s003g01 Lockleys Advent 3 16/12/01
"Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?" Matthew 11.2
This was the question John the Baptist put to Jesus - John the Baptist who had baptised Jesus, and witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit and the very voice of God proclaiming Jesus as God's own Son. Now locked up in prison, his faith wavers. Perhaps it seemed to John that Jesus was not living up to his expectations of what the Messiah would be like. Looking backwards in time, the Jews looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. "Wait!", "wait!" and "wait still longer!" seemed to be the message from God. Over the centuries they had looked and waited for so long that the fact that someone actually did come and seemed to be the Messiah, was unbelievable and fairly justifiably so.
For do we not have the same feelings too? The world doesn't seem to have changed much. Humanity's inhumanity to others still continues. Surely if the Messiah had come - things would be different? Implicitly if Jesus wasn't the Messiah, do we really think we could expect another? So perhaps we are driven to look still to the future, as countless Christians under persecution have had no option but to do down throughout the centuries. From this hope for a better world - the faithful have often been able to draw strength to face the awful present, just as John the Baptist faced in prison.
The answer that Jesus gave John is instructive. It is not that God can be found in the past or hoped for in the future. God could be found here and now. Jesus speaks of what was happening that very day: blind see, lame walk, lepers cleansed, deaf hear, and the dead raised.
But I point out that John, like so often ourselves, look for salvation outside of ourselves. We look to God to do something to stop humanity's inhumanity towards others, when the evidence over the centuries surely points to the fact that God steadfastly refuses to intervene to stop atrocities. And we might rant and rail at the Almighty for as long as we like - we can tell God how unfair the world is - or we might act like good Anglicans in a more restrained way and pray, in the words of the Collect for Good Friday - that God will "have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word ..." Is it not somewhat presumptuous to suggest that we need to tell God to have mercy on other people!!! Are we more merciful than God? I had just finished reading Isaiah 40.14: "Who taught (the Lord) the path of justice?" Our concepts of justice and God's are likely to be somewhat different!
I want to suggest that the God that I worship is indeed rather more merciful towards others than I am - indeed I would hazard to suggest that God's main concern is that we Christians in fact recognise that God loves others, just as much as God loves us.
I think it was the great Mirfield monk and author, Harry Williams, who said truly, we find God in ourselves or we find God not at all. And when we find God in ourselves, we are enabled to find God in other people as well.
Perhaps this answer left John the Baptist dissatisfied, particularly because nothing is said about prisoners being released from prison, and perhaps such dissatisfaction, if that were truly the case, might well be justified. Often it seems our job description for the Messiah and God's are rather different. Not only are our ideas for what God should do to change the world different from God's, but we are naturally more impatient. If God is God, God ought to do this and do it now. Yet the answer Jesus gave demonstrates that God is concerned to fulfil the real needs of us all. Life in all its fullness, have no doubt, is already ours.
Today as we come to worship God within this family, a little more of life in all its fullness is ours. There is no need for thunder or lightning, visions or prophecy, simply because we are now precisely where God would have us. Much of what we do for the rest of the week is relatively immaterial to God - provided we are not intent on robbing a bank, killing our sister or brother, or something similar.
Sometimes we bombard God with a whole lot of questions - "should I sell this block of land?", "should I change my job?" or the like. Much of this is up to us. While God is interested in our welfare, these things are not really going to bring us happiness or sadness.
Or we worry about someone else. Perhaps we pray for someone who seems to be going the wrong way. Yes, our prayer is heard, but again, much may be up to the person concerned and how we love him or her.
The plain fact of the matter is that each of us here is precisely where God would have us - simply because we are here. If God wants us to be a missionary or a priest - there is simply no need to worry about it. God is quite able to lead us quietly and gently to such a decision. It will not be difficult, for the course before us will be made plain. God is really present, here and now - this is the answer that Jesus gives.
Yet neither is God behind every bush. God is here not to answer each and every question we have, nor is God here to have input in each and every decision we make. I recall a member of the clergy who used to say a prayer before each and every time he went into his car. But I'm sure that God doesn't need to be "called up" like this, God is already here. We don't need to look for God and an answer. We are only to pray, to make a decision, and act on it as if it is God's decision, for it will be.
This will be no guarantee that we won't ever make a mistake, for that is not in God's plan particularly either. God is present, here and now, within us all, and that is indeed Good News. We are called to take courage from God's presence, courage to reach out to God, courage to realise the love God has for each of us and for all people, and courage to reach out to others that God also loves.
Courage. Courage because God is not a God of the past, even though we read of the wonderful things God has done in times past. Courage because God is not a God of the future, promising better times ahead, even though God does. Courage because God is a God of the present, who touches our lives here and touches the lives of many others, today and every day. Courage because God is with us now, calling us to trust to love others. Courage because each and every one of us here is on the path God has cleared for us.
I have just seen the film "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" and much of the theme behind that film is not an encouragement for the occult as some have suggested (I strongly suspect by those who haven't even seen the film), but the very wholesome values of friendship and courage.
"Be not afraid!" - a phrase which occurs on page after page of Holy Scripture, from the first words of God to the Woman and Man God created: "Be fruitful and multiply!" What a lovely command, yet we question when young people seem to be more than willing to fulfil it :-) The same phrase "be not afraid" is echoed by Jesus himself many times, and this should indicate to us just how hard it is for us all to do.
In the words of Shuddhabrata Sengupta: "... can we not simply be hospitable to ourselves and each other?". And later: "... all of us need spiritual engines, strange gears and levers of thought and imagination to drive these constellations in ourselves towards each other." (Arcadia Writings on Theology and Technology - Shuddhabrata Sengupta is a filmmaker, writer and member of Raqs Media Collective based in New Delhi, India.)
In the darkness of the night fearful thoughts come to us all. God again and again reassures us there is no cause for fear, no need to fear God and no need to be fearful of reaching out in acceptance for any other person.
Indeed I'm sure it will be God's word to each of us when we each come into the fullness of that presence beyond this life. "It is I, be not afraid!" It is not sinful to be afraid, it is simply unnecessary, and that is indeed Good News, the same good news that Jesus said was a sign of the Kingdom - along with the other "miracles" he performed.
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