Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord
On Friday I read in the Manchester Evening News that there had been some hateful graffiti written on the East wall of Manchester Cathedral. The words written were offensive enough to warrant the incident to be called a hate crime by the police.
I visited the cathedral yesterday and saw the place where the graffiti was written, as I walked past I felt sad that people would feel the need to deface a building that is not just a holy place but a place that holds the community in prayer, a place where people gather to celebrate achievements and also remember those who have given their lives for their country. Manchester cathedral is a place that is open to all regardless of faith and during the Arena attack supported and comforted all who sought the building for comfort in the wake of the attack.
I spent some time at the high altar thinking about all the negative news that is circulating about our Christian church. Statistics were released recently that aim to show that we, the church, are no longer relevant in the modern world.
As I thought about the seemingly uncertain future of the church my gaze was held by the frontal on the altar. On it was a row of trees. The trees had branches that were waving in the wind with a few leaves coming off. The trunk of the trees sat on a thin piece of ground and under the ground was water. The roots of the trees poked through the ground into the water below.
I wondered what this picture was telling me and as I sat in the silence I felt like these words came to me:
The wind and the rough weather will shake the branches, some branches will be broken and leaves will fall off, but to be able to continue to stay upright and weather the storm the roots must grow deeper.
In the Gospel today we see deeper roots of faith being made. A Gentile woman is begging for Jesus’s help to heal her daughter from an unclean spirit. Her request and approach to Jesus is crossing social and religious boundaries, Jesus is aware of these boundaries which moves Him to challenge her request with a question.
The woman’s strong response to Jesus’s challenge points to the coming of the Holy spirit to rest on the gentiles after His death and resurrection. But most importantly, her deep roots of belief and faith in Jesus withstands any questioning of her ability to be able receive His blessings.
This woman’s actions of approaching Jesus because she had solid belief in Him, could be a fresh teaching for us in the church, a way we can make these deeper roots to withstand the storm.
When the woman approaches Jesus with her request for healing, Jesus doesn’t wait for approval from the PCC or General Synod to be able to administer the healing of the gentile woman’s daughter. She doesn’t have to disclose her sexuality, her marital status, her length of time that she’s heard about Jesus, or her financial position, Jesus sees and hears her deep faith and belief in Him and that is enough.
The newspapers tell us that over half of the country claim not to follow any religion, however the Gospel tells us that these people still can and do cry out and encounter and receive God’s blessings.
The pattern of God’s people crying out to Him and He hearing them and blessing them stretches back to the Exodus in the Old Testament. God hears the crying out of the Israelites in Egypt, God heard their groaning and remembered His promise to them and drew them out of slavery.
If we apply these Old and New Testament Biblical truths of anyone being able to cry out and encounter and receive the saving hands of God, that all can approach Jesus and receive His healing touch and blessings, it can help us to realise that the future of the church actually sounds much more positive than the papers would report. All we need to do is be open, to be opened to God’s mission that is going on around us, to show everyone that we are here for everyone who seeks further understanding of God.
Jesus commands “be opened” to loosen the mouth and free the ears of the second person who receives healing in the Gospel today.
Where is Jesus commanding us to be opened today?
Are there things in our hearts, situations on our minds that are jammed shut?
Are these things preventing us from growing those deeper roots that we need to withstand the storms of life?
Our deep roots are able to grow if we accept Jesus’s command to be opened. By loving our neighbour by praying daily Thy kingdom come thy will be done we open up and deepen our perspectives and understanding of God. In turn anchoring ourselves into the earth with firm foundations of faith.
We may loose some branches as storms blow through the church, our leaves will fall and be scattered, but with deep well fed roots we will remain and sustain all God’s people.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. – Isaiah 35:4
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever. -Psalm 125