St Andrewís Croydon
21st September 2003
Trumps and Bumps
This morningís sermon is about Trumps and Bumps. Let me explain what these two words mean.
In card games like Whist and Bridge, one of the four suits is called Trumps. Even the lowest card of the trump-suit, the Two of Clubs, say, ranks higher than any card in any other suit, higher than the Ace of Spades for example. It Triumphs over it Ė hence the word Trump. Can you guess how that card would feel if it were able to do so?
Imagine yourself to be that Two of Clubs. Youíre the humblest card in the pack, but suddenly youíve been promoted, just momentarily, to a position of power and importance above the lofty Ace of Spades. Itís one of those moments-of-a-lifetime when you discover youíve become both important and extraordinary.
We had a Confirmation at St Stephenís last week and three of our members experienced a Triumph like that: Emma a student, Judith a nurse and Petrona an OAP.
Three very ordinary people. But ordinary people whom Confirmation transformed into something quite extra-ordinary, inasmuch as it turned each of them into an ordained lay-member of the Body of Christ on earth, thereby completing the process of Christian Initiation which began at their baptism.
This was a Trump or Triumphant experience for them and for me who had been preparing them. Several months of instruction in the faith were consummated in this one Sacramental Act.
Most of us have had Trumping Experiences during our lifetimes. Getting married, giving birth, being ordained, passing an exam, winning a race, scoring a goal: all of these are experiences which make people feel momentarily "uplifted" in a way that words cannot describe. "Momentarily" because these feelings never last very long, however intense they are at the time.
So letís now look at the other side of the coin The Bump which comes after the Trump as certainly as night succeeds day.
We often talk about "coming down to earth with a bump". If people, especially new Christians, have not been prepared to expect the Bump to happen to them, it will be a very painful experience indeed Ė so painful, in fact, that itís easy to forget all about the Trump which preceded it. The bottom seems to fall out of everything. We wonder what has gone wrong. We feel ashamed of ourselves for the sense of boredom and purposelessness which often accompany it. Sometimes we begin to wonder if the Trump really happened at all in the first place.
Weíre living at a time when everyone pays great attention to their feelings Ė and to very little else besides. So now is a good time to think about feelings like Trumps and Bumps Ė for feelings are what Trumps and Bumps are: no more and no less.
So here are some facts about Trumps and Bumps:
Being feelings, Trumps and Bumps are part of our animal nature. Thatís not to say they arenít important. If we didnít have feelings like hunger, thirst, fear, tiredness, pleasure, pain, heat and cold each of which prompts us to do something (like having something to eat or drink, or to go to bed) we should be dead very soon. So we should always pay some attention to our feelings.
That being said we must understand that feelings, by themselves, are often a quite unreliable guide about what we should do in a given situation. For example panic is a feeling brought on by an emergency; but to do what panic suggests will usually be a mistake.
This is even more the case with moral choices. If our decisions only relate to what makes us feel good they will often end in tears and regrets. Like those godless fools in the first reading. Just read on a few verses further to see what happens to the likes of them!
When God became Man in the person of Jesus Christ he had feelings just like ours. He was hungry, thirsty, sad, joyful, angry and tender. He was tempted at all points like us, says the Writer to the Hebrews, but he adds yet without sin. If "God did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all", St Paul says, "how shall he not with him also give us freely all things?" All things of course include the Agony in Gethsemane, Judasís betrayal, Peterís denial, the Trials, the Road to Calvary, The Crucifixion and Burial. God the Father would no more spare us from the Bumps like those suffered by his Son than he would withhold from us the Triumphs which he was to bestow on him, the Son, who for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, many people realise that they learnt more about Godís will for them from their Bumps than they did from their Trumps. Thatís hardly surprising when we consider the difference between the two feelings. Bumps correspond to the months of hard training which make winning a race possible; Trumps is the cup we receive afterwards. Ask yourself which of those two experiences is more likely to be a learning one.
Todayís Gospel describes what happened after the Transfiguration. If ever there was a Trump-experience for Jesus and those Apostles who shared it, the Transfiguration was it. Yet in todayís reading we hear Jesus warn his disciples about the Bumps they would experience in the near future.
The Christian Way has often been seen as a Road or a Pilgrimage, needing constant progress. Trumps, however, require us to pause in order to appreciate them. Thereís nothing wrong with pausing Ė providing it doesnít go on too long. So unless we come down from our pinnacle on the mountain and get back to the road we shall never get to our destination Ė the Heavenly City.
Trumps are things that just happen. Itís no good trying to make them happen. They wonít. Thatís why our present Feeling Generation is so dissatisfied. It is constantly trying to make Trumps happen. That only results in making more and more effort for less and less satisfaction.
Remember the two of clubs. The fact that it became a trump and was able to perform such amazing feats had nothing whatever to do with the card itself. It will soon have to revert to being nothing more than the lowliest card in a pack of fifty-two until clubs are trumps again. God sometimes promotes us to an importance we have never dreamt of possessing. But that promotion will have little or nothing to do with anything we deserve. However, it will have everything to do with Godís all-seeing eyes knowing things about us of which we are quite unaware; those unknown things just happen to be exactly what God is looking for to work his purposes out in a given situation.
So when you next encounter a Trump or a Bump consider doing the following:
Treat every Trump and Bump as a gift from God
Donít imagine that any Trump or Bump will last for ever. The Trump will die away as the Transfiguration begins to fade. Of Bumps the Psalmist tells us that "Heaviness may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning."
Progress on any journey is the result of slogging hard, not of having more high moments than anyone else. Training for a race and being presented with the cup are two quite different things.
Treat your feelings both of pain and pleasure as your servants, not your masters. People today treat their feelings with far too much respect. The result is, as one unfortunate person was heard to say on his deathbed "I now realise that Iíve been doing neither what I should nor what I really wanted to!"
Above all, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Tempted at all points like we are, yet without sin, able to share in our joys as well as our sorrows (for he experienced both), "His the triumph, his the victory alone" Ė but in that Triumph we shall undoubtedly share when this life of Bumps is over.
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