Anne Currie
27th October 2013
Our God is a Great Big God!

At one am, in August, it can be chilly outside… and there was a slight breeze blowing. The leaves rustled… was it the wind, or maybe some small animal or worse something larger? I slipped down further into the security of my sleeping bag. Being outside, in the night time, can fire up an ancient ancestral 6th sense to be on the lookout for something that may well want to eat me! My instinct is to be back in the cave, shelter or house, with a door or fire between me and the great outside. Darkness can make you feel very small and vulnerable in a big bad world.

However, I pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind and carried on concentrating. Adjusting my night vision, my eyes flicking from side to side as I anxiously scanned the horizon for any movement.

So, was I out on night manoeuvres… on retreat, spending a night under the stars, or taking part in a charity sleep out maybe?

Not a bit of it… I was snuggled up in a sleeping bag, flat out on my reclining garden chair, in my garden, in the middle of the night… watching for… shooting stars!

I don’t get to do it very often… a few times in the year when the meteor showers are at their finest. Seeing a shooting star really is something special. I’m a great addict for all things spacey. And I really love all those wonderful pictures from NASA of faraway galaxies and star nurseries. The crab nebula and the horse head nebula… if you’ve never seen them, look them up online they are spectacular!

Although I love stargazing, you do start to think about how far away the stars are… how big the universe is… and at that point it can be frightening… all that space out there and here we are, small, fragile human beings, on a tiny blue green rock, hurtling around a star. In the end your mind can’t get round the edges of the vastness of it all, and it feels a bit if you are falling through space itself.

In the words of Douglas Adams, ” Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

And of course, all of that, is the creation of God…

But if all that thinking out into space make your tummy wobbly… just think about being that small on God’s scale of things. How amazing and mind boggling is it that God’s chose this little planet; and chose to nurture this strange species, homo sapiens; and then to manifest himself in flesh in our midst, And he chose us out of the entire universe!

Thinking about Psalm 65… the whole thing is a hymn to God’s creation… just what he is capable of. If the universe is too big a scale to wonder upon then just take in the earth itself. From mighty mountains to the power of the oceans. But… at one time, they were all very small… a mountain starts as a speck of dust deep in the earth, the ocean as a raindrop… and all the plants on the planet – each as seed, and all living things as a cell.

Jesus often spoke of small things or things that are seen as small and unnoticed in the world.

He compares The kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed… a tiny little seed which grows into something large enough to shelter all the birds of the air.

The widow who sweeps the floor and hunts continually for a small lost coin.

Sparrows, a small insignificant little bird… but God knows each one by name.

Which brings us to the gospel reading today.

Here is The tax collector. Now he is not your favourite guy in the synagogue. In fact most people there would have thought he should not just be a long way back from the front, but outside the door actually. Not only did he have an unpopular job to start with… who wants to pay taxes… but he worked for the Romans, hated oppressors… For Jesus’ listeners this man could not possibly be a righteous man.

But his prayer is small, simple and direct, asking God not telling. And many people around the world use a similar prayer to this. The Jesus Prayer… “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s ancient, said to have been used by the desert fathers and originated in the sixth century. A simple prayer repeated over and over… it brings peace and stillness, and a drawing close to the heart of prayer and the heart of God.

Now The Pharisee, he prays in a big way… the pious stance, but all the while looking around to see who is doing what, and how he compares to them. Making the big statement about himself… both outwardly and also telling God about it, but is he really that confident inside? Does he tell God how good he is being, because he worries that he isn’t? Easy to bluster and put on a show that you are really confident, when actually inside you are quaking like a leaf. Is that what the Pharisee is worried about, that God won’t see him as an important person. Therefore more self righteous he is… the better he feels about himself.

Self righteousness… believing in our own selves more than God. We are reminded of this when we say the Prayer of humble access before we receive communion.

“We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy.”

When we come to the altar to receive, we come stripped naked of all our pride and self righteousness. For at the altar rail there is a meeting of the vastness of God and the smallness of ourselves. Not small as in not mattering, just small in scale of things.

I’m reminded of a painting I saw recently. It hangs in St. Mary’s cathedral in Edinburgh. It’s called The Presence. It depicts the interior of the cathedral during the Eucharist.

As the observer you are standing at the back of the nave, in the distance is the high altar ablaze with candlelight, priests performing their duties, the congregation kneeling at the altar rail ready to receive. And here at the back kneeling by the furthest chair from the altar is a woman. Obviously in some distress. Clearly not taking communion, possibly thinking herself not worthy, not entitled to God’s grace, or maybe she had been excluded for one reason or another. At the time that this painting was made, around 1910, that could and did happen. She’s entirely alone, everyone has left her behind to go forward. But there, in that moment standing beside her is a glowing ghostly figure of Christ… he’s not in the place where you would think, at the high altar… but with the one person in the church who clearly needs him the most.

In God’s eyes we are not small… not insignificant, not irrelevant, not excluded. Each one of us has a place in God’s heart. Each one of us is loved by him… Every hair on our heads.

“God is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big God is. You may think it’s a long way from sinfulness to forgiveness, but to God it’s the length of an outstretched hand.” (With apologies to Douglas Adams).

Luke 18.9-14, Psalm 65