St Agnes, Toxteth Park
Isaiah 58: 7-10
1 Cor 2:1-5
“the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus”
St Paul in today’s second reading gives us the clue to the success of his ministry. He is sometimes called the real founder of Christianity. It was he who in his Mediterranean travels preached Jesus, made Jesus known and brought people to faith in Jesus.
It is a wonderful gift of God that it is to Paul, and his letters and ministry, that we look for this goldmine of teaching. If it had been any one of the twelve we could say “Well, it’s all right for them, they really did know Jesus.” But St Paul is just like us. He knows Jesus only by faith, only as risen Lord, only as the One who reveals Himself to him.
And like Paul we are called to be the missionaries of our own time and place. To make Jesus known here in Toxteth Park, here in Liverpool, in our jobs, in our homes and families. We are called to let our light shine, to be light and salt to the world.
We can only make Jesus known if we know him ourselves.
The Christian faith is now a mighty deposit of two millennia of writings, music, theology, history, liturgy. But at the heart of it all is a relationship. The relationship of each one of us with Jesus. Knowing him as friend.
The trouble is we are so immune to the power of Jesus, to the power of the Gospel because we are so familiar with it. It is so easy to hear the Scriptures week by week and let them wash over us. We all know about salt and light, we have heard it so many times that we don’t notice it any more. Just imagine the chuckles of his first listeners when Jesus said – you don’t light a lamp and put it under a bucket. While we hear it and sit solemnly not noticing the joke.
I know only Jesus
But we know so much more, and all too often not even that. We forget Jesus and remember all the other stuff that we know. We become obsessed with ousrselves, our own histories and our own needs. The narrative that we tell, the stories we communicate are all about us. Our woes, our sufferings the times we have been victims. Far from ‘I know only Jesus’ many of us are saying ‘I know only myself’.
This is a terrible trap to be caught in. The endless merry-go-round of our own lives, our own stories. The stream of consciousness in our heads is like a Niagara Falls, a torrent of commentary on the world in which we, I, am the centre of the universe.
Jesus offers us a way out of this trap. He sets us free by letting us let go, by letting us know that he is the centre of our lives, the solid rock which stands firm.
“Cry,” says Isaiah, “and the Lord will answer, call and he will say ‘I am here’.”
Jesus says. I am here. Jesus is here, now, for each one of us, Jesus is present.
Dear friends, there is a simple way to know Jesus, to hear him say ‘I am here’. It is to use the imagination. Somehow we have forgotten that the imagination is the great gift that God gives us to be present to those we love. When we see a photograph of a loved one, we imagine them, calling to mind times we have shared with them. When we speak on the phone to someone we love we picture them in our heads and imagine being with them.
The great apostle of using imagination in prayer is the Jesuit founder, St Ignatius of Loyola, and this type of prayer is often called Ignatian prayer.
I know only Jesus
Dear friends, to know Jesus, spend a few minutes every day in prayer, spend a few minutes every day with the Gospels.
Settle yourself quietly, ask God to send the Holy Spirit to you ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’ it doesn’t have to be complicated. Read a very short section of the Gospel such as the one we have heard and proclaimed this morning. Then begin to imagine the situation in which the Gospel happened , where is Jesus sat, where are the apostles. Are you outside or in. Is it daylight or dark? Imagine the sounds, the smells. Then imagine Jesus talking. He looks around the room but every now and again he looks directly at you. How do you feel when your eyes meet his? Does everyone laugh when he says you don’t light a lamp and put a bucket over it. Perhaps there is a bucket there and he picks it up and thumps it over a lamp.
Do this every day; reading the Gospel slowly, taking in the words, perhaps remembering some by heart to carry with you: You are the light of the world.
Take a moment to realise just how amazing this is. Jesus says to me, to each one of us: You are the light of the world. Not me, not that amazing tele-evangelist, that amazing missionary, but you. Me, we are the light of the world.
If you are anything like me you’ll be thinking that you are a very dim light indeed, Do I shine? Am I a light in the darkness for the suffering, the hungry, the poor?
And that’s where the next bit of imagination is so important: imagine Jesus not just in the past but in the present.
Sit in your room, ask for the Holy Spirit, close your eyes and imagine Jesus with you.
Imagine his clothes – they don’t have to be nativity play shepherds outfits! Imagine Jesus sat there with you. What would you say to Jesus? Imagine his eyes paying attention to what you are saying. Say whatever you want to say but then imagine what he might say to you. If we are open to it, if we let the Spirit into our lives God will use our imaginations to speak to us.
Just imagine that: God will speak to you and to me. When we have heard Jesus, when we have spoken to Jesus, when we know Jesus, then we have something to communicate to others, then we cam begin to let go of our own stories and tell the story of Jesus, the good news of Jesus.
This week, among our colleagues, our friends, among the many folk and their many needs, this is the challenge to us, the delightful task of being the ones who know only Jesus.