|Published on Sun, 20 Aug 2017 12:00|
|Parish Pilgrimage Sermons August 2017|
Talk given by David Simoes-Brown on behalf of himself and Joao Simoes-Brown on 20th August 2017.
May the words I speak be those You want spoken
May the words we hear be those You want heard
May we live to Your glory
We weren't here last Sunday to hear Liz and David, nor the previous Sunday to hear Gary and Andy! Such are the trials of the holiday season. In the light of some of the more challenging aspects of our pilgrimage I hope our talk will make a positive contribution – and maybe a bit of light relief!
Our subject is the beauty and revelation of God and I will try to get across some of the ways God spoke to Joao and me through nature, art and architecture. Joao sends her love to you all – she’s in Portugal with her folks and our girls. I have the unenviable task of trying to do justice to her words today…
God reveals Himself to all of us in different ways, usually in a way we can understand and relate to, and at times, when we are truly attuned, we can almost feel His presence. That said, I also feel that we have an active role to play in God’s revelation and, during our pilgrimage, we had to activate our ‘pilgrim mind-set’, lovingly nurtured by Jeff and Jane.
In the Holy Land, there were many occasions to reflect on the beauty and revelation of God but two aspects stuck out for me:
- Firstly: that our feelings can be precious indicators of the presence of God. I witnessed my fellow pilgrims being moved in different places and I let myself be moved by the whole experience, especially by the beauty of the landscape and by the ubiquitous sacred art. These facets often are, or so I like to consider them, my own “everyday” channels to God.
- Secondly: I learned that God speaks to us all but not necessarily where we expect Him to. I recall the day we visited the church of the Holy Sepulchre, shelter of the site of Jesus’ tomb, according to tradition, and our disappointment at being unable to visit the inner shrine due to the sheer amount of tourists. The following day some of us had another go, alas also in vain, as we still got no access to the tomb. However, on that day, we visited the memorial installation dedicated to the Jewish children who died in the holocaust. The beauty of the installation seemed to be giving back the humanity these children had been denied in their death but the horror of the truth left us speechless, even tearful. Deeply moved, we shared our deep silence. To me it felt as we were finally visiting Jesus’ tomb; whenever we let injustice, cruelty and war kill innocents, it’s as if Jesus dies again.
There is another privileged place to get closer to God and it has been consistently sought by a long string of prophets and holy men: the desert. In our picture book, I have included a picture of St George’s Monastery, an extraordinary witness to this sacred communication. One would have been forgiven to have missed this landmark entirely, as nature and architecture blend harmoniously in the desert landscape.
Jesus remained 40 days in the wilderness and was baptised in the Jordan by another desert dweller, St John the Baptist, and only then did His ministry began.
On Jesus’ return from the desert, the area of Galilee must have provided a great contrast to say the least, as you can see in the second photo (Gorgeous Galilee), it’s thriving with exuberant vegetation framed by water, sky and opulent colours. When I stood on the lake shore near where Jesus performed the miracle of the fish and the loaves, I couldn’t help thinking that Jesus was probably not insensitive to beauty, and must have loved the abundant life of this area, even if only as an earthly point of reference to help his followers visualise the Kingdom of God and feed the imagination of the multitude. The perfect place to spread His word.
Art has also been a medium of great value in Christianity to help spread the good news of Christ through time and over distant places - and Christianity provides an extensive iconography. Sacred Art has been able to channel the realm of the divine and tell Jesus’ story by providing a visual experience to the worshipper. We learned from Ian Knowles, at the Icon Centre in Bethlehem, that an icon is designed especially to involve the viewer in the picture:The sacred narrative is taking place in the here and now. Ian wrote the icon “Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls” (in our picture book) on the wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, thus defying the presence of fear, exclusion and injustice, along with the other graffiti on the wall. Art can be a very powerful medium.
Although God reveals Himself to us all in a way each can understand, according to our own cultural inclinations and sensitivity, He also invites us to go beyond our limited views. As we heard from Matthew’s reading today: Jesus transcends social, cultural, ethnic, religious and political barriers – the Canaanites were not exactly esteemed by the Israelites yet Jesus said yes to the Canaanite woman, not despite of who she was but because of who she was in her core, because of the strength of her faith. Jesus revealed Himself to her and she recognised Him. No channels required in her case!
There was an unexpected feeling of coming home when I arrived in the Holy Land. Seeing the legendary bible stories come to life in front of your eyes was quite wonderful. On just one day, smelling the fresh spray of the Sea of Galilee, picturing Peter being charged with his mighty mission at Tabgha and learning about the ‘positive commandments’ at the Mount of Beatitudes’ Church was all rather overwhelming. But the sum total of all my experiences there left me with a feeling of being deeply centred.
One of the ways in which God showed himself to me in His land (I like to think) was through nature. His first revelation was in the Garden of Gethsemane. What a tranquil and verdant island in a rather dry and dusty urban sea. Even the car horns faded into the distance. I was, to be honest, struggling to reconcile the beauty of this place with its scented flowers and garden paths with the brutality of Jesus’ betrayal that happened here. Then I was distracted by the lizards! My favourite creatures (I recently joined the Amphibian and Reptile Club for example..), there were at least 2 species going about their business quite oblivious to all the pilgrims. They brought me back to earth, helped me see the earth and I was reconnected with the greater story beyond the betrayal.
Other highlights were undoubtedly the birds – from the cheeky collared dove nesting right on top of the pigeon spikes at the Mount of Beatitudes’ Church, the humming bird with its coat of many colours in the stunning church gardens (in the photo book), to the array of geese, ducks, cranes and hawks trying their best to distract us from our Galilee-side mass. Have a look at the colours in the background to the photo Eucharist by the Lake). Horizontal bands of blues, purples and greens reminded me that the Holy Land is (and was) a lush and bountiful place for Jesus to minister in – perhaps unlike our biblical images of deserts and dust. Glory be to God!
In conclusion we remember today’s reading from Matthew ‘The Faith of a Canaanite Woman’.
Although God knows how to reveal Himself to us in a way we can understand, He also invites us constantly to transcend our limited views as we heard in the reading. Jesus transcends tribal, cultural, religious and political barriers – the Canaanites were not exactly a group well regarded by the Israelites yet Jesus says yes to that Canaanite woman, not despite of who she is but because of who she is in her core, because of the strength of her feelings, because of the strength of her faith, because she knew she was face to face with God, no devices required in her case.
The Canaanite woman clearly had tremendous faith – she had tenacity, audacity even, perhaps driven by the plight of her daughter. But for her, God was all around. And now He was in front of her. Her revelation of God seems constant and present. For me, it seems that I need to be reminded of God’s ever-presence though his creation and his gift of our senses. God speaks to us all.