Whisper it… I think spring is here.

The crocuses in the church garden began to hint at it a while ago – but they were too modest, too diffident.  The daffodils got involved – but they bloom so effortlessly it hardly seems an achievement when they begin to trumpet.  I went for a run just before sunset, along the Surrey Canal Path, around Burgess Park.  Trees have been planted along there especially for their fruit, and their blossom-flirtation with the bees is just beginning.  But even with their scent, they didn’t qualify for my spring-test.

I think it must be something about the combination of them all, and the lightness of the skies (so many people still out and about enjoying it) that confirms it.

I walk past the church garden pretty much every day.  In this season, it couldn’t make me happier if it tried.  And it doesn’t.  It just sits there, casually throwing out paintbox yellows and blues and purples against browns and greens, just being itself.

The garden been opened up for just less than a year, so this is its first spring.  Arthur is one of a team who have given it this new life.  And I wonder if what Arthur and others are doing, when they come to plant the bulbs, clear the weeds, mow the lawn, rake the rubbish, is a kind of living Psalm 148.

It’s a song which needs a kind of Brian Blessed of a voice – a human being issuing cosmic commands.  To creation, the human voice says – praise him!  To skies and mountains, animals and birds – praise him who made you!

To daffodils and crocuses – praise him with your colour!  To blossom – praise him with your scent!  To the lawn – let me free you from rubbish so you can praise him with your greenness and the way you move with the breeze.

On the one hand – how dare we?  What gives us the right to coax, or free, or ignite praise from the rest of creation?

On the other – if not us, then who?  And if not praise, then what?  By which I mean – if we work with creation at all, is it for praise of our creator, or is it for satisfaction of us alone?

In some of my favourite words of all time, Peter – clumsy, impetuous Peter – names the people of God as priests.  All of them.  A priest gathers, encourages, opens up praise to God.  A bit like a gardener? A bit like Psalm 148?

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Jesus and his very short sermon

As preached, in part, at Rye Lane last week.

I’ve signed up to run a half-marathon.  This is madness.  It’s three times longer than I’ve ever run before.  It is unnatural, it strikes me, to run that far.

Thankfully, I have 3 months to prepare.  I have downloaded a training programme from the internet and pencilled it into my diary – “3 miles low intensity”, “30 mins cross training”, and the sly increases of a long run increasing by a mile a week. Ha. As though they think I don’t notice.

This awful training schedule has a point to it.  It is (I fondly believe) purposeful.

If I got to the end of the three months and then shrugged my shoulders and said – oh well, I’m not going to bother running the actual race – I would have missed the point, somewhat.  The training is for a purpose.

I’ve been thinking about this a little bit as we’ve just entered Lent.   We can give up things, or take up things for Lent, and those are good decisions –we follow Jesus into the wilderness and fast, and that is a good thing.  But if we  are following Jesus into the wilderness, we follow him for a purpose.   Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to fast in order to PREPARE for something.

After wrestling temptations, he is filled “with the power of the Spirit”.  He heads to a synagogue and stands up to read.  Taking one of the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah, he reads barely over one verse.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Not much of a reading today, think some of the crowd.

And then he preaches the most electrifying eight word sermon ever heard.

this scripture 
is fulfilled 
in your hearing.”

Goosebumps rise around the synagogue.  A weighty silence follows.

Jesus’ preparation is for a purpose, something incredible.  A world-changing, good-news-bringing, freedom-proclaiming, sight-bringing, oppression-destroying ministry.

If we follow Jesus into the wilderness, we don’t just follow him for the preparation part – we follow him for the purpose part as well.  A share in his purpose.

I’ve only just noticed that even in eight words, Jesus manages to include in his sermon something which sounds a little bit like an invitation and a little bit like a challenge. “In your hearing”, he says.  No abstraction here.  No thinking “Oh yes, that’s jolly good, glad to hear about that fulfilment happening.  Somewhere else.”

Instead:  “you’re in on it”, Jesus says.  Your choice to decide what to do with that – but no doubting the fact that you were here to hear this.  Today.  In your hearing.

How to prepare for a share in this joyful, epic, freedom-bringing life?

That is a question forty days can only start to answer.