Sermon for Sunday 28th December 2014 Christmas 1
Revd Alan Horner was a Methodist minister who inspired many people during his time as a circuit minister, superintendent and district chair (including chairing the Methodist church in Scotland). I was privileged to know him in his retirement when he lived in Milton Keynes and was involved with the Living Spirituality Network. Over the Christmas period I have chosen some poems written by Alan to share with you as we consider together the wonder of Christ’s coming among us. Today, I would like to share with you a poem called
Backwards to the future
We row backwards,
only seeing where we have been -
the wake of our passage,
the rings in the water,
the small splashes of the oars -
not seeing where we are going,
simply pulling as we are pulled,
trusting our direction, destination,
and unable to look without losing
rhythm, speed, grace;
while those with us,
with their own dreams,
join in the drag and drip of oars,
sharing the journey.
I find Alan’s image of life being like rowing very helpful. We in the West tend to think of the future as ahead of us and the past behind us. Other cultures think of the future as behind us, because we cannot see it or know what it is, and the past ahead of us, because we know what it looks like. That makes a great deal of sense, but what Alan’s rowing metaphor adds is a sense of movement. We don’t stand still and look at the past. We are always moving into the future – backwards. And it is important that we concentrate not on the imagined future, but on the present. We will reach the future smoothly and safely if we concentrate on what we are doing now – on the quality of our rowing and the people who are sharing the rowing task with us.
Of course, when rowing certain kinds of boats – the sort used in racing, for example, there is one person in the boat who is facing the direction of movement, seeing where the team is going. That person is the coxswain, and for the purpose of this metaphor, I invite you to imagine that the cox is Jesus. Jesus came, the word made flesh, in order to make this human journey with us. He got into the boat (literally on some occasions, I know, but please stay with the metaphor for me!) – he got into the boat with us to share in our journey, and he remains in the boat that is our life through his Holy Spirit. If we will listen to him and follow his direction, we will travel the right way.
Allowing Jesus to be our guide in this way may bring unexpected new vistas into view. The shepherds never expected, I am sure, to see a host of angels or to find themselves in the presence of the child who is God. But listening to the instruction of the God, given through the angel, changed their lives – they travelled on from their visit to Mary and Joseph’s child, praising God and telling everyone what they had seen. Likewise, Mary, growing up as an ordinary young woman in Nazareth, would not have seen how her future would turn out. If she had known, saying yes to God would have been so much harder. Mary knew when she agreed to bear God’s son that it would not be an easy path to walk, but if she’d known the detail, seen just how much fear and hurt and pain were connected to the decision she was making, would she have agreed? Perhaps she would, but I thank God for sparing her that knowledge and allowing her only to see and experience what she needed to at any one time. Mary had to deal with the hardships and the joys of the present moment, and she treasured in her heart that view of the past, holding on to the special and wonderful things that she saw and learned.
So for us, as we prepare to head into a new year, we too can treasure the things that we have learned and found joyful in the view that we can see – the view of our past. We too can trust that the coxswain, Jesus, will guide us wisely into our futures and give us the strength we need to deal with whatever is coming when we need to – and not before. And we too can focus on the present moment, playing our part as we row into the future, trusting our saviour and listening to his instructions for us.