Meditation in Two Parts… Part One
We began our service today with an assurance of God’s steadfast love to all people in Psalm 138. Then we moved from ancient Israel and the writers of the Psalms to one of Paul’s letters to the Church in Corinth, modern day Greece. Lastly we took a step or two back into our Gospel reading where we heard about Jesus towards the beginning of his ministry. He’s called the twelve and he has begun.
Okay so today we’re going to split our thoughts into two parts. Have a look at the background first and see what these three very different readings tell us and whether in fact they have any relevance to us at all today here in this place.
The Psalms cover all of life. There were two set for today: 130 and 13. Both of them talk about those times in life when you are just down. You have had it! You’ve made a hash of something, you’ve fallen out with someone you love, someone you care for has died, you can’t see the way ahead, your life is the pits! Maybe you’re one of those people who never has days like that but if you are you must be an anomaly. I love the Psalms because they’re human. They tell me that we are all the same, that the people of ancient Israel, all those thousands of years ago had all the same emotions, all the same worries, all the same dreams. We began with Psalm 138 because Psalm 130 is just too depressing, I might have cleared the place if I’d started with that. The poor chap is in the depths of despair: ‘out of the depths I cry to you…’ But you know, it is part of the human condition that most of us will hit rock bottom at some point or another in our lives.
Years ago I worked as a volunteer at the Simon Community Night Shelter in the centre of Glasgow. On the nights when I was on I used to meet the same man. He was down and out, very scruffy, clearly with an addiction, in those days it was usually alcohol. He had taken to drinking anything with alcohol in it. By the time I met him he was on the Belaire Hairspray. Now you’ll be showing your age if you know what that is! It was a spray that was applied with a puffer and you could unscrew the top and the liquid inside was sticky and perfumed and great for setting hair but it was also a very cheap and nasty form of alcohol. As I got to know the man it became clear he was well educated and much younger than he looked. One night he told me his story. His riches to rags story of how a young lawyer with a wife and children and a posh house in the suburbs turned into a nasty old down-and-out who only lived for the next drink and was waiting to die. He told me he had hit rock bottom and then some. I hope you’re not waiting for a happy ending because I don’t have one. In fact I don’t know what happened to that man but all I will say is that 37 years later there are enough people to have hit rock bottom to fill many more night shelters than that one.
But sometimes the ending is a happy one, sometimes God uses our hands to haul people like that man out of the miry pit and put them back on the road. The Psalm again: ‘Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life, you stretch out your hand and your right hand pulls me to safety.’ Maybe someone did manage to drag the man I met out of the pit of despair. Maybe you know someone that you’ve been able to help, maybe God is using you today to help someone who is in that dark and lonely place. People were no different all those thousands of years ago. Read the Psalms. It’s all there. So we’ve started at the bottom, the pits, the place that no one wants to be. This Psalm and others like it, is telling us that in that darkness God is there, he climbs down into the horrible place bringing with him a wee light. So says the letter to the Corinthians: ‘we do not lose heart, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.’ What a strange thing to say. Paul is talking about faith, blind faith. Why is it blind? Because it can’t see the way ahead, it may not even know where it is going but it knows it must go on.
Meditation Part 2
So now that you’re utterly depressed, let’s have an injection of hope. Listen to John McCarthy’s story from Some Other Rainbow. John was given an injection of hope. He called out to God in his despair and God sent him the spirit of hope. There was no one else, no one that God could send and so when John cried out in despair the Holy Spirit came to him in that dark place and gave him just enough hope to keep going.
I was to be in this solitary cell for less than three months but after the first two or three weeks it felt as if I had slipped into a different time-scale. Days passed without any variation. The food-and-bathroom run and then nothing. I read and re-read everything available. I relived much of my life and made endless plans for the future. But after two months with not the slightest hint that I might be released I got more frightened. So many of my reflections had left me feeling inadequate that I began to doubt that I could cope alone.
One rooming these fears became unbearable. I stood in the cell sinking into despair. I felt that I was literally sinking, being sucked down into a whirlpool. I was on my knees, gasping for air, drowning in hopelessness and helplessness. I thought that I was passing out. I could only think of one thing to say — ‘Help me please, oh God, help me!’ The next instant I was standing up, surrounded by a warm bright light. I was dancing, full of joy. In the space of a minute, despair had vanished, replaced by boundless optimism.
What had happened? I had never had any great faith despite a Church of England upbringing. But I felt that I had to give thanks. But to what? Unsure of the nature of the experience, I felt most comfortable acknowledging the Good Spirit which seemed to have rescued me.
It gave me great strength to carry on and, more importantly, a huge renewal of hope—I was going to survive. Throughout my captivity, I would take comfort from this experience, drawing on it whenever optimism and determination flagged. In the euphoria of the next few days I felt completely confident.
And so to our reading from Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is preaching and teaching and healing, changing lives, casting out demons, reaching down into the dark pits that people are in and pulling them out and his family hear about it. Only a mad person leaves a steady lifestyle and a good job to put themselves right in the firing line. The leaders of the Jews thought he was possessed, his family thought he had lost his reason. Neither of those things had happened of course. He was doing God’s work. We need to remember the beliefs of the time here. Many illnesses, especially mental illness was attributed to demons. Jesus uses his accusers accusations against them. ‘If I was possessed by the devil why on earth would I cast demons out of people in order to heal them?’ Because they did not understand. They accused him of sorcery. Nowadays what do we get accused of if we are Christians? Well we’re deluded, we’re using religion as a crutch, we’re brainwashed, we’re stupid. Not a bit of it I say, and so does Jesus. We are a family together, all of us, a community stuck together by the glue that is the love of God and the gift of his Holy Spirit. Every Christian in the world is our sister or our brother or our mother or our father. We have all been adopted into one family. And we are a family that sticks together. So long as any of God’s children find themselves in a dark place we will work together to make things better. We will be God’s ears listening for their cries, we will be God’s feet running to help, we will be God’s eyes seeing the suffering of the world, God’s voice shouting out for justice, God’s hands touching the lepers of our society and God’s light reaching down into the dark places of his world, till all are fed and all are loved all are saved, all have been given hope for tomorrow and then we will know that his kingdom has come.