I know how to show my wife a good time. So, last year we went to the Festival of Preaching in Oxford… It was a pretty intense few days, listening to the brightest and the best. But we were also in the company of Christians from all over the UK and overseas. I’ll get to the Wombles later.
This year the organisers did a one-day on-line YouTube version, with many of the same speakers. But the nearest you got to being with others was the ‘chat’ that was running on screen at the side of the person speaking.
I’m going to shamelessly pinch a couple of great perspectives that were shared that day. The first was by the priest and poet, Malcolm Guite, who was speaking about the Psalms. Malcolm said something to the effect of the Psalms being like a GPS. No matter how you are feeling you could look in the Psalms and there would be a metaphorical red arrow which pointed and said: “you are here”.
And you can also find in the Psalms a place where you want to be – and map your route from one to the other. He said that we should take great comfort from the fact that not only have many others been there before us – but that Jesus had too. Because the Psalms were his prayer book as well as ours.
Secondly, Martyn Percy (the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford) compared Jesus with the Wombles! If you recall, the Wombles were an environmentally friendly bunch, re-cycling and up-cycling, living on Wimbledon Common. “Making the most of the things that they find, things that the everyday folks leave behind”. And Jesus made the most of people who got left behind. The prostitutes, the tax collectors, the pagans, the people left on the edges. He saw their value, their worth, their potential.
But Martyn’s main point was that Jesus was the verb of God. Jesus was ‘doing’ God. And we are called, challenged, purposed to do the same. We should be ‘doing’ God too. If Jesus wombled, then God wombles – and we should be wombling too.
A psalm of praise
And, so, to today’s psalm, Psalm 147. It’s one of the praise psalms at the very end of the Psalter. But they follow directly after psalms which are praying for deliverance. Those praise psalms may be where we want to be, rather than where we are now. With Covid now claiming over a million victims and local restrictions in place, many of us will find our “you are here” arrow in those earlier psalms rather than this later one.
But our Psalm 147 doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant facts. It doesn’t pretend that everything is rosy. The poetry weaves together verses about both creation and liberation, because God does both. In this vast universe, God is interested in us. He cares for us; is in search of us. We see echoes of both Job and Isaiah 40 here. The same God who can call out the stars by name also gathers the outcasts, heals the broken hearted and sustains the humble. God is wombling again.
On the margins
And today we remember St Luke. Of all the Gospel writers, it’s Luke who talks about those on the margins and draws them in. It’s only Luke who has poor shepherds visit a new-born in Bethlehem and only Luke who has a despised Samaritan rescue a beaten traveller. It’s Luke who brings a hated tax collector down from a tree and Luke who brings a rude, self-absorbed son home to the embrace of his father. Yes, you guessed it – Luke wombled too.
But Luke also had an eye for detail. The son is given a robe, a ring and a fatted calf. Zacchaeus didn’t climb any old tree – it was a sycamore. We’re told that the Samaritan poured oil and wine onto the wounds. The shepherds are to find the child wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Minutia mattered to Luke. The physical world was sacramental. The visible pointed to the invisible – the invisible love of God for the world. Like in our Psalm, for Luke, creation and liberation are inextricably wrapped together.
Teresa of Avila
And in our Gospel reading from Luke today we’re drawn back to the Psalm. The liberation that God brings is through people like us wombling around and getting our feet dusty. To slightly misquote Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body on earth but ours; no hands, no feet on earth, but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world.
Ours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good.
And ours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.
And returning to Malcolm Guite, he has something to say too, in this sonnet about Luke:
His gospel is itself a living creature
A ground and glory round the throne of God,
Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature
And One upon the throne sees it is good.
Luke is the living pillar of our healing,
A lowly ox, the servant of the four,
We turn his page to find his face revealing
The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.
He breathes good news to all who bear a burden
Good news to all who turn and try again,
The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,
A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,
The voiceless find their voice in every word
And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord. Amen
‘Luke, psalms and the Wombles’ was delivered by Ian Banks to St Zoom’s on Sunday 18th October 2020. It’s based on Psalm 147:1-7 and Luke 10:1-9. St Zoom’s is made up of people from churches in Bury, Heywood and Rochdale.
- Thanks to https://www.trinitychurchboston.org/blog/jesus-universal-savior for the inspiration on Luke.
- And thanks to Malcolm Guite for the sonnet, which can be found here: https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/st-luke/