My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
When I began thinking about this service to celebrate the commencement of university and looked at the readings the first phrase that popped out at me was this one.
I have to confess that when I lie awake in the watches of the night it is not usually because my soul is satisfied and I am filled with joyful praise.
When I lie awake it is usually because I am filled with worries – ‘Who I am?’ ‘Where am I going?’ ‘Will I do the right thing in tomorrow’s meeting?’
Apparently, my inability to sleep is not an uncommon problem. So often when we are weighed heavily by issues of identity or purpose or meaning they keep us up at night.
It seemed pertinent then to take a theme for the service which might lead us in a different direction in our worrying and in it seemed relevant given we are considering the process of learning and formation that occurs in young people through university to focus on three topics: Identity, Journey and Future.
Who am I?
Where am I going?
What is in store for my life?
Now at the beginning of the service I hopefully pricked your interest in the call to worship as I handed out a number of what might have seemed obscure objects.
I am going to use the objects to help explore these issues of Identity, Journey & Future.
The first item I gave out was a mirror. As we search for our own identity the way we view ourselves is I believe monumentally influential.
When any of us look into the mirror who do we see? How deeply do we see who we are? Can we see our past: failures & successes? Do we see the inner thoughts of our hearts and souls? Do we like what we see?
Sometimes looking into mirror is fraught with danger because what we see and come to believe about ourselves can be detrimental to our self and to others.
Maybe looking into the mirror is not enough in discovering our identity.
Now somewhere there is a camera.
If you want evidence that you came to church for your parents I will take a photo now.
I chose camera to get you to think about how others view you. So often the way we feel about ourselves and think about our lives is determined by the attitudes of other, be it our friends and family or be it the culture that has developed around us.
I think the camera is a good choice to get us to think about this because so often what we see on screens & in magazines infects our minds. We live in a culture which at its heart teaches us that to have a good life we must be happy and then continually tells us that if we do not have certain things we cannot be happy.
I know Isaiah’s culture was vastly different to our own but his question still rings entirely true: “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?”
Just as finding our identity by looking into a mirror is limited so too finding our identity in the opinion of others is fraught with difficulties.
Let me share a perspective with you on your identity that may add another dimension. Here I have a set of heart shaped glasses. Glasses which for me represent the eyes of love through which God views us.
Fundamental to my understanding of God and my life is that God loves as I am, despite what I might think about myself, despite what others might want to tell me about who I am, God loves me.
For many years now I have critiqued the idea of self-esteem as inadequate for the resilience needed in life. For me this resilience comes not from within myself and how I view myself at any point in time but in the constant reminders I received from the community of faith that God loves, God loves me, and God loves you... deeply, insistently, constantly, unconditionally. It is God’s view of me and of you that can so shape our identity as people who are loved.
This brings me to the second topic of Journey! I have a compass and a map to represent the idea that our life is a journey.
I think that more often than not we think that we have to go it alone. The compass and map reminded me of the old craft of orienteering as individual set out through the terrain to find the markers on their journey. Maybe the lonely individual geocaching in their room and then heading out is more contemporary version of this.
But are we really alone on our journey?
In the reading from John we heard about the sending of the Holy Spirit, and Advocate to teach us, but more than this, the Spirit binds our lives to God’s life and to one another’s lives.
I have here a knife and fork to represent that we are community. In many cultures meal sharing and hospitality is a way of establishing community. I have a personal belief that I break bread with another person, when I share a meal, my relationship with them is changed. Literally the origins of the word companion means ‘with’ ‘bread’.
God joins our lives into one another’s lives that we might be companions on the journey of life. This means both being available to one another and also being prepared to seek out others when we need help. All of us are part of different communities the strength of which relies on your commitment to being part of those communities, the willingness you have to give yourself to others and to receive from them.
Now whilst there is uniqueness to each of our lives and the journeys we are on we should also know that others have gone on similar journeys before us and most importantly, God in the person of Jesus has journeyed through life as well. We are certainly not alone on our journey.
This brings me to the question that Thomas’ asks, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
This is a question of both our journey and our future and it is to the future I now turn.
Part of my reading in preparation for this week has been the book “Out of our minds: learning to be Creative” by the English educationalist Sir Ken Robinson.
I have a clock here which represents the linear understanding time that I think is present in Robinson’s book. Robinson argues that to move ahead into the future in our systems of our education we must stop looking back at the past. His critique of our contemporary educational approaches certainly has some food for thought but I wonder what future he is looking towards and how we as Christian people might understand the relationship between the past, our future and the present.
The Hebrew people had a sense of walking through history looking backwards. They looked backwards to identify signs of God’s faithfulness in the past to give them hope for the future. There is still a linear understanding of the movement of time here.
But as Christian people I think we might view time a little bit differently. Yes, we still look back but we look back to a specific event in history which in its way transcends history. Can I have the bike wheel.
There are a number of theologians like John Calvin, T.F. Torrance and Wolfhart Panneberg who have grappled with God’s relationship with time as a created thing. The analogy which I find most helpful is that whilst our experience of time might be linear God experience is like the centre of a wheel, because God stands outside time. God relates to all points of time from the centre. That’s
We look back to the death and resurrection of Jesus for when we see the risen Jesus we are catching a glimpse not simple of the past but of the future. In the passage from John once again we read, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.”
Jesus departs from the disciples in order that he might travel to them from the future.
What this means for us as Christians is that we look back into the past where we encounter the story of Jesus, who is raised from the dead and goes to be with God, beyond time. Yet Jesus promise is that he is coming to us, so it is that looking into the past we see the future, centred on resurrection and recreation, and encounter that future not yet arrived in our present.
We celebrate this promised future when we share bread and wine, signs yes of Jesus death, but also a foretaste of the promised life to come.
The future that we look to is not a future simply dominated by possible climate catastrophes, nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence and all the wonders and terrors we might bring about as humanity but a future in which we will know the fullness of our identities as loved, that we will celebrate the journey of life that we have been given and that we will be embraced by the promise of peace and shared lives for eternity with God.
So as you lie awake in the watches of the night, maybe concerned about who you are or where you are going or any of the myriad of questions that may be connected to these things maybe you can find some space and maybe I can as well to remember that God views through eyes of love, that we are not alone on our journey and that our destination is a place where the fullness of God’s life and peace will be shared with all people.
This is the good news of God’s love and I invite you now to contemplate for a few moments your identity, your journey and the promise of the future which God gives to us.
3Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.