Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Making The Desert Bloom

The temptation to wallow in nostalgia and tradition, to long for 'the good old days', is not a new one. The Prophet Isaiah had to warn the Jewish people, in exile in Babylon, not to remember the former things or consider the things of old. [1] The Prophet did not mean, of course, that it is wrong to value our past, but he did want his listeners to understand that God's focus is on looking forward. God draws us into the future. God never holds us back. 'I am about to do a new thing,' says God. 'Do you not perceive it?'
In the prophecy God tells the Jewish people, 'I give water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.' For a long time Christians in Beeston Hill felt, increasingly, that they were in a wilderness place, a place where it was hard for their witness to make a difference and for faith to take root. Yet miracles can only happen in difficult circumstances. There is no such thing as an ordinary miracle! It is in the wilderness that God can be seen to give water and to make rivers flow.
God chooses not to remember the times when we have become disillusioned, when our faith has been lacking, when we have failed to believe that the impossible can happen. Instead, God longs to reward us when we wake up to the possibilities, and recognise that flowers can still bloom, in the desert.
Years ago, Lloyds TSB sponsored a series of adverts in which it told the world that it was 'The Bank which likes to say 'Yes!' It was a campaign that fell rather flat, of course, when a very average kind of customer complained to one of the consumer programmes on TV that the Bank had repeatedly said 'No!' to all their requests.
St Paul reminds his readers in Corinth that there is nothing hesitating or vacillating about the nature of GOD'S love. [2] God in Jesus always says 'Yes!' In placing Trinity Church in the midst of a vibrant Muslim community, we believe that God wasn't saying 'Yes and No' to how we should relate to our neighbours. We weren't getting an AMBER light from the Gospel, but a GREEN light, an emphatic 'Yes!'
That's why, in the face of the controversy about cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the decision to acquit the BNP leaders at their trial in Leeds, Christians in Beeston felt it was important to be seen standing side by side with our Muslim neighbours outside one of the local mosques. It's why, despite the latest media 'revelations' about things that an imam and other local Muslims are alleged to have said in private, when they thought that no one was eavesdropping, we shall continue to say 'Yes' to our neighbours and not 'No'. And it's why we continue to believe their word if they say that they have been misrepresented. We want to affirm them if we can can, to echo our Saviour in saying 'Yes'.
Of course, I wouldn't want to pretend that it is easy to look forward and focus on the future, or to help miracles blossom in the desert. On the contrary, though miracles do happen, and though the future does belong to God, these things are often rather different from what we had hoped or expected them to be. The future we get, and the rivers we are given, are not the fulfilment of our wildest dreams, they are what it is in God's gift to offer us.
[1] Isaiah 43.18—25
[2] 2 Corinthians 1.18—22

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