GOD APPEALS TO OUR BELIEF AND LOVE
Sermon delivered on the Third Sunday After Trinity the 21st June 2015 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: Job 38: 1-11 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13 S. Mark 4: 35-41
S. Mark 4: 40 Jesus said to His disciples on the boat; “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
Some people whom I know well happen not to be very good either in aeroplanes or in small boats or even with motoring at night in a motor-car especially around roundabouts. I am sure that they as well as many others can associate themselves very easily with the state of mind of the disciples in the Gospel today, when they woke Jesus in a panic and asked if He did not care if they perished.
Still, we don’t have to get on boats or planes to associate ourselves with this state of mind quite readily. We can get into quite a tizz about all sorts of things. Sometimes things just seem to be more than we can cope with - perhaps a problem in our family, or a problem at work, or indeed a series of intractable difficulties that seem to be insoluble. As Christians we have a clear recipe or prescription for all of this, and it involves a prayerful approach to the Almighty, submitting our difficulties to Him. Experience teaches us that even when we do so the difficulties do not always suddenly disappear. What we may begin to find is a way of looking at the difficulties which is more helpful in addressing them, because they draw from a perspective that is not ours but His.
I am aware that I am not the only person at St. Alban’s that has experienced some anxieties over the condition of the Church herself. Perhaps we may have undertaken a task for the Church that we come to fear at times gets beyond our capacity to carry it through successfully. I think of people who are involved in getting a job of work done, like our current project of expansion, or of the inexorable passage of time, the ageing of leaders, and the need for their retirement as well as for fresh blood at many levels. I hope we could all testify if called upon to do so, that an approach of prayer about these things allowed the burden of them to be at least somewhat lifted. When it comes to our Church here in Cayman, I know that those who are responsible for her well-being, which is all of us, but in a particular way the Members and officers of the Church Council, can be expected to feel some anxiety at times. In addition to such local concerns there seems to be a condition of ever-increasing anxiety in the wider world of Anglicanism. We have for long assumed that Anglicans are mostly in agreement, fellowship and communion with one another, but it is clear that for the foreseeable future we can no longer make such assumptions. We have long assumed too that there will always be a recognised place for the practice of Christian ethics within historically and traditionally Christian countries, but it is now clear that within these very countries, including very notably the United Kingdom herself, Christian ethics are at this very moment challenged by a profound and widespread series of legal attacks, fuelled by philosophies of secularistic humanism, and even conducted by the Establishment itself. As for these Islands themselves, the Cayman society has a very minimal understanding at the moment of what we and our churches appear to have been narrowly spared from by the passage of our carefully drafted Constitution, but sooner or later that will be put to the test. No lesser figure than the apostle St. Paul spoke of his enduring anxiety for all the churches, so if we in our time share such anxiety, it is perhaps only to be expected.
What we find when we turn to the Scriptures today with these things in mind is the possibility of a changed perspective. We could say that our Scriptures show that whereas we appeal to God for His attributes of omnipotence and mercy, He appeals to us for our belief and love. It is in our accepting His appeal to us that we will find peace over the things we try to appeal to Him about. For God too has a viewpoint. Especially when we get anxious, we have the tendency to wrap ourselves up so tightly with our own viewpoint that we are not open to discerning what His viewpoint is about the matter. The first act of faith that we can make is to acknowledge that God too has a view, and although that view is liable to be different from ours, our own healing and peace are contingent upon our accessing it and adopting it for ourselves; so that with St. Paul we would be able to say of ourselves in the Body of Christ, that “we have the mind of Christ.”
Our Old Testament Lesson from Job is the beginning of the Lord’s answer to Job’s constant questioning throughout the book, over why misfortune should have happened to him. God does not answer such a question in the way that we, like Job, usually frame it. He appeals rather sternly to Job to recognise that Job is accountable to God and not God to Job. For the whole creation and the laws by which it operates are all His handiwork. And later, the Lord says to Job, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” When we complain about a misfortune, there is likely to be an undercurrent in our attitude - as there was with Job’s - of finding fault with God Himself. From our own perspective, any easy answer to the question why misfortune happened to us is likely to be wrong or incomplete. But God appeals to our faith and love by challenging us to believe that God’s goodness and strength are beyond our understanding and may not be found at fault by the likes of us. And although that is an appeal to our belief and love that we may not appreciate, still, if we do accept it, we can find some peace.
Although St. Paul relates to his spiritual children in a very different manner from the Lord’s appeal to Job, there are actually some similarities of method. We don’t precisely know what their complaints consist of, though it seems from the Corinthian correspondence with them as a whole, that a lot of their complaints are against the apostle himself. In our second lesson from 2 Corinthians, St. Paul makes a commendation of himself to them through his sufferings and labours, through his spiritual attitudes and through his constant and patient endurance of misinterpretation. In other words, he presents to them a viewpoint of his relationship to them that is very different from their own viewpoint. In the end he asserts that it is they whose hearts are not open, while his heart is wide open to them. This can remind us too that our complaints of all sorts can often come from a hard and closed heart. St. Paul urged on the Corinthians a change of heart. “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections,” he says. “In return - I speak as to children - widen your hearts also.” That sort of heart-change is what God asks of His people today also.
The account of Jesus calming the wind and the waves while the disciples were terrified in the boat is a well-known favourite. Yet it seems to me (and I think the Reverend Chris Russell would agree) that the high point in the account is not just that the storm was stilled, but Jesus’ own expectations of the disciples. He was nothing short of amazed that they had not known that with Him in the boat, and especially with its being His proposal to them that they should row across the water, they would come to no harm. Their fear and cowardice spoke of a lack of trust and a narrowness of heart that He could not accept. No more, then, does God accept our complaints, our unbridled fear, and our cowardice in anything. Like Jesus, He expects of us our trust in Him and our loving loyalty. He will still the storm when we cry to Him in fear, but what He really seeks from us is the expectation that as we are with Him and He is in us, we will certainly arrive at our destination, storm or no storm. God is great and God is good. Let us first love Him with simple trust, because this is what He trusts us to do.