So for the next couple of days we are gathered around the theme 'How Shall We Grow?' It is of course deliberately a theme that can be taken at many levels. How do I grow as an individual ? How might we grow together as a dispersed college community that is undergoing some significant change at the present time, with new students, movements of staff and changes on the physical site? How do we grow as church, in the many incarnations of church that we represent? How do we grow as a society, and a world, at a time of much challenge? How indeed do we grow?...
According to our Gospel reading, growth, in the much more diffuse sense of increasing wholeness, comes with trust. This is vital. Without trust growth is impossible at any level. Just notice the centurion's trust. Just notice, compared with the rivalries of Genesis, the very different quality of the relationships, both between the centurion and Jesus and the centurion and his 'boy'. Some commentators identify the boy as probably the centurion's lover, because after all he was hardly likely to go to so much trouble for a mere slave boy. Whatever the truth of that, notice that for whatever reason the power differential in that relationship is overcome and this enables healing to be brought. In terms of leadership, being approachable as Jesus was, offering understanding and compassion, all contribute to the possibility of growth for the centurion and his sick young friend. In doing so, they also provide models for us as we seek the growth of churches and the wider kingdom of God.
So trust is essential to growth. Relationship is also essential to growth and one of the reasons for coming together as we do for these Intensives, is to build relationships, so that we can grow together and assist one another's growth in Christ. So we have a big task together in the coming year simply to know each other rapidly and deeply - two things that do not naturally go together very often.
So what can help us?
Well fundamentally prayer can help us. Superlatively when we are here together in Chapel as one community. These are wonderful privileged moments to take away and treasure. But much more is possible, and as the centurion in our reading identifies very well distance is no barrier to growth in wholeness. When we use our prayer bookmarks and diaries; when we share the daily office wherever we say it; when we inter act on the discussion forums on Moodle; when we pause in the business of our day wherever we are and hold the college community before God; we are building those little threads of relationship that over time create trust and community. And if we are all intentional about it, it will make all the difference. For prayer too is essential to growth.
For prayer helps us to notice. And we grow in Christ when we notice what brings us life and growth and seek to have more of it. Formation is all about noticing- and you will get tired of having me repeat this little mantra, notice, notice, notice. Notice what is happening in and around you. What is happening in your body; what's happening in the faces of those you meet; what's happening in the environment around you; and ask where is God in what you notice? Ask God to help you answer that. And out of all that noticing will come an ability to discern the things that lead to life and growth and seek more of them.
So now, this morning, this moment, before we all rush hurly burly into the next two days, I am going to invite you just to arrive and to be present to yourself and to God. You may like to close your eyes for a moment, put your books down and just allow your body to relax. Let your breath deepen for a moment and turn your gaze inward.
And as you do that I invite you just to imagine a door knob or handle - preferably a door handle that you know really well, perhaps the handle of your house. Let you attention rest there for a moment. Now allow yourself to bring to mind the whole door. And then open the door and become aware of what lies on the other side. And now place that room or area inside the larger building or area that surrounds it. Now expand your gaze to the whole surrounding neighbourhood. And reach out further to the city or territory In which that neighbourhood is set. And now imagine that place as part of the whole state or region. And that state set within the nation; and that nation within the whole world; and our world set within the myriads of planets and stars and galaxies, a mere blue green dot in the vastness of space. And as you imagine yourself and your door knob in the vast infinity of all that God holds in God's infinite care, release yourself and all your concerns into that greater love that holds all that is. And returning to your breath, gently breathing in and out return to the knowledge of yourself, sitting here among your companions here in the chapel at St. Francis college, and know Gods' love and care for each and everyone of us here this morning. And when you are ready return to this space and open your eyes.
Growth happens when there is trust, when there is relationship, when there is prayer that enables noticing. May we grow together and may Christ grow in us, today and always. Amen
by Penny Jones, 17 February 2017