Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3: 1-17
The bunting’s been up for quite a while now, and since February we’ve been hearing a lot about the Jubilee. The time has now come, and if you’re up for 4.5 hours of TV this afternoon you can watch all the boats travel down the Thames. If you still haven’t had enough by then, there’s a 90 minute recap from 5 to 11 on BBC1.
It’s so easy to get blasé though, isn’t it? To feel that everything is the same, that we know what’s going on and how little it really matters to us. Everyone’s got two days off this week, courtesy of Her Majesty, but whether you’ll be waving flags or just doing the stuff at home that you never get a chance to, I think we can all be thankful for the Bank Holidays.
There’s a routine of judgement we get into – oh, she’s a monarchist, what a toff; oh, he’s a republican and has no appreciation of history; oh, there’s a doctor going on strike – what’s the matter when they have six-figure salaries; Walsall Council’s inept and can’t do anything right, I can’t stand my boss, and so on, and so on. Thing is, we are trained to judge by the news and the media, we revel in negativity and bad news to the point where anything good is either a quirky ‘and finally…’ or looked on as something bizarre. We seem to accept that someone stressed, frowning or anxious is normal, but someone happy, joyful and at peace is either strange or annoying.
Even advertising gets in on the act – “You have saggy, wrinkled skin. This product will make you look amazing and win you love and adoration!” “Are you feeling sad, unconfident and fed-up? Yes you are! Buy this product and make your life complete, until the next upgrade!” We are trained to judge and condemn what is there, especially around ourselves, to the point where we are hooked on a cycle of feeling bad and trying to compensate for it.
And then we have the two readings – one from Isaiah, one from John – both very famous and once again, quite easy to hear but not listen to. I’d like to pick out two verses from the Gospel to begin with – “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about Heavenly things? For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him”.
Jesus came to save the world with His love, and if we are to become like Him, then we shouldn’t condemn, but love. We must love and understand these earthly things, in order to see the heavenly ones. But it goes further than just the world – we are to love one another as Jesus loved us. That love requires understanding – what is it like for someone who works in the public sector or a banker? What is it like for someone who is an MP? What is it like for someone living on benefits? For someone who is of a different race, a different age, sexuality or opinion? It’s so easy to write someone off as a benefit cheat, or a waster, a toff, too clever or too old; but do we actually know what makes them tick? Taking the time to understand our neighbours is truly loving them. Learning to accept them as they are and as human beings with just the same fears and doubts as we have is that Christ-like love.
Jesus also said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” I would turn that round and say, “Love yourself as you love your neighbour,” because it’s so easy to be critical of ourselves and our own failings, to let history drag us down into self-loathing. We can get so used to putting ourselves down that we become accustomed to it, and lose the ability to see ourselves objectively. This is where the Old Testament reading comes in: Isaiah saw the Lord, knowing that to do so meant death. He knew he was unclean, and lived amongst people who were unclean, but when called he didn’t say that he was still rubbish even though his sins had been forgiven. He said, “Here I am, Lord.”
He had self-knowledge, he knew himself and understood himself; he could see grace and was able to receive it when the spotlight shined on him. If we are too full of self-condemnation it’s so easy to shrivel away from the light of grace, from the love of God and those around us. We tell ourselves that we’re not worthy and keep ourselves where we think we belong, when we’ve got the wrong end of the stick completely. If we are to be loved, we need to spend some time getting to know ourselves, to see why we do what we do, and to forgive ourselves. Love starts from within, from the grace that comes from knowing that we are forgiven, redeemed, and wanted just as we are.
And this is why I think we were told that we have to become like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Children from either side of a conflict will play together because they see each other as children. It’s only when they grow up that they’re indoctrinated with judgement from the adults around them. They don’t see colour as a great problem unless they’re conditioned that way. If you tell them that two people of the same gender love each other there’s no judgement, not unless an adult tells them it’s wrong.
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive,” said Paul. The sins of the father are indeed visited on the sons, because adults pass their fears and their conditioning onto their children. They soak it up from news and from society without a thought, and I think that we’d be much better off to learn from children – no boundaries, no differences, just other human beings to appreciate.
But we’ve all heard this message a thousand times; we used to being told not to condemn, to understand each other and love our neighbours, but how do we do that? How do we take the work of the Spirit, from last week’s events, and use that today? If we go home and spend time getting to know ourselves, what then? We can pray for awareness of our conditioning, of our instinctive reactions, and then stay watchful for when it happens – if we find ourselves being negative we can then stop that feeling. With knowledge comes the ability to accept that we have conditioning without beating ourselves up about it. We can then use the mind of Christ, the Spirit, to react with love and understanding. From awareness comes the ability to release ourselves from those fears – look out for our reactions, stop them in their tracks and choose a new path – that is freedom.
And so coming back to the beginning; today is Trinity Sunday where we celebrate the uniqueness of the facets of God with the knowledge that all three are God, and with the Jubilee encouraging everyone to unite together as citizens of the commonwealth, let us forgive ourselves, let us enjoy our differences and let us love and understand one another as children of God.