Saturday, 25 May 2013

A lighthouse in Petergate

The Lighthouse in Petergate
I found the Lighthouse in Petergate not far from Starbucks, in the shadow of York Minister.The previous morning, the guide on our walking tour of the city had told my wife Lorna and me that the ‘gate’ found in the names of many of the medieval lanes criss-crossing the centre of York means ‘street.’ So Petergate, I guess, means St Peter’s Street, after the Apostle to whom York Minster is dedicated.

The Lighthouse is the home and studio of artist and print-maker Gill Douglas. It’s an appropriate name given her passion for painting the sea. But her house was named long before she moved in on account of its architecture – five rooms on five floors, linked by a tightly-twisting spiral staircase. Gill’s studio overlooks the narrow channel of Stonegate through which surge waves of tourists.

It is finished
The day before, Lorna and I had seen one of Gill’s works at the nearby church of St Michael le Belfrey.  An Easter altar-piece entitled It is finished, it depicts the Eastering Jesus. Behind him, the cross is visible, but he is no longer suspended from it. Gloriously alive, his mission accomplished, Christ raises his arms in victory. Impressed by this work, I contacted Gill and arranged to meet her.

As we chatted, I discovered that the year Gill moved to York – 1976 – was the year I made a kind of pilgrimage to the city, and in particular to St Michael le Belfrey. The vicar at the time was David Watson (1933-1984), a hugely influential figure within the charismatic wing of the Anglican Church.

I had read Watson’s work, and felt that he had something which I was missing. Too shy to make contact with him, I walked round St Michael’s and visited The Mustard Seed, the coffee shop in Petergate which the church then ran where I was served by young women in long flowing 1970s dresses, and listened to gentle music, and hoped that somehow God would zap me.

Gill showed me some of her paintings and prints, through many of which the sea swept. Some were of the Scottish Highlands, where Gill feels completely at home. She visits the West Coast, sketchbook in hand, and later, back in her sky-line studio, crafts finished works.

Gill tells me that though she’s not aware of having family links with the area she wonders, on account of her deep affinity with our Scottish land and seascapes whether she has some ages-old ancestral connection with the Western Highlands.

What is man that thou art mindful of him?
One picture which particularly moved me was a scene from Glencoe, entitled (in the words of Psalm 8 in the old King James version of the Bible) ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him?’ Depicting a cottage which seems minute in the shadow of towering mountains it emphasises our smallness as human beings. But the Psalm assures us that despite our apparent insignificance, we are loved by God.

Back in 1976, I left York, disappointed, without having encountered in a deeper way this God whom I believed loved me, without having been liberated and empowered as I believed David Watson and the Mustard Seed girls and countless others had been.

I would learn in the coming years that, in my case, what was needed was not ‘something more’ from God, but a realisation of what was already true of me – I was God’s man, blessed and supported by that grace and love in which we find significance.

And later still, I would realise that the fact I experienced questions and pain, and times of darkness was not a symptom of my failure as a Christian. There’s a song with the chorus ‘The cross is still there.’ The writer meant that the effect of the cross, the freedom and forgiveness which the risen Jesus offers reverberates down through history, a spreading wave which lifts our lives.

But also the cross is still there in the sense of the cross Christ calls us to carry. There will be times when we struggle, when all we sense of God is his absence. Times when we sustain ourselves with the thought that we are loved, that we belong in another country, God’s own country, a place we know is our ultimate home in the way Gill’s heart is drawn to the west coast.

York is far from the Summer Isles. Yet as Gill sits in her studio working, she is there in imagination, there in heart. And so as Christians we are to live as those whose hearts and imaginations are inspired by God’s own country. We are to help people here see what that invisible dimension is like, to inspire them to seek in this country the values of that place, to follow the footsteps of the great Apostle. Lighthouses in Petergate.

Gill Douglas’s web site, which has many other examples of her work is   Her Facebook page is here.

(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 25th April 2013)

A life in letters: Dempster, John Cumming (1889-1972)

The Lafayette portrait of John C. Dempster

My paternal grandfather, John Cumming Dempster was born on 11th December 1889, the eldest child of Colliery Engine Keeper William Hodge Dempster and Margaret Dempster (maiden name Cumming.) I was surprised when locating his birth certificate following his death to discover that he had been born at Brownlee, near Carluke where we were then living. John was baptised on 15th July 1890.

In time he was joined by three brothers, Ambrose (Bruce), Robert (Bob) and David. Over the years, the family lived in Overtown, in Cornsilloch, Dalserf, and later at Lilybank Cottage in Ashgillhead. The other brothers inherited their father’s mechanical skills and eventually set up business at Ayr Road Garage, Ashgill from where they also ran a bus hire business. John, however, sometimes referred to in the family as ‘gentleman John’ found his way into teaching.

Apparently, following his own schooling, John remained at school as a ‘pupil assistant’ supporting the teacher. He then attended the Edinburgh Provincial Training College (which much later became Moray House College of Education) for the 1909-10 and 1910-11 sessions. In most of the subjects he studied, he was rated ‘Good’ or ‘Very good’ – only in Phonetics did his performance fall to ‘Fair’. According to the Certificate issued to him on 18th April 1911, his attendance was ‘perfect’ and his conduct ‘exemplary.’

It appears that John Dempster served with the 6th Battalion The Royal Scots (Territorial Force) from 21st January 1910 until 21st November 1917. From 22nd November 1917, he became a Temporary Second Lieutenant, Land Forces and from 1st April 1918 (until, according to a note in his handwritibg 7th August 1918) he was Temporary Second Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force.

In the course of his time in the Royal Air Force a plane he was flying crashed into a hedge (or so family tradition has it.) Two of the propeller’s four blades were broken on impact. John arranged for one of the surviving blades to be sawn off and given to a colleague as an heirloom, while he kept for himself the remaining blade still attached to the boss, a beautifully engineered artefact which he polished up and kept for the rest of his life hanging on the wall, the perfect mounting for a clock. John C. Dempster, it would seem, had an eye for the main chance.

From the fact that he was baptised as a baby the assumption is that he was brought up in the Church of Scotland, but at some point he must have associated himself with the Christian Brethren. His marriage to my grandmother, Euphemia Currie Brackenridge took place ‘after Banns according to the forms of the Christian Brethren’ at 52 Union Street Larkhall on Wednesday 14th August 1918. His brother Bob was his best man, and Euphemia’s sister Kate was bridesmaid.

Over the next six years, John and Euphemia had three children, Cathie (born 1920), my father William (born 1922) and Margaret (born 1924.) Sadly, Margaret died as an infant, and Cathie as a young teenager.

From September 1921 until 1934, John was headmaster of Wiston Primary School, near Biggar in Lanarkshire. He left to become headmaster at Greengairs Primary School – whether his departure to a larger school was simply a matter of career development, or whether following Cathie’s death the previous December the old Wiston schoolhouse held too many sad memories, we can only guess.

 According to the press report of his departure, written in the fulsome style typical of community correspondents to the local papers, he had fulfilled his duties with ‘zeal and efficiency’.

He always took a very deep interest in things pertaining to the welfare of the inhabitants and more especially the children, and his absence will no doubt be much felt. Besides being registrar of births, etc., for the district of Wiston and Roberton and District Council agent for the churchyards at Wiston and Roberton Mr Dempster was Parish Council clerk and inspector of poor for some time, until these offices were taken over by the County Council.

Besides these public duties, he was also a local agent for the Norwich Union insurance company. My father recalls him hitching a lift around the area to collect payments from Norwich Union customers – although he did have his own car – my father spoke of a Lanchester.

John Dempster’s departure, the press report continued, would be ‘deeply regretted’ because ‘he always found it a real pleasure to serve the interests of the community, which services were rendered at all times both willingly and ungrudgingly.’  He and his wife were presented with a chiming clock and a ‘suitably inscribed’ display cabinet.

My father’s earliest memories are of Wiston, and of attending the school through the door from the house. John was apparently innovative - in the early days of broadcasting he had a radio in the schoolhouse, and installed a speaker linked to it in the schoolroom so that dad and the other pupils could listen to educational broadcasts, which began in 1924.

When at Wiston, the Dempster family attended the local Church of Scotland – there’s a story of John getting the fright of his life while taking a short-cut through the graveyard on the way home after a meeting at the manse.

John was headmaster at Greengairs from 1934 until c1947. He continued to attend the local Church of Scotland, while Euphemia and my father worshipped at the local Brethren assembly. It was probably while he was at Greengairs that he stood (unsuccessfully) for the Council. There’s a very formal portrait of him, taken by ‘Lafayette Ltd’ (who had a Glasgow studio) which was perhaps taken in the context of this political challenge. Thereafter, until his retirement on 22nd Deecember 1954 (‘after 43 years in the teaching profession’) John was head at Clarkston Primary School (Airdrie), where my mother was on the staff in the late 1940s. I took my first steps on the staircase at Clarkston schoolhouse.

Following their retirement, my grandparents took two adventurous holidays. One trip was a cruise up the fjords of Norway. They brought me back some totally impracticable furry slippers which had such slippery soles that I kept falling headlong.

The other holiday was to the Holy Land, as part of a party led by the Church of Scotland minister George B. Duncan, presumably in the late 1950s. I remember standing with my parents looking up at the bus window, waving them off in the pavement outside the Central Hotel in Glasgow – on that occasion they seemed nervous, fearful that they might not return safely: dad said my grandfather had talked about his insurance policies. An itinerary John wrote for my father survives, along with elaborate details for addressing letters to them while they were away. This document, in the familiar, untidy handwriting, is very precious to me.

After an overnight at the Easton Hotel (38-40 Belgrave Road) on May 9th, they travelled to Gatwick from Victoria Coach Station. Their flight left at 9am, and after ‘One service stop’ (‘Advance watches 1 hour’ John had written with military precision) reached Athens by 8pm.  Lunch and dinner were served on board. After an overnight stay in a hotel, they flew to Amman Airport in Jordan. They had lunch on board, as the flight lasted from 9.30am until 2.00pm.  From Amman they travelled by bus to ‘Old Jerusalem (Jordan) where they spent 6 days sightseeing and taking excursions.

On May 17th they ‘Cross[ed] through the Mandelbaum Gate to New Jerusalem (Israel). After they’d established themselves in their hotel, they visited Mount Zion, the Tomb of David and ‘the Cenaculum – scene of Last Supper.’  On the 18th they drove to Galilee via Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Four days later they took off from Lod Airport for Athens (‘tea tray on aircraft’) where they had a later dinner in their hotel.

The next day (23rd May) they departed Athens Airport at 11.30am (‘Retard watches 1 hour’) reaching Gatwick at 8.15pm and Victoria at 10pm. Once again, they stayed overnight at the Eaton Hotel before travelling north.

In retirement, my grandparents lived in three different houses. The first was The Neuk, Townhead Road, Coatbridge  (where I spent the first couple of years of my life and where later I visited them as a young child. I remember playing the Jemima Puddleduck game, and the Hallelujah Chorus on the radiogram, and the foul-smelling fish-paste glue I was given to stick things together with, and the Education Committee of the County Council of Lanark jotters he gave me to draw in, and the wild white cat which one of his pupils had given him and which he passed on to us, and the barrel of rainwater in the garden, dark and impenetrable, and the wooden garage warm and redolent of oil and petrol and paint.) Then they moved to 6, Criffell Gardens, North Mount Vernon, Glasgow a new-ish house which in my memory always smelt of old people’s clothes, and finally to a lovely, untidy, lower flat in an old house with a panelled sitting room - 2 Brierybank Avenue, Lanark.

All the time I knew them, they attended first the Brethren fellowship, Ebenezer Hall at Coatdyke, and then the Assembly in Lanark.

The celebrated their golden wedding in 1968 with a celebration held in the restaurant at Bairds Department Store in Wishaw. I think John knew one of the directors of the firm through some Christian organisation both were involved in, and got a special deal. John C. Dempster knew how to be cautious with money. I remember him fussing around rather anxiously organising this event while my father, who might have been very willing to do it for him, shook his head.

Both my grandparents in reasonable health during the time I knew them, although at some point in his life John had survived meningitis. Both grew frail in their final years. I was really proud to take my friend Campbell round to see them at lunchtime when we were at a school event at Lanark Grammar one day. And I remember buying a volume of John Donne’s poems with some money my grandparents gave me for my 20th birthday and asking them both to sign it.

That summer, John grew seriously unwell. He bought himself a new car – a Marina – which my parents thought was daft considering his condition, but they failed to see the purchase for what it was, a commitment to cling to life. My father arranged for John to be admitted, not to a ward, but to the Sick Bay at Law Hospital which was intended for staff.

I was working in the hospital in the General Store that summer, and each day when I finished my shift at four o’clock I would go and sit with my grandfather until my dad, who also worked at the hospital, was ready to go home. I can’t remember much of what we said, as I sat on the chair beside the washbasin. I remember he spoke about the name of the Hillman Avenger car, which had been launched in 1970. He felt it was a strange, cruel name for a car. I remember sharing the outline of a sermon I had heard at Carluke Gospel Hall which had impressed me – it was on Psalm 126:6 – ‘He that goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.’ We were back with the Brethren by that time. When we were making the move, my dad asked me to ring my grandpa and tell him. ‘We’re coming home,’ I said.

And I am almost certain I recall a conversation about a plant which someone had given him, and his comment that if the plant lived, then he would live too, but the plant seemed to be withering.

He had cancer, and I guess there wasn’t much they could do for him. But he didn’t seem to be in immediate danger of passing away, and so my father was himself hospitalised for surgery which he urgently required. But before he was released from hospital, John C. Dempster died on 1st September 1972. The hospital phoned to say that the end was approaching, and I drove down to the hospital – my mother didn’t come.

I was too late. I saw the familiar face through the small square of glass in the door, pale and still, the last breath taken. The nurse came and fixed a wooden square to the window. I registered his death and helped arrange the funeral, which I attended in dad’s place with my mother.

John was buried at Wiston churchyard beside Cathie and Margaret after a service in the old church. I remember as I sat in the pew seeing a black cat walk purposefully across the aisle.

They tell me I have inherited some of John’s characteristics and mannerisms, and perhaps his impetuousness and impatience, and I am glad that something of him is preserved in me. I wish I had known him better – there is a limit to the communication skills of a gauche teenager. But I loved him, and I hope he knew it.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A life in letters: Dempster, William Hodge (c1858-1924)

My paternal great grandfather, a Colliery Engine Keeper. He was born c1858, the son of James Dempster (whose occupation is given as ‘Coalminer’) and Margaret Dempster (whose maiden name was Hodge). By the age of 25 he was living in Bartonhall Row in Waterloo near Wishaw in Lanarkshire. On 15th July 1883, he married 18-year-old Margaret Cumming (‘Farm servant’) at her home, Park Cottage in Waterloo. The marriage was conducted by George Burnett, the minister of Overtown Church of Scotland.

Margaret had been born in Waterloo on 1st June 1865, the daughter of James Cumming (‘Ploughman’) and Margaret Cumming (whose maiden name was Thornton). They had been married in Cambusnethan in 1848, but were both deceased at the time of their daughter’s wedding to William.

The Census return for 1891 reveals the couple living at Prentice’s Land in Overtown with my grandfather, John Cumming Dempster who was 1 year old.

John and Margaret’s son Robert was born on 9th July 1893 at The Firs, Overtown. Ambrose Hislop Dempster (known as Bruce) followed on 27th April 1901 at Cornsilloch, Dalserf. David Hodge Dempster joined the family at Cornsilloch on 20th February 1909.

The 1901 Census shows the Dempsters staying at 7 Cornsilloch, Dalserf, where their house had two rooms with windows.  They were still at Cornsilloch at the time of the 1911 Census, which confirms that only four children had been born to the couple – none had been born and subsequently passed away in the 8 years between 1893 and 1901.

William Dempster died at the age of 66 at Lilybank, Ashgillhead, Dalserf on 10th October 1924. He had been suffering from Influenza for a couple of months, and had subsequently succumbed to ‘Melancholia’ leading to ‘Collapse’. His death was registered by my grandfather.

William’s wife Margaret survived for another 24 years dying on the morning of 26th December 1948 at Lilybank following a coronary thrombosis. Her death also was registered by John C. Dempster.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The glory breaks through

(A sermon preached at Hilton Church of Scotland, Inverness on 12th May, 2013)

(Bible readings: Luke 9:28-36; 2 Corinthians 3:7 – 4:7)

This week my wife Lorna was preparing to lead the kids’ group at the church she attends. The lesson, according to the manual they follow, was about the Transfiguration of Jesus, one of the accounts of which we have just read.

She was puzzling over how best to communicate to young children what the Transfiguration was all about. When we thought about it, it occurred to us that the theme of the story is about seeing who Jesus really is, about seeing Jesus as he really is.

Or to put it another way, the Transfiguration is about glory breaking through.

In a sense that sums up the whole of the Bible – glory breaking through, the splendour and wonder and power of God. This theme of glory breaking through is symbolised in the appearance of the glory of God at the dedication of the worship tent which the Jewish people took with them on their travels through the wilderness and later at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s symbolised in the appearance of the glory of God to Moses, and Elijah, to Isaiah and to Ezekiel.

And the Bible visionaries look ahead to a time of coming glory:

‘And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.’ (Isaiah 40:5) ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.’ (Matthew 25:31)  A coming glory which will transform all things.

And of course at the very centre of the Bible story is the coming of that glory among us in Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration involves
  • seeing the glory of God in Jesus
  • Jesus identity as the Son of God is affirmed in what the disciples see, in who is present (Moses and Elijah, symbolising the fact that Jesus is the one to whom the prophets pointed) and in the authenticating voice of God
  • recognising the importance of the cross as a turning point in history (‘the exodus’ which he was about to accomplish (v31) – is more than just the ‘departure’ which the word the NIV uses – in dying Christ would accomplish something more dramatic than the original exodus of the captive Jewish people from Egypt.)
So a key theme of the Bible involves glory breaking through, and never has the glory broken through more than in the coming of Jesus.

And then I was listening to the radio on Wednesday to interviews with neighbours of Ariel Castro, the man who held Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight captive in his house in Cleveland, Ohio for a decade. They spoke of their incredulity at what had happened. Castro had seemed an ordinary guy, a nice guy. He drove the school bus, for goodness sake. He joined in the neighbourhood barbies. He seemed normal.

And yet behind the front door of that man’s house, behind the pleasant fa├žade, there was darkness. And it occurred to me that if one the Bible’s themes is the breaking through of glory, another of the Bible’s themes is the breaking-through of darkness as the reality of evil is glimpsed. And perhaps the darkness was never more evident than at the time of Jesus’ death when glory and darkness were locked in mortal combat.

We need to be on the lookout for the irrepressible glory of God which keeps breaking through. In the Transfiguration story, only three disciples were involved – Peter, John and James. Was this favouritism? Were they the only ones to see the glory? Well, no, because the glory was glimpsed in everything Jesus said and did. The words of wisdom, the self-control, the focussed rage, the patient love, the healings.  After one of his miracles it was said ‘He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.’ (John 2:11) His glory was visible to those who wanted to see it, but there’s no doubt that the mountain-top experience of Jesus’ glory was more intense than the day-by-day encounters with his uniqueness.

We read for one of the Apostle Paul’s writings – the words of a passionate mystic – and some of us question the gulf between our experience of the glory and his.  And similarly we look around us, and we are aware that some of us have more intense experiences of God than others, and we wonder if we are failing. I think the message of the Transfiguration and the Gospels as a whole is that while some of us may see the glory of God with more intensity than others, for us all if only we have eyes to see it, the glory shines through.

The glory shines through in Jesus

And if we are to have eyes to see that glory then we must read and reflect and pray about Jesus, and his words and his actions and the prophecies which he fulfilled and the prophecies which are still to be fulfilled, and we must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the glory to us.

It’s important, if the glory is to shine through for us, that the image of Jesus we have in our minds is the image of the real Jesus who captivated his disciples. Last Saturday, I was at the Spectrum Centre watching a lunchtime play called The Gospel Inquiry, in which the playwright sought to investigate the accuracy of the gospel writers’ account of Jesus. It was obvious that Sandy Nelson had decided in advance what the outcome would be – the Jesus presented was no son of God, no worker or miracles, simply a teacher of selfless living whose message was embellished by over-enthusiastic followers. The cross was an accident – Jesus had planned to get himself arrested in order to have his views heard in the courtroom, but never to die.

There’s little glory to be seen in Sandy Nelson’s Jesus. And a Christianity where the cross is an accident, where no ‘exodus’ is accomplished, is a sad diminished thing.

But the point is this. What image of Jesus do I hold in my imagination, and what has shaped that image? Old ideas from Sunday school? Rationalistic convictions that Jesus was just a man? Fear of Jesus as a hypercritical judge? Rejection of Jesus because of the way some of his followers have treated us? An emptiness, because we fear Jesus can never be known?

‘Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory.’ (Luke 9:32) What is keeping me from seeing the glory? The message of the gospel is that by God’s grace, I can shake off whatever holds me, and see the glory.

Yet I’m conscious that for some of us, that’s just stuff preachers say. We pray and struggle, and the glory seems elusive and distant, and our lives are filled with longing, rather than fulfilment, with travelling, not arrival. I often feel, personally that God is most present in my longing for him, God is most present in my sense of God’s absence. The very fact of my longing reflects the bigness of the thing longed for.

I guess if we think we have pinned God down, and understand God, then we haven’t, and in our satisfaction at understanding God, the glory departs. But in our lack of knowing, our lack of understanding, God is often present.

I came across a poem this week by the 19th century Scottish writer George Macdonald, which puts this brilliantly. It’s called Lost and found:

I missed him when the sun began to bend;
I found him not when I had lost his rim;
With many tears I went in search of him,
Climbing high mountains which did still ascend,
And gave me echoes when I called my friend;
Through cities vast and charnel-houses grim,
And high cathedrals where the light was dim,
Through books and arts and works without an end,
But found him not--the friend whom I had lost.
And yet I found him--as I found the lark,
A sound in fields I heard but could not mark;
I found him nearest when I missed him most;
I found him in my heart, a life in frost,
A light I knew not till my soul was dark.

The glory shines through in creation

Something of the glory of God is to be seen in the beauty of the world. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’ (Psalm 19:1)

Here’s a lovely quote from a strange, remarkable novel called The land of decoration – words put in the mouth of a child who is one of these mystical souls, like some of us are, who see things more clearly, who see ‘the oneness of all things.’

‘Faith sees other things peeping through the cracks just itching to be noticed. Every day the cracks in the world get bigger. Every day new ones appear.’

The glory shines through. Someone else who had intense vision of God in nature was the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God’, he wrote in his poem God’s grandeur

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastwards, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The glory shines through in the world, and we need eyes to see it. Not over-familiarity. Not the busyness which means that we see beauty without seeing it. Not the scientism which sees it merely as the result of an arbitrary process. But eyes which see something of God in thunder and rain and storm.

The universe is not God, yet God wears it as a garment, expresses God in it. Creation is God’s painting, God’s symphony, God’s drama. The glory shines through.

The glory shines through in people

Something of the glory of God is seen in men and women.  I think glimpses of God can be seen in all men and women regardless of their faith, or lack of it. In love, in joy, in care, in compassion, in art and music and zest for living something of God is seen. Some glory breaks through, as men and women say ‘Yes’ to God without actually knowing what it is they are saying ‘Yes!’  to.

But the teaching of the New Testament is that the glory of God is present in a much more powerful way in those whose eyes have been opened to Jesus. This is the Apostle Paul’s theme in the verses we read. There is a veil, he says, hiding from our hearts and minds the wonder of Jesus. But when that veil is removed, we see Jesus, and open our lives to Jesus, and seeing the glory begin, instinctively to reflect the glory. So that our lives are lives in which glory shines through.

Paul the mystic puts it powerfully, and perhaps a little intimidatingly:

‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Ouch! If we have seen Jesus, then our lives, says Paul, will increasingly reflect his glory. Which comes as rather a challenge – a challenge which we shouldn’t side-step. As Jesus glory was revealed in his own life in wisdom, and grace, and tough love, and connectedness to the Father, is grace and glory seen in our lives, and if not why not?

And yet Paul’s point is that it’s not up to us to produce the glory, and lay guilt trips on ourselves because the glory is not better seen. Our job is to allow God to express something of God through us.

‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7)

That’s reassuring. We are ‘jars of clay’ – fallible, fragile, weak and yet in our hearts there is this unspeakably precious treasure of God’s Spirit. And God seeks to express Godsself through and despite our weaknesses and struggles and pain. And often glory which we ourselves are not aware of is seen by others in us, and in our lives and words.

This is a great reassurance to us in our weakness and frailty. There is treasure within. And there is also challenge – to be open to the God whose presence in us is the treasure, and to recognise our fellow Christians as bearers of a gift of unspeakable value.

And there is the challenge of being those through whom glory shines – in our homes, in our community, in our schools and workplaces – as individuals and as a church.

Gerard Manley Hopkins outs it well in his poem ‘As kingfishers catch fire.’  The first eight lines of this sonnet describe kingfishers and dragonflies, each living thing does what it does best, ‘Crying What I do is me: for that I came.’ The whole creation praises God without being conscious of it.

Humanity is different. Men and women are called to praise God knowingly. ‘What I do is me, for that I came’ suggests to us me-centred self-fulfilment, but I think Hopkins would have us read those words in the context of the understanding that ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.’

Here’s what he says about humanity:

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his going graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

The glory shines through.

What about the darkness?

But remember Cleveland, Ohio. Remember that the world is a ‘bent’ world, that there is a darkness which casts long shadows.  It’s the darkness which sets itself against the glory.

We see the shadow clearly in the horrors of Auschwitz and the twin towers and acts of terrorism; we glimpse the shadow in a hundred sad news stories very week.

But what darknesses lie behind the front doors of our own hearts, poison rubbing shoulders with the treasure? For we are all sinners.

As I thought of those women held captive in the dark by Ariel Castro I remembered Jonathan’s striking image from last Sunday morning’s sermon about how in our society children are sacrificed on the altars of pornography and materialism. The darkness has many captives.

And I remembered preparing to preach on the Sunday a few days after the London bombings in 2005, and the bigness of that atrocity, and the planning and commitment and self-sacrifice of the bombers and it all seemed so dark. And then I realised that what happened at Calvary - likewise involving planning and commitment and self-sacrifice – was an explosion of love, which sent ripples across the pool of history both forward and backward in time, an explosion of love which gives us hope even in the darkest and most painful times, that the glory will prevail.

And so we can call on God with perfect confidence that as glory overcame darkness on the cross, so glory will, day by day and moment by moment help us overcome the darkness we see in us. And we go out prayerfully into our communities believing that ‘where the Spirit of God is there is freedom,’ believing that, holding the candle high Jesus descends into dark cellars and sets the captive free. The glory is seen in dark places.

And believing that at the end of time glory will triumph, and that the prophecy of the New Jerusalem will be fulfilled whatever exactly the fulfilment will look like: ‘The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.’ (Revelation 21:23-24)

In Hopkins’ famous words the ‘immortal diamond’ which we are despite our flawed ordinariness will at that time simply be ‘immortal diamond with all the flaws removed.

He describes the coming of the glory

The Resurrection
A heart’s clarion! Away grief’s gasping | joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.