Is God There? Separation Anxiety and The Fear of an Absentee God

I’m preaching this sermon at St. Aiden’s Church in Hartlepool on 29th March at 1900, at their Maundy Sunday service led by my dear friend Revd Gemma Sampson. It’s based on this Bible passage from John 13. 1-17 and 31-35

 

 

I’ve no idea what it’s like to be a child and know God loves me. Or what it’s like to be a Christian teenager. I have no idea what it’s like growing up in a Christian household or saying grace at mealtimes because that’s just what Christian families do. I have no concept of what a steady, deep, wind-swept lifetime of worship and faith is like.

Some of you here will. Some of you are Cradle-Christians.

Others will be like me. You’ll have gone from not knowing God in your life at all, to realising God has always been there, since the very beginning of time. Like me, you’ll have discovered Jesus and you’ll have become a Christian. Some of you are Convert-Christians.

There’s another group too. People who’ve come back to faith after a time away, after walking a different path. For a time you may have felt that God wasn’t for you or you weren’t for God, or the whole thing was a sham. But you came back. You’re a Come-back-Christian.

I think this group also includes Cradle- Christians and Convert-Christians who’ve ever felt, for a period, that God wasn’t obviously present in their lives, that God wasn’t there.

Perhaps this group may really get what scares me. This thing that, as a newish Christian convert who came to faith later in life and didn’t grow up with it, I really, really worry about.

And that thing is separation from God.

It’s not the same as “not- knowing- God- and- then- knowing- God.” I spent 27 years not believing that Got existed and I didn’t feel like I was missing out. God’s absence from my life felt OK because I had absolutely no concept of how much Jesus loved me. To me that’s not painful separation from God. It’s having blinkers on.

But to know it, and then to be separated from it? That’s desperate. It’s the thing that scares me most. Ever feeling God’s presence slip away from me.

When I first became a Christian I was so worried I’d wake up one day and would no longer believe. I was so worried that my faith was shallow and fragile and could be easily unpicked. I was so worried that my belief, even though it felt firm, might float away, and it might turn out I just got a bit swept up in something.

But I now know that my love for Jesus isn’t some temporary madness, some passing phase or fling. I now know my love for God is deep and strong. I know in turn what it is to be loved by God. I know, even though at times I find it hard to comprehend, that Jesus knowingly and willingly went to his death for my sake. Broken and misshapen as I am, dirty as a disciple’s foot before it’s washed, he died for me all the same.

So it is all the more terrifying when I think of what those first disciples went through. What must they have felt when Jesus told them he was leaving? What must they have thought when the guards took him away? What depths of desolation and fear and darkness does a person feel when their Lord and Saviour dies on a cross and is placed, cold and lifeless, in a tomb? Gone. Silent. Absent.

It’s why I find this part of Easter so hard and why I feel so moved reading the passage we heard tonight. The scene the Gospel writer paints is littered with phrases pointing to Jesus’ absence, which I find heart-breaking.

For me, the most poignant and uncomfortable thing is what he says to Peter.

“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

Because this one’s about choice. Peter is told his actions matter, and he either lets Jesus wash his feet, because of what it symbolises, or he risks being separate from Jesus. Peter needs to understand this. Jesus is teaching him and all of them something very important.

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

He goes on:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

How we live matters. When we love one another with acts of service, which is what foot washing represents, we are with Jesus and Jesus is with us.

This is how, even on Maundy Thursday as we see this church visibly transformed, stripped bare as a reminder of Jesus leaving, of God made flesh dying a human death, this is how we know we can still always share with Jesus, be with God.

We reflect Jesus’ love for us and how he lives in us by how we love one another. Loving one another… really, truly, loving one another. Even in the darkness of this night, that’s how we know Jesus lives in us.

By our love for one another, everyone will know that we are His disciples.

∞ 

I’d like to now leave some space for prayer, particularly for anyone currently having a bit of a crisis of faith and who feels God’s voice is very, very quiet in their lives…

Come Lord Jesus.

For anyone, even a cradle-Christian, who has yet to fully experience a Jesus-filled life in all its fullness…

Come Lord Jesus.

And to anyone who has yet to feel God’s absence, because you haven’t yet felt God’s presence…

Come Lord Jesus.

For anyone else who wants more…

Come Lord Jesus.

Lord Jesus show yourself to us, be obvious in our lives. Help us to see. Draw us in. Tell us you’re near. Be alive in us this day. When we fear you’ve gone out of our lives, remind us of your promise that you’ll never ever leave us. Be in the water our feet are washed in. Be in the hands of those doing the washing. Be in the peace. Be in the tears. Be in the waiting. Lord Jesus Help us to be open to you. Show us how to share in you so that you live in us. Break down any barriers we have so we can allow ourselves to be loved by you and to love one another. Christ live in us, always. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog Stats

  • 8,174 hits
Follow camouflage and cassocks on WordPress.com

Want to read the next one? Enter your email address to follow.

Join 588 other followers

Categories

Instagram

Yesterday's first, day 16: Elizabeth Frida's first rugby match. She might have slept through the whole thing and have been facing the wrong way (snuggled in her sling) but it was great introducing her to the team and seeing how much these amazing women brought her into the fold and looked after her. She has lots of lovely aunties. Oh and this Moby sling is in Mowden colours 👍🏻🏉. #newborn #newbaby #IVF #ivfjourney #womensrugby #thisgirlcan #rugbyfamily #mowdenfamily #firstgame #preseason #breastfeeding #mobysling #breastfeedinginpublic #newmum #day16 #shark #sharkpup @dmp_sharks
The last few days of firsts: First trip to Twenty2 with her parents and Granddad in her Moby sling, which she LOVES. We also went to the newly opened Dr.Inks which was great. She slept through both. . First trip to church where she was welcomed by the congregation and blessed. She got to wear her fanciest outfit, courtesy of @kat_d_1983 . . She had a bit of a cry during the sermon but afterwards lots of our church family said that she was a real delight and no one minded the brief but very loud distraction. It's very important for new parents to be reassured of this because it can feel pretty stressful when your baby is howling and everyone else is quiet. We felt very welcome, comfortable, loved and happy. And besides, I've cried in church loads of times (just not as loud!) . . #mobysling #babywearing #firsttimers #newborn #newbaby #IVF #teatimedrinks #familytime #blessed #sundaybest #churchofengland #church
Day 13. A visit to Durham so my fabulous colleagues could meet the little lady. After much swooning, passing her around and coffee and cake, we headed into the city centre for a walk. . Visiting the cathedral was pretty emotional. It was strange and wonderful and tear inducing to stand in the Galilee Chapel at the altar with my beautiful healthy baby, recalling the times I've knelt and cried at that same altar over recent years. And now she's here. Thank God. . We also did the obligatory book shop wander and bought a great little book that will help us with all the gaps in our art knowledge, which are numerous and wide. Frida Kahlo gets 4 lines. Impressed. . Changing her clothes today I noticed for the first time that she's visibly put on weight since birth. I know that's what the scales say, but now I can actually see it. Our little tubster will be weighed again tomorrow. 🤞 for further weight gain. . Also of note, I breastfed all over Durham today including twice in the cathedral, once while walking around. Delighted and encouraged that I've had no negative experiences whatsoever since starting to breastfeed my baby whenever she needs it, so including in public wherever we may be. No one has made me feel uncomfortable. I think/hope the recent coverage in the media about this topic has helped. . #breastfeeding #breastdeedinguncovered #breastfeedinginpublic #durham #durhamcathedral #newmum #firsttimemum #cibii #ouod #arthistory #prayer #chapel #grace #godisgood #IVF #ivfjourney #weighin #newborn
Day 12. The morning began with my first mums and babies Pilates class with the NHS Physio. Babies are unpredictable so I was running late, literally. Whilst breastfeeding with one arm and pushing the pram with the other, I dashed into town, very stressed and liberally doused in milk, with my howling baby, but thankfully only 2 minutes late. Sadly, the physio told me as I stood there sweating and panting, that I'm not allowed to join the class until I'm 6 weeks post partum. She then spent 30 mins explaining why (oxytocin, loose ligaments, major internal trauma, unstable pelvis, separated abdominal muscles, risk of haemorrhage blah blah blah) then to convince me further she demonstrated how knacked my core is my doing an examination on a mat and having me do some basic exercises. Convinced. My hopes of returning to rugby training tonight were dashed, so I spent a lovely afternoon in town with my mum then this evening walked to The Mowden pub and back which seemed like a reasonable substitute. I miss the old club. @dmp_sharks #returntorugby #pilates #postpartum #babywearing #babyshark #babysling #mobysling #recovery #abdominal #newmum #womensrugby #oxytocin
Day 11 Main headline is that the community midwife weighed our little shark pup and she's put on 1lb in 5 days! This is insane. So happy she's gaining weight. All's well. We received some gorgeous knitwear from a vicar I've worked with, which was a joy (check out those socks!!!) and a luxury mini hamper for me from Tamsin. Also Timmy sat within 2 meters of her today without flinching which is a huge achievement. #weighin #family #newborn #newparents #weightgain #gato #chat #ivfjourney #clothbum #reusablenappies
Day 10. A family day. A lie in, coffee in town with the parentals then lunch in town, then an afternoon and evening with the parentals again. Gorgeous homemade food, rock music and stories of childhood and family history. Happy tears over our beautiful daughter and newest family member. Such a privilege to live so close to them. Relaxing at "Grandad and Nona's" is the best. . #familytime #newparents #pizzaexpress #lafamilia #family #IVF #miraclebaby #clothbum #grandparents #dungarees #rockmusic #homecooked #home #granddaughter #specialbaby #ivfjourney #britishgarden #britishsummer #familytree #stories #drunk #tears #breastfeeding #breastfeedinginpublic #newborn #newparents #dimple #saltedcaramel #dinner #parents
Hanging with my little superstar. Couldn't love her more. Just so grateful to have her and can't quite yet believe it's true. A year ago I was told it'd never happen and here she is. Thank God. And thanks to all our brilliantly supportive family and friends who've been with us through it all. #thanks #blessed #godisgood #IVF #ivfjourney #miracle #science #family #smitten #love #newborn #delighted #newparents #nevergiveup #blackandwhite
Day 9. Today is a day dedicated to R&R because we really need it. I've resolved to not get out of my pjs. It's all about laundry, sleep, feeds, drying nappies and hanging out in the garden. May treat myself to a bath later if it's not too much effort. #newborn #newparents #knackered #garden #britishsummer #rnr #reusablenappies #clothbum #clothnappies #tired #day9 #babygirl #ivfjourney #miracle #reality
Day 8. Late post. Yesterday we took the little lady on her first big trip to Harrogate. No doubt her memories of the lovely afternoon tea at Bettys with be fond and clear. Right? Her parents however were so tired that they could barely make conversation (though were civil enough to trade favourite sandwiches). For us yesterday's experience may be one we'd rather forget, than look back on wistfully! It was however, really lovely to be the proud parents of a baby that gets so much attention from the elderly in M&S. In droves they came up to us in the cafe to ask her age and weight and to say nice things. Being a parent is cool. We also visited (fake aunty) Freya for coffee and I got in some practice of public breastfeeding under pressure: Elizabeth screaming, pram too big to manoeuvre in small cafe, not enough seats for us all, screams getting louder, lots of people looking and smiling- everyone loves a newborn. Found a chair and had to hope the friendly customers would go back to their lattes as I struggled with my top, bra, latching, milk everywhere, tiny pumping fists and further screams. Fortunately the whole tense affair was over in moments and she fed contentedly in silence until the rest of the party could find us a table together. Being a parent is stressful too. Yesterday was day 2 of the sling and she still loves it. Doesn't seem to mind car journeys either, but I know this can change with the wind. I also discovered baby changing facilities yesterday. Until then I'd never stepped foot in one (why would I?) so I'm no expert but the ones in M&S were great. A little oasis for stressed, tired parents to sit and chill, change, nap(?) and put on and adjust slings out of sight. We're still very much novices so it takes a while. The last pic is thanks to our lovely lodgers who volunteered to watch her for an hour so I could go to bed at 8pm the night before while Dickie did some chores. Every extra minute gained is a win. We're now properly tired teddies. #bettystearooms #bettys #harrogate #afternoontea #kangaroocarry #babysling #babywrap #babywearing #newborn #newbies #newparents #firsttimer #mobywrap #breastfeedinginpublic #clothbum
Day 7. . Today we tried out the sling for the first time. It was a big hit. She immediately fell asleep and I love the fact it's hands-free and keeps her nice and close and comforted. We walked into town with the pram (just in case she changed her mind and hated it) and went along to breastfeeding club. Apparently this is where I'll find lifelong friends/ other sleep deprived women with the thousand yard stare. . There was no update on Day 6. That was a bad day. Sleep deprivation got me and I couldn't really form sentences or do anything but be physically present. That's what the last photo is of. I don't know why yesterday was so bad and today's not so bad, but I'm braced for an awful lot more days like Day 6 until she stops feeding hourly. But hey when they melt your heart like this little one does how can you complain? Apart from taking her on her first car trip to the IVF clinic to show her to the doctors and nurses who helped us, the day was spent in a kind of zombie stupor. #Day7 #7daysold #1week #1weekold #weekoldbaby #weekone #newborn #newbaby #babywearing #mobysling #mobywrap #babysling #ivfpregnancy #IVF #ivfjourney #miracle #blessed #first #reality #bebe #sleepdeprivation #exhausted #zombieland #knackered #reallife #nofilter #instareal #love #kangaroocarry
Lazy time with Daddy. I will absolutely try and curb this habit of instaboring you all with photos. I'll absolutely try... #sleep #newbies #newparents #ivfmiracle #newborn #day5 #sleepingbeauty #dad #parenthood #blackandwhite #baw #bambino
Day 5. A lovely relaxing morning in the garden, hanging out with family, receiving a visit from the midwife, celebrating the baby's gain in weight with pate, bread and a little prosecco and it turns out parenting newborns is EASY! . Then we hit some kind of wall about 20 mins ago and all the adrenaline we'd been surfing on since the labour and birth just crashed. Tempers, tantrums and off to bed to sleep while Nona watches the baby in between feeds. Sh*t just got real. . We're in zombie territory and I don't know if we'll make it out. Night night. . #day5 #newborn #newbaby #hittingthewall #exhausted #tired #sleep #nona #parenting #newbies #reality #bedtime #ftm #newparents #wingingit #sleepdeprivation #torture #knackered #reallife #notapicnic #inlove
Day four. Celebrating parenthood over lunch in town. . Gorgeous meal, fantastic babysitting by Nona, and first two public breastfeeding experiences in cafes were very positive. Feeling emboldened and encouraged by the Ch4 programme. . We all got to eat our meals in a very natural way and none of us felt the need to wear a blanket over our heads. Well Dickie did briefly over pudding but he always does that. #dayfour #newmum #newparents #babygirl #newborn #newlife #ivfbaby #miraclebaby #lunching #nona #familytime #breastfeedingmama #breastfeedinginpublic #bf #breastfeeding #ouod #breastdeedinguncovered #worldbreastfeedingweek
Hands up who's loved their first day at home! . This little dot has had a very chilled day in the garden getting used to life on the outside. Staring at her is an almost full-time occupation. . #newlife #newborn #2daysold #newbaby #ivfjourney #ivfbaby #bambinomio #bambino #bebe #clothbum #miracle #thankgod #blessed #newmum #parenting #newparents #lifegoals #inspiration #beatingtheodds #gdbaby #gdmummyuk #gestationaldiabetes #diabetes #newbie
Our little miracle Elizabeth Frida Phillips. We thought this day would never happen. Thank God it has. #ivfjourney #birth #announcement #newborn #ivfpregnancy #newbaby #ftm #induction #labour #hospital #midwife #fastandfurious #fridakahlo #news #baby #gestationaldiabetes #gdukmums #GDdiet #tbtg #thankgod #blessed #psalm139 #holdingcross #babygirl @gestational_diabetes_uk
%d bloggers like this: