Rev. Andrew Cunnington
14th October 2018
Embracing The Open Landscape

Before we go any further I need to just check I’ve got everything…

Wallet and debit card… and let’s just count the cash… I’m not sure now that this is enough.

Train tickets… I’ve got a whole pile of them… are these the ones for today…?

E tickets for plane and ferry… I hope this is all I needed… one bit of paper doesn’t seem right.

Confirmations of reservations, mustn’t lose these, squirrel them away.

Mobile phone and charger. Wife said… lose that charger on pain of your life. Kindle. Hearing aid battery supplies. Glasses and glasses case. Contact phone numbers.

Keys… now keys… I haven’t got them… not a single one.

But I don’t need keys to home or to church or hall or even the safe… not where I’m going.

There must be other things though, there must be… but here comes the 7.59 Thameslink and I need to haul my stuff on board.

Me and the rich young ruler in our Gospel reading. Two blokes with so much in common.

We both want to follow Jesus and yet we both have so many possessions.

Look at him in that reading.

He comes running to Jesus and kneels before Him. He wants to know what He now needs to do to become a better follower. He has done so much already, trying to keep the law, trying to do what’s right and recognising Jesus for who he is.

I bought a whole list of doing things away with me too. Thirty years with a dog collar round my neck. Have I done it right? What more do I need to do?

Jesus meets all the rich man’s babble with a look of love. A look the rich young man probably doesn’t see in all his bluster, kneeling there face to the ground.

Jesus’s rejection of him must have been a hammer blow. Yet He knew there were things that man had to dispose of before He could follow any further.

And the first thing was to just shut up a minute. Shut up a minute and look into the face of God.

I had hoped that during my time away Jesus would come to me where I was. Snuggle up next to me. Like a teddy bear saviour. Assure me that I was doing well and give me some straight forward inspiration that I could pass on to you.

But I soon discovered that Almighty God was having none of that.

Day after day we sort of walked together into intriguing villages, unusual churches, amazing ancient sites, quirky tea shops and strange people, but always we ended up in the same place.

The place where the footpath petered out at the coast. Where there was no ferry to the next island. No bus going my way. No people and no places. So many times God seemed to tip me out before an open landscape of sea, and distant islands. Of towering cliff faces and awesome rock formations. Of complete silence interspersed with the breath taking miracles of seals on the rocks and eagles flying round me.

What must I now do – called out the rich young ruler and myself in a strange sort of unison.

Clear your landscape Sunshine is the unnerving reply to both of us.

Let all the pre conceived ideas that you have of your God and the way you have so comfortably boxed them up in your ministry, let them go on this wind and on this tide and let me be God without restraint. Just for once in your life.

And I know why you won’t do it… I know why you need all those tickets and emails and why the phone charger is so important, it’s because if you let me be God, you know, the cross you have to carry will only get heavier.

So what is the landscape we each have before us today. Crowded out or wide open. The rich young ruler’s was certainly crowded out and he came to Jesus to find out how he should crowd it out even more. I’ve done this and this and this… now what must I DO.

What you must do is clear a space so that the unconditional love of God for you is allowed to be that.

Let God be God. Let Christ be Christ. Let Holy Spirit be Holy Spirit.

And how do I do that… just be rooted in prayer.

And when you allow your prayer to be that which jettisons what you thought totally defined you, maybe we’re on to something.

Within hours of being back and looking at emails for the first time in three months and catching up with the busy life we share, of course my landscape is becoming as crowded as ever, and with it I am already cutting God back down to size.

How to let these things not possess us, not define us, how to address the needs of each day with the God whose love overarches us all, and whose look of love bares down upon us whilst we become screened off. Staring into our phones. Stuck on the laptop.

My last day on the Shetland Islands was the only one that was desolate. You don’t want to be in Lerwick on a rainy and a windy Sunday when you have hours to kill before the ferry to Aberdeen.

Round the corner from the little place where I stayed was the local catholic church and its doors were open all hours. The main church was unremarkable but a sign on the outside read – to the chapel.

And arrow pointed me round the back through the garden hedge and into the next door garden, into a sun lounge set out with chairs and on into a kitchen with tea and coffee and a study piled high with books, and finally a low narrow door way off to the side of it and this lovely chapel and on the altar, the tabernacle in which the consecrated bread and wine was kept and on the door of the tabernacle… in big red letters “I am who I am”.

The rain battering down outside, my baggage in a corner and here I am marooned with these words.

Let me be the God I am – which is not necessarily the God you want me to be… because there is more love in me than you ever imagined – and I will continue to set these words before you and the people you serve back home – so that you may know it and live it.

I stand before the tabernacle and finger the words of this monumental engraving – and then the church cleaner walks in… and gasps in horror… and almost falls over… to see me there. Beard out of control by now… hoodie on and dirty walking boots, back pack by the door.

“Oh I’m so sorry to startle you” I begin “I just followed the signs… and it’s OK… I am a Priest.”

I can feel her taking a step back and thinking… this man’s a nutter what can I do.

But as I explain everything, we both relax and she says I can stay all afternoon if I want to.

I am who I am. That’s true of God and true of me too and true of the person I am with, whoever that happens to be.

In the far flung edges of remote Scottish Islands I discovered the rich ruler in me and was challenged to do something about me desire to add God to my list of possessions, but I found God just as closely in that tiny chapel and in the kindness of Vera the cleaner.

And as she switched on the heating in that chapel and boiled the kettle for coffee, so I took out my notebook and began to draft some thoughts for this sermon.

And at the end of the morning if anyone says to you… so what was Fr Andrew’s sermon about – and you say… Oh we heard about his journey… you’d be wrong… its about yours.

MARK 10:17-31