The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s003e04 Lockleys Advent 3 12/12/2004
'the farmer waits for the precious crop ..' James 5:7
There is the age-old story of the person stranded on their roof top during a flood. Rescuers came by boat and by helicopter, only to be turned away with the words: 'Don't worry, God will save me!' After the person drowned he asked God why God didn't save him. Of course God replied by asking who he thought had sent the boat and the helicopter!
I recall speaking to a farmer once, and how much of his life was spent waiting in hope. I reflected then how similar this is to being a clergy-person.
Of course the intelligent farmer does not spend his or her time looking at the sky or the fields. The intelligent farmer does things like keeping the fences in good repair, so that the crops, when they arrive, are not ruined by animals, coming and grazing in the wrong place. The intelligent farmer makes sure his or her machinery is in good repair, so that it doesn't break down at the crucial harvest time. The wise farmer learns about the land, crop rotation, fertilizing the soil, combating salt, and a multitude of other things.
Certainly the wise farmer waits, but this does not mean he or she doesn't do anything else. God will not keep the fences or the machinery in good repair. God will not spread the fertilizer.
So too in our lives as individuals, we also have to wait, but similarly this does not mean that we don't do anything else. That would be silly.
I have said before that there are an enormous number of things we can do, if we are sick, as well as when we're OK. We can eat a balanced diet. We can take some appropriate exercise. We can utilize the professionals that God puts around us. We can take the medicines prescribed for us. We can't expect to be 100% healthy if we are using illicit drugs.
The wise farmer doesn't attempt to grow tulips in the Simpson Desert. He or she can pray until the cows come home, he or she can wait in hope all they like, but barring a major irrigation scheme, growing tulips in the desert is beyond even God.
And just as we can't expect God to spread the fertilizer, we can't expect someone else to do it for us either.
Neither God nor the people God puts around us are here to make us happy. If we choose to be unhappy, no one is going to stop us, or indeed is able to stop us. I often recall taking the sacrament of Holy Communion to two people in the same nursing home. These two persons were really identical. Each had their share of aches and pains, and each were looked after by the same staff. But their attitudes to life could not have been more different. The one who I suspect had spent much more time in Church was eternally grumpy. She spent her waking hours praying to God, essentially asking why God didn't return her to how she was when she was 16. She seemed most often asleep and disinterested in those around her. The staff, for all their efforts, could never make her comfortable for any length of time. The other was bright as a button. She was always sitting up. She joked with the staff. She wanted to do more physiotherapy. You know which person lived the happier life.
The farmer waits in hope when he or she knows that he or she has done the groundwork. Part of that groundwork is knowing what previous seasons have been like.
But it is also important to wait in hope. If one waits, but expects nothing, one is unlikely to see what God is doing.
Like the grumpy person in the nursing home, she never was able to see the good that was around her. In other parts of the world, she would have been left to die.
So too we need to have eyes to see what is already there. This is waiting in hope, because if we don't have eyes to see what is already there, we are highly unlikely to see anything extra if it were to suddenly appear. This reminds us that the means of our health and wellbeing are already around us. Most likely they masquerade as people. The person who will not leave their home until they are carried out in a box is unlikely to be disappointed! We do sometimes make it extremely hard for others to help us.
I am reminded that we have all met those persons who are like black holes in the universe; they suck in everything around them, never to be seen or heard of again.
Being healthy means giving as well as receiving. Being healthy means relating to a diversity of persons, not just one; a compliant spouse. Not just a select group like family members or a number of like minded individuals; though finding a group of like-minded individuals is not even possible within one Anglican congregation!
We will in due course all need doctors, nurses, and other specialists. Each and every week a person comes along driving a truck and takes away my refuse. What a blessing this is! It is an observation that I have been given that those who are suffering from mental illnesses find it most difficult to recognize their illness for what it is, as well as finding it difficult asking for and accepting help from others. Part of this is indeed stigma, but often people with mental illness become reclusive.
Now all this is good, but how does this relate to the life and ministry of Jesus? After all, everything I have said up till this point is excellent advise that any person of any other faith, or indeed of no particular faith at all, would at least intellectually agree with.
I note that Jesus was hardly reclusive. Indeed, as I often say Jesus was killed because he associated with others.
So a perversion of religion is an unhealthy separation from real people. It's not rocket science to see the similarities between mental illness and some forms of religion, and I think that this is as true for some things that pass for Christianity as for any other faith.
It is, in fact, good news that the means of health and wellbeing are able to be perceived and appropriated by people other than Christians. I wouldn't worship a God who didn't do this, and gave me the task of converting the world, so that everyone could be happy and well.
And I would like to say that being antisocial and reclusive and being antisocial and being a terrorist; a danger to themselves and everyone around them; is only a matter of degree. I know which I would prefer, give me a reclusive life any time. At least I wouldn't be hurting others in the name of my god; but really my demon.
Again waiting in hope is impossible for those whose god is an unrelenting disciplinarian. We do well to choose the god we worship wisely, and choose one which allows us and others a bit of hope.
In fact the example of a terrorist suicide bomber shows us that for all this person's so-called faith in Jesus, God, Allah or whoever, suicide bombing is an act of desperation, not of faith. The suicide bomber is not prepared to wait any longer. Of course some have good reasons, well, good enough for them, to commit what we consider atrocities.
The good news is of course, that our God is indeed gracious and gives us and all people, reason to hope, just as surely as the rains will come; unless of course we are trying to grow tulips in the Simpson Desert.
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