SERMON IN CR CHAPEL

SUNDAY 7 AUGUST 2011   TRINITY 7 

Peter became frightened and, beginning to sink, he cried out ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.” 

Some years ago I was at a conference of novice guardians. The Jesuit priest who presided at one of the sessions gave us an exercise. We were asked to draw a graph of our faith journey. He suggested that we divided it up into periods of five years. We were paired off and the sister I was with began to do this exercise with me. From the start I seemed to have a major problem. In my faith journey, which was up and which was down?

As I recalled the years passing I found that, in a sense, I was more actively aware of God and dramatically engaged with him, at times of crisis. When I felt that I was struggling to keep my head above water, afraid I might be drowning, then I was desperate for God to help me. These were times of grappling with faith and grace. My faith was being challenged and I needed the grace of God. Each time I experienced God rescuing me, he stretched out his hand and caught me.

So in the graph I was trying to draw, it was a puzzle to know which was a high in the journey and which was a low. When I was experiencing a calm and steady period of time, was that a high in faith? (As I walked on the water was that a high?). Or was the time when I thought I was sinking fast and God rescues me, was that a high in my graph of faith?  It was full of paradox.

Later I discovered that my experience was not unusual. Others who were greater disciples than I had the same pattern in their journey. 

Julian of Norwich wrote:

And when we fall, quickly he raised us up with his loving embrace and gracious touch. We need to fall and we need to see it, for if we did not fall we should not know how feeble and wretched we are in ourselves, nor should we know so completely the wonderful love of our creator.” 

Then, in the Ancrene Rule:

Our Lord hides himself. So we shall seek him more earnestly – call out and weep for him.” 

These readings constellate around the mystery of which the deacon sings at the Easter Vigil:

“O felix culpa, O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which granted us so great a Redeemer.” 

At first this might seem to most people as a sort of theological “jiggery pokery” but my experience had brought home to me the truth, that when we are most desperate for God, maybe running away from him, he appears to come running towards us, with hands outstretched to rescue us. It all seems dark – and God is not there – then, as Eckhart said, we hear God “clear his throat”  as he comes out of the dark - hand outstretched to catch us from drowning. This pattern of God rescuing us, which is scattered along the path of our faith journey, leaves a powerful and life-long memory. For Israel, it was the Exodus that Jesus spoke of on the Mount of Transfiguration.

So, at the heart of a disciple’s journey, there are times of walking on the water (confidence and stability) and times of falling beneath the water and the fear of drowning – followed by the outstretched hand of God to save us. For each of us along the way, there are these traces of grace for which we are, for ever, thankful. As someone pointed out “In the night of escape from cheating his brother, Jacob wrestled with God and found a ladder of faith presented to him through the darkness.

Recently we heard about someone asking a desert father what it meant to follow Jesus. The answer was “I fall down and I get up. I fall down, I get up.”

Peter would never forget that hand stretched out to save him. Indeed it might have outshone any achievement of walking on the lake.

It appears that grace comes to us in all manner of ways but none more memorable than when we are, yet again, saved from spiritual death and brought into the life of the Kingdom. For the thief on the cross it was at the very moment when he was experiencing a punishing death, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

So, at the heart of our journey to the Father, is grace that comes to the Prodigal Son. The Father runs down the road, with arms outstretched, to bring him home to where he belongs.

            Simon Holden CR