God’s great ‘Yes’

August 11, 2019

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Preached by the Very Revd Catherine Ogle, using Isaiah 11.10-12. and 2 Corinthians 1.1-22 at Choral Mattins on Sunday 11th August 2019, the 8th after Trinity.

A couple of weeks ago we said farewell to our cathedral curate, Katie Lawrence.  She and her family, husband Matt and three children are packing themselves up to follow a calling for Katie on the other side of the world, in New Zealand to serve at the cathedral in Wellington.  We were challenged about what presents to give them because it really wasn’t the time to add further bulk to their packing cases. So amongst other things, the clergy have compiled a little book of prayers that will fit into her pocket, and hopefully, be a blessing to her in the months and years ahead.

It was a great pleasure to choose prayers for Katie, prayers important in our ministries, and one of the prayers that I chose, I find apt at all times, including times of change.  It’s a prayer that you may know, written by Dag Hammarskjöld. Hammarskjöld was a diplomat from Sweden, who became Secretary General of the United Nations and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.  He died, in 1961, travelling on a peace mission to the Congo, his plane crashed in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. This is the simple prayer that I chose:

‘For all that has been – Thanks.

For all that shall be – Yes.’

It’s a simple prayer, but bold.  It’s a statement and also a prayer, of gratitude, giving thanks to God for everything.  All the grandeur and all the mess.  Everything.  It’s a bold acceptance and embrace of the future, a great trust in the goodness of God who never leaves us: ‘Yes!’ to everything that is to come.  It’s a great prayer for times of ending and for the start of new things. Looking forward, open to what is to come with the simple trust of a child. We say ‘yes’.

 

Our reading from St Paul tells us that we pray to God who says ‘yes’ to us.  In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul says,

‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not ‘Yes and No’ but in him it is always, ‘Yes’.  For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes’’.

I want us to think about this Yes and reflect on it.  Sadly, it seems to me, that for a lot of people this is not what they have been taught, or the impression that they’ve gained.  God is often portrayed as a great big disapproving ‘No’.  But Paul is straining to teach us that the God encountered in Christ doesn’t need us to satisfy or please him before he will welcome us.  That God is already pleased with you and invites and accepts you.  He is ‘already welcoming you, from all eternity.’[1]

Paul is saying that Christ is the revelation, the culmination, of Gods desire to be intimately known by his children, to be known and loved.

Jesus teaches us that God is like the prodigal father, scanning the horizon longing for his son to come back home, running out to greet him, anxious to clothe him and throw a big party to celebrate his return. The father forgives before the apology is made.  Christ dies for us while we are still sinners.  Love and forgiveness are the initiative of God, freely given and never something that we earn.

 

So we take a moment to wonder at this grace.  This joyful and resounding ‘yes’ to us from God.  Arms outstretched to us in love.  Joy and wonder of God’s love for us.

And we recognise that in the outstretched arms of Christ, so ready to embrace, to heal, is also the willingness to suffer the most profound pain.  Christ says ‘yes’ to suffering on behalf of others, a self-giving love.  The outstretched arms of Christ on the cross are also a profound ‘yes’ to the world, faithful despite the worst that humanity can do.  The resurrection is the final triumphant ‘yes’.

We have this great love as free gift, and we are invited to respond.  Which can take courage.  As George Herbert priest and poet wrote:

‘Love bade me welcome.  Yet my soul drew back

Guilty of dust and sin.’[2]

It can be hard to say yes to God.  We like to be in control so put up all sorts of defences.  I’ve tried many over the years, perhaps you have too: ‘I’ll think about it later, now’s not the right time; God can’t possibly want someone like me, I’m not the type; I can’t make a difference; I’m happy as I am’..…but love calls us persistently, to respond.

Some of us have just returned from a visit to the Benedictine monastery at Fleury, France.  We were privileged to have an audience with two of the monks and could ask them anything.  Men who have responded to God’s with an utter ‘Yes’.  I asked them what was the best and most difficult thing about being a monk and their answer was telling and truthful.  They both said, in effect, the best thing, was the love of God and life in the fraternity – the community of the other monks.  And the difficult thing?  Life in the fraternity.  The other monks.

There it is in a nutshell, when we say ‘yes’ to the love of God we are also saying ‘yes’ to loving others.  That ‘yes’ wills stretch our heart to take in other people, including

Including those that we find difficult, our family, neighbours, strangers, those we feel prejudice towards.

The implications of ‘Yes’ are unending.  As we say yes to the Spirit of Christ in our lives, we will be given love that is both the deepest joy and greatest challenge, stretching us to our limit, an adventure of faith.  Amen.

 

[1] Rowan Williams, Meeting God in Paul, SPCK p35

[2] Love (III) George Herbert