Sam Wells suggests that it is very hard to believe “that if someone truly knows you, they will truly understand and love you.”
That is because of the sense of shame that we feel.
Sam Wells is reflecting on Psalm 139 which begins with the words “You have searched me and known me.” He points out that we make knowing and loving enemies of one another. God, on the other hand unites them.
The separation of knowing and loving is an everyday experience for us. Lovers of Coronation Street are seeing that played out through the interplay between Phelan, Gary and Owen. Phelan “knows” Gary was prepared to leave him for dead, and uses that knowledge vindictively for his profit.
Jesus also knew that people were prepared to leave him for dead, but his knowledge is full of love, just as his love is full of knowledge. That love showed itself in Jesus’ absolute passion to forgive those responsible for his suffering.
With us, knowing and loving are separate, and there’s always the fear that if someone really knew us, they’d have a power over us that they could use to hurt us, or that they’d see through us and cease to love us. But God’s knowing is different. God’s knowing and loving are indistinguishable. There’s never a moment when God knows but doesn’t love, or loves but doesn’t know. That is the gospel we can hardly begin to imagine. God wholly knows because God wholly loves; and God wholly loves even though God wholly knows.
from Learning to Dream Again p24
Forgiveness doesn’t change the past, but it releases us from the power of the past. Forgiveness doesn’t rewrite history. But it prevents our histories from asphyxiating us. Fundamentally, forgiveness transforms our past from an enemy to a friend, from a horror-show of shame to a storehouse of wisdom. In the absence of forgiveness we’re isolated from our past, trying pitifully to bury or deny or forget or destroy the many things that haunt and overshadow and plague and torment us. Forgiveness doesn’t change these things, but it does change their relationship to us. No longer do they imprison us or pursue us or surround us or stalk us. Now they accompany us, deepen us, teach us, train us. No longer do we hate them or curse them or resent them or begrudge them. Now we find acceptance, understanding, enrichment, even gratitude for them. That’s the work of forgiveness. It’s about the transformation of the prison of the past.
Sam Wells from his Easter Day Sermon 2013
Politics is not just a tiresome consequence of human shortcomings, it is an ongoing conversation about how to bring out and empower the ocean of different gifts and talents in a community. It is not about the limited money in people’s pockets, it is about the limitless potential in their hearts and minds and souls and bodies. It is about how to engage all the energy that is about, and how to discern and embody that which constitutes the goodl life. It may not always be happy, beautiful, or rich, but if a community can express such a notion of politics, it can experience a goodness that other communities, with their impoverished politics, can only envy.
Sam Wells: God’s Companions (2006) p169
We have heard it said “beware of strangers” – usually because of what they are liable to take – our jobs, our women, our money.
The Bible encourages us to welcome the stranger. Many are mentioned in the Bible as people who are welcomed as gifts from God (like Melchizedek, Pharoah, Ruth, Queen of Sheba, the Canaanite woman – and many others). Jesus himself is seen as a stranger and sees himself as a stranger – he sees himself in the outsider, the poor, the prisoner and the sick and teaches his disciples to recognise him in the stranger and outsider. (Matthew 25)
We have much to learn about entertaining strangers. Here’s one story which Sam Wells tells in his book, God’s Companions. It is about a couple who go on holiday and take a lift to a scenic viewpoint. They had a Muslim guide. They rushed off to take some photographs, and then realised that they had not seen their guide for some time. Walking around a corner they saw him, semi-prostrate, praying to God. They were humbled realising how they and he had spent the last 15 minutes. They talked about this when they got home and shared this prayer with their congregation:
“If I love thee for hope of heaven, then deny me heaven;
If I love thee for fear of hell, then deny me hell;
But if I love thee for thyself alone, then give me thyself alone.”
People were confused when they discovered it was a Muslim prayer, but the couple who had been on the holiday pointed out that just as the guide had been a gift to them in jolting their spiritual complacency, so this prayer could also be a gift – perhaps dispelling some ignorance and prejudice about Islam.
Two chance encounters to report.
Shopping for food someone comes up to me and says “You married us 25 years ago today. We have just been out to lunch to celebrate”. He then brought his wife Julie over to say “hello”. They could have just passed me by and then dismissed the incident with a “isn’t that the bloke who married us?” Thank you Colin for stopping me and allowing me to be part of your celebration. It was one of yesterday’s highlights – and a eucharistic moment.
It was the second of the day. Halfway though our midweek Communion we were interrupted – at the exchange of the Peace – by one of (I presume) our refuse collectors who was asking to use our toilet. It was locked and we had to break from the service while I unlocked (I was the one who knew where the key was). We had as one of our readings a passage which included the words “practise hospitality”.
What was so special about that moment? It was the disruption made sacrament by a stranger who became a brother at that moment – whose work in many cultures and minds makes the likes of him “outcast”. (See Gehenna as example) Refuse collectors are part of our throw away world – what they collect is our refuse, collected into places we refuse to go to or think about. Heaven and earth came together in that moment and the Peace passed all previous understanding into a new realm of meaning. It was also a reminder that those who do rounds need toilet facilities!
[We] live after the central moment of history, the death and resurrection of Christ, which in turn came after creation, fall and the calling of Israel; but [we] live before the final moment of history. the full embrace of earth by heaven, the transformation of the whole earth into a Eucharist.
Sam Wells – God’s Companions p65