The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s004o04 Lockleys Advent 4 19/12/2004
"I will not put the LORD to the test". Isaiah 7.12
There is a spirit of anarchy contained within these readings. The prohibition of asking God for a sign had been thoroughly imbued into the Israelites since the days of the Exodus when the fleeing tribes tested God in the wilderness, by demanding food and water. Jesus too in the wilderness is tempted to perform signs to convince himself of his divine nature, and he quotes Deuteronomy 6.16 to the devil. The authorities also seek a sign from Jesus to test him and this is refused.
Yet here God invites King Ahaz to put the Lord to the test and this is spurned. Clearly testing God is OK if God invites it, whereas if the impetus comes from elsewhere, from humanity or from that which is opposed to God, then that is not OK.
For me the way around this conundrum is not that God keeps the divine sovereignty close at hand, distancing him or herself from endless requests from humanity. So often the request for a sign from God indicates that the person has not perceived what God has already done and what God is already doing. This is particularly so in the experience of Jesus, where people see the good things Jesus does but only want him to do more. So after the feeding of the 4000 in Mark (8:1-10) we are told that immediately after: "the Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him" (8.11)
This is often because the good things are done for someone else, and jealousy makes them want something for themselves.
Let us make it quite clear that God is not interested in proving his or her power in order to gain our adherence or to get more adherents. What God wants is that we love others. The signs that God gives are those that indicate that God loves each and everyone equally. If we ask for a sign to prove to ourselves or to others that we are in some ways special or privileged over others, that would be to expect God to work against his or her nature. It is humanity who is so often loathe to allow that God might want to bless others, not God.
I was reflecting recently on some other words of Jesus in Matthew 5:46,47 (reinterpreting them somewhat): "If God only loves those who love God, .. what more is this god doing than idols we rightly disavow?"
The direction therefore is always to look rightly around us, and see God's blessings everywhere. There might be some people in the Sudan or in Palestine who may well have excuses for looking around them and not seeing the blessings of God; but few of us have any such excuses here in Australia.
We are often wont to repeat with Jesus: "nothing is impossible with God" yet blithely think that, of course, this only applies to Christians! For people who are not Christians, everything is impossible for God.
The parable of the prodigal Father who lets the younger son go off with half of his estate knowing full well that most likely the son will frit it away; is as irresponsible as the son who went off.
God's wisdom is indeed "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles", and indeed both of these to all who would have God's attention directed solely at themselves. For us who believe that God loves all people, we know that "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God's weakness is stronger that human strength". (1 Corinthians 1:22,25)
And we are I suspect wont to nod wisely in approval when we hear the words that "Joseph .. planned to dismiss (Mary) quietly". Had he done what the law required she would have been stoned to death (Deut 22.21)! What are called "honour killings" continue to this day and it is salutary to remember that this is proscribed in the Old Testament not outlawed. It is said that this "phenomenon .. a global one According to Stephanie Nebehay, such killings "have been reported in Bangladesh, Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda." Afghanistan, where the practice is condoned under the rule of the fundamentalist Taliban movement, can be added to the list, along with Iraq and Iran." (Nebehay, "'Honor Killings' of Women Said on Rise Worldwide," Reuters dispatch, April 7, 2000.) (http://www.gendercide.org/case_honour.html?FACTNet)
There is an anarchic spirit about God. God is not bound by what we consider to be divine decrees, particularly when it comes to others. In John, Jesus says: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes." This is because it blows everywhere.
And there is absolutely nothing we can do to change this. We can welcome this and rejoice in it. But we can just as easily fight against it, and deny that it is so. This is what those who killed Jesus did. You don't need me to tell you which is more likely to be a happier existence and which is likely to bring a bit of peace.
There is nothing we can do to change this. Each and every effort to monopolize God's attention is doomed to failure. No matter if we sacrifice bulls and rams, go to Mass every week, or tithe religiously.
But we can test God in a way that will always be allowed and affirmed; if we test that God loves all people. Though I should add that not a lot of testing is needed. We have only to look around us and see the beauty of the earth and the beauty of other people (given half a chance).
There is this anarchic spirit about God, particularly when it comes to loving all people. It is in fact the only "law" about God that is unalterable.
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