Walking by the Sea of Galilee

A few years ago, when I first started going to a small local church, and when my faith was  prodded until it woke up, I would walk on the cold seashore in the mornings and try to reimagine it as the the shore of the Sea of Galilee (I’ve warbled about that before) trying to imagine what would have been like to walk with Christ. I longed to know him better, hankering after those ancient days, a bit miffed that I hadn’t been born then, in that war torn dusty region, always trying to imagine, to reach back, to find a place for myself in his time.

That’s because I am at heart simple and ridiculous. Would I really have been one of the women who supported him and then went on to provide for the growing church after his death? No way. I’m not a great joiner – I fell into the Army at 18 and then I didn’t join another single group until I was 67. I think it’s unlikely that, left to my own devices, I would have given everything up, even for a Saviour.

Over these last few years, I’ve come to realise that I have a far, far more intimate relationship with Jesus now than I could have had back then. Then, as a woman in a fiercely chauvinist society, I would have heard him from a distance  but now I walk in him, and he walks in me. My knowledge of Jesus is far deeper now  because I’m no longer left to my own devices, nor is any one of us. The faith we have now is from him, and it grows from his nourishment, and without his death it would not have been possible.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7)

It really is for our good that Jesus was ‘going away’. It’s for my good that he came as man, and it’s for that same good that he died in shame and agony. Because now,  my little snoodlepips, forgiven and redeemed by him, I belong to him, heart and mind and soul. His. The Luce who would have met him, on the shore of Galilee, before Pentecost, before the story was told… would I really have been his? You know me by now surely? Stubborn, contrary, judgmental, fearful, awkward, reclusive, impatient, impulsive, weird.

Now I am still all of those things but all of those things PLUS. Plus the Spirit of a loving God who loves me anyway, and makes it possible for me to love others, plus the knowledge of the crucifixion and the resurrection, plus the sure and certain hope of life everlasting. Which would be a right old boring thing to be assured of except, EXCEPT (sorry, I’m a bit exclamatory today) eternity will be in the presence of God. The God who loves me with a perfect love, the God who I will love with his perfect love. Bliss. The God who will transform me. Amazing!

When I walk on the beach every morning, or sit on my log, or paddle, gazing at the sky and lost in wonder and praise (or sometimes just thinking about coffee) I’m there with Jesus. I’m in eternity. Encountering Jesus, for us, isn’t an incident in a busy life as it was for the woman who touched the hem of his robe, or the woman at the well…. it’s an all day everyday fabulous exciting adventure and privilege.

Too many adjectives. I don’t care.

We’ve had a series of sermons about ‘encounters with Christ’ and it’s been a great series, like our ‘red letter words’ series, just getting to know more about Jesus when he walked on this earth, watching his interaction with the people around him, our brilliant Jesus who said the words our hearts need to hear.  If we’re Christian, we’ve encountered Jesus, yes, of course we have, but much much more than even that, we continue to encounter Jesus every day. It’s like one of those Greek tenses, we don’t just encounter, we continue….

As I chatted with my granddaughter yesterday it was as if I was holding her up to God, saying “Look what you’ve given me, all this, all this, all this…. and this grandchild, and all this love. ” and I was warmed by the knowledge and certainty that he was there with us. Galilee in West Wales.

Flip me, chickadees, there’s a real danger that I’m going to get soppy in my old age. It must be a Celtic overload – Irish genes and Welsh environment.

Shoot me now.

Before I go, here’s a story that’s hard to tell and maybe hard to hear. I know it will make me look deluded to some people, but this is what happened, and if I look a fool for Christ, well, I’ve looked worse things:

About 4 years ago, I was on one of my morning saunters – I can’t really call them walks, they’re slow and ambling as I stop and start, gazing at the sky, watching the sea foam eddying around my feet, the gulls soaring. I was paddling happily, feeling the sun on my back and heading towards a  rock where I planned to pray for a while. Suddenly I was in one of those enchanted moments, when the world slips away, leaving only the soul and God. Nothing to dilute the crystalline otherness, and I said to God – without any planning, straight from the core of me – something like “It’s so long since I had someone’s hand to hold, someone I could share this moment with, and I think I can’t quite bear it – 25 years is too long” It wasn’t a moan, it was just a thought, an honest moment of longing. It wasn’t a complaint that George is dead (he’s in glory and I’m delighted for him), no,  it was an honest human need for companionship. And as I walked towards the rocks, with my dogs pattering on ahead, I felt a hand slip into mine. It was so real that I was startled and turned to see who had sneaked up on me. No one. But I felt the hand, the warmth and the reality of it. I know that this wasn’t wishful thinking, I looked down at my hand, relaxed, ordinary, and still I felt the muscle, bones, actuality of a hand in mine. Breathless. Hardly believing, savouring the sensation, almost hefting the hand I could not see. It stayed with me for maybe ten steps, and then was gone just as suddenly.

My breath was taken away, tears threatened, but my heart was just so full of amazing delight. That hand, holding mine, has been with me, ever since. Four years of ups and downs and struggles, joy and sadness, but when loneliness strikes I remember that hand, and the memory is a deep comfort. I am not alone. I walk on the shore with God. What an amazing God. How good he is.

 

 

 

 

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Oh! Oh! Oh! Listen!

Yesterday I went to England, and I remembered what I’d forgotten, or forgotten to remember;  how green that lovely country is, how the hills fold and dip, how the hedgerows are different from Welsh hedgerows, bigger, older, the trees fatter somehow. Remembered that there are places where hares still dance, where farmers leave land unseeded around every field for flowers to grow and wildlife to thrive, remembered lark song (why are there no larks here in West Wales? Do the kites and buzzards get them all?) Man,  it was good being back there, even so briefly. Early as usual, I parked the car and sat in the gateway to a wheat field….

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Does that seem no big shakes to you? Probably not. But now I live where the hillsides are pasture for sheep and cows, and there are very few fields full of barley or corn or wheat,  shimmering in sunshine, dancing in the breeze. And no hares. Positively no hares! I sat there for a long long time, just thanking God for that day, for that special hour, the sunshine and the healing warmth.

This morning, back in Wales, the dogs are still in kennels so early routine is different, and I have a holiday feeling! No demanding furry creatures desperate to get down to the beach… so I made a second cup of coffee, and padded bare-footed to the table to open my Bible. Nowt odd in that. All over the world thousands of people are doing the same thing, but now the idea grabbed me, thrilled me, the image of a thousand people doing that very same thing, maybe more… a million? Too much? The consciousness of people all over the world doing the very same thing at the very same time, turning to God in praise and expectation  filled my senses with delight, brought tears prickling to my eyes. Tears of gratitude.  Two thousand years after Christ,  half a world away … a world that’s hardly recognisable to the one He lived in… and yet here we are. Here we are, ready and listening, and drinking in His every word.

And then I opened the book, and look where the ribbon was:

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TWO whole pages of red letter words. Two pages of Jesus Christ talking to me down all the centuries across the lands and seas and rivers, mountain and cities and every culture…. a journey of immense distance, unimaginable time…. and here He is. His word. To little old me, bare footed, scruffy,  once lost and now found, sipping coffee, lost in wonder, awe and praise.

The words of God! Savoured, recorded, translated, guarded, remembered, passed down, to nourish and instruct, guide and comfort, govern and delight.

I mean COME ONNNNNN! If that doesn’t excite you and challenge you…. pinch yourself. Check you’re still alive.

Being horrible. Again.

My church, like loads of others,  is overwhelmingly made up of pensioners. It’s a good microcosm of society at large. I  love my church and the people in it. It’s not just (just!) the preaching and teaching and discipling that brings me back week after week, it’s them … the people in the pews. I’m going to sound like a right megalomaniac now, but you know what I love? LOVE? I love standing at the front of the church and looking at them. I do. I don’t mean I like speaking particularly, or the job I’m there to do, but those first few moments of turning and looking at them – BOY! My heart sings. I used to do something we called ‘the notices’ every few weeks, just reeling off a few things for us all to remember, and I loved that. I am a simple soul.

I’ve never belonged anywhere before, that’s the thing.

I learned to drive when I was 18, in the Military Police, but I didn’t have a car of my own until I was 40. When I started writing the first thing we bought was my bright yellow Astra. My car now is a bright yellow Clio (you can take the girl out of the council estate but you can’t take the council estate out of the girl!) When I at last had my own set of wheels, you couldn’t hold me back. One year I clocked up 30,000 miles and I loved every one of them. That’s a bit like how it’s been finding a church family. It’s taken me a long time to belong anywhere at all but now that I do, I’m going to enjoy every twist and turn along the way. Even the bumpy bits.

So, back to my elderly mates at church. Them and me. I suppose we must make up, erm, well, I’m no good at percentages but it’s one hell of a lot. The local population is heavily loaded towards the graveyard shift; the locals who grew up here are wildly outnumbered by the outsiders who retire here, so it’s only natural that church should reflect the age imbalance. It certainly does so –  with brass knobs on! And that creates a challenge.

What do we, as a society,  do about our ever increasing population of old people? Do we make them an integral part of our daily life or do we bung them into sheltered accommodation at the first opportunity? Society says the latter. We have small villages like that in my town: estates made up of tiny bungalows, uniform, sprouting up in the shadow of the care homes the residents will move to when they are too frail to look after themselves.

What model should the church follow for our old people. What model should I follow as a 70 year old? Am I happy to sit in the pews with a few cushions and snooze my life away,  a cosy dormouse disturbing no-one? Is it enough that I turn up for coffee mornings? Or on a Sunday to be fed the sweet milk of scripture but never to share in the nurturing, the discipling, the leading of the church?

Psalm 92 tells us that we will ‘still yield fruit in old age’ and in Job that we will ‘Come to the grave in full vigour, like the stacking of grain in its season.’ What a picture of plenty that is! But the context of that lovely grain image is just a bit less cosy –  ‘blessed is the one whom God corrects….  He will come to the grave in full vigour.

So, as a 70 year old, I’m still ‘en route’. I am still to be corrected. God hasn’t finished with me yet (yeah, OK, less of the ‘obviously’) and old age is no excuse. However old I am, I have to be teachable, humble, obedient, accepting of authority that comes from God. If the leadership is following Biblical teaching, it’s my role to obey. Just like everyone else.  There’s no let-out clause for the old. I don’t get a ‘sit in the back with your lips pursed and disapprove of everything ‘ card.

Old people, like me, we can be so bloody minded and cantankerous and resentful of change. That’s OK for a cartoon character, or a ‘loveable’ character actor in some tired BBC play, but it isn’t OK for a Christian. That’s not Christ-like. As the elderly population grows, so do the grumbles. Is this as inevitable in the church as it seems to be in society? It can’t be, because it doesn’t glorify God and our job is to do exactly that. He has given us all we need to glorify Him so why are we tailing off at the end of our lives? Retiring from active Christianity. That can’t be right!

Which am I? Victor Meldrew  or Mother Theresa? I’ll give you a clue – I’m not Mother Theresa.

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That ‘full vigour’ bit… am I fruitful and vigorous, outward looking, teachable, submitted and visionary or am I hankering after a care package where I’ll be tolerated, cared for, and allowed to bake cakes ? (Don’t start me on the ‘baking cakes thing’,  or we’ll be here all night).

When was the last time I heard someone over 70 saying “I’m starting a new career” or “I would like to retrain” or “I’ve always wanted to play the euphonium so I’m giving it a go’? Where is the elderly person who says to the leadership team ‘Shove over a bit… is there room in there for me?’

Am I going to say any of these things? I blinkin’ well hope so (OK, not the euphonium – don’t be silly.) Did Jesus stop transforming my life last December when I turned 70? No! Or maybe He will call a halt to my growth when I’m 75? No! Should I be content with daytime telly and coffee mornings while every day there are the funerals of the unsaved? What is my responsibility as I get older? To draw the curtains and turn up the telly so that reality doesn’t intrude? Am I excused the command to preach the gospel? ‘Did Jesus say ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, if you’re under pensionable age’?

I want to be part of an active and growing church, myself growing not stagnating. I have a long way still to grow and I’m no good at the things I want to do but that’s OK –  you’re never too old to learn. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but we’re not dogs, we’re children of God.  I don’t want to rot quietly in a cosy dumping ground,  stultified, marking time,  waiting for death. Christ wants more from us than that. I want more from Christ than that. 1John 3:18 ‘let us not love with words or speech but with action’

And, hang on – pull over that soap box –  help me up; I’m tired of looking only to the young for life and vitality, seeing them held up as an encouragement to the old – yet another saved youngster brought to the front to tell his story, while the 80 year old in the back pew  wipes away a sentimental tear, but has nothing of her own to say. It’s great that the young encourage the old, but for Pete’s sake – it works the other way around too. Or it should. God worked miracles in the 1960’s and 70’s and 80’s. Flip me!! It’s not like He’s only just started. We all have stories to tell, it’s time to stand up and shout about what God has done in our lives. The leadership can’t do this for us, that’s our job.

Bum. I was going to be nice. I wasn’t going to get bossy and horrible. And cross. And here I am being bossy and horrible. And cross.

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But listen, surely there should be as much praise and wonder in the life of an octagarian as there is in the life of a teenager? We have the same God and He does the work, not us. If we have nothing to say about God’s great transforming power this week, this day, this year,  then maybe there is something wrong somewhere.

And you know the really really great thing? Something I’ve discovered just this last few months? When I go to the front and turn and look at the people in my church, and feel a great surge of love for them, loads of them look back at me and feel that same love. Isn’t that amazing? So, I can be brave and try new things, because when I fail they forgive me. They pick me up, dust me down and say “Oh, Luce…. what are you like?” So anything I do, anything God moves me to do, it’s enabled by God and by the people around me. No wonder I like being in God’s house, looking at God’s people. It’s a great place to be.

I don’t want to fail my God and my church. I want to be held to account, and counted, I want to be challenged, and enabled and encouraged. I want life and I want it abundantly. Proper abundantly! I want to point the way to Jesus. That way…… look…. there He is…. look!

I wanted to talk about Mary Magdalene. I’ve run out of words. She’ll have to wait. But she loved our Lord. Didn’t she? She did. Maybe that’s for tomorrow.

For now, a cup of tea and bed. Thanking God for a lovely day.