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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Epiphany in Arizona

Blokes of my age and era are notoriously bad in keeping in touch. I find, like Peter Kay the best way for keeping track of old friends is by watching Crimewatch UK. But then I get the occasional break. I bump into my old running rival Colin in a bookshop in Manchester or a church member tells me his nephew Doug as at school with me. This week I made contact after 50 years with James, who worked with me as a counsellor at YMCA Camp Brooklyn, Pennsylvania over the summer of 1970, a formative experience. We got on well. His family in California were to show me wonderful hospitality. James had just graduated in theology and about to take a course at St Andrew’s, Scotland. So that autumn I visited him there and I recall him being surprised by “the vast wilderness of the Scottish highlands.” And that was it, not even an annual Christmas card as he silently slipped into my past. Until Wednesday. I am looking forward to reading Fleming Rutledge’s book, the Crucifixion – no doubt I will be reviewing it for you in the near future. I happened to read her acknowledgments which included a certain James F Kay. “Could this be the James F Kay I know ?” I thought. A quick google showed it was – and that he had become Dean at Princeton Theological Seminary where he held the chair for Homiletics and Liturgics. Impressive stuff – and so I shot off a tentative email to his address at Princeton. Would it get through? Would he remember me? Would he communicate my current whereabouts to Crimewatch? I soon received an answer: “What a wonderful surprise to receive your email and to learn of your ministry in Lancashire!” The person I am today is very much the product of innumerable relationships over the years. Some, of course, have been hugely influential, many have just a slight impression but an impression nevertheless. That is how God forms us. In my follow up email to James I shared a key experience, even an epiphany, which was to change the direction of my life. This took place soon after leaving his home in LA by Greyhound bus for the Grand Canyon, a wonder of the world I had always wanted to visit. Surprisingly, the Grand Canyon turned out to be a huge disappointment, just a large crack in the ground in an expansive desert! You looked one way and then the other, and that was it. Even so I was conscious that I was having wonderful time and the reason was not where I was but those I was with. It is relationships, I realised, which give us fulfilment. “Truth is God's love for us in Jesus Christ,” proclaims Pope Francis. “Therefore, truth is a relationship.” That summer in 1970 I had been expecting to follow a career in economics but I now realised that there could be no higher return that investing in relationships. This was to be my future and it meant a big change of direction. As Tim Keller writes “Ultimate reality is a community of persons who know and love one another. That is what the universe, God, history, and life is all about. If you favour money, power, and accomplishment over human relationships, you will dash yourself on the rocks of reality. My initial response was to follow a career in social work, a calling to repair damaged relationships. Those three years were influential but I soon realised that God was lining me up for ordained ministry. Here my vocation was to explicitly encourage people to put God at the centre of their relationships. I’ve just spent two weeks reading Paul’s epistle to the Philippians. What stands out in this relatively short letter, just four chapters, is the quality of the apostle’s relationship with these Greek believers, “his joy and crown.” “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:8). There were tensions, of course. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2) So Paul urges them “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5). This leads him into that incredible passage where Jesus chooses to take the very nature of a slave. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 22:8) Very simply, if this is how God loves us, at incredible cost, we should love one another – a whole new way of thinking. Relationships are to be prioritized above everything else. This requires constant maintenance; ongoing forgiveness is to be the watchword. And also we need the invaluable ministry of keeping in touch, even if it is just ‘thank you’ for your help on the way. So thank you, Jim. #relationships #church #revelation

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