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Sermon 21 February 2016

You know, I think one of the biggest risks for the Church is that it talks to itself, in language and imagery that mean little or nothing to those outside the institution. Don’t get me wrong, there are very beautiful words, images, symbols, that are not only lovely but important and helpful. Last Tuesday, at the ecumenical Lent service at Holy Family, someone was commenting on the very beautiful modern font that is right there as people come in the door. It draws attention and makes one stop and think – about what it means to be baptised, about water, cleansing, healing, about commitment and vows made. There are things about church buildings we have known and loved that remain dear to us. If we move on there is a real feeling of loss. These are the “in house” things and we honour them.

But I want to come back to the language and images and how we communicate through them, because, after all, what we do here is not just worship for ourselves, nurture ourselves, but should also be offering something to the world around us. Even if we are not always expecting strangers in our midst, we are not meant to be talking just to ourselves. In any case, I think it is important for us pause every now and again, and reflect on the way we ourselves think about God, about the Chris, about the work of the Spirit.

Like most other people of my age, I grew up imagining Jesus to be blond haired and blue eyed, just as he is portrayed in many stained glass windows, as here. It was something of a shock to realise that Jesus was a man of Middle Eastern appearance, and all the women and men around him likewise. At the same time it is also true that every culture is able to understand that Jesus addresses them equally, across racial divides and may be imagined as there for them. Christ transcends race and culture.

So what images of Jesus do you have in your hearts and minds? How do you imagine him to be for you? This is important if, as we do in Lent, we think about what to means to go with him on the journey. I expect we quite rightly connect Jesus to God as embodying for us in human flesh what God might be like. So there is a bigger picture here too. And that can create some rougher edges because many of us will also have grown up with an image of God as the rather too imposing figure in the sky who looks down with critical and judgemental eyes.

Today’s gospel reading gives us a glimpse of something in Jesus that has both a hard edge and a soft edge. Jesus has been warned about Herod’s intentions, Herod’s threat, about which Jesus would have been well aware. He was not about to be deterred. He calls Herod a fox, and it was not meant to be a compliment. There is an implied judgement in that, because God does indeed judge what is unjust, oppressive and lacking in love. Thank God for that! But then Jesus goes on to speak about his yearning for Jerusalem, the places that symbolized the heart of Jewish religion. He longs for it to accept the life giving love of God, but the institution is too caught up in protecting its own power and, supposedly, the life of faith. Jesus uses this much-loved image of the hen that gathers its chicks beneath its wings to offer them safety and protection.

I preached about this passage last Tuesday evening and I don’t want to follow the same line this morning. I would like, rather, to dwell a bit more on our images and how they may both help and nurture us but possibly also, in their familiarity, hold us back from seeing how God in Christ may call us on. I am doing this also because I read a book recently, loaned me by a friend that affected me quite deeply in the way it used a different image and dialogued with that. I am going to read from that book in just a moment. But first, let it be said that we can hold apparently contradictory ideas at the same time and they are not wrong. We may think of God in Christ as leading us to lie down in green pastures beside still waters. Those words encourage us to take time to pause and to be fed. We may think of God as the rock beneath our feet and as the water that quenches our thirst. And so on and so on. In Lent we think about our journey with Jesus who is walking to Jerusalem, engaging with people as he went, and in today’s reading we heard the urgency he felt about that. The extract I want to share with you envisages God as The Runner. Never mind if our running days are over. That is not the point. I hope you may hear in these words something that broadens out your imagery and communicates with you deeply. The extract is too long to read to you in its entirety, so I am going to miss a bit in the middle. For those of you who are following the script, I have marked where I will stop and start again.

“The Runner” pp146-150, 160-163.