If ever love, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation were needed in our world and in our lives, now is the time. We are hearing dreadful stories of thousands of Rohinja people being forced to flee from their homes in Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh. Hurricanes and flooding are causing death and chaos in various parts of the world. Missiles, harbingers of death and destruction, are being fired across the skies of the Far East. We are still reeling from the bomb attack in London less than a week ago. Issues around Brexit continue to polarise positions in the UK.
Now, all these are crises on the global and national stage, but they also impact on the physical and mental health of the people in our country, in our communities and in our families. People are deeply concerned for the future, some deeply concerned over whether they will have a future. They are asking, what’s it all about? What’s life for? We see and feel the effect of this fear and uncertainty across society but most dramatically in the mental health crisis among the young people of our country. Most recently research has shown that one in four university students have mental health problems.
In the middle of all this turmoil, Burrswood has something important to offer and to say. In looking afresh at Dorothy Kerin’s emphasis on whole-person care and the commission she received to ‘heal the sick, comfort the sorrowing and give faith to the faithless’ Burrswood brings together medicine, healthcare and the christian faith in a unique way. Burrswood is working hard to model the very best of this relationship between medicine and christian healing. How? By the very best medical and health-care practices? Yes. By the very best in chaplaincy services? Yes. By a most welcoming environment? Yes. But it offers something else as well.
That first reading is taken from a letter that St. Paul wrote to the people of Philippi. What is quite remarkable is that it was written, not from the comfort of his holiday home, not from the quiet of his study, but it was written from prison where he was facing charges of sedition because his preaching of the Gospel was considered by some to be an act of rebellion against the state. He knew that the outcome was simple: either he would be released or he would be executed. We know that he was executed. So there he was, in prison, living daily on the knife-edge of life and death. So what does he write in his letter? He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t bewail the possibility of imminent death. He doesn’t do either of these. He was not stupid; he was a human being and so he must have been deeply concerned about the outcome, but he was still able to write:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Despite facing the likelihood of death he looked at his situation with an eye to love, forgiveness and reconciliation and when he saw it this way, it did not look so grim as many would see it. He gave meaning to what he saw. It didn’t mean there was no suffering, no heart-ache, no struggle, but he was able to place all that was happening to him in the wider framework of his faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.
As former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us, the great institutions of modernity were not constructed to provide meaning. Science tells us how the world came to be but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use it. The market gives us choices but no guidance as to which choices to make. Modern democracies give us a maximum of personal freedom but a minimum of shared morality. Medicine gives us some wonderful life-giving drugs and treatment to enhance life, but cannot tell us what life is for.
From its very beginning, Burrswood, a place of healing founded on strong Christian principles, has given meaning around healing and sickness. Today we are celebrating the fact that Burrswood is continuing to do this in the very different opportunities and challenges that the second and third decades of the twenty-first century are throwing at us. Burrswood provides a framework where sickness and healing can be viewed as part of life’s journey. Burrswood is open to all faiths and none, it wants to be welcoming to those who are at home in our society and those who are marginalised by society. Burrswood’s foundation is Christian and it will not hide or water down its commitment to the God who through Jesus Christ has shown a commitment of love, forgiveness and reconciliation to the world since before its creation. Burrswood will never require guests to be followers of Jesus Christ, in the same way that Jesus never did; it will not sit in judgement over the beliefs and ideas of anybody coming through these doors, as Jesus never did; it will always respect the God-given humanity and potential of all, as Jesus always did. And if people need convincing about this, Burrswood will say, ‘Come and see.’
In that second reading, which tells of the call of the disciples, we see that people are drawn to Jesus because his words and actions kindle their interest and curiosity. They see in him somebody whose life reflects his commitment and when they want to know more, he speaks to them in ways that open up new worlds and possibilities that they never knew existed. At a time when love, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation were needed as much as today, Jesus Christ showed people another way and his followers recognised this in him. He never forces people to follow: people are drawn to him and he invites. Furthermore, he is able to do it in ways that enable them to feel liberated and encouraged rather than trapped. ‘Come and see’ he says to those who are inquiring. He doesn’t sit them down and tell them about himself, he doesn’t threaten them, but simply offers an invitation. ‘Come and see,’ Burrswood says to inquirers who may be within this place or outside.
Burrswood is at the beginning of a journey of adventure to which all are invited. Like all journeys, there will be twists and turns, hope and disappointments, celebrations and struggles. I want to conclude with two pictures, one familiar to those who know this community but perhaps the other may not be familiar. The familiar picture is that of the caterpillar which emerges into a butterfly, reminding us all that change is part of life and that something fresh and beautiful can come in unexpected ways. The second picture is also about a butterfly. It’s about a very kind and gentle gardener who watches a chrysalis developing on the garden wall, knowing that in time a butterfly will be emerging. Looking carefully, he sees the chrysalis move and sees an enormous struggle going on. Being kind and gentle, and not wanting to see the poor creature struggle, he takes a very sharp knife and very carefully slits the edge of the chrysalis just enough to allow the butterfly to emerge which it easily does. Out comes a perfectly formed butterfly. It was perfectly formed, but it had no colour at all. New birth will always involves struggle and, uncomfortably for us, the more the struggle, the more the colour, depth and character it brings.
In a world where love, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation were needed ‘Come and see,’ says Jesus to inquirers.
In a world where love, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation are needed ‘Come see’ what new things the Lord is doing through Burrswood.
Come and see.
Readings: Philippians 4.4-9; John.1.35-51
20th September, 2017.