This was the reflection I wrote for the service I took yesterday evening. Where appropriate I’ve linked to some stuff which might help readers, particularly any international readers understand some specific content, and I’ve also put some additional links at the end which fit in to the basic theme.
Readings: Psalm 12 & John 1:35-51
If the writer of Psalm 12 had been living in the UK and writing today he would have been likely to express many of the same feelings as he did then. Whilst being put somewhat more poetically than I’m about to he might have been saying the following sorts of thing:
It’s not like it used to be, hardly anybody goes to church anymore.
If it carries on like this they’ll be no Christians , we’ll have died out.
If you look at people these days it’s awful, you can’t trust anybody .
I just wish God would come and deal with the whole lot of them, shut them up once and for all because they think they can say what they like without caring about the impact of their words.
Because the poor are being exploited and those in need have to go to the Foodbank when they should have enough to eat I will rise up says the Lord.
I will provide them with the safe spaces where they can go without fear of abuse and getting into more poverty, the spaces that they long for.
The promises which come from God say what they mean.
The promises of God are ones which are precious and have been thought through and tested out time after time.
You O Lord will protect us and guard us from the fundamentalist secularists, the people seeking to rip us off and those who want to abuse us because we happen to be poor for ever.
Wherever we turn there is wickedness, as materialism, deceit and things like that are put first.
Some bits of Psalm 12 are easy to for us to identify with but if we’re honest some bits are probably a bit harder. Often we can see the awful stuff going on around us and can grumble away about anything and everything. But as for seeing how God’s precious promises are true, those promises the Psalmist tells us were “silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times”, that’s a bit harder.
We look at our churches and we see that both Christian belief and church membership are going down. We look at the financial situation in the churches nationally and locally and see that things are not what they once were and that it does seem like nobody cares anymore.
We open our newspapers and turn on our tv sets and see our politicians lying to us and to each other. We get to the point where we don’t know who to trust anymore.
Those things are easy to identify with.
But what of the promises towards the poor? How do they work? And how can a God of love take vengeance on others?
These are big questions and I can’t even begin to answer them properly this evening. In fact I think with the complexity of the world we’ve seen through history they are questions which we have to hold in tension realising there is much about God and our faith we won’t ever understand but essentially God is a God of love and that was demonstrated through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I don’t know if you saw the tv movie Mary and Martha on BBC One on Friday evening. It told the story of two mothers, one English and one American whose children died of Malaria whilst out in Africa. They meet in their grief and share their stories.
Whilst visiting the orphanage where Martha’s son had worked they see a young boy rushed into hospital with Malaria. Mary notes how the hospital this boy is taken to is so different to the westernised one which she was able to take her son to.
The two women identify the scale of deaths from Malaria and that it is a preventable disease. However, each year vast numbers of children in the poor areas of the world still die.
This prompts me to ask If God’s promises are true where is he? Why are these children still dying? These questions are ones which I think we can answer a little this evening.
In the film Mary and Martha go before a senate committee looking at the subject of Malaria and the aid budget..
The chair of the committee gives a Tony Blair quote making the point that the cake is only so big and hard decisions have to be made when dividing it.
In reply Mary makes the point that more is spent on baldness in the US than on tackling Malaria.
The debate which follows makes the point that the statistics are actually people, Martha produces a huge array of photographs of children who have died from Malaria.
The film ends with Martha, Mary and her husband delivering mosquito nets and medicine donated by people who have seen their senate appearance on the news.
In this situation the Lord can be seen to have risen up and challenged the voices of the double hearted politicians through these two housewives who have gone through such tragedy.
So God’s way of rising up through history has tended to be by taking ordinary people and using them to do extraordinary things. By using them to challenge the lies and double speak rather than giving in to resigned cynicism. By using them to ensure that there are initiatives like Foodbank which are providing for the poorest.
He also sees the big picture, and the global picture. We may see the church as a dying institution because we are living in a time of secularisation but worldwide the church is growing. In Africa and China we have seen a huge growth in faith.
So perhaps we need to start believing as various groups have said over time that another world is possible. A world where we can start to get a glimpse of the bigger picture and the power that ordinary people can have, particularly when they are ready to connect with Christ and his teachings.
I don’t know if any of you have read the story of Steve Jobs one of the co-founders and former CEO of the Apple Corporation and the man behind the Apple Mac and i-pod or read Robin Sharma’s book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari? In both books there is a story of a highly gifted man who goes searching for enlightenment by travelling to Asia. This going travelling as part of a spiritual search is something we have become increasingly familiar with since the 1960’s.
Others don’t go travelling but are engaged in a search for spiritual fulfilment. If any of you have been to Glastonbury for example you will know there is quite an industry grown up around this.
But is this searching around for the person or people with the answers really so new?
In the first century there were a range of spiritual and philosophical paths on offer in one form another. If any of you have seen Monty Python’s The Life of Brian you’ll be aware there is a scene where a market place of ideas is shown.
John the Baptist had disciples following him, spiritual seekers. In our gospel reading he signposts them to Jesus. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother was one of these first century spiritual seekers looking for the answer to lifes big questions.
Andrew hit the jackpot when he encountered Jesus and asked him where he was staying. Andrew recognised Jesus as messiah and the answer to his questions almost immediately according to the passage and shared the news with his brother who was another spiritual seeker. Philip another of those Jesus attracts shared the news with Nathanael.
Now Nathanael it appears was a bit more wary and when he heard Jesus was from Nazareth asked, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”.
Philip doesn’t get into a big debate and argument with Nathanael but rather invites him to come and see for himself.
Jesus recognises that Nathanael needs evidence and encouragement to follow him. He recognised that Nathanael was a straight forward person who didn’t play games. So Jesus tells him he saw him under the fig tree. This is something personal and direct which relates specifically to Nathanael.
Nathanael who then recognises that he has been wrong and Philip is telling him the truth about Jesus follows him. Jesus makes the point that he will see things beyond those he has thought about.
So Jesus takes a group of spiritual seekers and turns them into disciples, ordinary people who will change the world. Ordinary people who will be used to found the church, a church which whilst not always getting it right has had a major role in helping to alleviate the suffering of many different people in different situations.
If we too have turned from spiritual seekers to followers who are becoming disciples that lays a challenge to us today because the God of the Psalmist, the God of Nathanael and the God we encounter are one in the same.
In this time and place we are those called to be used to be part of the change we and God wants to see. We are called to follow him and be involved in giving the poor the place of safety they long for, in being used to help fulfil the promises of the Lord and in helping other seekers find him.
Whilst I could have put in loads I’ve just put in a couple of useful links if you want to be part of the change, in addition to the Trussell Trust (Foodbank) link earlier:
Enough Food If Campaign
British Red Cross