Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 16 October 2022.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 31: 27-34 (A new covenant – with the people of Israel)
• Psalm 119: 97-104
• Epistle: 2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5 (The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine … will gather round teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear)
• Gospel: Luke 18: 1-8 (The unjust judge and the persistent widow)
Just when we thought that the headlines could not become any more absurd, they do just that. It is not just the intellectual instability of some of our leaders – and there are plenty of examples to choose from. There is also the threat of nuclear releases – now bandied about so frequently as to be almost routine.
Then there is climate change, which some may conveniently choose to blame on the west in general and the Americans in particular. Never mind that the western process of industrial development was gradual and made in ignorance of its possible global effects. Never mind also that many others have benefited from this knowledge and know what examples to avoid even if they do not choose to do so.
Yet in the midst of all this confusion of morality and practice, of blame-shifting and the avoidance of personal responsibility, we are still assured that God has not abandoned His people.
If we are perplexed by our times, then think of the time of Jesus: occupied by Rome and governed with arbitrary savagery by their governors while the institutions of religion were left in the hands of the scribes and pharisees and lawyers.
Then look at what Jeremiah had to say to the exiles: God has not abandoned you and still has a plan, a future and a hope for you.
Faith would no longer be a nationalized industry, locked up by the priests and Levites. It would be there for all and to be lived by all.
It would be there in the peoples’ hearts, each person living it for him and herself. They might have leaders but they would also have the theological language to understand what is said and to ask questions and seek further understanding.
God’s name and heart would be only a prayer away from each soul – the blink of an eye and the plea of the heart, especially when in distress, but also there in joy and in praise and worship.
Whatever their fears, God would be there for them. Whatever their questions, God would answer. And when the answers were beyond the understanding of the people they He would still grant His peace and presence.
Whatever the fears and threats of the time, God would be there with His people, and would never abandon them.
Just as when people cry out ‘Why’ in the face of disaster, God is still there for them, as He was in the wartime blitz of our cities and in the madness of military actions down the centuries.
Yet Jesus shows us a mystery of faith in His parable of the persistent widow. Denied a proper hearing by a corrupt and indolent judge, she persists in her pleas until she is heard properly.
And if even a corrupt judge can be persuaded to act in his duty, then how much more will God hear and act upon the pleas of His people?
The question however is in the waiting. Why? Why me? How long? Why was another person’s needs met and not mine?
Part of the answer lies in the command to love the Lord with all our hearts and souls and minds and strengths. Loving God with our mind is the challenge.
It is when we do not get the answers we were looking for straight away. It is when there is a promise that seems to dangle in the wind and fade away into hopelessness.
But this is when He is looking for the fortitude of our faith, the faith that waits and trusts even when answers seem to be lost and beyond hearing or understanding. But God is not absent or deaf or taken up with His stamp collection.
Rather, the answer is there in the dogged determination of the prophet Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vine, Though the labour of the olive may fail and the fields yield no food:
Though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
YET I WILL REJOICE IN THE LORD, I WILL JOY IN THE GOD OF MY SALVATION.
THE LORD GOD IS MY STRENGTH; HE WILL MAKE MY FEET WALK ON THE HIGH HILLS (3: 17-19)
To some this may look like escapism, a denial of reality.
I prefer to see it as a determined engagement with a different kind of reality.
It is the reality of the God who looks and loves and cares, deeply and personally. It is the reality of the God who sent His Son to the cross, the place where the sinners of the world deserved to be but even then would never satisfy the holiness and justice of God.
It is the reality of the One who came back from the dead having already faced down all that the powers of the world and of the evil one could throw at Him.
It is the reality of the One who became every lie and distortion, every theft and murder and debauchery for our sakes.
It is this kind of reality that leads me to say in the midst of so many questions: though He tarry, He will not delay and I will trust Him still.