Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
There are many forms of grieving – the death of one dearly loved, the disappointment of a hoped-for relationship, the failure of a professional venture or the loss or denial of an opportunity in a treasured area of life.
Grief can extend from a minor disappointment in losing a possession to major grief in the area of relationships.
And this is when we are at our most vulnerable, the most open to suggestion and the most prone to one a many kinds of emotion.
In Hosea, God speaks to the people of Israel who have been deported from their land and its connections and opportunities to another land far away where they must obey the rules and acknowledge the customs of other masters with strange names and difficult languages.
Here they are taunted: sing us the songs of your land, for amusement and entertainment. Their institutions and their religion are ridiculed and their king is dead.
But this is the place where the prophets of the Lord announce the possibility of renewal. New messages of hope and new kinds of relationships.
The valley of Achor – the Valley of Sorrows is the very place where they will be wooed by their God, whose love and faithfulness has not failed or deserted Him.
It is in the very place where they feel most inadequate in all aspects of their lives that God promises to meet them and teach them and lead them and cherish them. Here they will be renewed and a new kind of covenant is opened up before them.
Now each person will know and serve the Lord and will not have to rely on the teachings and authority of their clergy.
The very place where they felt most abandoned is also the very place where God will draw close to them.
Paul also expressed his confidence in the Christians of Corinth – and this had been a church beset by division, open immorality, confused teaching and distorted practices.
These were the people who had to be re-taught the very basics of the Christian life – and yet Paul is still supremely confident in them.
For all their problems and failures Paul was still proud of the Christians in Corinth and would boast of them wherever he went.
In Mark’s gospel, we are told of the recruitment of Matthew, the tax-collector, to follow Jesus. It was a direct and personal invitation – in fact, more like a command: “Follow Me!” and probably to his own astonishment Matthew got up and abandoned his revenue desk and followed Jesus.
But there is more to it than that for Matthew’s other name was Levi. He came from a priestly family whose proper place was in the temple of Jerusalem where they were to serve the conduct of worship.
But here he was, serving not God in the temple of his brethren who worshipped there but ROME. He was their tax collector and as such was entitled to levy any rate he liked on his own people provided that he delivered the revenue to Rome. Far from serving his people he was collaborating with their occupiers.
Something had gone badly wrong in his life to reduce his to this – but Jesus saw enough to say “Follow Me!” Whatever had fallen apart in his life, Jesus still saw a Son of Israel.
No matter how many Matthew had betrayed, Jesus still saw that which could be redeemed and renewed and re-directed.
I think that the point in these readings is pretty clear. Each speaks of new beginnings and renewals. Together they add up to an overwhelming statement of God’s confidence in us.
We can of course deflect this challenge – for a challenge it is – by saying “Oh well, my sins are far too serious for God to forgive” – or “I’m out of practice in these things and there are so many other calls on my time and energy” – or “I’m really quite happy as I am” – this at least is honest.
But let us put it another way. There is no obstacle that we can contrive that the Lord cannot overcome. The only one is our own free-will. We can refuse God but we cannot offer excuses.
My challenge is to each person who has better things to do with his or her life: explain to the Lord why you should not enter a deeper place of faith and commitment in your life. Explain why you do not wish to enter a more intimate love with Him, why you do not wish Him to bless and renew and strengthen you, especially in that place of loss or sadness or disappointment.
And then when you have done that – let Him come back to you with His personal word or act of encouragement.
Faith is in fact a two-way street for not only do we express our faith in the Lord for His mercy and love towards us, but He also expresses His confidence in us, and there is no obstacle in our lives that He cannot overcome: if we are willing.