Listening, story-telling and Lent

The Centre for Theology & Community l

Fr Simon Cuff is Co-ordinating Fellow of CTC and a Tutor in Theology at St Mellitus College. At Evensong last Sunday he preached at SS Peter and Paul Church, Chingford – one of the churches in our Congregational Development Learning Community. The readings were 2 Kings 2.1-12; Psalm 50.1-6; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6; Mark 9.2-9

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, words from our second reading, the second letter to the Corinthians, the 4th chapter, the 6th verse.

May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

I know what you did. 

Fr Andy knows what you did.

We all know what you did.

There are few of us, who when accused, don’t have something in the story of our past to make us feel instantly guilty. When we open the letter that reads: ‘I know what you did’, our mind tends not to race to ‘I didn’t do anything’, but to worry ‘how do they know?’ and ‘who is it that knows what I’ve done?’

And if you’re thinking – “Not me! I’m squeaky-clean with nothing to hide”. You might want to think a little harder.

Lent is the time given to us by the Church to confront those parts of our backstory which embarrass us or shame us, those parts of our past which we’ve left unreconciled for months or years or even decades.

Lent is the time to ask what is the story we tell God about ourselves? What is the story of ourselves we tell or show to others? And most importantly of all what is our real story – what is the story God has in mind for us?

Lent is above all the time to be honest. To be radically honest, with ourselves, and with God. To tell him what he already knows; to let the shame of what he already knows about our past lose its power over us, and to embrace the life which he has in mind for us. To live out the story which God has written for us since before we were born.

To let that God transform our lives, that God who our second reading reminds us is the creator of all that is, the God who said ‘let light shine out of darkness’. To allow God to help us to reconcile the mistakes of our past, and to live out that share in his new creation which he intends for us. To play our part in the story he has written for us, to discover what it is he has in store.

Finding out what that is takes discernment. We see that in our first reading. Elisha asks to take the over from Elijah, to inherit a double share of his spirit. Elijah responds: this may or may not be what God has in store for you. ‘If you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’

Discerning our vocation is not easy, discovering what it is God want us to do, is as much our work as it is the church’s. Listening to those around us, hearing God speak to us through them about what it is he might be calling us to, what place God might have for us in his church, and even what sort of church he is calling us to be.

Chingford Parish Church is a member of Waltham Forest Citizens – a local alliance of those involved in community organising. As Christians, we get involved in community organising, because it helps us do better what we should already being doing in our Christian lives.

Listening and storytelling are at the heart of community organising. And listening and story-telling are at the heart of what it means to live the Christian life.

Listening to God as we confront the real story of our past. 

Listening to those around us as we try to discern the story God has written for us, our vocation and our place in his body – what it is he wants us to do. 

And listening to those outside the walls of our church, to those in our community, through whom God may be speaking to us, and in whom lies a challenge as to how we live as church in every place. 

Community organising helps us to hear the stories of those we might otherwise overlook, those outside our regular contact or beyond our radar. Through 121 conversations and intentionally listening to those who live and work around us, we hear the true of story of what its really like to live on our community.

We hear what God is saying to us through them, and we’re forced to ask – is the life they’re living, the story they’ve shared with us, the life which God intends for them, the story he wants written of what it means to live and work in Chingford. Or are we being called to work with them to write a new story? 

Are we being called to change those parts of our community which fail to live up to the kind of society which God wills, just as we’re called in Lent to change those parts of our lives which fail to live up to the story God has written for us? Are we content with poor-quality housing, homelessness, overcrowding, low pay, the treatment of the vulnerable and refugees and so and so on? Is their story the story God intends? Or is God calling us to do something together? To do bring about the sort of community which we believe God intends?

And what sort of community might that be? 

“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here’.”

What is the story God want us to live? What sort of community does he want us to live in? 

A story which is good, living lives reconciled with our past and living out God’s will in the future.

A community where not a single person is unable to say: ‘it is good for us to live here’.

And a church which is the catalyst for that transformation, in the reconciled lives of individual believers and in the nature of our community, where everyone who lives and works in Chingford can enjoy their share  of share in life in all its fullness. 

A church which transfigures and is transfigured. 

A church which those outside look upon and are dazzled to see a group of people living together in such a way that no earthly author could be the source of their story. 

A church which screams to world: ‘Here is the Son, the beloved. Listen to him’.

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