Sunday, 17 April 2016

Easter 4 - Inescapable Choices

John 10.22-30 & Acts 9.36-43 Inescapable Choices It has often been said that most sermons used to be 3 points and a poem something that you would be hard pressed to find in this church. However I have got a poem and, really only one point or theme, that of inescapable choices. The broadcaster, writer and poet Clive James was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2014 and in the autumn he wrote a poem called ‘Japanese Maple’ which in his words ‘confidently stated that when the maple tree in my garden turned to flame in autumn, that would be the end of me. It reads… Your death, near now, is of an easy sort. So slow a fading out brings no real pain. Breath growing short is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain of energy, but thought and sight remain: Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see so much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls on that small tree and saturates your brick back garden walls, so many Amber Rooms and mirror halls? Ever more lavish as the dusk descends this glistening illuminates the air. It never ends. Whenever the rain comes it will be there, beyond my time, but now I take my share. My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new. Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame. What I must do is live to see that. That will end the game for me, though life continues all the same: Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes, a final flood of colors will live on as my mind dies, burned by my vision of a world that shone so brightly at the last, and then was gone. Clive James continues ‘The poem was published in the New Yorker, at a time when the magazine’s paywall was temporarily out of commission, so a lot of people logged on. The poem went viral and attracted many sad assurances of fond farewell. Autumn came, the tree turned red and I was still here, steadily turning red myself as I realised that I had written myself into a corner .Winter arrived, there has been a whole other summer, and now the maple is just starting to do its flaming thing all over again, with me shyly watching. But people are still sympathetic, except perhaps for some of my Australian critics, the most scornful of whom has always wanted me dead anyway.’ Two years on I was listening to an interview with Clive James yesterday and a new pill is still keeping him going but he said the knowledge that death isn’t too far away, coupled with the fact that he is practically housebound has given him a peace and stillness which enables him to look back on his life with great clarity of thought and recollection of detail. To look back over our lives so far in such a contemplative way is certainly a sobering exercise. You realise that there are times of inescapable choices which shape who we become, how we live our lives and how we relate to others. I wondered how those religious leaders who refused to face up to who Christ was felt when they had time to look back over their lives. Maybe we can think of our own times when we have had to make a choice to trust someone, to commit to something. Perhaps when deciding whether to get married, to throw your lot in with others on a risky venture, to reject an attractive option because we know it is wrong even though it is difficult to do so. When big decisions come along we often try to manage them by ignoring the consequences or pretending to others that we are not bothered. So we find the religious authorities, the self-professed experts in God and all things holy asking over and over whether Jesus is the son of God, the Messiah, whether he is one with God, different words asking the same question. They have seen miracles, heard teaching and yet, maybe because they have got God neatly packaged up in their rituals and laws, many don’t want to face up to who Jesus is. To do so would mean that they can no longer keep God at ‘arm’s length’ , to acknowledge that they face an inescapable choice, whether to accept Jesus as the Messiah, whether to believe him when he says of his followers ‘ I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.’ All this is a reminder to us not to fall into the trap of thinking we have a tame God that won’t inconvenience us with his presence when life is going well. As people who, in our tradition, formalise our response to the inescapable question through the act of Confirmation, our faith lives on daily with a loving God who is always there for us, who wants to share in our lives as we respond by seeing the Spirit at work around us. We heard in our reading from Acts how Tabitha helped share the message of God’s love and the life enhancing relationship which is possible through her positive choice. We are people who yearn for the eternal life with Christ which we are promised but also want to share in abundant life on earth for every day possible. When we take time to look back, there will always be things we wish we had done differently but the decision to follow Jesus is not one we will ever regret. Amen Kevin Bright 17th April 2016

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