Wednesday, February 25, 2009

All about . . .

I met a friend yesterday who, with great parental pride, was telling me how his daughter has been offered a place at Cheltenham University. He's delighted, but I gather that she's a little anxious as to whether the town's genteel image will damage her street cred here in London!

All of which brought back a distant memory . . . have you time for a story that's rather appropriate for Lent?

Somewhere, in the Cotswolds, there must live an elderly (positively ancient) vicar who would be totally amazed to know that his run-of-the-mill Sunday sermon at Cheltenham, twenty years ago, was being recalled and reconsidered in 2009.

The church in question was Cheltenham Parish Church and, if I remember correctly, the vicar was elderly, grey-haired and rather avuncular. It was quite a small congregation and the whole occasion seemed easily forgetable. The vicar started his sermon with the arresting words, "I am not going to talk about God . . . ". This woke me up, it was an unexpected and interesting change. I sat back to listen.

The avuncular vicar went on to say that the person he was going to talk about was a parishioner in his previous parish. She, it seemed, had been a passionate royalist. Everything and anything to do with the Queen that was published or manufactured, she did her best to acquire. She had coronation mugs, souvenir figurines, commemoration issues of newspapers and endless books and magazines. As the vicar said, there was nothing published about the Queen that his parishioner didn't know. BUT - and, as you'll have guessed, this was the nub of his message - she didn't KNOW the Queen. She only knew all ABOUT the Queen.

As I left the church I was very taken by his argument. It struck me that the ardent royalist had no need of all her memorabilia to actually meet the Queen. She might, if she were lucky, come up0n the Queen in Windsor Great Park, or on her estate at Balmoral, without the aid of any of that accumulation. In fact - and this is what struck me forcibly - all those press-cuttings could prove positively detrimental. The Media, and the manufacturers of commemorative memorabilia, could have distorted the true picture so successfully that she wouldn't even recognise the real Queen when she saw her. Not only that, meeting the Queen with so many pre-conceptions might well prove a barrier, not a help.

All right, I'm not going to labour the point. But, you see what I mean? You see what that vicar was getting at all those years ago . . . ?
It seems to me that we all get confused on this issue. We can diligently read about spiritual matters, we can study the Bible with great application - just so long as we don't confuse our readings and our studies with an authentic, personal encounter with God. It's the 'glass darkly' 'face to face' argument, and something tells me that Doubting Thomas would agree with me!

Here finally endeth a twenty-year-old sermon!