The vision can nudge the reality

Peter Seal, 19 February 2017

Romans 8: 18–25; Matthew 6: 25–34

I remember years ago having an in-depth discussion with a wise person. We talked about the way the world was and the dreadful horrors that seemed to abound in many places. This led on to a conversation about the wonderful vision of harmony, equality and unity that the gospel message proclaims. Our time together ended with him saying something like this: ‘The great good news of the gospel is that the vision can nudge the reality’. In other words, because of our faith we have hope that things can be different. What perhaps seems hopeless actually has the potential for change – even transformation.

Today’s reading from Romans chapter 8 expresses this vividly. St Paul is convinced that God calls humanity to a glorious future. He writes, ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us’. The commentator J. B. Phillips puts it this way:

The whole of creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own.

That’s a helpful phrase: ‘coming into their own’. This can probably mean many things, but when applied to a person it’s about reality being nudged by vision. We might say, ‘She’s come into her own’. In other words, things are really happening for good in her life.

We, Christians, are vision people. We’re those who believe in Good News. We believe that change is possible … indeed even probable … and yes, a certainty we can look forward to. I’m reminded of words from the community of Iona that we often pray at Christmas:

Lord, will you come into the darkness of today’s world;
not the friendly darkness
as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness,
in which people have stopped believing
that war will end
or that food will come
or that a government will change
or that the church cares.

So many people in our world live with a heartfelt longing that the war around them will come to an end; far too many children, women and men literally ache in their stomachs for some food to keep them alive a bit longer; many, many others live under tyrannical and oppressive regimes, desperate for a change of government. All this is part of the reality of the exquisitely wonderful, yet, at the same time, completely terrible world we live in.

And so often we feel powerless to do anything to help end war, provide food or change a government. We can of course pray, and more good is wrought by our prayers than we will ever fully appreciate. What we can also do, which will continue to make a profound difference for the people of this parish community and beyond, is to demonstrate that the church still cares.

I’m thinking of course of pastoral care and in particular, today, of the care we as a parish offer through our Parish Visitors. We may not be able to change the world on a big scale but we can work in what is sometimes described as ‘minute particulars’. At the end of our worship today Bishop John will commission eight new Parish Visitors. This will bring the total to 28.

Pastoral care is offered and given in many different ways – and always quietly and unobtrusively. Our Parish Visitors work with me, Mary Copping, Stephen Adam and our retired clergy to publicly offer pastoral care and support to anyone who wants it.

In recent weeks our new Parish Visitors have participated in an excellent training course. They have developed some invaluable skills for their new work. They are a wonderful example of stewardship – the gift of time and skills. Their calling is to be alongside people in their life journey, for as long or short a time as they are needed. They are called to be alongside as a companion along the way, ready to listen attentively in a completely open and non-judgemental way.

Called to be alongside as a companion on the way, ready to listen attentively in a completely open and non-judgemental way.

Last autumn I went on a conference of laity and clergy from this diocese and other nearby dioceses. It was described as a ‘shared conversation’ and the theme was human sexuality. There was a wide range of people present including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

I met a remarkable person. Let’s call her Lesley. She had been born male and later discovered that her real identity was female. She had gone through the challenging journey of transgendering. Her story was totally credible and very moving. Possibly the most amazing thing was the way she expressed her faith. Lesley described that it was during the process of becoming a woman that she had started to read the gospels and subsequently became a Christian. She said to me, ‘What convinced me of the truth of Christianity was that the man Jesus met people where they were’. It was as simple, and profound, as that.

I’ve yet to catch up properly on what happened at the church’s General Synod this week as it discussed same-sex marriage. Suffice it to say that once again the church seems to be getting itself into a terrible twist over this question. As Lesley reminds us: Jesus meets people where they are and loves them into existence. Historically, the church has often tied itself in knots over admittedly complex pastoral questions. It has given the impression of being more ready to say ‘No, you can’t’ than ‘Yes, you can’.

Our local challenge, our local pastoral challenge, is to meet people where they are, affirming all that is good and beautiful and true. Goodness, we remember, comes from God. Goodness, like love, is God’s energy, the way God works.

Goodness, like love, is God’s energy, the way God works.

Back for a moment to vision nudging reality. Here in our context we can make a difference to people’s lives; yes, we really can make a difference in lots of small ways. Lots of small ways which, together, add up to far more than we could ever have imagined.

We are all involved in pastoral care in some way or other. It may be more formally as a Parish Visitor or in some other authorised way. But we all have almost daily opportunities to be alongside friends, family and others we meet. We can walk with them for a while on their journeys.

In her Christmas message the Queen spoke of discovering our abilities – abilities we perhaps never knew we had. She said: to be inspirational you need to do ordinary things extraordinarily well. She quoted Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now Saint Teresa: ‘Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.’

In other words, let’s go on believing ‘the great good news of the gospel that the vision can nudge the reality’. This happens when we ‘do small things with great love’.