On Open, Broken Ground

Sunday 8th August 2010
Year C, The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Parish Eucharist
Luke 12:32-40

I want to paint a picture, not to idealise it, not to say that it is a better picture than those of another age, though that might turn out to be so, but because it is simple to imagine. Think of a castle upon a hill dominating the huddled town below, keeping watch for enemies from afar, providing a place of strength for rulers and a source of protection for humble folk. Then there is a war and enemies are seen in the distance. The forces from the castle ride down the hill to protect the town but they are beaten back. The men are killed, the women raped, the town pillaged; and then the castle besieged until its few defenders not yet dead of illness and starvation, surrender. And as the new occupants of the castle look down upon the town, the only light is the moon.

Now here is another not so much picture as set of propositions which might be shown in a strip cartoon:

I hope you are beginning to get the pictures. Many years ago, in a wonderful poem entitled Carnal Knowledge, the poet Thom Gunn ended each of the stanzas alternately with:

I know you know I know you know I know


You know I know you know I know you know

and then there was the Abba song, Knowing Me, Knowing You

We might combine these two into a new mantra:

I am watching you watching me watching you watching me watching you

And so today the idea of watching is not so simple as it was in the time of Jesus and as late as the castle. In those days there were the watchers and the watched, the powerful and the powerless but today we almost invariably find ourselves in alternating roles, sometimes watching, sometimes being watched and, frankly, we are rather muddled in our attitude to this. I suppose there is somebody in the congregation who is totally immune from celebrity watching but the rest of us will have to admit that we either deliberately satisfy a craving to pry into the lives of others or we do not put ourselves out of harm's way; and we rarely enquire whether the information we so greedily consume was well or ill got.

We are prying and private. We read about a young footballer who is seeking hedonistic experience, made possible by great wealth and driven by immaturity and we say to ourselves that he's fair game because he’s a celebrity, because we think for some totally inexplicable reason, that he ought to be a moral role model, just because he can play football; but, at the same time, we are tigerishly defensive of our own privacy and that of our family who sink into excess. We read about the salary of Jonathan Ross but we somehow think that what we earn should be a profound secret. If a celebrity runs for cover we say that he has something to hide. What have we to hide?

If there are two objects from all of this contemporary surveillance and consumption mayhem; they are the gate and the light.

The gate is supposed to protect us so that the stronger the fear, the stronger the gate; conversely, the iconic object of surveillance is the light: in the street, in the camera. Like every other phenomenon of civilisation, fire, wheels, nuclear power, the thing that can benefit us can equally harm us.

But Luke's story of the servants and the master alerts us to a higher truth. The complexities of earthly watching and being watched will never equip us for the only two-way watching that counts, that of our watching God and God watching us.

Now we all know that the idea that God is actually 'watching' us is the use of vivid language to express the thought that we are in God's care; but the converse, that we somehow watch God might seem to be even more far fetched but it is not because that is why we were created as creatures of the creator, to watch through prayer and worship.

And if we think of all the complexities of our contemporary lives, of all our gates and lights, we know that these are no obstacle to God's care, the God who 'sees' us, so to speak, on open, broken ground; and it is such ground we need to settle upon in order to 'watch' God.

If we are to be true servants of God in recognition of the service of Jesus to us, then we must recognise that there are no gates that can, or should, protect us from God not, as might commonly be thought, from the prying eye but, rather, from the loving eye; and there is no light so bright that we might want to shine into the face of others as bright as that light which the Spirit shines out from our hearts.

And that mutual watching of God and ourselves is what we call love, so different from the posturing of the gate and the prying of the light.

For God is our protecting castle and we are the folk of the huddled town. It is when we want to compete that things go wrong; and that competition with God we call pride.

Perhaps we could think of the whole of our lives as the struggle between love and pride; and if love is to win then it will be victorious on the open ground of our brokenness.