Last week I took one of our daughters to her new flat in London. And this of course, meant negotiating the traffic in central London. And as you will perhaps imagine I was on the receiving end of what is commonly called a little bit of `Road Rage`. OK, I got into the wrong lane and had to hold someone up momentarily so that I could regain my bearings- I was doing my best. And I think it was the frequent use of the horn that gave it away. But what WAS that loud and incessant noise really saying I wondered?
I mean we could suggest that this was a quite legitimate response to my incompetent driving. A bit of a telling off. On the other hand perhaps it was nothing personal at all. Perhaps it was just part of the game that`s played. After all, in some countries sounding the horn is just a part of what you do on a crowded and competitive road. I mean, my only consolation was these weren`t the frankly terrifying streets of Kathmandu!
Or maybe the driver behind me was late for an appointment. Perhaps they were just having a bad day and needed to let off steam? I don`t know. You`ll appreciate we didn`t get to meet or discuss their feelings over coffee but at that moment I did find myself wondering whether something else was going on. I suppose I`m pointing to the way in which an apparently small thing, such as getting a bit delayed in traffic can bring out a response which seems somehow completely out of proportion. I`m thinking of how that minor inconvenience which you would hope might be brushed aside with a bit of shrug sometimes manages to open a window onto something else: my view of the world.
I mean, might it be for instance, that although I wouldn`t readily admit it that momentary explosion of annoyance tells you that my real, underlying attitude to life is that I need to push, shove, fight or grab. That I see myself as someone who always has a deadline, who has to compete, to make the deal, meet the deadline, please someone.
In other words this moment could expose what we might call the background noise to my life. It tells you about my assumptions about the world and how others will treat me if I don`t as they say `get my revenge in first`. And we see this all around us don`t we?
We might think of that conversation where someone makes simple statement about something that didn`t work very well- and someone else jumps in with- “Yes, well it wasn`t my fault”. Or the way in some neighbourhoods people are quite happy to say `Good morning` as you pass them in the street but in others people avoid eye contact and if you make a point of greeting them they snap back with “What`s your game?” What I`m saying is that these reactions might tell a deeper story.
Some years ago the BBC ran a short series called the Big Silence in which half a dozen people were given their first taste of a silent retreat. To cut the long story short, one of these people had been a very sharp business man but, it emerged that he had been orphaned at an early age. This process of quiet reflection enabled him to hear the background noise of his life. And it was summed up by the retreat guide who suggested, “Your experience of the world has taught you that it`s not a very kind place hasn`t it?”.
So this is the thing this morning. I want to invite you to think about what the background noise of your life is? I wonder what you`re default setting is? Your real attitude to life? It`s sometimes there when you wake up in a morning and all those things come flooding in. Again, it`s there in moments of stress or potential road rage. So are you generally optimistic or defeated? Hopeful or disappointed? At peace or carrying anger? Open or closed to others? Cautious or cavalier? At ease or anxious?
Again, I`m not talking here about moods- which can change as the day goes on and be affected by a whole range of things. I`m talking about your fundamental outlook. You see last week I spent a bit of time talking with you about what I`ve called the `Big Picture`- our story as people of faith. And we looked firstly at the work of God in Creation which, we`re told is fundamentally `good`.
Now this is important because it speaks of a world in which humankind is `at home`- with creation, with God, with one another. Now we know that things have gone awry and we may come back to this but the Book of Genesis teaches us that the fundamental background noise is the God who declares it all `good`.
And this isn`t just in the sense that creation is beautiful. It`s an invitation to realise that in spite of a life`s experience which may have taught us to be cynical, defensive and all the rest we are as I say, very much at home.
Life`s hard knocks and many other perplexing things may do much to persuade us otherwise but what I`m suggesting is that the real background noise of creation is what we call grace. And one of the key discoveries on the way of faith is that God`s good creation is a fundamentally kind place. Don`t take my word for it.
Go to the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew Chapter 5, 6 and 7.
Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Now when you read this through slowly you can`t escape the notion of how stunning this is. But I want to suggest that the degree to which we respond to these words of Christ with cynicism- or under your breath accuse him of `hopeless idealism`, is a measure of how far you haven`t got it yet. And like those who haven`t got it you`ll continue to hedge yourself around with all kinds of securities of one kind or another; protect yourself against God`s creation and live a life of functional atheism.
Let me let you into a secret. I really don`t enjoy Harvest very much. Firstly it`s because in a former existence I was in touch with a number of schools who never had their Harvest Festival in the same week so Harvest used to last for most of September and October and I was exhausted!
But the real reason is that it`s not a season for the faint-hearted. It`s not just the way Harvest questions our attitude to material things. It`s the way Christ uses these agricultural metaphors to describe the ways of God and to question our most fundamental disposition. In other words we have to ask the question, “Where do we find our real security?”
Harvest forces us to examine the ways in which we have become accustomed to hedging ourselves about and have learnt not to trust this background noise of grace. `Ah`, but `it`s only sensible` we say, `it`s only prudent to be cautious and not to expose yourself to risk`. `It`s foolhardy to trust, to forgive, to get involved, to give that much with no expectation of return`, because `those sorts of things are quite frankly a mugs game`.
And that`s why, in these terms, the world`s terms this Jesus doesn`t make any sense. That`s why he doesn`t seem to have his feet in what we call `the real world`. But this tells you all you need to know about HIS default setting; his disposition.
And our objections are well understood. This is why St. Paul describes us as `Fools for Christ`. Because the Christian is one who is caught up in the ways of the Kingdom; a whole new way of understanding ourselves and God`s creation. And when you have tuned into that background noise of grace it actually begins to make all the sense in the world.
Because when this is your default setting; your fundamental disposition and you are formed by and caught up in the totally reckless, extravagant goodness of God you begin to make all the difference in the world.
So today why not pray for the courage to let this happen to you? To imagine for a moment that Jesus is right and to put your shirt on what he says: I wonder what kind of person might you become? What might your life and your attitudes look like even in the middle of heavy and irritating traffic!? Well, you`ll probably become the kind of person others think a little strange. `How could anyone be that kind, generous, vulnerable, forgiving, so lacking in concern for their own wellbeing?` they`ll say.
But what they`ll really be seeing is the kind of behaviour that brings in and demonstrates the kingdom of God- the way the world was meant to be. It`s what happens when you realise that because God IS God you need not worry any more……