It has been a long time since I wrote anything on this ‘Living God’ blog. The ‘Passion in Real Time’ that I wrote during Holy Week and through to Pentecost took a great deal of my attention and after that I went on a number of visits overseas which just seemed to absorb so much time and energy. So I apologise for all of that. But I was provoked into getting back to this blog because I’m taking part in the ‘Living God’ weekend at Wychcroft.
For those of you who do not know about it, Wychcroft is the conference and retreat centre for the Diocese of Southwark. It’s set in some wonderful countryside just south of Godstone. So it isn’t far from London but it’s amazing how you don’t have to travel far to feel that you’re a long way away. Apart from the planes going into Gatwick it’s very peaceful. The house is comfortable, the food is wonderful and the welcome always genuine. So for the past 15, maybe more, years a group has come down from the Cathedral for a weekend – not a retreat but time together in worship, study and fellowship. So that’s why I am here. We’re a group of 15 people, all ages, all backgrounds and we quickly gelled into a great group.
When we were planning what to do we decided that in some way it had to be part of the Living God programme and so every session during the weekend and every eucharist has had the Living God prayer in it.
your life gives life to the world;
live in us,
live in me,
may our lives reflect your life.
Being away gives us a great opportunity to talk about some of the major issues about living the Christian life, and living well as human beings. We decided that a way into that might be through the series of Nooma DVDs that Rob Bell has produced.
We had begun the Living God process with Rob Bell and his book ‘What we talk about when we talk about God’. That had been a good way into those initial conversations and from a different angle than the one we normally take at Southwark Cathedral. Rob is an American author and pastor and was the founder of Mars Hill Bible Church located in Grandville, Michigan, which he led until 2012. The Nooma series goes back to around 2002 and is a series of films about aspects of Christian living and fath – short, accesible and, in a number of ways, provocative.
We chose three – ‘Rain’, ‘Rich’ and ‘Flame’ – and watched the film, broke into groups, had a good discussion and ended with a plenary. We then took the theme of the film to the altar and into the eucharist.
The names of each of the films is intentionally obscure in the sense that you can’t instantly imagine what they’re about. But as a taster here are three quotes that we used, one from what Rob says in each film and some of the scripture that he referred us to.
Rain: ‘God says to us, “When you come to me, come to me with all your junk, with all your problems, come to me all screwed up, all messed up. Let me take care of it.” ‘
The setting of the film was a storm in which Rob was carrying his son and one of his texts was Matthew 7.24-27. What I particularly appreciated about this parable, which hadn’t struck me as forcibly before, is that both the wise and foolish builders, on rock and sand, faced the storm. The storm was inevitable. As Rob said ‘It always rains.’
Rich: ‘May you come to see that you’re rich. And your posessions, they’re luxuries that most people in the world don’t have. And may you do what Jesus says, may you step into the divine responsibility to give, and when you do, may you take hold of the life that is truly life.’
The context for this film was a car repair garage and a studio in which a car was being photographed as a ‘sexy’ desirable thing. One of the texts we were directed to was 1 Timothy 6.17-19 and that most fantastic line in that passage
‘that they may take hold of the life that truly is life’
That’s exactly what we’re searching for, seeking, praying for, living the authentic life, living God, living well.
Flame: ‘True sexuality is vast and mysterious. It involves all of you. I mean, you have a body, but you also have a soul and a spirit.’
It was the Song of Songs that he directed us to and especially Song of Songs 2.7. He described it as an erotic love song and used the image of lighting a huge bonfire and three flames for the three kinds of love that we find both in Hebrew and Greek, so inadequately described by the one English word ‘Love’.
I can’t say that everyone liked the films or his style but they proved to be wonderful ways into these big topics and we had excellent conversations. It will rain in our lives, who will protect us? We are rich, how do we live differently, generously? We are sexual beings, how do we live holistically and responsibly whatever sexuality God has blessed us with and how can the church embrace and celebrate our sexual nature with joy and maturity?
The rest of the time was taken up with food and fun. The rear lawn to the house is perfect for croquet and the weather meant that we could be out there shouting advice from the edge or playing the game. And perhaps that is another metaphor for life. Living God is about plunging into the game and not standing on the sidelines – because this is incarnation and this is the starting point of our life at Southwark.
The chapel at Wychcroft is dedicated to the people of God and at the east end is a wonderful painting by John Hayward of Christ the Worker. It dominates the space in which we worship and break bread. Those work-worn hands opened to us, the carpenters apron, they’re all reminders that we worship the God who is involved, who entered the storm and calmed it, who was rich but became poor for our sake, who shared our humanity fully and whose life was a flame of love. God did not stay on the edge shouting advice at us, he entered the fray and showed us how to live and this weekend we’ve had a wonderful opportunity to live well together and to continue that well living.
At the moment the group members are preparing the closing Eucharist and as I write I can hear the music group practicing in the chapel and singing the Sanctus. That prayer of praise and adoration we will offer with joy.
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.