Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 7 July 2019.
‘The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
when I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo of James …’
This is from TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
For us also the naming of children carries with it our own hopes for their nature and their future.
For Hosea, the naming of his children as a word of prophecy – it was God’s message to His people, a much more serious matter. Each name carried its own message and it was not always going to be to the liking of those who heard it.
Hosea’s message came from his utter devotion to his wife – who was probably younger, attractive, vivacious and definitely wayward and easily bored by an older but more conventional husband. Yet he would seek her out wherever she had wandered off to and no matter what moral lapses she had fallen – or jumped – into.
Yet it tells of God’s utter devotion to His people – and this was a promise in which even trial and sorrow can be a path back to hope.
In the economy of God, nothing is hopeless and nothing is wasted – least of all sorrow or disappointment.
There is no anguish or betrayal or disappointment or grief that cannot be surrendered to the love and mercy of God so that He can turn it around and use it for His glory – but this is something that has to come from us and God cannot demand it, even it He can commend it and use it.
Then there is Paul’s advice to Colossians – as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him.
Our lives and our identities now come from Jesus Christ. They are rooted and grounded in Him, and He now defines who and what we are and indeed where we are going.
The agendas of our lives and their priorities have now changed, as we learn to see things with His eyes and not just our own.
This is how we are called on to avoid silly disputes on trivial matters – diet, festivals, liturgies, anything that distracts us from Jesus Christ.
Point-scoring may be entertaining but it is not godly. Proving how right we are and openly parading our own virtues with our own kind of virtue-signalling may make us feel good about ourselves, but only in order to score points over others who may be less gifted is debates but whose lives may be far godlier than our own.
By being wholly taken up in Jesus Christ, we are buried with Him in our baptism, and raised through the same power and glory of God that raised Jesus Himself. But this gives us no grounds of satisfaction in ourselves.
Only in Him does the wholeness of deity dwells bodily.
One thing that draws these thoughts together is the life of prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. Other teachers, including John the Baptist, had their regimes of prayer and the disciples of Jesus wanted Him to show them what to do.
And so Jesus first taught them their daily prayer, which is also daily with us: The Lord’s Prayer.
But then He went on to show 3 kinds of prayer. Ask – seek – knock.
The asking prayer is one that may be simple in what it seeks and which always seems to astonish us when it is granted as we pray it asking Him is confidence for our needs.
But then there is the seeking prayer. Here the answers may not come so quickly as we are led into seeking our answers, teasing out things that puzzle or confuse us. Now it requires effort by us as we wait on the Lord, alert and attentive. We may have to read about it, study, speak to others, but never to give up.
And yes, the answer to these questions does come to us, often not as we had expected them. Even this recognition can come only as we look back on things.
But then there is the prayer of knocking. This is where the answer seems to be silent and far away, and we are knocking on a door because everything else is an unyielding and uncompromising stone wall.
It is when it all seems to be wholly impossible, and yet we still commit our cause into the hands of God – and He will never fail us or forsake us.
So here we are urged: Never give up – even, perhaps especially when it seems futile.
Finally, there is God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. It is never ill-given or ill-considered: so always seek Him. God does not give dangerous or evil gifts. We know well enough that we do not give evil gifts to our own children – so why would God do anything else?