Sermons - October 2021
Sermon 3rd October 2021
Sermon 10th October 2021
ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
Sunday 10 October 2021
Job 23: 1 - 9, 16 - 17
The slapstick humour of Jim Carrey might not appeal to everyone but the 2003 film "Bruce Almighty" in which he stars with Jennifer Anniston and Morgan Freeman says some interesting things which seem relevant this morning. In it Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a "human interest" television journalist who is discontented with almost everything in his life. At the end of the worst possible day when everything has gone wrong on live television, Bruce angrily ridicules and rages against God, and God responds. God appears in human form, endows Bruce with divine powers and challenges Bruce to take on God's work to see if he can do any better. The film is a comedy, but it highlights some basic human reactions to God which are as old as life itself. Many of us rage against God when things go wrong in our own lives and question his existence in the face of natural disasters. Any natural disaster seems to act as a clarion call for derision of the idea that there might be an omnipotent God, for how could a God of love allow such suffering ?
These are just some of the themes explored in the Old Testament book of Job which presents us with a God-fearing and righteous man who finds his whole life in ruins : his cattle, sheep, and camels have been stolen and his servants have been killed; his sons' and daughters' lives have been lost to a tornado and Job himself has been afflicted with terrible sores. Beyond these disasters, however, Jobs' torment is compounded by the way in which his only remaining friends are convinced that he must have done something to deserve his misfortune. I would encourage you to read the entire book of Job, perhaps in a modern paraphrase such as The Living Bible or The Message.
Job's laments and protests occupy much of the book. He cannot accept that he deserves this fate and yet he cannot believe that God is unjust. So he wrestles with his friends and with God, choosing to believe that he would be acquitted if only God would meet with him. But up in heaven, Satan claims that Job only worships God when he is healthy and wealthy. Without all that, Satan tells God, you'll find that Job will reject you as soon as things go wrong, just like every other human being, for human beings are a bad lot. God takes upSatan's challenge but maintains his confidence in Job as a good person, one who will remain faithful whatever happens. God permits Satan to do anything he likes to Job, except to his life.
So things start to go wrong for Job. He's struck down by terrible sores all over his body, every member of his family dies as do all his cattle. He's stripped of everything and ends up sick and alone, with all his wealth gone.But he still has friends and they proceed to do their best to help Job, but they don't show much sensitivity. Again, these friends (known as Job's comforters) are a wonderfully true portrait of people we all know.
Eliphaz believes that the innocent never suffer permanently. Since he believes that Job is basically a good person he thinks that Job's suffering will soon be over and tells him so. He says that even the most innocent of human beings must expect to suffer and since all fall short of God's perfection, all deserve to suffer. I'm afraid he isn't much help to Job in his sorry state.
The second of Job's comforters, Bildad is shocked by the way in which Job's family has been wiped out and presumes that to suffer such a fate they must have been very wicked indeed. He believes in the doctrine of retribution by an angry and just God. But he also sees that Job is still alive and therefore thinks that there must be some hope for Job. Again, he brings no comfort whatsoever to Job.
Zophar is the third friend who is even more hardline than either of the other two. In his mind there is no question. Job is suffering therefore he must be guilty. Job is guilty, his suffering is proof of that and even worse, since Job refuses to acknowledge his sin he is a far worse sinner than anyone could have imagined, as far as Zophar is concerned, Job is doomed and rightly so. Like the other two, he pleads with Job to repent of his sins and be healed by God...
But Job clings stubbornly to his belief that he has lived a good life and that therefore there must be another explanation for his suffering. In our Old Testament lesson this morning, Job rails against God and demands to meet with God face to face so that he can demand answers from God. But God can't be found.
"If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right , but I cannot see him", says Job, bitterly (Job 23: 8 - 9)
God refuses to respond to a summons by Job, although Job feels that he desperately and urgently needs God and is surrounded by darkness in which there is no glimmer of light. This is the fifth time that Job has asked to meet with God. On the one hand, Job is confident that if only he can meet with God and plead his case, he will be vindicated because he is a righteous man. On the other hand, he can't find God. God apparently refuses to meet with him, and he has no idea what God might have in store for him. Perhaps his troubles will get even worse, if that were possible. So while longing to meet with God, Job is also in awe of God and fearful of God's power.
It does so often seem that those who most long to have an experience of God are denied. They hear of other people's wonderful spiritual experiences and pray for something similar so that they too might discover the reality of God, but it doesn't happen for them in that way. They are conscious only of the silence of God and his apparent absence.
The good news in the story of Job is that in God's good time, God did respond to Job. God didn't entirely accede to Job's request to meet him face to face, possibly because that would have destroyed Job, but God did respond to him. And this is also our experience today. In God's good time God does respond to us but it may not be in the way we expect. Like Job, we need to remain upright and honest with our integrity intact no matter what happens. And we need to learn how to discern God in life all around us, giving time and space to God if we wish to meet with him.
When disaster strikes in our own lives it can be easy either to blame ourselves or to blame God. Job offers a third path, which is to live with the questions themselves and keep on asking until, perhaps, in Rainer Maria Rilke's words, "we might live into the answers".
Sermon 17th October 2021
Sermon 24th October 2021
Sermon 31st October 2021
ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
Sunday October 31st 2021
Ruth 1: 1 - 18
Then kneeling down to Heaven's Eternal King,
the saint, the husband and the father prays:
Hope "springs exulting on triumphant wing".
That thus they all shall meet in future days,
There, ever bask in uncreated rays,
No more to sigh or shed the bitter tear,
Together hymning their Creator's praise,
In such society, yet more dear,
While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere.
Like Robert Burns' poem "The Cottar's Saturday Night" with its beautiful description of uncomplicated faith, the story of Ruth and Naomi is a simple tale of tenderness and pity, its tone one of broad sympathies and wide charity. Its setting is a peaceful countryside: its characters are honest peasants, hard working, neighbourly and contented. There is an air of genuine piety, honourable conduct and true love pervading the whole story, making it one of the most attractive tales in any literature and certainly a welcome interlude at this point in the Bible after the blood and thunder of the Book of Judges.
The family home was Bethlehem - located about 5 or 6 miles south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem means "House of Bread" and it was probably named this because a lot of grain was grown in the fields around this village and it was stored there. Everyone knew that if they needed grain for bread, they should go to the "House of Bread", Bethlehem. As Christians we should remember that Jesus, "The Bread of Life", was also born in Bethlehem.
The little family, Naomi, her husband Elimelech and two sons Mahlon and Chilion, had to leave Bethlehem because of famine. The House of Bread was empty so they went to the country of Moab, modern day Jordan. It usually received plenty of rain so it had crops and we can understand why this family and doubtless many others made the journey east.
Elimelech died, leaving Naomi a widow. That would have been difficult enough in her own country but she was a foreigner in a foreign country, making life even more difficult. However, at least she still had her two sons, both by now married to Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. Sadly, the two sons of the family were to die fairly soon after their father, which is not surprising since their Hebrew names mean "sickness" and "consumption". Their mother Naomi was now left with two daughters-in-law, both natives of Moab, but while she naturally wanted to return to her own country and assumed that Orpah and Ruth would stay behind and marry Moabite husbands, one of them, Ruth chose to throw in her lot with her mother-in-law and to forsake her own land and her own religion. Infact as we read this morning Ruth responds to Naomi with some of the most beautiful words of love and loyalty in the whole of Scripture -
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge , I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die -
there will I be buried.
(Ruth 1: 16 - 17)
We can see that Ruth was committing everything to Naomi, and more importantly to God. It was total commitment . It involved every aspect of her life - where she would go, where she would live, who her people would be, her faith, and even where she would be buried. Ruth backed all this with a solemn declaration"May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!" (v. 17).
This is how serious she was about staying with Naomi. Her mind was made up! So was her heart.
Ruth exemplifies for us the love of God and neighbour. She pledged her whole life not just to Naomi but also to God. "Your God shall be my God", she said.
When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to come with her, she stopped trying to change her mind and the two women travelled alone to Bethlehem.
Now Old Testament scholars... Are divided as to exactly when the Book of Ruth was written but if Ruth was the grandmother of King David which we're told at the conclusion of the story we will assume that it was written around 1200 BC. It must have been shocking to the earliest readers of Ruth's story to think that the grandmother of the great King David was a foreign refugee but for us over 3000 years later that thought brings the story right up to date.
We're going to hear a great deal about climate change over next week as political leaders meet in Glasgow for COP 26, one of the most important international gatherings to take place in the UK since the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, not far from here in Westminster Central Hall in 1946. Climate change is a matter of urgency because for millions of people around the world this is not theoretical, nor is it about warmer weather or wetter summers. For millions of people around the world climate change means famine and the need to move far from home if they are to be able to feed their families and to survive and like Ruth and Naomi, the most vulnerable are people women and children travelling alone. Refugees in search of food and shelter. I would encourage you to go on reading the story of Ruth and Naomi beyond the passage which was our Old Testament lesson this morning.
When they eventually reached Naomi's old home at Bethlehem poverty compelled Ruth to glean from the fields what the humane law of Deuteronomy prescribed should be left for widows and the needy. (Deut. 24: 19). Do we show such generosity to the poorest and most vulnerable today?
We can understand why the poet Keats could speak of "the sad heart of Ruth when sick for home she stood in tears amid the alien corn". ("Ode to a nightingale").
However the story of Ruth has a happy ending. It was while working in the fields that she met her future husband Boaz and they went on to become the parents of Jesse and grandparents of David. A reminder to us, if any were needed, that God can use the most unlikely people as part of his great plan.