The chosen hymns for this week, Jesus Christ is waiting and Fill your hearts with joy and gladness can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Where are you God?
Numbers 4: 5-15 Matthew 16: 21-28
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 30th August.
I don’t know about you, but I have found in various times of my life asking myself, ‘Where are you God?’
I remember finishing life as a student minister. I had spent 10 years getting the qualifications to become a minister, then for over a year I couldn’t get a job as a minister. I wondered what was going on. Why would God call me to the ministry and then not let me be a minister?
I couldn’t tell you how many times I asked myself the question, ‘Where are you God?’
I remember the time when my father was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. The doctors rushed him into hospital and operated and told him that that was it, everything would now be fine. Then over the next three months he slowly died, each day losing a bit more weight until there was nothing left of him.
I don’t know how many times I asked God where he was.
I know this season the world is going through has been really hard on many individuals and families. And often it is those who were already vulnerable that have felt the effects the worst. I suspect many have asked themselves, ‘Where are you God?’
This is the topic I want to reflect on today after Amanda has read our passages of scripture and led us in prayer
Amanda: Reading Numbers 4: 5-15, Matthew 16: 21-28
So, ‘Where is God?’
There is something I want us to understand very early on.
We are all theologians.
A theologian is someone who studies God.
We all do that.
We all have an opinion on whether God exists or not, and if he exists then what is he like.
For most of us I would suggest that that opinion is based on gut emotion rather than much fact.
I’m not condemning anyone for that. We do it all the time.
If I was to ask anyone of my own age what they thought of say Princess Diana, or Margaret Thatcher everyone would have an opinion on what they were like as people. They would probably have very strong opinions. If I asked them why they thought what they thought they would tell you of all the good or evil things that they did.
And yet I can guarantee that more than 99% of them would never have met either of them, had a serious conversation with either of them, known them as human beings.
Politicians of all ages have had to put up with that.
If I surveyed the streets of Alva and asked people what they thought of Boris Johnston or Jeremy Corbin as individuals, I am sure I could have long conversations where their characters were either praised or assassinated. And people would justify those positions by telling of things these people had done or not done.
And yet again, I can guarantee that more than 99% of them would never have met them, had a long serious conversation with them or known them over a period of time as a human being.
I don’t know about you, but I would be uncomfortable with someone making comments about me when they didn’t know me as a human being.
I wonder if God feels that way about our opinions of Him?
So let me give you two versions, or images, or beliefs, of God that are in the Bible.
The first is from the first reading Amanda gave us.
Don’t worry if you have never read this passage before or remember reading this passage or even think this passage is boring.
I’m a nerd, it’s my job to find this stuff fascinating.
So the people of God have been slaves in Egypt. They are travelling to the Promised Land of Israel. God has given them the vision of a place of worship, and they have created a portable temple which they dismantle before they start the days walk.
It is the duty of the tribe of Kohath to transport all the different bits of the temple.
Why is this important?
Because the way they do it tells you what they think about God.
The tribe of Kohath have to move the temple bits. But before they do that the priests have to cover all the different bits with cloth, then cover them again with waterproof skin. Only once they have done that are the tribe of Kohath allowed to touch anything.
Why? Because of their ideas about what God was like.
God was holy, God was powerful, God was dangerous.
Ordinary people couldn’t see God, ordinary people couldn’t face God, ordinary people would die if they were too close to God’s presence.
When the temple was up there were places that people could go and places where they couldn’t.
The temple was like an onion skin with different layers leading to the centre.
In the outer layers the Jewish people could go to, the next inner layer the women couldn’t but the men could, the next layer only the priests could enter, then in the innermost layer, the Holy of Holies, only the High Priest could enter.
Even when they were transporting the innermost parts of the temple ordinary people couldn’t see or touch these items. They had to be covered up and then when they were safe could ordinary people touch them.
I am not saying that this image is completely wrong.
I am not saying that God isn’t powerful, he created the universe.
I am not saying that God isn’t hard to understand, he created the duck-billed platypus.
I am not saying God isn’t dangerous and mysterious and frightening at times.
What I am saying is that maybe there is more to God than this. Maybe this is ythe image of God they needed to see.
This was a people who had been slaves in Egypt for many generations.
They were incapable of making decisions for themselves.
Maybe the only way that God could convince them as a people to leave the horrors of slavery and go to a place that gave them freedom was to become like Pharaoh to them.
Look at Russia.
They spent decades under dictatorship, what do they do when they finally have freedom? They effectively pick a dictator to look after them.
So for slaves to leave Egypt God had to appear to be bigger than Pharaoh, more powerful than Pharaoh, so that was the way they looked at him; as this distant, powerful figure who made decisions that they would never understand and their role was just to obey without question.
But Jesus gave a different revelation of God, a different insight into God’s character.
This was a God who was all powerful, this was a God who was awesome, but this was also a God that gets his hands dirty.
Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is and Peter tells Jesus that he believes that he is the Son of God.
After that Jesus tells the disciples what will happen next.
That they will travel to Jerusalem, that Jesus will be betrayed and die on a cross.
And Peter rejects that.
That can’t happen. Jesus will; become king and rule wisely. Israel will become great again. God’s kingdom will rule on earth.
And this is where Peter is a bit like us, and Jesus has to show him something different.
You see to Peter God is in the great. Exactly like the people thought in the first reading.
God is in the wonderful sunset, God is in the laughter of the newborn baby, God is in the galaxy.
But what if God was also in the calloused hands of a carpenter?
What if God was in the pain of an unjust crucifixion?
And that’s the wonder of Christ’s message.
You see, I don’t always ask the question, ‘Where is God?’
The only time I ask that question is when I am struggling, or when someone I love is struggling.
What if Christ is letting us know that when we are in that place,
when we are at our worst,
when the world is at its hardest,
that God is there?
That God was there when I was unemployed, letting me have the chance to meet people and have opportunities to do things I would never have had otherwise.
That God was there when my dad was dying, giving him the hope of a better place, giving me the strength to be there with him.
Yes God is in the awesome and the amazing, but God is also in the ordinary and the painful and the dirty;
maybe in the person we bump into in the Coop,
maybe in the prayer that is inspired by an item in the news.
maybe in the telephone call we make to support a friend that has been given bad news.
That is the hope and the inspiration of Christ’s revelation
Where is God? right beside us.
Whatever we are facing, whatever the struggle, whatever the pain;
God is there.
Let us pray.
Life is easier when we don’t need to face it alone.
Life is better when we can share it with someone.
Watch over us as we live our lives, remind us that you are with us every step of the way, every wondrous success, every dismal failure.
You are with us because you care.
You are with us because we are precious in your sight.
Help us to believe this truth, and to live our lives as if this truth was believable.
This we ask in Jesus name
Until next time...
Remember the church is open for prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 4pm
And Sundays between 6-8pm.
During those times we are also open if you want to collect the next lot of UCB Word of Today Bible Study notes, or our latest church magazine The Alvanac or you can hand in your collections or hand in the milk bottle tops you have been saving.
We will be celebrating Harvest at the end of September so if anyone wants to hand in any donations which will be going to the local food-bank then you can do so when we are open for private prayer.
May every new day be a beginning in you Lord.
May we have the courage to know ourselves to be loved and forgiven.
May that forgiveness give a new opportunity to offer the kingdom of hope to others.
May today and every day be a blessing, and may we become a blessing to others,
in your name.