• Ross Moughtin

Past put behind us, for the future take us

It’s November 1974 and a new house group of St Margaret’s Durham meets for the first time. As it happens most of us don’t know each other and so we begin with an ice breaker: “What do you thank God for?” To begin with, all fairly routine: my family, my friends, my football club, the usual. And then it was Jan’s turn. Jan thanked God for Bob, her wonderful husband. Fair enough – but then she began to elaborate. She shared with us Bob’s astonishing attentiveness, his perfect patience, his amazing abilities. Clearly this man was a truly remarkable husband. Some of us started to feel uncomfortable as we were clearly far short of meeting his superior standards. Then someone asked: “Jan, how long have you been married?” Her reply said everything. “Three weeks.” Well, it’s just over three weeks, five in fact, since my final service at Christ Church and to all intents and purposes the beginning of my retirement as vicar. So how’s it going? Now I fully realise that these are early days but to my complete surprise, I already think of myself as the ex-vicar of Christ Church. So when I ran past the church building on Wednesday, I actually thought without thinking: “That’s the church where I used to be vicar (but no longer)!” Again, I wasn’t expecting this to happen so soon and so I’ve been wondering why such a huge change in my life has already registered in my subconscious. It may be because I’ve known my retirement date for about 18 months. This has meant that this last year has been a succession of last’s – my final Pentecost, my final Harvest, my final Remembrance and so on. After a while it registers, that I’m about to retire. Then the climax, my final weekend – the social event in the Ministry Centre on the Saturday and then my final service on the Sunday followed by the hotpot meal. This paid a huge part in my transition to becoming an OAP. I blogged only recently of the importance of ritual when as a fellowship we mark a special event or lifetime moment before God. Again, it puts down a marker not just for the individual but for the community. That can make all the difference. I guess my personality type has a part to play too. Some years ago Jacqui and I were watching on television some worthy person explaining what a psychopath is. I can’t remember what he said but I do remember Jacqui turning to me and saying “He’s talking about you!” But there are times when we have to decide to put the past behind us and step out into an uncertain future. In fact, that is how the Christian life begins and often, how it continues. In fact, Jesus can speak of putting the past behind us with a determination, even a ruthlessness – because there is simply no safe alternative. So we read in Luke’s Gospel. “Another person said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:62).

Clearly there are times when it is black and white – to follow Jesus means deciding to leave our old life behind. Only recently I met someone who in order to follow Jesus had to exit a criminal conspiracy. As far as am aware, the police were not onto him.

For him, a costly but wholly necessary decision and one not without risk. But to honour Jesus as Lord made the break inevitable. But there may well be activities, even relationships, which though perfectly proper in themselves have to be put aside if we are to grow as disciples of Jesus. And it can mean a step into the unknown. When my brother-in-law decided to follow Jesus he realised that he had to give up his sailing. I think for him it was a case of how he spent his Sundays: he knew he couldn’t do both church and his favourite pastime. For him, in his situation, a clean break was necessary. Learning to put the past behind us and press on is a requirement for all Christians. Sometimes we have no choice but there are times when a painful decision is required. As Joseph Campbell observes: “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” As Timothy Dudley-Smith so eloquently writes in his hymn Lord of the Years: “Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us - self on the cross and Christ upon the throne, past put behind us, for the future take us: Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.”

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