Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after
|Text: Hebrews 4:15-16 (CEV)
Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.
One of the complaints often heard about our politicians is that they lose touch with what is happening in the ‘real world’. What we mean is that the longer women and men spend in the elite “corridors of power” the more likely they are to lose an awareness of what it is like to be an ordinary citizen. The announcement that the Prime Minister will make a flying, rushed, two day visit to a rural area to become acquainted with the “grass roots,” is met with a good deal of cynicism. The same goes for the occasional visits of cabinet ministers to a factory floor or a steel mill. It might be a good PR photo opportunity for the politician but does little to acquaint the person with what is happening in the lives of ordinary people.
This sort of comment is made about the hierarchy of the church across all denominations as well. Maybe it’s part of what we call the “tall poppy syndrome” but there remains the perception that church bureaucracy regardless of the skills of the leaders can so easily lose touch with the hopes and fears of ordinary Christians.
Is it possible that the
same kind of criticism can be levelled at God?
How can the God of the heavens be in touch with the ordinary lives of you and me?
How can God empathise with our little minds, with our fierce hopes and nagging anxieties?
Isn’t God too big, too far away, too almighty (if you like) to know and appreciate what it is that bothers us and fills our hearts with fear.
Many feel that way. They feel it, even though they may never be game to say it aloud. Some of the great people of the Bible, people like Job, the writers of the Psalms, and Elijah, have expressed how God seemed to be so distant and uninvolved in their problems. At one time we find Elijah escaping into the desert hunted by the soldiers of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He collapsed under a large tree exhausted and disillusioned, believing that God didn’t care or didn’t understand what was happening to him. He exclaimed, “I’ve had enough. I just want to die”.
Have you ever wondered why praying to Mary and the saints is so popular to so many Christians. One of the reasons is that such souls are able to understand what it’s like to be human, struggling in this unpredictable and often unjust world. Many of the saints lived in complicated and unfair circumstances and received what they didn’t deserve even though they lived godly lives. So it’s easy to unburden your heart to your favourite saint trusting them with your prayers because they know what it’s like to feel life’s injustices.
I believe at some time all of us experience the gulf between God and us and we shouldn’t just pass it off as a moment of doubt or weakness. Especially those moments in our lives when things happen that we don’t understand. There are certain events and circumstances that happen that don’t make any sense to us at all. They seem unfair, unreasonable, irrational, unkind and cruel. We can’t see any good in what is happening at all. It is just at this time that God and his love seem to be so distant.
We call to God. We want answers. We want to understand. We want things to change. But we don’t hear what we want to hear; we hear only a still small voice whispering to us as it did to Elijah assuring us that in spite of everything God has not abandoned us. That small voice of God might be a friend trying to reassure and comfort us but in the confusion of the moment that’s not the answer we are seeking.
Is it true that God doesn’t understand what we really want and need? Is he really out of touch?
How can God know what it’s like to be a teenager constantly confronted with drugs and alcohol and wild parties and raging desire?
Can God appreciate how it feels to be 48 years old and to lose your job where you have worked your guts out for years? And when you look for another job you’re regarded as “over the hill” because of your age and unemployable.
Or how can God comprehend what it’s like to keep up with our money centred culture? What does God know about paying the bills, scrimping and saving to educate children, being confronted with the runaway cost of living?
Or how can God, who’s not had a day’s worry in all of eternity, know what it’s like to worry? What does God know about being anxious waiting for a doctor’s report, or waiting for a rebellious teenager to come home, or to worry about the future?
How can God truly be on the same wave length as us and know what it’s like to be a mere mortal with all that goes along with our mortality? It would seem most unlikely. Job complained about God's lack of appreciation of his troubles saying, “I cannot find God anywhere in front or back of me, to my left or my right. God is always at work, though I never see him. … If I knew where to find God, I would go there and argue my case” (Job 23:8,9,2,3).
In the Jewish religion it was only the High Priest who could approach God on just one day of the year. There was this ongoing wall of separation between God and the people. God was considered unapproachable to the ordinary person.
Then something amazing happened.
God came from heaven to earth.
He was born as you and I.
His earthly name was Jesus, a commoner, and preached his Gospel throughout the
province of Galilee. It was the ordinary everyday people who flocked to listen
to him. He taught them about a loving
God who was near at hand;
a God who treasured the name of each vineyard labourer or woman toiling in the home or child playing in the street;
a caring God who numbered the hairs on the head of even the lepers, prostitutes, and the unpatriotic tax collectors;
a loving God who was like a shepherd to his people, knowing each one personally, watching over them, protecting them, guiding them and always by their side.
Jesus brought a whole new perspective on how God views each one of us. Not only did Jesus teach them that there was no gap, his life embodied that teaching. The Word became flesh. Slowly the disciples began to suspect that there was more to Jesus than met the eye. Slowly they came to see that Jesus was God and so they came to experience God in a totally new way. God was not remote. He was in the world in Christ and then in the world and in them personally in the Holy Spirit.
The gulf was bridged; bridged forever.
And so we have this text today from Hebrews chapter 4
“Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help”.
These are words of confidence. They tell us that through Christ Jesus, the gracious God is readily available to each one of us. These words tell us that God is not out of touch with what is happening right now in our lives but that he knows what it’s like to be in our shoes.
God knows from firsthand experience. God is closely acquainted with the temptations of the teenager and of the middle aged and the elderly, with the pressures of work and opponents, acquainted with our health and our pain, our fears and our dearest hopes. He understands. He feels. He has compassion.
Paul said to the people of Athens, “God isn't far from any of us, and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are” (Acts 17:27,28). Through Jesus we have direct fellowship with God, and through Jesus, God has direct understanding of what it means to endure the joys and hardships of life in this world. In short, our God understands.
He understands when we don’t
understand and begin to question his wisdom.
When we ask those questions that start with “why” or make statements that
start “it’s not fair”, God knows and understands the pain that cause us to
question his plans for us. He
“Trust my love for you. There are a lot of other uncertainties in this world but there is one thing that is an absolute certainty and that is my love for you and I will never do anything that will contradict that love. It might look as if I don’t care from your perspective but, from where I sit, I only want what is best. I can’t explain it any simpler than to say, ‘Trust my love for you’.
Even though Jesus has ascended to
heaven and now sits on the throne of heaven in all his godly glory, he hasn’t
forgotten what it’s like to be human.
We are encouraged to trust God even in those times when we don’t
understand what is happening in our lives.
When we are hurting;
when we are bewildered;
when we are physically, emotionally and spiritually drained and we have no reserves left,
we can be certain our heavenly Father knows exactly how we feel.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that Jesus suffers with us. We say that in baptism we are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection. I would contend that we are joined in such a way that when we weep, he weeps with us; when we cry out in pain, he cries out with us. He feels what we are feeling. Jesus understands us completely and so we are invited today to come confidently to God in prayer. Because he understands, we will find help.
The help he gives will come in a multitude of ways and we need to keep in mind that one of the ways that he helps us is to give us perfect healing – the perfect healing that is given when we leave this life and enter the new life in heaven and given a new body. That is the perfect healing we all long for and it’s the goal of our faith because there with Jesus there will no longer be confusion, doubt, anxiety, pain and all the other things that trouble us now.
Until that time, as we travel through this life, we can be certain that we have the loving arms of God around us. They are there even when we think they aren’t there because we have a God who is touched by our human weaknesses, who really knows what it is like to be you, or to be me.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
14th October 2012