Here I Am – This is Me

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them. God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.”

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall die.”

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. — Genesis 1:27, 29; 2:16-17; 3:7

I’d like to take you on a time journey back to the days when we lived in peace and harmony with all the animals, in a place that produced enough food for all. Now I’d like you to scan this world of ours mentally and assess the damage we have done to the animals, plants, oceans, rivers and to one another. What on earth went wrong? Why are we so far from living in an ideal society?

According to Genesis, God told Adam and Eve, everything was theirs to taste, touch and eat, except the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Parents are aware of the times they tell their offspring not to touch things. “Don’t touch the iron — it’s hot and you will be burned.” “Don’t play with matches, you could cause a fire.” “Don’t run across the road without making sure it is safe to do so.” And just how many times do we discover these same offspring do exactly what they have been told not to do.

To our children we spell out the consequences of wrong actions, as did God in this story of the Creation myth. God did not need to “see” Adam and Eve become ashamed of their bodies and cover them with fig-leaf loin cloths, for God was already aware of their actions. As parents we do not need to have eyes in the back of our heads to discover what our children have been up to. Slowly but surely the truth comes out in time, and sometimes the consequences are horrific. Children do run across busy roads and are struck by cars –becoming injured, killed or left with a lifetime trauma caused by the incident.

Genesis relates that Adam and Eve, as a consequence of their actions, were shut out of Eden, and their return was barred. No matter how much they wished they could turn back time, or how genuinely sorry they were for their actions, it was too late, the damage had been done.

The story we read in Genesis is the Judaic version of the Creation story. Across all nations, all countries and all periods of time we find interpretations of the process of creation. We humans need to know the answers to questions. Young children are always asking “Why?” of adults around them. As adults, from prehistoric times we have asked questions about the birth of our world, about the solar system, and the reason for the changing seasons. We have sought to know the secrets of tidal changes, volcanoes and other world phenomena. We have prayed to a variety of gods, and offered sacrifices on our altars to appease the gods in whom we believed. We may have gained knowledge, but in many instances we have lost our closeness to our creator.

Babies at about the age of nine months become acutely aware of the “us and them” situations. They are comfortable within their family atmosphere, but when strangers intrude they become frightened. They have begun to develop a sense of self. As they grow, and in fact throughout their lives, that sense of self becomes more developed, until at times it manifests as selfishness. Through adolescence young people constantly challenge the barriers parents and society place before them, and when these boundaries are crossed, these young people discover the consequences of their words and actions. At work, in team competitions, when the results are disputed, they fly off the handle.

Our civilizations have progressed over many tens of thousands of years. We are no longer innocent men and women who are able to return to Eden for we have changed so much from the souls God created that we no longer fit into that place. We have degraded this planet, littered space with junk, destroyed many species of bird and animal. We no longer know what it is to walk each evening with God. We may proudly say “Here am I, this is me,” but until we reconnect with the God of love, we are but shadows of the souls that we were created. We need, as did Jesus, to spend time each and every day reunited with God.

Out On A Limb

“What do you think? If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which has gone astray?” — Matthew 18:12

The parable of the Good Shepherd and his care of the lost sheep stirs within us a sense of the enormous love God has for each of us. Those sheep that are safely tucked up in the sheep pen can be left, while the shepherd goes off, searching over valley and hill, among the banks of streams and across rough stony ground for the one sheep that didn’t keep up with the flock. Perhaps this sheep had found a delicious patch of grass to nibble, or more seriously perhaps it had bruised a hoof, and needed to walk more slowly while favouring that leg. We never find the reason for the absence of this sheep – or lamb – from the body of the flock. To the shepherd it was enough that one of his charges had not made it to safety and with nightfall approaching it would be prey for lurking wolves.

But not all shepherds care for their flock with such devotion. Before we go further I’d like to include in the category of shepherd all those who have the responsibility to look after the welfare, physical or spiritual, of others. Here we can include teachers, clergy, members of Parliament, parents and workers in the welfare sector. Many of those in such responsible positions appear to ignore or dismiss the needs of those entrusted to their care, while seeking to feather their own nests. Of these the Old Testament prophet speaks, in Ezekiel 34:4: “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.”

These shepherds have served their own interests without concern for the needs or interests of those in their charge. If we take stock of events in our own neighbourhood, state or country we may find many examples of the damage that has been done to the most vulnerable of our citizens. Stretching back over months of questioning, the Independent Commission Against Crime inquiry in Australia has shown us time and again how methods to pervert the law have been attempted, and in many cases accomplished. The very people we elected to govern us; have been shown to put self-interest before good governance. Frankly we cannot put our trust in many of those around us, for they are not able to care for their charges.

Here we return to the Good Shepherd. The story told in Matthew portrays one who puts the care of those in his charge before his own welfare. One can understand that the Shepherd would be tired and hungry as night approached, yet still he went out to search for the lost sheep. Casting my eye over dignitaries who have shown the same devotion to those in their charge, I cannot by-pass Princess Diana. She visited patients with AIDS and held some little ones in her arms. When she went to Angola she visited those crippled by land mines. She was deeply committed to the campaign to ban landmines, appalled as she was by the human and social consequences of this inhumane weapon which strikes blindly at the innocent.

Jesus, in the same manner, seeks out those who have been damaged as the result of their own actions or the actions of others, and cradles these people in his arms. How many times in our own lives when we have felt defeated by circumstances not of our own making, have we known the presence of our living Shepherd? I certainly have known that peace and love with which he surrounds me at such times. And it is almost as if I can hear his voice, “Peace, be still.”

Jesus knows the feeling of isolation, for his friends ran away when he was arrested. He faced Pilate, Herod and the Pharisees without any legal counsel speaking for him, presenting the truth. Alone he faced crucifixion and death. For these reasons we know Jesus has been before us in circumstances we can but imagine. In him we can place our trust, for he will be with us no matter how black “the night of our soul” we endure. He will go out on a limb, when we are too paralysed by fear and pain to climb to safety in our own strength. No branch is too high, no limb too thorny for the Shepherd of our souls to tackle on our behalf.

For us the choice of trust is easy, for Jesus promised “My yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” To walk alongside Jesus yoked together in love is to know a life filled with blessings, hope and love.

The Angel Within

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. — Jeremiah 1:5

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me. — Psalm 139:13,16

According to legend, when a young boy asked the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo why he was working so hard hitting the block of marble that would eventually become his greatest sculpture, David, the artist replied, “Young man, there is an angel inside this rock, and I am setting him free.”

Often the world judges people and events by the external circumstances. For without full knowledge we can never be sure our judgment is correct. God has known us from our conception and has designed works that only we can accomplish.

From humanity’s early days we have been given the gift of choice, and the realization of right and wrong. Each of us chooses the road we will take, regardless of our nationality or circumstances. We may choose to seek learning and knowledge no matter what the cost, or we may conclude it is beyond us. We may be born into a nation where poverty and disease prevail. In which case we may choose to seek out food and assistance for our family and ourselves, or we may simply accept the status quo.

Recently in Afghanistan we have seen the result when one girl who was determined to attend school defied the edicts of the Taliban. She was shot, but that shot rang out across the world, and we all realized how deprived these children were. Since her recovery she is now in the UK and absorbing her lessons as would a thirsty camel drink water.

Only God knows what lies inside each of us, just what potentials and gifts we have, and how our lives will unfold if we walk the path set before us. Nothing, no person nor circumstance can divert us from God’s goal when we choose to put our hand in that of our Creator. But it is we who must make the choices in our lives. We cannot blame our failures or disappointments on others for our response to interaction with others is always our own choice.

The most attractive people in the world are those whose inner beauty shines through their conversation, the peace they exude and their cheerfulness in the face of adversity. They look at the world, whether it is just their own region or events world-wide, and are awakened to the needs of others, and to the shortfalls in society. They are not usually the banner wavers, instead in their own quiet way they seek to be part of the remedy.

God is like the sculptor who sees in the rough stone of which we are composed a beautiful angel, a vision of loveliness. And in God’s hands that vision comes to life, and can reach its full potential. However from that initial glance to the finished product there are lots of hammer blows that will impact on that stone, blows that will provide the initial shape, and then all the finer gentler taps that define the figure emerging from the rough source. And every so often the sculptor steps back to gain a newer perspective of the work in hand, before recommencing the refining chiseling.

Looking back at our lives we can see the times when there has needed to be a distinct change in our lives, when circumstance had changed our direction, when close friends have relocated or become distant. In all of these circumstances we can see God’s hand at work, removing from our lives those parts or people who mar the emerging angel. The lighter shaping has been accomplished without too much disruption to our lives, but still the transformation God has in mind is constantly being achieved.

Of course there are those times we deliberately by word or deed leave the path God has chosen for us, and find ourselves in the quicksand of disaster. Our relationships have gone awry, our work has proved futile, and our attempts to assist have instead created more problems. Happily, though, God has not left us alone, and is there to take our hands and guide us to a path less thistle-strewn, and without the briars that have pricked us wherever we turned. The angel within the stone is re-emerging. God again holds the chisel. And our transformed lives emerge.