The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

I am quite captivated by our first grandchild. (I do hope we take as many photos and film clips of the tenth or twentieth grandchild!) Ariana and her mother came to us after Claire’s wedding and they went home this week. (Jenny’s husband flies helicopters in PNG one month on, one month off so coming to us beats being at home by yourself.) Being at home with our three daughters and now Ariana for a little while was quite wonderful. Many hands to hold Ariana. Many books, cuddles, watching, playing goes into the day – plus the comings and goings in a busy house. I found it in-triguing just to watch her – particularly how she looked at people – focused on them – and re-sponded (she’s 15 weeks old today). When our son Michael visited – a new face – she took it in her stride and quickly recognised him afterwards. I think we were all waiting to see her reaction – her smile – when we first met her each day. She didn’t speak words – we did (though the sounds we made at times were hardly ‘proper English’ – how funny adults talk sometimes!) but she responded to us increasingly warmly – as we did to her. There was a connection – or rather, there is a connec-tion. And it isn’t just in words.

I’m into words. I’m writing them and you’re reading them. I very much realise – and work with – the reality that words define, create, affect, change, and shape our lives and how we live together. We don’t live well without words. We use words to create relationships and wreck them. We use words imaginatively and create whole new worlds on the page and in our minds. People who are authorised to do so use special words over us – perhaps in relation to the law or medicine or business or religion. Anyone can say these words but we only listen or acknowledge the words when they are tied to an authority we recognise. So words are vital for life – as much as food and water and shelter.

Religions use lots of words. They have to because they generally don’t produce a deity and so have to supplement the senses and guide the experiences. When we talk about religion and faith people are generally talking about the words they say and why they say them. This means usually many uses of the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’. Christianity’s claims about life with God – who we are (sinners) – who God is in Jesus – and what God has done – presuppose that we are listeners before we are speakers. God’s words about himself in Christianity are all about gifts and promises and what he has done. He establishes relationships and he creates things (not just in our imaginations but in reality) because he says so. His words are true whether we can speak or not. This is why baptism is so wonderful for irrespective of age, God does what he says he does – kills us and makes us alive in Christ, forgives sins, gives eternal life, establishes faith in us, gives us the Holy Spirit. God never goes back on these words and we grow in them because they hold us! (That’s the strange bit be-cause so often we think we’re ‘holding onto’ God.)

Ariana will grow in her relationships with her family which are not determined by her but are given to her with her identity. She relates to us at the moment without words – they will come in time – as she grows into who she is told she is – a daughter of her parents, etc. And because God has spo-ken to her in baptism she is a child of God, a disciple of Jesus and more words will come that ex-plain what that reality is all about. Living with God for all people – even those who can’t hear words or who don’t understand them – is possible because of who is speaking – and when it is the cruci-fied and risen man with scars who says ‘I love you’ then you truly are loved by God!  — GS