights and speed ramps. Long delays possible with me I’m afraid and not likely to be sorted by mid 2014.

I can assess my progress in two ways. In the matters I can change and influence and in the matters where I can do little more than hold a view up for discussion.

The challenges in Hebrews come thick and fast.

Do you view those who are different from you with initial suspicion or a warmth of welcome, because actually the newcomer is possibly the holy one?

When you pray, are your prayers perfunctory or are they uttered as if you were actually inside the skin of those you know to be suffering? Those you know to be facing torture? Those you to be on the receiving end of war?

Do you believe that God is involved in your daily life or is he remote?

Do you see every relationship in your life as having the potential to mirror the way God loves his people, and especially those relationships with nearest and dearest ones?

Can you point to moments in your life where you have chosen a way forward because of a Gospel conviction rather than a desire to go with the crowd?

In spite of the difficult times we live in, can you find that inner contentment which does not come from escapism from issues but rather from a conviction that he has said to us so many times “ do not be afraid”?

There are two common threads in all these random challenges. Trust in God and love one another. And underneath that to realise that many of the things we get wrong or become broken is because we end up being the victims or the purveyors of fear.

I can look over my week and see to what extent my highway journey has mirrored these principles and to what extent I have taken the slip road onto my own private country lane. But I also have to try to put them up against the big issues of the day and search for their relevance and insight there too, and if I can’t, then it’s not much of a Gospel,if been on about.

This week being away, I’ve had more time to listen to the news and engage with the “fors” and “againsts” of proposed military action against Syria, and as the views fly off the pages of my newspapers and from the mouths of politicians it is to find myself searching in vain for the ethical, moral or spiritual foundation, call it what you want, for what gets proposed, so we end up with alternatives between different forms of political expendiency.

Personally, I think, doing and saying the right thing, based on Christian convictions, becomes a tougher and tougher assignment. What the Gospel might say and how we choose to articulate such truth becomes a whisper scarcely heard, and when it is heard it gets ridiculed and misrepresented.

Can it be, from a Gospel viewpoint, that the right response to that dreadful chemical attack, should be more violence? If so, where might we go to within our faith, to reach that conclusion? And if we are content to leave faith to one side at such times, then what sort of faith is that?

For me the path of what you might call pacifism is one I have long grappled with and yet can’t quite get to. There may be times you see, when aggression does have to be met with aggression, I cannot deny it, but I am increasingly uncertain as to when those times are.

I know that in the moments of my life when I have been stirred to anger, it never does any good. Resentment just mounts and that which was united becomes more and more fragmented, until finally what I need is, and what will only do the trick, is someone brave enough to step in with words of peace and an offer of reconciliation., and to do that is to take the most dangerous place of all.

And for me, Jesus of Nazareth is the one brave enough. He steps in with that painstaking alternative, which is his very passion and behind it the very motivation we find for those words from Hebrews today.

His coming to live as one of us and die as one of us, showing the greatest power there ever was coming as a tiny cradle of peace and offering a new way.

A new highway that should be the shape of his disciple and his church, and my failure to conform is why the A23, heading south, in its current state is both my parable and my pilgrimage.

Slow down to 40! There’s no need to rush actually. Look at the roadworks of your life and see them not as inconvenience and failure, but the places where his blessing of you will start to be found.

HEBREWS 13: 1-8 15-16 Luke 14: 1 7-14