Dawn in Swallowbeck

Dawn in Swallowbeck

On how many more occasions will we rise and smell the early morning scent of honeysuckle blossom? Or stand barefoot on a beach and watch the sun dip beyond the ocean? How many sandcastles have we still to build, or make promises we may never get to keep?

If the day we have been given should include an opportunity to forgive or be forgiven, to love or be loved, then seize it.

It is true that there are plenty of distractions and temptations in our waking hours for us to not live the life for which we were intended;  it is therefore understandable that we lay our heads down at the end of the day without the fulfilment we may have otherwise had, but by God’s grace we have it in our power to make the most of what we do have.

If there be a darkness that seems all-consuming, light a candle, its flickering flame may give us a glimpse of the possible. If a despair is overwhelming, pick out a joy and focus on it, even if it be from the past. If someone is giving us the cold shoulder, greet them, even from a safe distance if need be as it may be safer for them too.

Maybe we have already seen the last sunset from a western beach. But one thing is for sure, if we are alert to the day we have then it is ours to find the spark of life within it; and for those who companion us even for a while, give thanks.

None of us can put ourselves into the mind of another, neither blood relatives nor those with whom we have lived and shared common events.

We cannot really imagine what it is like to experience something we ourselves have not experienced; yes we may have had a similar experience of loss and sadness, perhaps the death of someone whom we have together cherished and loved but each of us will have faced the grief in a way that is solely our own.

So it is that we should not judge another’s reactions and response. We must accept that every event is personal to the one who experiences it.

Our experiences and our memories are ours alone. Each of us have had highs and lows, times of great laughter and times of endless tears; we carry them through the years, the anniversaries, birthdays and other occasions.

Respect is the key to empathy, a respect that is open to appreciating difference.

At the time of writing Mark knew what a divided house looked like

The might of Rome was seeking to subdue any unrest it found itself up against

Rome was aware of the need to crush any form of rebellion

For any opposition to survive it had to remain united

But Judaism was no different to any other community

The rabbis tell us that there were 24 different groups within Judaism

We will be familiar with some of them

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948 we have become more understanding of the role played by the Essenes

From scripture we know of the Pharisees and Sadducees, often critical of Jesus and his disciples.

Also from scripture we will know of the Zealots, Simon the Zealot was a disciple and Judas may well have been a Zealot too – Iscariot could be derived from iscarii, a short dagger favoured by the Zealots; maybe this is why Judas lost faith in Jesus, he was not the revolutionary he had initially hoped for.

Who can say?

What we can say is what Judaism was like, and remains to this day, a broad community with differing views which sometimes threatened their very existence. Difference as a strength is one thing, something to be celebrated no less, but difference can weaken a group or a movement if that difference is perceived by those who hold that someone else’s views are a threat to their own.

The early church too was growing increasingly broad.

Was it to remain a sect within Judaism? Or was it to hurry along Judaism’s dream of bringing all the nations under God?

For some such a fulfilment should be left to God’s own time, a time way off in the future; for others the time was now and the followers of Jesus were to hasten that reconciliation of people’s everywhere through the salvation offered through Jesus Christ.

As with Judaism, the author is wondering about a church that could be not only be strengthened but divided by difference.

The author is of course the Apostle Peter’s scribe, someone who favoured retaining a more Jewish form of what was to become Christianity.

And what of today?

Difference can strengthen us when we see it as a gift of God.

It can also be a danger for those who prefer a more familiar, secure expression of faith that does not threaten our comfort zone.

Today the church is as united as it has been for a very long time, yet it is as divided as it has ever been.

Wesley could only have dreamt of the ecumenical relations we now enjoy

But little has changed when the beliefs of another bring into question our long-held views and we feel threatened by them

The Methodist Church is about to embark on a connexion-wide consultation on equal marriage

Our unity in Christ will be sorely tested as we wrestle with one of the great issues of our time

We now understand human sexuality more than our forebears ever could

But can we balance our traditional views, or allow those traditional views to be developed, by a greater understanding of what it is for a human being to be fulfilled in this life?

I do not know whether we can. I honestly do not know. But I sincerely hope we can. What I do know is that love is the imperative and a house divided against itself will fall.

So whilst holding different views we are called, implored even, to hold the Church together as one in its often mess of diversity.

Conflict is often very destructive; it can be constructive. But in my experience of the last few years conflict has taken up my time, drained me to the point of exhaustion and brought into question doubts about the foundation of faith and the intention of those that claim to be Disciples of Christ.

I find it heart-breaking when Christians fall out and grace and forgiveness are nowhere to be found.

One of the sources of such conflict and one of the reasons why it is that much harder than it once was to bring about reconciliation is the e-mail.

What was once said face to face, if it was said at all without the distance of the computer and internet, was said and lost in space and time. The words would still have impacted and hurt, but in an e mail they remain there, suspended in time and can be read again and again, driving the hurt home with each glance at them.

When we refrain from face-to-face communication we lose much of the true meaning by being unable to recognise signals from body language. (NB we receive only 15% of the message through the words that are used, 25% through the tone of voice and 60% through body language.)

A telephone conversation eliminates our ability to see the body language and an e mail virtually eliminates our ability to judge the emotions behind the words; a text is even worse by limiting the words.

It is therefore much more tempting to say things in an e mail, things that we might refrain from saying face-to-face, leading to an increase in tension and conflict.

Yet the e mail has been a rich blessing in terms of general communication.

Like so much in life it can be destructive and divisive or it can contribute to the way we do things in such a way that we become so much more effective.

At the church in which I grew up we always had a little giggle at the end of the Church Council when 745 was chosen as our closing hymn

745 pre decimalisation ie the Methodist Hymn Book, long before Hymns and Psalms even, was ‘All praise to our redeeming Lord’ with the Charles Wesley’s wonderful verse:

‘Even now we think and speak the same,

And cordially agree;

Concentred all through Jesu’s name,

In perfect harmony.’

Of course we giggled – we had just been at each other’s throats. But then come the next verses:

‘We all partake the joy of one,

The common peace we feel,

A peace to sensual minds unknown,

A joy unspeakable.

And if our fellowship here below

In Jesus be so sweet,

What heights of rapture shall we know

When round his throne we meet.’

I think some of us have forgotten that our days on earth are limited and if we saw this in one another how much less destructive would be our differences of opinion and how much more wonderful our relationships.