Rev. Andrew Cunnington
24th February 2019
His Direction of Travel

Dear Father Andrew,

I am sure you would like to join us in a great fundraising initiative in support of local charities.

On Bank Holiday Monday, I would like to invite you to join with other community leaders in walking barefoot over hot coals to help us raise some money for deserving causes.

I said to my Committee that I knew you would be willing to take part as you are a man of faith – and walking on hot coals is simply a question of mind over matter. We can provide a little training on the day itself if you need it.

I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Oh! But I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do it at all. As far as I am concerned hot coals are what they are. Hot coals. And I really don’t like my feet and toes being exposed to anything.

But what to do and what to say?

Will I grit my teeth and appear strong and confident and just do it – or was I going to allow myself to appear timid and anxious – either way actually I could end up a laughing stock.

The question was – was I trying to be God – or was I content to be just a man.

Leaving you with that dilemma standing over me – let me take you out on to the M25. To the familiar scene of a traffic jam on the anti clockwise section between Junction 8 at Reigate Hill and Junction 9 at Godstone. I sit in stationary traffic which has not moved for over twenty minutes whilst in the opposite direction the traffic flows smoothly and speedily – I see someone I know go flying by with not a care in the world– and while I sit stifled and sticky.

When we turn to our two readings for today – we have two images of God standing in stark contrast.

In Revelation I am being taken up to stand before a throne. The throne is surrounded by glittering things and shiny sparkling things and everyone’s attention is drawn to the God who sits at the centre and every voice is raised in praise and honour of Him and now I am invited to raise mine amongst them.

In Luke I am out on a boat in the middle of the lake – but it is not the picturesque experience of many a pilgrim for there is a great storm and threat of imminent drowning for all those on board. God is not in a place of honour here, rather his throne is the stern of the very boat in which I travel. He is as drenched and in as much danger as I am.

And the question is which vision of God is uppermost for me and you?

At the end of the festival of Nine Lessons and Carols it is my privilege and joy to read the final lesson. The beautiful poetry of John’s Gospel – and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us full of grace and truth.

And then on Good Friday at around 3pm I will turn to another page in that same book and set before you a very different scene. That same great God – that identical Word made flesh – now pinned to a cross and crying out “My God Why have you forsaken me”

And in my journey of faith I am increasingly asking myself who it is I really understand this Christ to be.

Not to put it too crudely…

Top down or bottom up?

The truth is surely this – that Christ has been part of God since the very beginning of Creation, and always will be. Yet for a brief time, some thirty five years, he became like you and me and his experience of earthly life was such that he identifies completely with you and me and all the things we go through. And knowing us from the inside – he is ever merciful, eternally forgiving and he saves you and me right into the very centre of His love.

I believe that. I totally believe that.

Yet, His direction of travel is from heaven to earth – from God into man and back again – a mere visitor – a pilgrim even – down into my life. Heaven is where he truly belongs.

And that’s not the road I travel.

But what about if there was a boy who was the Son of a carpenter and as that boy grew he became aware that into his ordinary human state was growing a sense of God. A sense of God not just out there beyond Him – but growing in Him – taking shape through all his human experience until He knew Himself to be of the same body, mind and Spirit of God Himself.

That’s more like the road although I’m not sure I am even round the first bend yet. Nowhere near the destination – but hiking along with people like you….to see how far we might make it true as a church.

Top down or bottom up? God on a throne in heaven or out on a fishing boat upon a stormy night.

Would your Jesus stride across hot coals easily if he had to – or would his feet swell with blisters and his voice cry out with pain.

You and I are not God – we are human, but at our best we aspire to become as His body – that’s what church is about – that dangerous, dangerous exclamation at the passing of the peace – We are the body of Christ!

The question is important because it asks us this – as we travel along – does Christ travel with us or is he going in the opposite direction.

Where is your home O lord – and where is my citizenship based – up in your heaven or down in my heart!

Now you might have a nice neat little answer to all this and say – well the Holy Spirit and the whole dynamic nature of God – means he is in both places.

But the place I apprehend Him most is surely when He travels with me. That’s why I love the story of the road to Emmaus – and Jesus in the boat on Galilee – and of one who invites me to sit at the very table he is at.

Jesus next to me. Growing and living in me. Working alongside of me – and the expectation in my poor heart and yours – that this is true.

And then if Jesus is on the same journey as me – also fearful of hot coals and stuck in traffic – my moral decisions will be informed by one close by and not far away.

In all the controversy of Shamima Begum – the words that struck me most deeply was the political decision– we strip you of your citizenship.

If God walks beside me – if His coming to earth in Jesus means that he truly knows everything about me – he would have had due cause many times to strip me of my citizenship of his kingdom for just like you the pathway of my life is littered with failures and misjudgments, poor decisions and incidents of hurting others that go way beyond what I am aware of. To claim a place in God’s kingdom alongside who I know myself to be – is presumption of the highest order.

And yet, I live to tell the tale that his mercy is relentless and his compassion is without end. The times he will pick me up and set me straight are without number. In spite of it all he stays close to me as He does to you. Repentance and forgiveness is the daily tide and endless rhythm to my days.

So I have no right to strip anyone else of their citizenship or push away another – when God never does that with me – or you.

If Jesus travels with us – we have to be consistent – as He deals with us so we deal with others.

And if His love does have boundaries – I’m not sure I have hit up against them yet.

But in a discussion with a lovely friend where we can disagree without becoming heated.

But that girl is neither a Christian nor repentant and there is surely a difference between the little things we get wrong and being involved with a terrorist organisation.

And I found myself drawn to the Prodigal Son and the father in that story waiting and waiting for the unlikely return of his wayward one. Ready to greet him, accept him and redeem him whatever state he was in.

This mercy of God that you and I have become wrapped up in – is a disturbing thing – for it seems to me there is no end to it.

We get a stronger and stronger sense of the truth of that – the more we accept he walks along the same path as we walk. In the same boat. At the same table. In around the same town the more his love invades us – the more we are left with no choice.

Top down or bottom up – yes it is both – I have to concede – but the notion of the Christ like growing from where you and I are – rather than falling down from above is something I hover on the edge of – and still have not got to grips with.

I turned down the chance to walk on hot coals – for pain is real. And I for one will not belittle that.

I thought I saw Jesus speeding along happily on the traffic free side of the M25 – and then I glanced at the passenger beside me in the traffic jam and saw that I must have been mistaken.

LUKE 8: 22-25