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25th May 2014 - Sunday Morning - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Easter 6 2014 - Rogation Sunday
Acts 17. 22-31
John 14. 15-21

Looking for connections….

I have the sort of mind that loves looking for connections - I think that is what really fascinated me about the study of modern languages. Speaking another language helps us to make connections with people from another land - another culture.

Learning another language also makes us more aware of our own language and of the development of words. For often - in learning another tongue, - you can spot a connection with a word or an expression in our own.

Even in a language that doesn't share the same alphabet! How is that possible? Well let me tell you of one silly little example…

Most of you know that the first time I went to University I studied Russian - yes! Very scary - that funny script that looks like it is written backwards half the time!

Anyone who knows London relatively well, will know that just south of the River Thames, a bit along from Lambeth, is an area known as Vauxhall. In the 18th Century it was the site of a famous pleasure garden, and over time it became the venue for all sorts of naughty and illicit goings on! (But that is a story for a quite different time and place). Today it is the location for a reasonably large Railway and Underground Tube station. Which is much more relevant to my illustration.

The Railway came relatively late to Russia. But it made a huge difference to getting around and even to governing that vast country with its difficult climate. As the technology spread in the 19th Century, they had to develop not only the infrastructure but also the vocabulary to describe the previously unknown. Now there is a perfectly good Russian word for Station, that is widely used. It is 'stantsiya' - obviously borrowed from the west. Only that word is rarely used of a railway station - no, they are nearly always referred to as the 'vokzal' - named of course after our own area of London where a large railway station was built - Vauxhall. Now why that word rather than Paddington, Euston or Victoria, I cannot explain… but any Russian would know what the Vokzal was.

Connections you see - probably something to do with the foreign engineers who first introduced the concept and technology of rail travel.

St Paul of course knew nothing of the wonders of rail travel… (or of the joys of cancelations and engineering works!) But he did know a lot about being a stranger in town and of looking for ways to connect with the locals in order to get his message across.
Start with a good bit of flattery - soften them up - complement them on their culture and achievements - before knocking them flat with the suggestion that they don't really know as much as they thought!

The Greeks with their philosophers and poets; the Romans with their organisation and military skills, may both have thought they were the height of sophistication.
But the Jews looked down on both - even though they had been well and truly conquered in the political sense.

Jews considered Greeks and Romans as heathen and primitive because they clung to a pantheon - a whole range of gods and goddesses - who all had to be worshipped and placated. And foremost among the gods was often the current Emperor - who was raised to the status of a god and before whom all humanity was expected to bow down.

Christians of course, got themselves into trouble in the early centuries of the Church by refusing to acknowledge Caesar as Lord. They could only give that title to Jesus, and would - like the Jews - claim that there was only One true God; one Creator of all; one who was the ground of all being; one who gave both life and meaning to humankind.

But that is all still to come - at the time we see a glimpse of Paul attempting to evangelise the intelligentsia of Athens - and incidentally not doing too well in the end. They were getting quite interested at first - until he introduced the concept of a man who could rise from the dead…. That was just too fantastical to believe. For most - but not for all. Some saw the connection with their own spiritual questing and followed Paul to find out more. If you read on a bit further in the Book of Acts you will discover that Paul made just a few converts in Athens before he travelled on to Corinth - where he found a small group of fellow believers already in place.

Looking for connections with our daily lives and the problems we face is what keeps me fascinated by good bible studies and the writing of leading theologians. Worrying away at the text - at words - and seeing how a living breathing developing faith can really reach into the situations and dilemmas we face in ordinary working and family life. So that God is encountered in the ordinary - in the stuff of life.

Often I find that country wisdom and practice can teach me a lot about this. So the season of Rogation - coming just after Easter and its promise of new life is still very important. Especially in an area like this. It is a time of prayer - of supplication to God - asking for his blessing on the land, on those who live and work on the land and on the fruit of their labours. If you want a good harvest, you have to put in some preparation and sow good seed. If you want a harvest blessed by God - then you better seek his good influence early in the process.

It was also a time of processing - of walking around the parish. Of helping people find a connection with the place they inhabited. It was part of the way in which children learned the land to which they belonged. In which they could feel a strong connection - a bond. And where they could also feel connected to God.

It also comes just before Ascension. Just before we mark the moment when Jesus finally left his disciples in physical form - so that they could really learn to feel their spiritual connection to him and God and to each other. "On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." Connections - deep and indissoluble. Too deep for words really.

This week, with the elections taking place - we have all heard rather too many words. And people are getting very exercised about the levels of immigration and assimilation into our nation.

What can possibly connect people from such disparate cultures? Where can their experience touch? What possible connection can there be?
Well, whatever our political affiliations, (and I would not presume to try and tell you how to cast your vote - although I do consider it important that we should try to use our hard won electoral vote if at all possible) I think that Christians have a duty to try and make connections with those of other cultures, other faiths - so that we
engage and struggle with the issues that divide and the issues that connect.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments". Please do pray for our politicians and leaders, that they may find the connections that will enable us all - in good conscience - to feel we are keeping the commandment that Christ left us… to love one another as I have loved you and whenever we share bread and wine, to do it in remembrance of the one who gave his life to connect us for ever with his and our Heavenly Father. Amen.