Tag Archives: judgement

God’s Attitude Should Be Ours

 

Rainbow Through the Trees

Our attitudes to God and each other should be the same as his attitude to us. A sermon for Evensong based on Jeremiah 7:1-16 and Romans 9:14-26

May I speak and may you hear though the grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want us to reflect this evening on our attitude to God and our attitude to each other as Christians. How our differences can be a stumbling block not only to our relationship with God but also to those who see us a stumbling block to any sort of belief in God or the Christian Faith. By ‘us’ I am not necessarily referring to individual Christians here at St James’ church, but a more general broader identity, but it does us no harm to consider what our own attitudes might be in some of these situations.

First though, we have to go back to the pre-Christian ‘church’ where Jeremiah’s radical and hard hitting words proclaim God’s judgement on a nation that believed they were unassailable in their right to God’s protection and salvation. Their interpretation of the scriptures, the laws that protected their faith and their judgement of others was predestined and incontestable. However, they were in for a shock – there was no way that God was going to let them treat the temple in a mindless, shallow way by assuming that forgiveness was automatic simply by walking through the doors.

As Jeremiah stresses quite forcibly – ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’ – a triple, Trinitarian reminder, that even though Christ was yet to live on earth, that here was Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Here was the simple statement that if you want to be true believers then you have to stop abusing foreigners and the weakest members of society, the easy targets. Neither could you disregard the most basic of commandments nor cherry pick those that have more in common with your way of thinking or lifestyle. If you mistreat your holy places, turning them in to a ‘den of robbers’ – a sentiment echoed by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel – then you should know that God will not protect them, they will be abandoned and eventually destroyed – there was and is no automatic security of God being with you… A self-righteous attitude will not save you.

The people’s disobedience of God’s commandments, brings what would appear be a harsh response and directive to Jeremiah, ‘do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.’

For the people in Rome, whom Paul was addressing, they were struggling with their identity, attempting to understand what the term ‘Israel’ meant in regard to being chosen people. Paul explains that God hasn’t broken his covenant to original people of Israel, as this was never intended to just apply to the race who shared Abraham’s blood group, but, as he states earlier in his letter as well, those who shared in his faith. Moreover, here was a God who would not be contained by people’s views and attitudes, here was a God who sprung surprises even on the most faithful, choosing Jacob over Esau, demonstrating his sovereign right to do so. Hardening Pharaoh’s heart to highlight his greater power

God does what he wants, as evidenced in the metaphor of the potter’s right to create from the same lump of clay whatever objects he chooses. He has a purpose for of his creations, and the fact that some are chosen and some are not is not the same as pre-destination, this is amazing grace.

God's Amazing Grace

The belief in the omnipotence of the one true God may lead to the conviction that God exerts control over every human action, but God is not only powerful but just.  It is not an injustice to be merciful, to apparently treat some people better than they deserve. To be chosen by God is a gracious gift, not an achievable reward. He can be trusted because he had done what he promised, calling people regardless of their faith; their gender, their sexuality.

We may question why, as Paul says, ‘Will what is moulded say to the one who moulds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’’. That conversation though is between God and us as individuals, others have no right to ask the same of a person.

There is an arrogant complacency within the Church of England that breaks my heart for it as an institution. An arrogance among Christians today who feed their own theologies into the media, which then labels divisive and exclusive views as representative of all Christians. It is not our job to decide who is unworthy and it certainly isn’t for us to link unworthiness to those who disagree with our theology based on limited fragments of scripture.

John Barton in his commentary, describes God as ‘an untamed deity, a wild thing not reducible to theological formulae.’

As Paul quotes from the prophet Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”, and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved”. ’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, there they shall be called children of the living God.’

As Christians, representative of the one, true God we do well to make this our own attitude. Amen

 

V Is For Vulnerable

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

For someone who keeps a lot of their deepest emotions well hidden, I hesitate to write this. Yet, whilst I don’t believe it is my nature to be completely self-indulgent, I have a feeling that my experiences are not in any way unique, but that they may resonate with others and therefore be of some help.

It’s really hard when you’ve done your very best and it turns out that it’s not actually good enough. Some of which is down to your level of understanding and some of which is not having been given the proper blueprint and tools to complete the task in the first place.

When we set out to do something new we will have many things at our disposal. We will have some previous generic knowledge as to how we might approach the task; to which we will add new learning, from books or instructions and if possible from other people. We will take all of this and try to form it into a cohesive understanding of what we need to do and then attempt the task. Add into this a willingness and desire to do our very best and we open ourselves up to the vulnerability of being tested and tried and sometimes found wanting.

This is the most painful part of the whole process. It’s the tears at a drop of a hat time; when you feel vulnerable to any sense of judgement or act of kindness; when you want to withdraw even deeper into your shell….

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

… and it’s easy to stay there, and bemoan the situation, scrutinising your discomfort internally or if you’re lucky sharing it with your closest confidantes; and if this stage is the most painful, then the next stage is often the hardest.

It will come inevitably to a point though when you can no longer disguise what you’re feeling on the inside and then the dam will burst and you will find that all of your anxieties and fears are laid bare. In some ways your worst nightmare and in others a blessed relief.

For this is where the healing process can begin. Not some overnight miracle, but a gradual reflection on why what has happened has happened and how you can move forward from it. You will need to be honest with yourself and recognise what part your own desires and expectations have played in the situation; where things might have been done differently, both on yours and others parts.

You also have to be prepared to accept that the advice and encouragement you are being offered is genuine and that you are worthy to receive it; because we don’t always recognise ourselves when seen through the eyes of others, but they are so often the mirrors to our souls.

We can then be ready to move on. A little stronger, a little wiser

The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18)

Life itself is never easy, and our trials may be incomparable, even trivial, to those faced by others on a daily basis. Our greatest comfort though is knowing that if we can hold on to our faith then the bigger picture for us is already known by God, and that he will be beside us as we travel over the rough and the smooth paths to get there

So I would encourage you to be prepared to allow yourself to be vulnerable from time to time, to open yourself up emotionally and honestly; because in that way you may just find out where your strengths lay.

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

The pictures that accompany this blog are details from the painting Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904), a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite painter; which hangs in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. It’s relevance is simply no more than that it is such a beautiful painting that draws my attention on each visit, and each time makes my heart soar.