Run No. 54 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 44’03” (PB 38’ 28”)
Run No. 55 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’44” (PB 38’ 28”)
Run No. 56 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’02” (PB 38’ 28”)
Run No. 57 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’02” (PB 38’ 28”)
Can the act of running change the place we run through?
It’s a somewhat bizarre idea. Yet for people of faith it is a core belief that somehow our presence, or more correctly, God’s presence in us, brings transformation.
The Bible is full of calls for those who are open to God to live differently, Jesus will speak to his followers of being salt and light in the world;
“You are the salt of the earth…
“You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Salt speaks of preserving, purifying and light obviously is opposed to darkness and all that symbolises.
So the presence of people who are open to God, living according to his values and priorities, showing his love to the world, should by their presence, change the nature of the place where they are.
There is a poetic picture of this in the psalms, it is a pilgrim psalm, a song sung by the people of Israel as they made their annual pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem.
‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.’
The word ‘Bakah’ means to weep, and this word play seems to be intended. The idea is that as the worshipping band of pilgrims pass through this place of weeping they transform it.
The Hebrew word for ‘pools’ is ‘berakah’ which also means ‘blessing’.
So ‘bakah’ becomes ‘berakah’, ‘weeping’ turns to ‘blessing’; as God’s people pass through.
Some of this is the natural effect of their different way of living and relating, their kinder, gentler, more loving approach to others.
However there is also a sense that something is happening at a spiritual, supernatural level too.
Jesus spoke a lot about the establishment of the ‘Kingdom of God’. This was not going to be a socio-political entity, but rather a mystical/spiritual one.
The Kingdom of God comes when people choose to live under the authority of the King. When individuals and families choose to turn away from selfishness and evil and to live in a way that pleases God, that is when the Kingdom comes. As such it comes invisibly, it comes slowly, and yet its presence is powerfully felt and radically transformative of society.
In the second century an unknown author remarked on this fact;
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe… But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.
They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honour; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word — what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.
Epistle to Diognetes c. 130A.D.
Although the author was not a follower of Jesus himself, he could not help but notice that the presence of Jesus people in a society transformed it for the better.
So the Kingdom of God is established by the simple presence of those who live under the authority of the King.
In the Old Testament the Kingdom of God is foreshadowed by the Promised Land, this territory that God will give to His people.
There are a couple of verses that speak about how they are to take possession of this land;
I will give you every place where you place your feet.
Every place where you set your foot will be yours
I will give you every place where you set your foot
It is simply by being present that they earn the right to the land, God will give them wherever they are willing to go.
As we run, do we run with this in view?
Are we people of salt and light whose lives, values, behaviour, conversation, and priorities are so radical and strikingly different to those of society around us, that our simple presence brings transformation?
Are we asking God to establish His Kingdom in every place where our foot falls?
Run with a mission.
Total Distance 8.8km Total Time 50’ 37” (Geologically slow)
Run out to and around Watermeads Country Park again. Going around King Lear Lake I was distracting myself from the pain by going over my sermon for Sunday Morning at St James the Great.
I was preaching so well, so erudite, so interesting, so spiritually dynamic (at least in my own imagination!) that I missed the turn off and ended up doing a second circuit of the lake.
This somewhat damped the warm spiritual feelings I had been having up to this point.
Next time I may leave a trail of lentils…
So you can judge for yourselves the quality (or otherwise!) of my sermon, here is the text;
Shaped by God Sermon:
(Texts: Genesis 1:1-12, 1 Peter 2:1-12, Matthew 13:31-32)
The Christian message is, at its heart, a tale of trees.
The creation story we read culminates its description of the world that God had made for humankind to live in with trees. Trees that will bear fruit for people to eat. All that God makes is good, all that God makes is fruitful, all that God makes brings Him glory.
The next chapter of genesis brings into the story two other trees, supernatural strange trees. In the middle of the garden are the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – which is forbidden to humankind – and the other the tree of life – which is not forbidden.
As we know Adam and Eve make the wrong choice. They disobey God, they rebel against Him, they refuse to believe He has their best interests at heart and they eat from the wrong tree.
In that act of disobedience they break the relationship they enjoyed with God, they also break the relationship between themselves and they also break their relationship to the created world.
Access to the tree of life is dependent upon a right relationship to God, in fact as Jesus will say later, eternal life flows from a right relationship with God;
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIVUK)
Under the metaphor of the garden, in their new state of brokenness God forbids humankind to eat of the tree of life.
The rest of the whole story of the Bible is about God working to restore the broken relationship between Himself and humankind.
The culmination of this happens on a tree, when God Himself is crucified to open up the possibility for us to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father, each other and the created world.
The last page of the Bible describes what happens when the relationship of harmony (shalom) between humankind, God and the creation is fully restored.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse.” (Revelation 22:1-3 NIVUK)
That tree of life – which was forbidden to humankind because of sin and rebellion, is now made available through the death of Christ on the tree of Calvary.
The Christian story – it’s all a tale about trees.
In our gospel reading Jesus is telling his disciples about another tree – the gospel tree, the tree of the kingdom.
In between Christ’s death on the tree of Calvary and our full and final access to the tree of life in glory, stands this gospel tree.
As the gospel seed takes root in hearts and lives it creates a community of people that should be like this tree.
It is through the ministry of this tree that people get to hear the good news about what Jesus has done on the tree of Calvary.
It is through the ministry of this tree that they learn how Jesus’ death opens up the possibility for the broken relationship between us and God to be restored; a process which then works in our lives to restore the broken relationships we have with each other and with the created world.
All of which finds its ultimate, unimaginably glorious expression when we will join God in His eternal Kingdom fed of the fruit of the tree of life, healed by its leaves of all our ills and freed from every curse!
Each Christian community is called to be a gospel tree where this can happen.
The gospel tree is a place where the spiritually sick can find healing. As we read in the Revelation texts, leaves are a symbol of healing in the Bible – many of the herbal remedies of the ancient world were made from leaves. If we are truly a gospel tree the spiritually sick will find healing in our midst.
The gospel tree is a place where the spiritually hungry can find sustenance. Trees in the Bible are nearly always fruiting trees – figs, olives, dates etc. We read in Revelation that the tree of life bears 12 kind of fruit one each month of the year. If we are truly a gospel tree the spiritually hungry will find sustenance in our midst that satisfies their hunger.
The gospel tree should also be a place where people can find a welcome and a place they can make their spiritual home. If we are truly a gospel tree people will find a welcome amongst us, they will experience integration into the fellowship and feel accepted.
Today is “Shaped by God” Sunday, as you know this is a diocesan initiative designed to help each congregation, perhaps each ministry within each parish, take a long hard look at ourselves and ask what kind of a gospel tree are we?
This is a great image isn’t it? It’s a great tree. Who wouldn’t want a tree like that in their garden?! And those birds!
But sadly we can sometimes be a very different kind of tree.
This is a picture of a tree I saw in Leicester last Sunday evening. And I just felt God prompted me to take a photo of it and to show it to you.
This tree has been pollarded; all the ends of the branches have been cut off. There are no leaves on this tree, no fruit and there are certainly no birds nesting in it.
Sadly, our churches can sometimes be this kind of tree.
Ironically it can be quite a pleasant experience being this kind of a gospel tree.
No change, no cost, no discomfort, no effort, no messy new people who don’t know how to speak, how to dress, how to behave in church etc.
But sadly, this tree is totally useless – it serves no purpose, it is just using up the ground – there are no leaves to provide healing for the spiritually sick, there is no fruit to feed the spiritually hungry, there is no place for anyone to find a spiritual home. It would be best to chop it down and use it for firewood.
Most gospel trees, most church communities are somewhere between these two extremes. Shaped by God is a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down by the diocese;
The diocese has identified nine marks of mission that we can use to evaluate how well we are doing, celebrate our successes, re-think areas where we are not so good.
What kind of tree are we?
What kind of tree do we want to be?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that brings healing to the spiritual sick – if so how will we do that?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that feeds the spiritually hungry – if so how will we do that?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that offers people a welcome, and is a safe place for them to make their spiritual home – if so how will we do that?
May God grant us His Spirit’s anointing and the enthusiasm to embark on a new adventure with God in St James and Our Lady and St Nicholas.
May God grant that we become a flourishing gospel tree, a tree full of leaves that minister healing to the spiritually sick and full of fruit that satisfies the spiritually hungry, and may we be a gospel tree where people can find a welcome and make their home.