Sermons

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 15 April 2018.

Scripture: Luke 24: 36-48 / Acts 3: 11-20

Text: This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.                                                                                                                (Luke 24: 47, 48)

IN THE NAME OF GOD, FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, AMEN

Don’t give me the whole truth, asks the poet

Don’t give me the whole truth

Don’t give me the sea for my thirst,

Don’t give me the sky when I ask for light,

But give me a glint, a dewy wisp, a mote

As the birds bear water-drops from their bathing

And the wind a grain of salt [1]

The poet is a Norwegian, Olav Hauge, who lived a very simple life in the town of Ulvik on one of the Norwegian fjords.

Set in three acres of ground, his house furnished by handmade tables and chairs, Hauge lived on the proceeds of his apple trees.

At the age of 65 Hauge married and for the next twenty years enjoyed the companionship of his wife until, in 1994, and fittingly, he was found dead having passed away peacefully sitting in his reading chair.

A learned, humble and somewhat reclusive man, as well as writing poetry, Hauge devoted his life to translating international poetry into Norwegian.

Like so much of his native Norwegian landscape, there is a wild beauty and occasional bleakness to Hauge’s poetry, an earthiness shaped by the wind and hills and seas and birds.

There is also wisdom, a wisdom that doubtless emerged from time spent alone with the natural word as company, a wisdom that led him to see that the easy answers to life’s many questions and challenges are never the ones worth having.

Don’t give me the whole truth Hauge asks and implicit in his request is the profound insight that it would be too much for him to know everything and to understand everything.

Such knowledge and such understanding belong to God and God alone.

So instead of asking for the whole truth, Hauge prays that he will be given in life enough to keep him going, moving and wondering.

Hauge doesn’t want the whole sea for his thirst or the whole sky when he asks for light; that would be too much for him to bear.

Instead like the bird which will carry off a few drops of water from the stream, or the wind which will pick up a grain of sand from the beach, Hauge asks for no more than a glint, a dewy wisp, a mote, enough to feed him on his journey of faith and life, enough to give him strength and courage……………………and no more.

And what was it Jesus taught his disciples to pray – give us this day our daily bread – enough to feed them for their journey of faith and life, enough to give them strength and courage………………….and no more.

Don’t give me the whole truth……………..

One of the threads running through the Bible is the constant reminder that God’s ways are always much greater and higher than ours.

From the Psalmist reminding ordinary mortals of their limitations to Jesus teaching his disciples that it was not for them to know the day or the hour, the Bible is full of constant reminders of the limitations of human knowledge, wisdom and insight.

Yet despite the wisdom of the ages so beautifully expressed by the Apostle Paul that at best we know in part and prophesy in part,  we live in a world seduced by a desire not just for knowledge and understanding but for certainty.

Nations, economic alliances, political factions, ethnic groups, and protest movements all struggle for supremacy, each denouncing the atrocities committed by their opponents, each claiming the moral high ground and the inalienable justice of their cause.

Yet whether it is in the seemingly intractable problems in different parts of the Middle East or Africa, concerns about anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party, or important discussions in the church and wider public about end-of-life care, the reality is always much more complex and much more nuanced.

It is simply impossible to give an account of these and countless other situations where one side is completely right and the other completely wrong, one side is good and the other evil.

So I think Hauge is right to be suspicious of those who claim to know and understand it all, especially those who claim to have certainty on their side.

Instead I find myself drawn to the humility so evident in his petition not to know the whole truth for it is a wisdom which gives birth to an openness of heart and mind, a willingness to listen, to learn, a capacity to feel the rhythms of life, to understand the needs of other people, and to attend to them with grace and love.

Isn’t this something of the wisdom Jesus sought to impart to his disciples?

Startled, frightened, thinking they had seen a ghost; Luke hardly paints the most flattering picture of the disciples in the immediate aftermath of the first Easter.

Yet however unflattering, it is an honest portrait of a group of women and men completely overwhelmed by the events they had just experienced.

Having told us about fearful women bowing their faces to the ground when they encountered two figures at the empty tomb, Luke has then described the encounter between two of the male disciples and the stranger who joined them on the Emmaus Road, and of how they did not recognize their companion until he broke bread with them at supper.

Now we learn that back in Jerusalem, as they heard from the two companions about their experience on the Emmaus Road, the disciples are again thrown into a state of fearful panic as Jesus came and stood among them.

And who could blame them because despite Jesus having spoken to them about being put to death and raised on the third day, how could they have prepared themselves for what happened?

It was more, much more, than they could have anticipated.

Yet here is the heart of the matter; the Easter gospel’s remarkable claim that not only was the tomb empty but the crucified one was alive again and beyond death’s reach.

Whatever else it was, it wasn’t a ghost who met the two on the Emmaus Road and who now stood in front of the whole company of the disciples.

It was Jesus, the same Jesus they had always known, the same one they had followed through the towns and villages of Galilee, the same one they had seen nailed to Calvary’s cross, the same one with the marks of the crucifixion on his hands and feet and who was now asking if they had something for him to eat.

Rowan Williams puts it well when he writes;

In his ministry, Jesus created and sustained the community of his friends by speech and touch and the sharing of food; and so after his resurrection that community is maintained in the same way.[2]

One of the things worth noticing about this dramatic encounter is that no explanation is given as to what happened.

Rather than explaining the resurrection, Jesus offers his disciples the reassurance that it happened in order that the promises of ancient scripture would be fulfilled and so that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.

That was enough.

This was all the disciples needed to know – their task was to be its witnesses.

And it is our task too, to bear witness to the dying and undying love of our Saviour Christ.

Although we cannot know everything there is to know about God – the whole truth would be far too much for us – God has not left us to stumble about in complete ignorance.

In the life of Jesus, the Galilean teacher, preacher and healer, we are given glimpses of God’s nature and purpose and of the divine love that is at the heart of all creation.

And through the events of Easter, as surprising and overwhelming now as they were then, we discover to our joy nothing in life or death can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ.

The God we worship may not be fully understood yet we have the assurance God is always present, walking beside us on life’s journey, coming to stand among us, showing us the marks of his crucifixion, and turning our fears to freedom.

So in all the opportunities and challenges of life, do not ask for the whole truth, the sea for your thirst, the sky for your light.

Instead be glad of what God in Christ has given, a glint, a dewy wisp, a mote - for in them you will find your courage, your comfort and your hope.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen

 

[1] Olav H Hauge, Don’t give me the whole truth as quoted by Mark Oakley in The Splash of Words Canterbury Press, London, 2016, p10

 

[2] Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, London,

  1982, p92