|Pen and Ink Reflections||
‘By faith’ – what a powerful and ringing repeated phrase that is in the Letter to the Hebrews chapter 11. Last Sunday and this Sunday we have heard it read in two parts, telling some of the stories of those who have gone before us in the story of God as told in the Bible. This great passage relates the stories of so many heroes of faith in the Hebrew traditions. ‘By faith’ – the Letter affirms so strongly how all kinds of extraordinary events and achievements flow from the power of trust and courage that true faith enables. Note well: this is faith not as a set of beliefs or practices or organisational structures, as so many would have us see ‘faith’ today; but biblical faith, which is about inspiration, risk, and energy. As such, it encourages us to take heart, to draw on similar energy, and to take risks in our own day. What might we ourselves seek to achieve?...
Whenever we baptise someone, we give them a candle, lit from the great Paschal candle, the symbol of the resurrection. And we say, ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’. Whenever we do that, I see them as joining the great river of light, that extends back into the past to all the lights that have shone, and into the future to all those who will follow after – the river of light that is another way of describing the ‘communion of saints’. Today on this All Saints Day we celebrate that river of light. In that river of light, there are some patches perhaps of greater intensity – the lights of some of those we acknowledge as the greatest ‘saints’, from Mary the mother of Christ, down through folk like St Francis whom we celebrate on this site, and others no doubt precious to each of us, who have shown what it is to shine as a light in the world...
Unlike the somewhat gentler version of the Beatitudes in Matthew’s account, Luke's account of Jesus’s core teaching leaves us in little doubt of his bias to the poor. He declares as blessed exactly those whom most of us would account as unfortunate, and pronounces woes on all those who like most of us, enjoy a comfortable life. It is small wonder then that the first followers of Jesus were mostly poor, slaves, disenfranchised and disabled. I wonder if we, comfortable western Christians, really believe him...
One of the joys of moving house as we have just done, is that all kinds of forgotten and unlikely treasures come to light. Indeed, among the many books that Jo and I shifted this week was a copy of the New Testament in French. My French is not wonderful, but good enough to follow familiar words. So I looked up today's Gospel reading and was struck by two words in that French translation in particular.
The first was 'heureux' or happy - the word we usually translate 'blessed'. Blessed has a much more 'religious' feel to it. Quite possibly it better translates the Greek μακάριος and the French might also use the word 'beni' for that. Yet the French word 'hereux' is much more straightforward. This is what it is to be happy. Now human beings are always seeking after happiness. Preferably a quick fix of happiness. Hence the popularity of self-help programs and even lotto. We live in a culture and era where it is often assumed that happiness is about wealth, success, strength and stability. In the face of such key indicators of happiness Jesus's suggested list of the happy presents a challenge. Jesus says that the happy include the poor, the sad, the downtrodden, and the persecuted. We might question who would choose to live in such a way, let alone count themselves blessed to do so...
Have you heard the tale of the barefoot man, the migrant woman and the taxi driver? It is a true story that Pope Francis recently told to more than 25 000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square…