Once in a thousand year floods in Cumbria: November 2009

BLOGGING JUST FLOWS SOMETIMES. At other times it’s floods of words that overwhelm. It’s as well that God, the Word we know in Jesus, is content to keep silence alongside us.  It’s the silence, sometimes, that assures us of the presence of a saviour. It’s in the silent spaces in our worship here that I most fully sense a redeemer.

And – God help us – we need a saviour. We need redeeming. So much of the Church’s conversation in recent months has embarrassed me. Who’s in and who’s out? Who’ll “stay” and who’ll “go”? “Who is on the Lord’s side?” – and who’s not. When may we turn a blind eye to persecution and when not.

I know I’m not alone in having wondered whether anyone in the Church reckons to take gospel – good news – seriously anymore? In the contemporary Church it’s all too easy to find oneself marooned on an island in the midst of an ocean of cruel words. Where’s the gospel to be seen and heard? Where’s the good news for all humankind?

Jesus spoke and still speaks of good news for everyone: whatever the colour of their skin, or the name of their place of birth. Male, female, straight or gay. From East and West, from North and South, people matter before all else to Jesus. His religious certainties were bound up, every one of them, in the confident proclamation that God’s love must prevail.

What will help to grow God’s kingdom of peace? Running dangerously close to adopting mere modern management language our parish and diocese are currently engaged in a process called Growth Action Planning – or GAP for short. Other parishes and other dioceses are engaged in similar exercises that they’re calling Mission Action Planning – or MAP.

GAP or MAP amount to the same thing. Where’s the gap between what we are and what we’re called to be,  and is there a map that’ll show us the way out of the ecclesiastical impasse the Church at home and abroad seems currently to be embedded in. God lives in his people, in the whole of Creation.

How might we clear the way in order that we may the more readily recognise divine presence in one another? How may we engage in the kind of Growth Action Planning that Jesus led the way in amongst his contemporaries on earth 2000 years ago? How may we “give God worth” (worship) in one another instead of being an embarrassment – perpetually washing dirty linen before a by now largely uninterested public?

Oddly, and not for the first time, the gap is seen to be closing in parts of Cumbria this week. There’s not much talk in Workington or in Cockermouth today about “the gay debate” or women’s ordination. Not much talk about getting “bums on pews” or the rights and wrongs of a million religious views. But there is something of a Communion to be celebrated. Food and drink – “bread and wine” are being shared by and amongst a people whose priorities have been changed.

Christmas shopping has given way to clean-up operations. Who’s in and who’s out are non-issues. Flooded by words as well as by water there’s a sense of the fragility of human life. The Christmas Tree stands battered and without lights. Modern day Noah stands battered but illuminated from within. In a police officer’s life given up for the lives of others, in the fearful bravery and selflessness of dozens and dozens of “ordinary” human redeemers, olive branches are brought home to the ark builders.

Ways will be found to rebuild bridges … and in more ways and in more times and places than just one. Here is Love. Here is gospel. Here are redeemers. Here are people BEING what Jesus Christ inspired his disciples to be. Mind the GAP. Dangerous gaps are to be found wherever we question “who’s in and who’s out”, wherever we’re too quick to denounce the lives of others as “the work of Satan”.

If there’s not room in the loving embrace of God for all of us there’s no room in the divine embrace for any of us. As it is, by divine providence, any who need to eat of bread or to drink from a cup, any, that is to say who are alive and human in this world, have access to Communion. That’s God’s answer. That’s God’s Growth Action Planning … something plainly recognisable in many faith traditions. Something plainly recognisable in the marvellous and extraordinary gift of human life generally. And it closes the gap.