I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Lewis Carroll’s Alice through the Looking glass. In the second chapter Alice is intending to walk from the house through the garden to a high hill that she spies in the distance. Alice sets off on a path that looks to be leading straight up the hill. However, she finds that however far she goes the path seem to twist around and deposit her back at the house!
After many frustrating attempts Alice happens upon a bed of talking flowers (this is Looking glass world after all) and their advice is to go in the opposite direction to get to where she wants to go. This she does and arrives at her goal.
Alice thought, like most of us that the quickest and best way to get to where she wanted to go, was to move in a straight line. And very often this is so, but that’s not always how it happens, and certainly not in the upside down back to front world of the Looking Glass.
Reading the bible, we often find that coming into to God’s presence is not a question of believing and then straight to the kingdom. The Old Testament reading for this morning is how Moses had to move away from his path to investigate the burning bush and look where that took him!
Take our gospel reading this morning, We know that the disciples and Jesus were on this journey to Jerusalem, but they’d gone via Tyre and Sidon and various other places discovering and learning along the way… Peter has come to the amazing knowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed king.
Therefore, in Peter’s mind the next logical move probably went something like this – planning for the journey up to Jerusalem, picking up some supporters along the way, storm the temple and install Jesus in his rightful place as king… simple… the son of man in his rightful place, God’s kingdom is within grasping distance! And there they will be to witness the culmination of God’s plans.
You can imagine their shock when Jesus tells them what’s really going to happen.
Yes, we’re going to Jerusalem, Yes, the kingdom is coming soon, Yes, the Son of man will be exalted… BUT suffering and death must come first.
Peter’s shock leaps off the page… like all of us when confronted with bad news about a loved one, our first reaction is denial… ‘God forbid it Lord, this must never happen!’
Peter’s concern however gets a stinging rebuke from Jesus as he attempts to explain again that the way to the kingdom isn’t as cut and dried as they think it is… especially not for them.
As he explains … they, and anyone else who follows him will be taking up their own cross too… for as Peter has discovered love is cross-shaped. When we love it leaves us vulnerable but can also make us strong in our weakness.
Following Jesus’ is always liable to be an upside down back to front kind of affair because God does not think like we do. We might think that God sees everything back to front, but you could say that actually God sees everything the right way round, and it’s us who are looking in the mirror and seeing things backwards.
Paul has worked this out. In his letter to the Corinthians he states For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. Cor.13.12
Here in our text this morning from Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially the second part, Paul is putting forward how Christians should live in the public world in public life. We can see that to be able to live up to these challenges, especially for those in the public eye, takes real creativity and diplomacy. Revenge, sanctions and reprisals might seem the straightforward thing to do… but does it really solve the problem?
COVID-19 has really changed how we live our lives, has stopped us in our tracks literally during the lockdown, and it will take some time before we can return our lives to something like normal. Especially how we worship for example…
Here we are back in the church again, together but separate. Socially distanced. Masked, and silent. No touching, no physical sharing, no chatting before and afterwards – that’s so not St. Matthew’s. Or maybe we are viewing the service online… each in our own little bubble.
For the church, at this moment in time, this is their cross… how will we continue to go forward? Will the parish church, as some have said recently, no longer exist in the future? Falling congregations mean that parishes may become unable to support the expense of their buildings and staff. This virus has spun us around on the path and we need, as a church to find ways of still being a community, but in a different way to the past. We must not, as a church, cling so tightly to ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’, and try to hang onto those traditions at all cost, that we lose sight of our goal, which is to bring in God’s kingdom. And that bringing in might take us down paths that we haven’t thought of before.
Eventually, Alice finds the red queen and the hill, and we pray that we will one day find God and the kingdom in full view. But, like Alice, the path that takes us there may not be the most obvious one.
In the name of the father…