BBC Radio 4:Rev Dr Giles Fraser - 27/09/2017

On the evening of Saturday the 3th June, three terrorists went on a killing spree around Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral, murdering eight people and injuring many more. That night I found it impossible to sleep. I knew my daughter had been at a party close by. So early the next morning I wandered down to the area and said a quiet prayer. Then I went to church and preached my sermon. It was the feast day of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit

But I didn’t receive the Holy Spirit that day. Instead, I had a heart attack. Pain in the arm, tightness of chest, sweating buckets. The ambulance rushed me to St Thomas’ hospital. And when the doctors got to look inside me, they found that the arteries of my heart were solid with gunk. I was about the drop dead, they said. Within days I had been given a quadruple heart by-pass operation, using arteries cut out from my leg.

A few days after the operation, as I lay recovering on the seventh floor of the hospital, covered in bandages and scars, I could see smoke rising from a burning tower block on the London skyline. It was a horrendous few days. One might even say, Biblically horrendous.

During that week, the Bishop of Southwark had been to visit me in hospital, keen to share a reading that they’d had in church that day. “We have this treasure in clay jars” he read, sitting at the side of my bed, “to show that power belongs to God and not to us.”

Some passages of scripture seem to speak directly into our experience. This did mine. I felt exactly what St Paul meant when he wrote about fragile jars of clay containing our treasured lives, easily broken, damaged or destroyed.

We all know intellectually that we are going to die. But to have that knowledge come alive to us, to stare it in the face - that’s something entirely different. And St Paul has some advice to those of us who have faced this wisdom, that there is a way to place our heart beyond the reach of destruction – and that is, to shift the centre of gravity in our lives to outside of ourselves. All religion is fundamentally about this shifting the focus from self to God. All about decentering. And in this there is a huge liberation - liberation from the fear of death, from self-absorption, liberation from despair. Because life is a lot more than simply being about me. And once we have realized that, we can start to live beyond fear.

“We are hard pressed on every side” St Paul continues, “but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

These are strong words for an age of terrorism and tragedy. And I will always hold onto them. Because I didn’t think the Holy Spirit had come to me at Pentecost. But I was quite wrong. I was born again by the surgeon’s skill and through the words of St Paul.

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