Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 14 October 2018.
One of the interesting things about living together is that while we may be close, we never know each other totally.
It applies in a marriage, a family, a workplace and a church. It is there in any kind of fellowship or kinship or community – and as a result we are always meeting the unknown and the unexpected in one another.
And the same applies with God. He meets us where we do not expect it, and He teaches us through people and events that always surprise us.
The simple truths of childhood become paradoxes and riddles, and the more we look into them then the more they seem to evade us.
What we took for granted now has hidden depths and the thing that was so intractable gains a simplicity and a clarity that we could never have imagined.
And so with Job, a rich man who loved and feared God, to be stripped of all that he had was indeed a savage blow within a hidden drama involving God and Satan.
And so Job protested his innocence and demanded an answer to his suffering – but for all his protests, was never granted it. What he did receive was an encounter with God who still refused Job’s questions and yet who blessed him for having stayed with Him in faith, despite all his tribulations.
Job had questions that would not go away, and there were answers which never came to him – and yet within it all he still persevered.
And then there is the letter to the Jewish believers, thought by some to have been written by Paul but this has not really been established.
And here there are three main points. First that the Word of God is living, active and piercing to the depths of our souls.
Second, that given that Jesus Christ has passed into the heavens, we are never without comfort or guidance or hope, so we must never lose hope despite all that life has to throw at us.
Third, that we are emboldened to enter the very presence of God to seek mercy and grace, especially in time of need.
We may not receive all the answers that we desire and not all the things that we ask for. Some cherished dreams may pass us by while other openings and opportunities that we had never imagined may present themselves to us, there to be entered, enjoyed and delighted in.
But the lessons are that despite all the uncertainties and confusions of life, we will find that there is indeed direction and purpose to it and that within these uncertainties God still meets us as we read the scriptures and allow them to enter our lives and thinking.
As we do this then, for all the assaults made on them by scholars, the scriptures still have a life and being and authority. And for all the forms of scholastic study or criticism then they are still the Word of God. As a whole they are God’s message to confused, questing and uncertain people.
To say that they contain the Word of God is about as informative as my saying that this church contains the buttons of my shirt: it is quite meaningless. And so even scripture has its own secrets.
But then Jesus confronts our desire for certainty and control in a different way. An earnest young man presents himself to Jesus who eventually invites him to join the band of disciples around Him.
But first – and this is the only occasion when Jesus does this – He tells the man to divest himself of all his wealth, all his security, all his prospects and all sense of position.
To follow Jesus, he would have to become totally dependent on the uncertainty of life, possibly going without food or shelter.
As I said, Jesus did not make this request of anyone else and He frequently received the hospitality of the wealthy and prosperous. He would still teach them, heal their sick, minister to their hearts and accept their food, drink and shelter.
But when wealth becomes all that we have and are then it becomes our security, our means of identifying ourselves and certainly our opportunity to control our destiny and that of others, often to their disadvantage and even their own insecurity.
When wealth becomes a substitute for faith or an alternative to it, then we are undermined. When its care and management take up all our time and attention then it undermines our relationships.
When it becomes our sole security then it determines our values and priorities.
So Jesus also led and still leads His disciples into that land of paradox, where the insecurities of this life become His opportunities to guide us and bless us. They also present us with the same opportunities to bless other people.
He invites us to revel in the things that we cannot control and to rejoice in what we cannot predict.
It is the spontaneity of each encounter that is so filled with blessing that we only injure ourselves when we are determined to turn away from them, in favour of the illusion of being in control.