Love is the meaning ...

A blog by Rev'd John Allen

  


22 August 2021 – Trinity 12

CHARISMA

There is a story in the Bible about a man God called to be a teacher.  God asks Him, “What are you doing here”?  As we begin each new day, if we allow ourselves time to think, I suggest most of us are aware of a similar question.  Can I find a satisfactory answer?  Can you?

As you get out of bed to do what you have to do at work or at home, you need the energy and conviction to do it well.  This can be hard unless you have a picture in your mind of why you are here and where you are going and for what purpose.  When you commence a new responsibility, find yourself stepping into the shoes of others, you become part of the momentum of daily existence.  This can become habitual and conformist but lacking a clear vision of the way ahead and what needs to be done.  In every work we need a vision if our work is to become creative and life changing for those who look to us.  But authentic vision is a gift and not something we improvise.  I believe this vision, whether we realise it or not, comes from God and with it comes the gift of His spirit which is often called charisma.  Even non-religious people notice when someone has charisma and welcome it.

It was this perception of charisma which drew people to Jesus and which flowed into the lives of those drawn to Him and propelled them into the future.  It is charisma which transforms ordinary people and makes them effective in serving and inspiring others.  But what is it that God is calling us to do?

An Anglican Vicar might see it as filling his or her church with people and for the church to be active and successful in serving the neighbourhood and helping to form public opinion on sound Christian principles.  The pitfalls are the need for administration, healthy finances and good organization.  These are necessary but can become ends in themselves which distract and deflect us from the true purpose of our journey.  There is bound to be a tension between bureaucracy and spirituality.

All is well so long as people respond faithfully to God’s call by keeping their eyes fixed on the vision, growing together in a life of loving friendship with God through prayer and in this way discovering that the mundane things work well when operating within the context of a vibrant and loving spirituality.

But the current effectiveness of a Christian community is only a staging post sustaining us as we press on towards the fulfilment of God’s ultimate purpose.

© John Allen 2021


15 August 2021 – Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary

CALLED BY GOD?

Many Christians have a sense that their lifetime in this planet is a journey home to God.  They have come to believe that, like Jesus, they have come from God and are returning to God.  I believe this, but sometimes feel uneasy about it.  Perhaps I have become too self-engrossed.  Am I simply thinking of my life in this world as an escape route to something better over the horizon?  If so what about all those who do not share such a faith?  Am I content to abandon them and leave them to their own fate?

The Christian faith is not elitist.  It is permeated by the actions and teachings of Jesus.  Pride is a deadly error.  It divides people into winners and losers.  Jesus identified Himself with the losers.  The great Christian paradox is that, through the life of Jesus, the least will become the greatest.  God surprises the world.

We need to be reminded over and over again that we do not choose God but He chooses us.  Those uneducated fishermen might have been surprised that they had been chosen but no doubt the experience was so overwhelming that they had no time or inclination to question, they just responded and became the first disciples of Jesus Christ.  It is similar for most people who are called by God.

I expect many feel as I did.  “There must be a mistake.  I am imagining it.  If I ignore the very idea, it will go away”.  But for me, and for millions in the past two millennia, it does not go away.  God quietly persists and waits for our response.

The experience of a call is in fact quite a common human experience, although for many it never crosses their minds it is anything to do with God.  Why do so many people take on hard and often unrewarding work, risking weariness, hardship, danger and poor pay?  Such people make good nurses and teachers and carers.  We say that they have a vocation.  The world would be in dire straits if it was not well served by people with a vocation.

The Christian experience is to identify the one who calls.  It is a personal encounter and is sustained by the strength, courage and cheerfulness which we enjoy in a relationship of friendship with God.  We accept the call not as a ticket for an “express get-away to heaven”, but because we simply have to if we are to be true to ourselves.

© John Allen 2021


8 August 2021 – Trinity 10

OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME

It seems to many people that, in certain circumstances, the abortion of an unborn child is a lesser evil than the birth of an “unwanted child”.  Yet the subsequent killing of that child is regarded as murder.

There is a strong instinct that each human life is unique and of infinite value.  People are willing to go to the limits of endeavour, hardship, danger and even to risk their own life to save another’s.  What is the explanation?  Why is a human life so precious?  To some it might be that death is unacceptable and, although eventually inevitable, must be put off for as long as possible.  When people are faced with disability or of a degrading and painful illness, this is the question we need to ask: “Is the purpose of a human life longevity or quality?”

As a Christian, I believe that the gift of life is a God-given opportunity for each person to make a choice of direction through this world and on, and inwards, towards ultimate spiritual fulfilment.  Put simply, we are given life in order that we may come to know and to love God and those around us and to enjoy the ecstasy of being at one with God now and in eternity.  The fearful tragedy of human existence is that so many people are either unaware of the choice or simply put off thinking about it too deeply until they are overtaken by death.

Jesus began His public ministry by proclaiming, “The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you.  Repent and believe.”  This is strong language.  Is this simply religious pressure that does not ring true in the ears of those of us who live in a secular society?  But if this choice is ignored or rejected, what is the alternative?  Do we simply muddle on till we are snuffed out by death and lose the most incredible opportunity of a lifetime?

There were just a few who began to recognize the presence of God in Jesus and accepted His call.  Like us they only dimly comprehended.  They just set out in faith as we do.  Once we get a glimpse of heaven, nothing else will bring us ultimate satisfaction.  The only reassurance we have is to be seen in the positive, creative and happy lives of those who grasped this opportunity and we thank God for it.

© John Allen 2021


1 August 2021 – Trinity 9

IS HEAVEN POSSIBLE?

As we become aware of the hollow place in the heart of our being we know that we need one to love and one to live for.  It is not sufficient to live only for myself.  Self love destroys love and can drain me into a fearful vortex of futility and makes me defenceless against evil influence.

When I encounter true love I am set free from false love.  I can let go of myself.  This is the experience of encounter with God.  It is always about moving, reaching, following, travelling and growing.  This is the essential nature of God’s creation.  It is the orbit of the planet on which we live – the days, sunrise and sunset, the seasons.  It is the fact of history; of endlessly passing centuries and millennia in which there is growth, opportunity and hope.

We are born to be travellers and pilgrims.  If we try to stay where we are, we shrivel up, but if we have the will and courage to travel, the horizon beckons us onwards and upwards.  Where?  Are we on a tragic journey to nowhere or are we searching for the promised land?  Jesus was self evidently a man on a mission.  God, through His son Jesus, was in the process of saving the world from itself.  He does not condemn us to destruction and hell.  His purpose is to show us and, through His help, to enable us to discover and fulfil the purpose for which He has given us life and vitality.

He points towards a new world which is the world He always intended.  Such a world seems absolutely impossible.  It is the perfect world.  Jesus called it the Kingdom of Heaven.  Heaven is a state of being in which God and His creatures live in perfect harmony.  It is the fulfilment of the true meaning of life.  It is ecstasy beyond the bounds of human imagination – spiritual orgasm?

Our secular world has no such hope.  All we can do is to make the best of a bad job.  But people cannot quench their instinct to strive for something better.  Human history seems to be a repetitive story of striving and failure but a stubborn refusal to give up.  Sadly it seems to end in tears and in death.

God alone, through Jesus, points the way to Heaven.  Surely this is the best possible option. Does heaven exist?  Is it possible to get there?  Yes it is, if we are willing to let go and to set out on the journey of faith.

© John Allen 2021


25 July 2021 – Trinity 8

THE MOMENT OF RECOGNITION

All through life we are seldom left to our own devices.  Young children feel dominated and to some extent controlled by adults.  They are compelled to go to school and soon submit and comply to what others expect of them.  I think most of us have a natural instinct to want to please and to be popular.  Whether we are aware of it or not we feel we are answerable to others.

Today we cherish the freedom we enjoy and yet we know we have to submit to prevailing law, custom and the expectation of others.  The reality is that no man or woman is an island and in any case we depend on one another.  The technology that enables the way we live depends on the expertise of specialists.  We live in an age of help lines.

I am not ashamed or apologetic to confess that the “help” necessary to me is God.  It seems to me that every person is born with a kind of hollow space within them.  Whatever or whoever inhabits that space becomes pilot and navigator.  God who is the creator of every unique human life has made us according to his own likeness.  For much of our lives this spiritual reality may be hidden from our consciousness, until there comes the moment of recognition.

The Bible story of fishermen on the shore of a lake looking up and seeing Jesus walking towards them is about a supreme moment of recognition.  We are not told whether they had ever met Jesus before, perhaps they had heard about him, but this encounter was something utterly new in their experience.

Fortunate people are sometimes blessed with the joy of meeting a stranger and suddenly being filled with the joy of intimate familiarity.  The “togetherness” is a fire of love enkindled in their hearts and minds.  Such is the religious experience of encounter with God and your answering response.

Some people have told me how envious they are.  “I wish I felt like that but it has never happened to me”.  While I am convinced God calls individual people in an intensely personal way, I do not believe that God has favourites leaving the rest out in the cold.  I believe that God calls each person He has created.  It is our capacity for recognition which is essential.  For some it seems to come naturally but for many more it needs to be taught and nurtured.  This is the responsibility entrusted to each Christian by God.  We need to reach out our hand of welcome to the one who comes into our life.

© John Allen 2021


18 July 2021 – Trinity 7

GOD CHOOSES

We do not choose to be born.  Life is given to us.  We find ourselves in a continuous movement through time.  The hours tick by and day follows day and we grow and change; only gradually do we begin to realise that our life is a journey through this world and we need to learn how to be good navigators.

We are influenced and guided by those around us and, if we are fortunate, we gradually begin to discover the best way – guiding principles and a core belief.  In my experience, I remember with gratitude those people who have inspired me.  Without their love and example I might have got lost.

Jesus came into the lives of certain men and women.  Their hearts and minds responded.  They became aware of a new and joyous energy that filled them when they were in His presence.  They received His gift of faith which is that which transforms people’s lives.  Through Jesus they found healing, well-being and enlightenment.  But many of them also were deeply disturbed.  Jesus drew from them a new kind of love which drew them right out from their own selfish preoccupations, inspiring them to be alongside Jesus and to share in His work for the world.  Eventually, for some, it meant they were willing and able to give all of themselves for others, often at the cost of weariness and pain even to the extent of sacrificing their lives.

This was the beginning of worldwide Christianity and it is this that has now come into your life and mine.  We need to ask, “For what reason?”  At first we might think that Christian faith is simply a benefit giving us the extra support and comfort we need, especially when we are living through a difficult time.  We might be tempted to think of God providing us with a kind of First Aid comfort station.  Of course that is how a lot of people make use of religion.  They pray and ask for help when they need it but when things get better they give up praying.  Some people call them “fair weather Christians”.  In no way would I scorn them.  What they need is that other Christians offer them continuing friendship and explain the deeper and more satisfying nature of a deeply grounded Christian way of living.

The fact of the human experience of God is that it is God who makes the first move.  He so often comes into lives in ways that take us by surprise.  We may, at first, brush away this intuition of God as a figment of imagination, but His presence persists and He seems to be waiting for our response.  We may feel unworthy.  No worries.  God chooses and you say Yes.  Leave it to God.

© John Allen 2021


11 July 2021 – Trinity 6

THE HUMAN POTENTIAL

You find the best, not in what people are now, but in what they are capable of becoming.  Each human being has an incredible potential buried deep within.  Surely this is why God calls people through the life of Jesus.

The essential thing is that we must be willing to learn.  God has entrusted us with a life to live within His world.  It is a world full of plenty and promise but left to our own devices we soon get lost and bewildered.  We need to turn to God and ask Him the way, rather than blunder around without direction or assistance.  Turning towards God is the way of life and turning our back on God is the way towards death.

This is not because God is an autocrat but an enabler.  You cannot live without a beating heart, without air to breathe.  You cannot grow into your true potential without love to nurture you.  The disciples of Jesus joyfully told one another, “We have found the Lord.”  It is God who sets free our hidden and locked up potential.  If we are full of pride and a false sense of self sufficiency, we become deaf and blind; as Jesus said, “You have ears but do not hear and eyes but do not see”.

The delusion of human self sufficiency, of pride and arrogance, is that which blocks out God’s sunshine in our lives so that spiritual growth is blighted.  Perhaps failure is necessary for our pride to be punctured and perhaps that is why God calls people who in the eyes of the world seem to be failures.  ‘Once I come to admit my inadequacy I come to my senses and know all the sufficiency I need comes to me from God’.

This is how I understand Jesus’ calling of His disciples and how I find myself slowly and painfully following along their way.  Their story is my story and your story.  When we begin to become aware of our failure, at last we can begin to open ourselves to the life of Jesus, which is the life that transforms our weak and imperfect human lives so, through no virtue of our own, they become windows for God, alive and at work in our world today.

© John Allen 2021


4 July 2021 – Trinity 5

THE BEST

When an organization is recruiting, it is searching for the cream – for the person who has the best qualifications, the widest experience and the most attractive and compelling personality.  Reading the Bible, it does not appear that God works like this.

It seems that God seeks out and chooses unlikely, even unsuitable people.  Among the first followers of Jesus there was no one famous, no one who was rich and influential.  In fact, some of them would seem to be liabilities and one of them betrayed Jesus for a bribe.

The Bible is perplexing.  Why should God, the source of all existence and meaning, reveal himself in obscure and mysterious ways?  Why should God choose the weaker rather than the stronger kind of person?  Why did Jesus have to suffer and to die in such a horrible way?  Why did Jesus refuse to defend Himself?  It seems that God turns the values of this present world upside down and inside out.  Jesus taught people that if they wish to save their lives they must be prepared to lose their lives.  He taught people to give and not to grab and not to be rulers but servants.  From the time of Jesus, this world has found God and his unconditional followers to be a conundrum.  Are they simply deluded and mad or are they among the few really wise people on earth?

The tragedy of Christianity is that so many all too human Christians have had similar doubts and have been persuaded to compromise their God-given faith in an attempt to make it more acceptable to a secular world.  The churches have in fact become secularised and have lapsed into becoming more this world-centred than God-centred.  At the time of writing, I am becoming more and more aware of the uneasy tension within the Church of England between God-inspired spirituality and state-dictated bureaucracy.  As a result of this seeming ambiguity, many people dismiss Christian faith as well meaning but ineffectual.

My purpose in writing is an attempt to re-discover the true nature of faith.  This faith is the one hope for the world, when all human remedies seem to end in tears and failure.  The only explanation to why people respond to Jesus in an unconditional way is that He conveys to each one of us the gift of faith – God’s Holy Spirit, that alone makes possible all that is best.

© John Allen 2021