Ami, who was the first born in her family. But now Mum was pregnant again and she was very excited.. The day arrived and she became the proud sister to a little brother. Just a few days after the birth, with her brother back in the family home Ami made a request to her parents. She wanted to be alone with her new brother in his room, with the door shut. Her insistence about being alone with the baby had her parents worried. What was Ami planning to do to him? They had detected no hint of jealous behaviour, but was she planning some dastardly deed as a jealous sibling. Thankfully they had installed an intercom system in anticipation of the baby’s arrival, so they agreed to their daughters wish knowing they could listen in, and if they heard the slightest indication that something untoward was happening they could be in the room in an instant.
So Ami was allowed into the room alone and the door was carefully shut. The parents raced to the intercom to listen in. They heard their daughter’s footsteps moving across the room, and imagined her standing over the bassinet, and then they heard her saying to her little two day old brother, “I’m Ami, and you can help me. Mum and Dad tell me you are a gift from God. Can you tell about God – I’ve almost forgotten.”
Children often delightfully open us to realities about ourselves. As often happens children reveal things about us. Ami is telling us in her question to her young brother that we come from God, but somehow in the process of growing up, of learning about this world, we forget God. In fact in our secular culture we forget about God easily. God doesn’t get a mention on the news, God doesn’t feature in the Press, and God has been removed from just about every sphere of public life.
The strange thing is that even within church circles God is hidden away. Outside the golden hour of church on Sunday God often doesn’t seem to exist. I was telling our Session a week ago I have had three people talk to me recently about the reality that when we finish our worship services where we have prayed with God, sung hymns of praise to God, and herd the minister talk about God we leave the worship space and suddenly God is off the radar. Jesus is never mentioned. I wonder why that is. We can talk weather, cricket, garden, children, even politics but God is hush hush.
I have a suspicion it has something to do with the church we have been brought up in. The culture in that church kept God removed from everyday life. God was a Sunday only God and dare I say it but a clergy mediated God. Many people I think believed that because we are not very expert at spirituality or God stuff that they should leave it to the experts. Not being expert meant you kept your mouth shut. Maybe if we have had some experiences that might be God related we also kept them quiet because we thought others would label us as kooky if we shared them. ]
Whatever the reason the consequences are the same. God is kept locked away. Jesus is hidden and ignored in our discourse with one another.
I have a simple plea this morning….. can we start talking about God? Can we with Ami ask more often of each other….tell me about God. Can we re-introduce God into our thinking and our conversations? Can we live as if God matters to us instead of hiding God away?
I ask this for two reasons. Firstly I do find it odd that in my ministry most of my God conversations are with people who don’t go to church. Especially in recent years I keep bumping into people who tell me they don’t go to church but they want to talk about God and their experiences of God. Sometime they even say they’ve tried church but they didn’t find people willing to talk about God. I’m simply puzzled why this might be so. I talk with other ministers and I find this is not uncommon. Sociologists tell us that people are more interested in God and spirituality than they used to be but they don’t make strong links between this interest and church and I guess the answer stares us in face. But secondly I’m interested in some research by an American author Dorothy Butler Bass who took some time to research why some mainline churches like ours were growing in North America when most are slowly declining and dying. We are not talking mega churches here but traditional mainline protestant churches. If you boiled down her findings she discovered that the churches that were growing were churches where people talked about God. God was alive in their midst in some way. Pushed further she says that growing churches have people in them that commit time to nurturing the presence of God with spiritual practices. Healing practices like Reiki, prayer practices like meditation, intentional hospitality practices, regular testimony, working for justice, and people asking questions about how we should live as followers of Jesus.
Remember Isaiah’s prophecy we read this morning. Come to the Lord’s house that we may learn of God’s ways, and seek guidance. We learn most through conversation and sharing our conversation. We learn most as we honestly engage with one another and encourage one another with our stories and our learnings. We need to see God in each other, feel God in each other, touch God in each other, experience God in each other. We need to walk together with God. That’s why we have church, so we can be a community that talks about God and Jesus together, learn together and encourage each other. We can help one another see God more clearly in our lives rather that walking with a hidden God.
Often we are blind to God’s presence in our lives. We simply don’t see the acting of God in our lives. Two people can watch the same beautiful sunset, and only one may say “praise be to God for the wonderful gift of creation”. Two people can hear a thrush singing as the dawn breaks but only one may ask so why is that bird singing with such praise? Two people will see the same act of kindness but only one may say, “I see the presence of God in this action.” Two people will suffer the same tragedy, but only one may sense the deeply everlasting arms of God. God is alive in our world but sometimes we need the encouragement of another to help us see, hear, know. And each of us can be the person that encourages another to see God and know God more truly.
There is a practice I want to encourage you to engage in in this season of Advent. I’m not asking you to recite the apostles creed to each other, or to go out on street corners and tell the world about Jesus, (but feel free). What I am asking is that you might ask questions of each other. While you have a cuppa after our service would you simply ask, ‘what did God whisper to you today at worship?’ or ‘what do you take away from worship?’ Another way of asking could be ‘what warmed your heart today in worship?’, or ‘what is sitting with you after our time together?’ I’m trying to think of questions that are not just head questions but open us to the possibility that God moves in all sorts of ways as we gather to worship. It may be a line in a reading or hymn, it may be the music, it may be the address, or it may be the silence. Often it will be something you feel inside and often it will be tentative and nudging. Can we help one another be more aware of God whispering, encouraging. Tell me about God I seem to have forgotten…..
If you want to push this a step further I invite you to ask these questions of yourself, and not just after worship on Sunday but every day. At the end of the day take just 5 minutes to ask yourself where did I meet God today, and what did God say to me. Who did I just bump into out of the blue and what message from God did they bring me? When did I feel my heart warmed? When did I feel most alive and why? There are other ways of engaging with this question. I know some who regularly have a coffee with a friend and they ask these sorts of questions of each other.
And a final word. There will usually not be dramatic messages shared. Most commonly I think God is whispering words of encouragement and love. Be yourself, know my love, know you are precious.
Most commonly God is simply nudging you and me into our true purpose.
Can we build practices into our lives that will help us rediscover God as a presence that is alive in our midst, encouraging us, and calling us into true life where we no longer need to be fearful of others, and where we can beat our swords into ploughshares and nurture life together.. Let us help one another discover God again.
1 Dec 2019