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Pentecost 9

Sunday, 30 July 2023
Rev. Janet Spence, Chaplain

The seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven are sown in a very special place … and the most ordinary place … within every one of us.

Pentecost 9

Saint Ignatius of Loyola was born in the late 15th Century into wealthy Basque nobility. Brought up in the Spanish court, he emerged in his twenties as a wild, vain, ambitious, lustful and courageous young man. In a battle in 1521 he was very severely injured, forcing upon him many months of agony whilst in recovery.

He had an extraordinary imagination, and whiled away the hours daydreaming about the great deeds he would perform once recovered, frequently imagining the wooing of the lady whose love he would win.

To pass the time he asked for books to read, and was brought a Life of Christ by a 14th century Carthusian, Ludolph of Saxony, along with a collection of saints’ lives - not his usual reading or imaginary world! But, they gave him alternative and new narratives for his daydreams, in which he, of course, became the main protagonist.

He noticed, over time, that whilst fully enjoying the daydreams at the time the nature of the daydream significantly altered how he felt afterwards. After dreaming of his great deeds and the lady he would win, he was left feeling empty and sad. By contrast, after daydreams outdoing the saints, he was left feeling content and hopeful. His insight, which went on to form the basis of what is now called Ignatian Spirituality, was that his moods and feelings provided a means of discovering whether his actions and thoughts were helpful and lifegiving, or whether they were destructive, bringing hopelessness and loss of energy for life.

Perhaps many of us have had similar emotional responses, but the significant next step that Ignatius made was this: he discerned that when left with feelings of hopefulness and a desire for life, this indicated that the imaginary world he had been inhabiting was in line with Christ - they were times of closeness to God, of consolation. By contrast the daydreams that left him feeling hopeless and despondent indicated a turning away from God, of desolation.

This insight became what Ignatius later called ‘Discernment of Spirits’ and whilst there are many thousands of erudite writings exploring Ignatian Spirituality (which are well worth exploring) we can learn a great deal from a simple exploration of his teachings.

The aspect I want to draw on this morning is his grace filled conviction that God resides within us at the place of our deepest desires. Therefore, by seeking to know ourselves, by recognising when our activities in life bring us alive, and the converse, when they deaden us, we can discern how to walk more closely with God.

Today’s reading from 1 Kings began with Solomon asleep. Dreams in our Scriptures are frequently times of God revealing something significant to the dreamer. In Solomon’s dream the Lord, we are told, comes to him - breaks into the messiness and complexity of life - and instructs Solomon ‘Ask what I should give you’. In other words, God asks him to name his deepest desire. This has a fairy tale quality to it - the offering of a freely given wish - there don’t seem to be any boundaries! Could he ask for anything?!

It speaks to me of childhood birthdays when I really believed that the wish I made when blowing out the candles had a magic quality to it, though I never did get that horse I so longed (and repeatedly wished) for.

But Solomon enters into a process of working out what it is that he really desires, and to do this he recalls aspects of his past and God’s care for his father, David; he looks at himself with honesty; doubting his worthiness to be leader of the people Israel - I am only a little child, I cannot lead an army (the meaning of not knowing how to go out or come in). His insecurities also form part of his discernment process; and thirdly, he recognises God’s ongoing and constant relationship with the people of Israel.

All of this leads him to know what it is he wishes from God, so he asks for an understanding mind that he might be able to govern the people and discern between good and evil. He asks for what he already has!

Only someone with a wise and discerning mind could have asked for the gift of a wise and discerning mind!

Solomon’s deepest desires were the place where he was most closely aligned with God, and in his recognition and naming of his deepest desires, he discovered that the deepest, truest Solomon was already wise and discerning, and was the Solomon that God desired him to be.

The gift Solomon asked for was already his through the grace of God.

Our gospel also speaks to this. This week we heard a collection of short and intense parables. The first two tell of small, hidden, easily missed things - a tiny mustard seed, then yeast, hidden in, but sufficient to leaven, a huge quantity of flour.

Both of these are small, yes, and hidden, yes, but are powerful and, in the right conditions, have dramatic impact.

And there we can see a link ... a link to Ignatius’ conviction that our deepest desires, though often hidden or easily missed, when given the correct medium to grow, are powerful and life-giving, not only bringing us alive, but changing lives around us.

The tiny mustard seed grew into such a vibrant shrub that birds came to nest in its branches. Then our reading jumped several verses to another bunch of parables which describe the discovery of riches that change the seeker’s lives. Riches that herald the Kingdom of God.

Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God lies within us, possibly deeply hidden, yet ready to burst into life and to bring forth life. God’s call to us to bring forth the Kingdom of God is the work of seeking to know our deepest desires, and then tending them, treasuring them, not allowing ourselves to be turned away from them.

We are not alone in this work to discover our deepest desires, for just as God came to Solomon as he slept, God is with us helping us to recognise, awaken and respond to our deepest desires; through as Ignatius would say, discerning our Spirits - that is seeking to recognise what in my life brings me more alive – that's where I am closer to God, and, what in life deadens me, what turns me away from God.

We need not be fearful, but we do need to be attentive, and discerning. And we have God’s help, as we sang in our 17th Century opening hymn this morning:

All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown,
he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

Daily doth th’ Almighty giver
bounteous gifts on us bestow;
his desire our soul delighteth,
pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand
at his hand;
joy doth wait on his command.

The seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven are sown in a very special place … and the most ordinary place … within every one of us.

Our task is to discover them, to tend them, and to delight in the gifts that they bring to us, and the life they bring to those around us.

Thanks be to God.

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