Walk for any distance in a treeless environment and you begin to understand the importance of shade especially when the heat of the sun is relentless.My own little excursion on the Spanish Meseta for three days with temperature in the 30’s and very little shade and on one day no shade at allhelped make me better understand the psalmist who writing in a treeless, wilderness so emphasised shelter or shade,how vital it isand then is able to hear the words from somewhere deep in his being:a metaphorGod you are my shelter – the sun will not harm me during the day.So this is obviously a metaphor becomes the sun shines just as intently and there is still no physical shade.
So writing is he expressing a deeper truth a truth that maybe we come to understand only after the event after the journey is nearing its end whatever that journey.
And so I began to reflect on my journey of faith from my childhood and my young fascination with Jesusand then my teens when so much in me revolted against the idea of “God loves you but if you don’t do and say certain things he will torture you in hell.”
I didn’t understand the urgency inside me sensing, wanting to proclaim this One who is love as Jesus had said.I knew there was this deeper truth.My peers at Bible Class were happy to know the Bible I wanted to know the mind the heart behind the words.Because you see, you can know all the words of the Bible – but not the inspiration behind them.And I sensed as a teenager the One behind what people wrote was outrageous joy.
Anything less, didn’t make sense.Either in God there was a love that was true love unconditional a love that wouldn’t let goa love we long to find from others but rarely do so, or there was not.
And it occurred to me somewhere, somehow there had to be such a love.And I wanted to know the lover and it was only later that I read how numbers of Jesus followers through the centuries were just like meand they saw God as the divine lover that they knew deep within them, as if hearing music from another sphere
And they sensed that this love was directed towards all people and this love was an invitation to be known by this divine lover and discover they were the image bearers of the divine.
And then having discovered this to be lovers even as God lovesto be a people who would lay down their lives for others who would live sacrificial lives that others might live.And these people would be called the Church men and women free to love as God is love.
However, my exuberance kind of went down like a lead balloon.I found my peers almost totally thinking different thoughts men and women, mostly menwith, in my mind a schizophrenic God who loved you before you died, but if you died not saying the right thingshe would torture you in hell.
I’m simplifying it but that’s how it came across.Coming into a congregation here at Clevedon I found no such hang-up’s but as the congregation began to grow a few of those who came into the congregationfelt it was their God given mission to save me from my wrong ideas.Fortunately God was gracious and they moved on to annoy some other minister sometimes, unfortunately, not before they had caused damage.
So how was I able to withstand the criticism that all of us get in different ways.You have had it, we have all had it whenever we think outside the box?
And as I walked across the Meseta I was able for the first time to reflect on these things and I began to understand in part that maybe I was able to hold true to what I believed and still believe about God because on my journeyGod has always been my shelter my shade protecting me from the bitterness gossip and anger of small people with small gods.
And I began to realize that to discover what the psalmist speaks of you have to, as Bruce Clark put it at men’s group, you have to have been on the journey. That’s why it’s important to see all life as a pilgrimage.Because it’s only in looking back do we find as one Bible traveller found, God is in this place, God was there, and I didn’t know it.God had indeed been my shelter and strength my shade as the psalmist puts it when I was exposed to attack.
Plus God gave me you who in many different ways were able to heal whatever wounds I had on the way.
And this brings me to the second lesson of the pilgrimage. And an affirmed vision of the church.
As I walk the Camino I am taken by the number of churches built along the route. Not so much the cathedrals but the small places.Places of refuge for pilgrims.They gave rise to such as the knights hospitaller, who cared for the sick and bandaged their wounds. All this conveying to me that these small churches existed not for themselves. They were a gift to the travellers.There was always danger from attack and there were the wounds of the journey.So when a pilgrim came to the village the church people would take them in and care for them.They would tend to their needs, wash their feet apply whatever was needed to bring healing, bind their wounds, feed them and send them on their way.
When people came to town the local church didn’t ask if they were worthy.They just cared for them sacrificially.There was no charge.They didn’t say, before we help you, we’d like you to become a member of our church.They recognised these people were pilgrims on the road and they were being as Christ to them to enable them to carry on down the road.
Central to local worship would have been the Eucharist.Did these small groups see themselves as a Eucharist, taken, blest, broken and given by God, to whosoever passed their way?
And I thought, what if all congregations around the world saw themselves as ministers to every and any man woman or child who happened by their dooron their journey called life?
My radical reaction was nothing new.I have seriously question my beloved mother, the church in some of her whorish manifestations.From my own heritage and our emphasis on teaching right doctrine; the little groups of four nonsense, that came out of the 80’s; the weirdness of manic Pentecostalism,strobe lights and coloured stages working up the spirit; the ‘I don’t need to be part of a church man, me and Jesus just got a good thing going! and all points in between.I am taken back to what has been on my heart for years.The church, people and buildings, as refugee centres for pilgrims on the road.And who are the refugees?
The young couple whose child dies through an accident;the family whose parents die;the lonely man/woman looking for meaning;the parent looking for support with their child.The hungry, the broken hearted.The family wanting to celebrate new birth.All the range of life found, every day.People finding God only in the arms of those who have decided to follow Jesus, not as an act of fire insurance, but because they find their hearts are broken by the things that break the heart of God.For a thousand years on the Camino Santiago we have been at work, and a thousand years before then, since Jesus invited us to follow Him.
And I thought of our little church at Clevedon, sitting by the side of the road and since 1858 offering a place of refuge.And I thought of our ministries in all its varied forms.I thought of the faces of Jesus in your faces, and your hearts being broken by the things that break God’s heart.
You see, places of refuge for pilgrims, don’t asked, ‘Are you saved?’ they simply say, ‘Welcome.’ Places of refuge don’t check your theology, they see your wounds with the eyes of Jesus.They leave the eternal issues to God, knowing that ‘all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.’ and deal with the, just this, just this person/s, need, before me.
Sitting in Leon in a 13 century refuge and church I was aware it didn’t just happen. It was done with a great sacrifice of money and time and labour.But here is the point. It wasn’t done for ‘them’.It was done for others who would walk down these roads and need refuge.And so here at Clevedon, we don’t build for ourselves, we don’t provide for ourselves, it’s not about us.It’s about us being a people who have been touched by the gracious love of God and seek to be as gracious.We are here for the pilgrims those who walk their roads and who hope that maybe when they are wounded there will be a place of refuge.Because as I reflected on my own life I became aware that I discovered the heart of God through the grace of those who provided the many refuges that opened their doors to me from the day of my birth.And who introduced me to the One who is my shelter and strength.
So this morning if God has placed within you a vision and a dream;if you are a think outside of the box kind of personand you believe in your heart that you are called to help people who are hurting,and you find that you are under attackremember,the one who has called youhas been and will be for youyour shelter and your shade.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.