Exmoor, where I live, is a region peppered with moorland inhabited by red deer and Exmoor ponies, hills dotted with sheep, farmland heavy with crops and more sheep, rivers alive with trout and salmon, villages and towns buzzing with people of creativity and character. There is also 37 miles of sea coast fed by the Bristol Channel which boasts the second largest tidal range in the world. Having such a large tidal range means that the sea is a particularly powerful force.
Not far from my home is Bossington Beach. The beach is not sandy, but full of stones and shingle. As you approach it you are confronted with a large shingle ridge that you have to climb to get to the sea. In one part of the beach, streams, which are living waters, alive with fish, gently overflowing from the hills, merge, disappear beneath the shingle ridge and make their way into the sea. Over time, the constant flow of streams beneath the ridge has been loosening and undermining this huge mass of stones and shingle. But it held … until recently: until Storm Bella struck us at the end of the year.
Storm Bella’s ferocious downpours and almost evil gale-force winds made our rivers and streams swell into torrents, as they descended the hills to the sea at Bossington. At the same time a high tide in the Bristol Channel forced the sea over the shingle ridge and a powerful conspiracy between sea and river smashed through and breached the ridge. What had previously been streams quietly making their way to the sea, hiding beneath the shingle, were now a mighty torrent, which, with a powerful high tide, created an unstoppable force that made a 6 foot breach in the shingle. Walkers were forced to take another route along the beach. Hidden streams and rivers have been exposed.
In a town by another sea, the sea of Galilee, 3,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Follow me.’ And he followed. Jesus also saw the enormous potential in Nathanael and assured him he would see things beyond his imagining if he became a follower. He, too, followed. And, of course, things beyond his imagining have happened. Neither Nathanael, nor Philip nor any of the disciples of Jesus, would have believed that we would still be speaking about them 2000 years later.
When they did follow Jesus, they found that the priorities of their lives changed. They discovered that they would learn more about God and what life was about by relating to the poor, the sick, the struggling, the stranger, the outcast and the marginalised of society than they would by looking to the wealthy, the self-assured, the established and the safe. Jesus showed that to his first disciples and he has shown it to his followers ever since. And he shows that the more we get to know him, the clearer this becomes.
They discovered that love, truthfulness, care for the other, self-giving and generosity are the virtues that transform us and the world and that we should therefore turn our backs on hatred, falsehoods, self-centredness and mean-ness. Jesus showed that to his first disciples and he has shown it to his followers ever since. And he shows that the more we get to know him, the clearer this becomes.
Those first followers of Jesus also discovered that joy, hope, thankfulness and faith lifted their hearts, opening up fresh horizons especially when everything looked bleak, dark and unpromising and that we should turn aside from gloom, despair and fear. Jesus showed that to his first disciples and he has shown it to his followers ever since. And he shows that the more we get to know him, the clearer this becomes.
Over the centuries disciples of Jesus Christ have kept this faith and commitment alive: and, as followers of Jesus Christ, that is our calling. We are called to be like the streams of living waters descending from the hills of Exmoor finding their way beneath the shingle ridge to the sea. We are called to be there, perhaps unnoticed by the majority, quietly and faithfully undermining the great mass of stones and shingle above that have prioritized the importance of possessions, self-centredness and distrust of strangers, all of which bring fear and gloom. Every so often a storm appears, a breach is made and the living water which is now a torrent comes to the fore and cannot be avoided.
The Coronavirus is such a storm. It is an unwelcome and horrific storm that beats down upon us all. We know the death, destruction, darkness and chaos that come in its wake. But like the storm that caused a breach on Bossington beach, its ferocity and evil have cut through an emphasis in society on possessiveness and self-promotion and uncovered Christ-like virtues faithfully flowing below. In addition, it is a great joy to be reminded that these virtues are shared by people within and beyond the community of faith. In the middle of dreadful statistics of deaths and infections, the media have highlighted these virtues. For example,
- Saying thank-you, especially to our health-workers.
- Caring for the other, as in Captain Tom, approaching his 100th birthday, walking around his garden to raise money for the NHS.
- Generosity, as in a primary school head-teacher who, in the lock-down when schools were closed, personally walked and delivered school meals to pupils who would normally receive them if they were at school.
- Self-giving, as in the elderly lady in Intensive Care who refused a ventilator because she thought it should go to somebody else.
A breach has been made. A torrent of Christ-like values has been exposed. Today’s disciples can work hard to make sure that the shingle and stones do not return and the torrent is forgotten.
‘Follow me’, says Jesus. There are at this time opportunities beyond our imagining. Who is Jesus calling us to be and what is he calling each of us to do?
Reading: John 1.43-end.
On-line Reflection for Diocese of Bath and Wells – Video above.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany