Tuesday, 2 November 2010

'Extreme love'

On Sunday, as I mentioned, I preached on my first away fixture at Hampstead Norreys Village Hall. When I reported on Facebook that I'd preached longer than ten minutes, cried once, and no one had heckled, the response was immense - more even than for my birthday!
I thought you might like to read the historic talk, not that I stuck to it! Tony is the Rev Tony Lynn who took the risk of inviting me. People were very tolerant of my voice and my lability ('emotional incontinence'), and so after initial nerves I actually enjoyed the experience. Being treated to a rather good roast followed by a dripping chocolate dessert (Yum...) in The White Hart afterwards helped!

I asked Tony how long he'd like me to preach this morning, and he said, "I usually preach about ten minutes - but people would like it to be shorter."…

So I'm just going to try and tell you a couple of the discoveries I've made since being diagnosed with the dreaded MND and then just invite you to ask any questions - no holds barred.  

As you can imagine as a human being told I had an incurable condition was chilling and perplexing.  I wasn't particularly worried for myself.  I'd seen death and I believe in the resurrection and life to come.  But I feared and hated what it would mean for Jane and my children. 

My form of MND is slow, and so I've had more time than many to reflect on it as a Christian.  There have been all sorts of blessings on the way, such as being enabled to identify more with the many who have their own dark valley to go through and being less judgemental…  Dark valleys are, I suspect, a thousand times more common than we think: childlessness, rejection, joblessness, bereavement, failure, disappointment, illness, exhaustion, abuse, conflict, desertion.  I'm not saying life is all depressing.  That is quite simply untrue.  But for many, if not most, of us there is a dark underground stream where it hurts.  

Strangely, I've never really doubted that God loves me.  I've had enough evidence that I've not fallen off His radar - and there are what were once called the means of grace.  (I love that phrase, "the means of grace and the hope of glory".)

However I have had to reassess what this love can be.  What sort of love is it that allows torturing diseases and natural disasters?  And that doesn't stop humans torturing others and digging unsafe mines?  If God does let me have MND and yet loves me, what is this love?  
My conclusion has been that it is vastly vaster than my previous ideas.  This severe, mysterious and magnificent love which encompasses light and darkness, pain and joy, sickness and health, death and life.  It's rather like trying to picture the whole expanding universe as we explore it to ever greater depths.  As Isaiah put it: 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55.8 & 9).

And to be honest, I'm glad I don't understand.  I don't want a God who fits into my brain, or even the most brilliant human mind.  He wouldn't be worth worshipping.  My reference points have to be the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus in history.  This is God.  He's mystery, but this is love. 

I wanted to tell you about the means of grace which I've discovered, but I've not time.  I've listed most of them in I Choose Everything.  One of them is this service, the Eucharist, in which we come, just as we are, with empty hands, and Jesus comes and says, "This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood, shed for you.  I love you that much."  

The second means of grace and my last point today is faithful friends.  These are the people, family and friends, who I am persuaded will stick with me and walk alongside until the end of the road.  The Chilean miners' families.  You see, they are the embodiment of Christ.  I love our Gospel reading.  That verse must be one of my favourites in the Bible, 
  "Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to 
the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he 
loved them to the end" (John 13.1).
One version says, "He loved them to the uttermost" - to the very end.  

And I love the fact that the way Jesus, Son of God, expressed His love was in the most menial act of service - as well as in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice.  Universally and unconditionally given: that's the mystery of love.  That is love.  I'm blessed to be on the receiving end of such love.

As followers of Christ we are all called to embody that love, unconditional, menial, self-sacrificing - to the utmost.  It's severe, a testing calling.  May the Holy Spirit enable us, to the glory of the Father.    


  1. Years ago I used to go to the 8am HC Service each Sunday - no music, no sermon. Then we had a new Vicar: he appeared at the Altar, introduced himself, then said "I have good news....and bad news. Bad news first: Church regulations require there will be a sermon at every service, so in future you will be getting one at the 8am." Pause for the groans to subside. "Now the good news: I will never talk for more than 3 minutes." For years after we had the best sermons I have ever enjoyed Don't overdo it next time, Michael!