Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Luke 17:5

I recently returned from spending a few weeks in Colombia.  I was invited by the bishop, and worked in three Episcopal parishes in Bogota and Medellin.  It was an extraordinary experience and I am still thinking and praying about everything I was privileged to see and do, and remembering especially some of the wonderful, generous people I met.  The people of Colombia have lived through decades of violence.  Terrorized by guerilla groups like the FARC, and suffering through the murderous days of Pablo Escobar and narco-terrorism.  What is less well known is that Colombia has the world’s highest number of internally displaced people – more even than Syria.  These are Colombian men, women and children who over the past 30 years have been forcibly driven from their homes by armed groups, and who have become refugees in their own land.  Eight million of them – many now living in poverty in the outlying barrios, which cling to the mountainsides of the great cities.

I spent much of my time living in one such barrio in Bogota.  It was a tough place to be, but the great blessing I received was to meet and talk with men and women, who in the midst of great suffering and hardship, radiated a profound faith and trust in God.

I remember one night, sitting outside with a parishioner, hearing his story.  Bogota is almost two miles high and we were sitting high above the city itself in a barrio which was clinging to the side of the Andes.  We looked down at the twinkling lights of the city below, where 10 million people lived, and in that clear mountain air, we looked up at the twinkling stars.  As he spoke, he gave me the great privilege of seeing the world through his eyes.  He saw a world filled with hardship, poverty and suffering, but he also saw another world.  As he described this world, it felt like he was inviting me to look through his spiritual telescope – and what I saw was a great and powerful, loving God whom my friend trusted absolutely.  As he spoke and as I looked up at the stars, I felt how close God was to us.

Later that night I lay in bed reflecting on my own faith.  I have so much in my life: a place to live, meals every day, health care, security.  I felt rich and privileged compared to the people I was living with.  But I also felt how weak my faith and trust in God was, compared to my Colombian friend.

Gosh, I wish I had more faith.  In reading our Gospel today from Luke, here are the disciples asking Jesus the same thing: “Lord, increase our faith.”  And Jesus answers in a very puzzling way: “Even if you have faith the size of a mustard seed” – that is, even if you only have the tiniest amount of faith, as tiny as the tiniest of all seeds, that’s enough to uproot a great mulberry tree and plant it in the sea.”  What Jesus is saying, I think, is that it’s not great faith that you need, but faith in a great God.  Faith is like a window you look through.  It doesn’t matter if the window is six feet high or six inches, or just the tiniest peephole in a telescope.  What matters is the God that your faith is looking out on.

What the story from the Gospel is saying, I think, is the same thing I felt stirring in me on that Colombian mountainside: “Our vision of God is too small.”

When my friend in Bogota looked at his life he saw a life of poverty and many challenges.  But he had another life.  Another life, a life lived with God.  And it seemed that he needed only the tiniest window through which to gaze out at his great and glorious God, who loved him and cared for him – a God whom he trusted with his life.

Each one of us lives a life filled with challenges, difficulties and struggle.  We live in a country which is deeply divided, with huge political uncertainty.  It can make us feel insecure, worn out, even despairing.  But we as Christians also have another life.  A more hidden life, but one filled with power and promise.  St Paul knew this and put it beautifully in the letter to the Ephesians: “My life, (my truest life),” he said, “is hidden with Christ in God.”

Jesus himself had two lives: one in the public gaze: preaching, teaching, healing.  The other, more hidden.  At night he would go up into the mountains to be alone with his Father.  I imagine him gazing up at the stars, renewing his vision of the greatness of his Father, the greatness of his mission.

We, too, have this other life: the life of faith.  It is as if we were citizens of two countries.  Citizens of this country, but also of another country.  As Paul reminds the Philippian Christians, “our citizenship is in heaven.”

Shortly after I was ordained, I came across a wonderful line in Shakespeare’s King Lear, where Lear says to his daughter Cordelia, “We’ll think about the mysteries of the universe, as if we were God’s spies.”  I love that image of being God’s spy.  For a spy apparently lives an ordinary life, but he has another life, a hidden life.  He has a deeper allegiance to another country.  I remember as a young priest I liked to think of myself as God’s spy, on a mission, watching for the signs of God’s work in the world, listening to others and helping them also to come to know this other country and how to enter it – this great country, the “Kingdom of God.”

And it is always such a blessing to be with others who also have this other life, who also belong to this other country.  Which is why it is so good to come together this morning to share in worship.

But the challenge to us who are citizens of two countries, is to constantly renew our vision of our heavenly country.  We spend most of our time and thought in this world, and the concerns of this life can crowd out and make us almost forget that other life, our life hidden with Christ in God.

This is why it is so important, every day, to renew our vision of God, to deepen our relationship with God – just as Jesus did every night on the mountainside.

To spend time with God every day and, as it were, put our eye to the tiny lens of the telescope, and to look out at the magnificent glory of our God.  To renew our vision of our great and loving God, to receive the strength and power from that other country, so that we can live in this country with faith and trust and hope.

Today, on the Lord’s Day, we gather together, we citizens of two countries, God’s spies, and we celebrate together our life in this world, but also our other life, our life hidden with Christ in God.  The climax of our worship is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  And it is in the Eucharist, when Christ becomes present to us in bread and wine, that these two countries, earthly and heavenly, come together.  The present moment is shot through with the timeless.  Heaven and earth are joined together and our two worlds become one.

As you come to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, ask him to renew your vision, that your heavenly life, hidden with Christ in God, may become powerfully real, and that you may gaze out, and with the eyes of faith, see our Great God in all his power, majesty and glory.  Amen.

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8 Comments

  1. Bobbi on October 30, 2020 at 15:00

    I love being God’s spy; prayer is my secret weapon. Thank you, Brother Jeffrey, for putting language to what I do.

    My routine is to listen to, rather than read the SSJE sermons. I usually have this spiritual experience in the early afternoon.

  2. Melinda Brazzale on October 30, 2020 at 10:32

    Thank you for this perspective of belonging to 2 countries. It really clarifies for me the intertwining of my secular life and faith life. I love listening to SSJE talks every morning! Thank you.

  3. Cynthia Sand on October 30, 2020 at 10:14

    Thank you Br. Geoffrey for the image of the six inch window and the largess of our God. These days of the pandemic and politics around it have me despairing. So more than ever I need to rest in the love and peace of God’s grace which is so freely given. These words I have written into a song: “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”

  4. vikki d brandstetter on October 30, 2020 at 09:11

    What a beautiful and useful message. I love the idea of being God’s spy and looking for his work here in this world. Thank you so much.

  5. Valerie on October 30, 2020 at 09:11

    I am a retired missionary, living in Togo, West Africa, where I have served for more than 20 years. I have just returned from 8 months in California. My stay in CA was extended due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Your sermon is so relevant. In California, wildfires are raging, COVID 19 cases fill the hospitals, and political and racial troubles are troubling society. I recently was able to return to Togo where COVID is not such a prominent factor, but poverty, fraud, political and ethnic power struggles, and a dependency outlook on life reign. I long to go HOME, to be with my Lord in His peace. But I am thankful each day for the blessings He gives me here, and the opportunities to share His love and care. His light shines brightly into our world, when we open our heart to Him! Thank you for your recollections of His light!

  6. SusanMarie on October 30, 2020 at 07:50

    Thank you for this important message.

    “This is why it is so important, every day, to renew our vision of God, to deepen our relationship with God – just as Jesus did every night on the mountainside.”

    This is the reason I arise early every morning for quiet time with God, which includes reading an SSJE sermon, reading Richard Rohr’s daily email, other spiritual reading, prayer, and meditation. Before I go into my day, I absolutely need to deepen my relationship with God, and to renew my vision of God, which is absolutely too small most of the time. And the fact that others in this world are doing the same thing I am brings me the comfort and affirmation of community; a beautiful start to each day!

    • Jan Ramsey on October 30, 2020 at 11:05

      Amen to you SusanMarie! I also try to read Richard Rohr’s meditations and this wonderful offering from the brothers SSJE every morning and now I have words to understand the difference it makes in how the day opens to me! Being a spy for God! I hope this concept can be grasped by my 14 year old grandson who occasionally loves singing the Venite with me loud and clear on the hills outside as we go down to feed the sheep in the winter dark. God is our inner light that holds both worlds together so let us sing!!! AND Spy!!!

  7. Maria Evans on October 11, 2019 at 07:26

    Such a awesome sermon and so personal to me, the mother of a then baby son adopted in Bogota. We had little time to site see but you describe the barrios so well. I was amazed how they clung to the sides of the mountains as we drove up to Monserate. We are bringing him back to Colombia for a college graduation gift and can’t wait!! Thank you for a wonderful comparison of belonging to 2 countries. I loved just listening and seeing what I’m doing and where I am spiritually is positive and on the right path. I also am grateful for this new resource from my Pastor.

    Praise God!
    “Be Still and Know”
    Maria Evans, RN,FCN
    St. John’s Vernon CT

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