Matthew Burns

Rethink your thinking

Written by Sedbergh School Chaplain Reverend Paul Sweeting

I recently spoke to the School in our Chapel (in several sittings, well spaced out, this is a pandemic, after all!)  I’d heard a sermon online* that I found personally helpful in our present time.  It included a story and I wanted to share with them.  It is an example of the wisdom and hope found in Christian faith that can help us to rethink our thinking, to lift our eyes to see there might be a bigger picture: here’s the story…

There was a wise man who lived on the Northern frontier of China.  He has a horse, it runs away and escapes.  The people of the village come to him, they comfort him in his loss.  But he responds: ‘How do you know this is a bad thing, and not a good thing?’

A few months later, the horse returns and brings along a splendid wild stallion.  The people of the village gather around the wise man and they congratulate him.  But the wise man says, ‘How do you know this is a good thing, and not a bad thing?’

And then one day the wise man’s son is riding on the stallion but something spooks the horse, it throws his son off, he falls to the ground, breaks his hip, it never repairs properly and he is unable to walk for the rest of his life.  The people of the village gather around the wise man to console him.  But the wise man replies, ‘How do you know this is a bad thing, and not a good thing?’

And then invaders from the North come, and there is war.  The men of the village are called up into the army, and go into a great battle.  Nearly all of them are killed and never return.  But the son, because he is injured, he stays home and cares for his ageing father, and they both survive.

And so the story ends.

Things happen in our lives and we quickly react as to whether they are good or bad, that’s understandable.  Taking a step back, we can see that there is more to it than first meets the eye.

Our lives and our world are being disrupted by the pandemic.  And some of you are, right now, battling with difficulties that have come into your lives, or the lives of loved ones.  Very understandably, we can feel it is totally a bad thing.  But we don’t always know that at the time.  We need to rethink our thinking.

I’ll come back to that.

But for now, I want you to picture a face.  It is the face of a mother watching her son die.  Tears on her cheeks, eyes darkened with sorrow.

Two thousand years ago, a traveller on a road outside Jerusalem would have seen that face.  It is the face of Mary, staring at her son on the cross, Jesus crucified.  It seems totally a bad thing.  Perhaps people gathered around her afterwards, to console her in her loss. 

But it is not just a bad thing, good will come of it.  If he is the Saviour, then good is coming of it.  We need to rethink our thinking.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul writes these words (he’d been through a fair bit himself):

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

When something comes into your life, you may assume it’s a good thing, or it’s a bad thing.  But you may need to rethink your thinking.  At the front of our Chapel stands the cross – it seemed a bad thing, but good comes of it.

*The sermon was by Ken Shigematsu, titled ‘Suffering and the “U-curve” of Life, podcast available here.

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