A sermon from Revd Debra Chidakwa Akue during the coronavirus lockdown, when no-one knows how long we have to endure, or how many more will suffer.
READINGS: Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-22
When it comes to the Christian faith, we would all like certainties, wouldn’t we? That is especially true when we are going through difficult times in life; when we have a relationship that is failing, or when we are facing ill health or when we lose someone we love, or our job becomes uncertain…Certainty in faith would be great.
And we look around us, we look at the other people who are sitting in church today and we might deeply feel very envious or a bit insufficient. We might be feeling, “I guess, I’m just about the only one here today whose faith isn’t sorted; the only one who is riven with doubts, the only one who feels despairing”. We might look around us and think that everyone is sorted – except for yourself. Don’t think it’s any different being a Minister. I too look around me at others sitting here and think to myself, “If only I could be a Christian like that. If only I had as much faith or wisdom or gentleness of spirit as that person…” The truth is, we are all in the comparable situation…
We are joining Moses at the start of his ministry. He had received the call of God on his life to go to Egypt and set the people free. But he was still absolutely riven with doubt and was struggling with his calling. Verse 12: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.”
Poor Moses was in a place that many of us find ourselves: he was facing a future that looked incredibly difficult and he didn’t feel like he had sufficient facts to confront it with faith. Moses was terrified for the future and he was requesting God to fill in the cracks for him so he could face the future with less fear and more belief…And then Moses embarks on the same sort of bargaining that we all do at one time or another, verse 13: “Now if I have found favour in your sight, so that I may know you…”
Well, I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my past, times of real darkness in my life when I have bargained with God in this way…“Lord, if you heal this person I love, I promise I will be a better Christian…” “Lord, if you let me get this job, I promise you that I will pray for an hour every day…” “Lord, if you promise that no-one will find out what I’ve done, I promise that I will be faithful to you every day until I die…” Bargaining with God when we are facing difficulties in life is perfectly natural: it’s what we do. It’s certainly what I have done in the past.
And sometimes, we might even go a step further and sort of try to spiritually blackmail God by calling his character into question: “God, I thought you were a healer? How can you possibly let that person die?” “God, I thought you loved everyone? How can you let my relative suffer so much?” Calling God’s character into question in a desperate attempt to get him to do what you want him to do…
The truth is, when we are in a dark time in our lives, we may not be able to see God – but we can only ever know him by his past deeds, by his past acts. We can know God’s faithfulness to us in the present day as we learn to look back on our lives and think through how he has always been faithful to us in the past. We can be sure that God will not leave us alone now as we learn to look back on our lives and think through how he never deserted us before when we were in times of difficulty.
We may not be able to see God today: but we remember his love and faithfulness from when he passed by before.
We may not be able to feel God today: but we remember his compassion and kindness as we see his back in our past.
And then we come to Matthew’s Good News of the coin. Here I find the other gesture of our Christian faith, the deep vertical movement into discipleship and prayer and intimacy. First, we need to consider the context, the circumstances for this challenging exchange. The sharp exchanges described in Matthew take place within the Temple itself, where Jesus offers us the three rather daunting parables of the two sons, the expulsion of the tenants, and that really rather grim wedding feast.
Today the questions begin with the provocative consideration of what belongs to whom. Later they move on to questions about resurrection from the dead, the commandments, and Jesus’ own identity. Back and forth the questions are flying.Everything belongs to God and we get to share in what belongs to Him. We get the joy of both receiving and giving the abundance He possesses.
So I have no magic words today to take away any pain you may feel, if that is where you are at today. But I will signpost you to a God who protects you and covers you with his hand, a God who promises to be present with you in your pain, a God who knows you by name. And someday soon, when you have passed through your current struggles, you will be able to testify again with real joy in your heart about the God who has passed by this day and, in a way that you have not been able to comprehend, has given you the strength to endure.
God says, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest”. Even if you can’t feel that today, it is truth. And it will be enough for you today, and tomorrow and every day, until the storm passes you by…