Just come: a report of Iain Todd’s sermon

Iain Todd

Yesterday, the preacher was Iain Todd. He was speaking about Exodus 16:1-8 – the Israelites, having been liberated from Egypt, begin grumbling against Moses because of the shortage of food. God provides ‘bread’ and also the ‘meat’ (v8) of quails to sustain them – the rest of Exodus 16 contains more details about this. Iain also referred to the New Testament passage, John 6:51, where Jesus describes himself as ‘the living bread that came down from heaven.’

LA ShootingHas God resigned?

Iain began with a story he’d read about some French Christians at the start of World War 2 who were in touch with fellow-students in the UK.

As the Germans overran France, the students wanted to send a last communication to England, ensuring their friends that despite the disaster of the Occupation their faith was not shaken.

They send a telegram, reading

OUR GOD REIGNS

Unfortunately, however, the telegram operator made a mistake in keying in these words on their behalf. (This was long before emails and social media!)  She or he inserted an extra letter in error, so that the message, as received by the British students, read

OUR GOD RESIGNS

We often meet people, Iain said, who feel as though God has resigned. People who have been struck by some grievous blow, and feel that God is to blame. The God they believed in has resigned.

Often people cite ‘suffering in the world’ as a key reason keeping them from faith.

Iain mentioned last Sunday’s mass-killing in Los Angeles. Where was God in LA?

Had God resigned?

There were times in the Old Testament story line when the Israelites felt that God had given up on them. In the desert in today’s reading, for example, they grumbled about the shortage of food.

Had God resigned?

In 587 BC, Jerusalem was destroyed by Israel’s enemies, and the Jewish people were exiled in Babylon.

Had God resigned?

Iain reminded us of the story of the three rabbis in a German concentration camp who put God on trial for desertion. The Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel confirmed the truth of this story – he was there, he tells us.

At the end of the trial, the rabbis’ did not apply the word GUILTY to God; they used another word meaning ‘GOD OWES US SOMETHING.’

And then the three rabbis prayed together – an expression of faith even in their pain.

Ultimately, what matters about this story is not its factual truth, so much as the way it resonates with us.

Does God reign?

Has God resigned?

I will never forget you

Iain reminded us that the words ‘God’ and ‘resigned’ would never be used together by the prophet Isaiah. He expresses the thoughts of God in these words:

‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
(Isiaiah 49:15)

Isiaiah was convinced, Iain said, that what God had been, God would always be. God does not give us.

God heard the cries of God’s people in Exodus 16. God provides bread and quails.

‘I will not forget you.’

Yet even the disciples doubted – on Good Friday, it feels that God has resigned.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

In John 6, Jesus reveals himself to be ‘The Bread of Life’:

Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’

Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:32-38)

And then in verse 51, Jesus says it even more clearly:

‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’

There are similarities between the bread given to the Israelites in the desert and Bread of Life, but there are also major differences, the key one being Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger.

Bread sustains life, bread is essential for life. The life Jesus gives us is a new relationship with God, one of love, trust and intimacy. True life, Iain said, is only possible through Jesus.  Apart from him we may exist, but we do not experience life in all its fulness.

What does this say to us on our faith journey? There is an attractiveness in Jesus which, if people see it, they will respond to him. The problem is that ‘religion’ is often negative, though well-intentioned. People are not being fed. People’s spiritual hunger is not being alleviated.

Where was God in LA?

Where was God in LA? On the one hand, Iain had heard an American Baptist minister trying to justify the carrying of guns, saying that nowhere in the Bible are we told this is inappropriate. On the other he had heard a commentator saying ‘We don’t want your thoughts and prayers. We want action!’

God was present in LA in the actions of those who went to help their fellow human beings, whether or not these actions were done consciously in the name of Jesus. That’s part of the answer to the question about where God was in LA – God was present in every loving impulse and action

Charlotte ElliottJust come

To all of us in our hunger, Jesus says ‘Follow me!’

Iain told us the story of a young Victorian woman called Charlotte Elliot – she was in poor health. Her father was a leading Christian, and one day he had a Swiss minister to stay.

He asked Charlotte, who must have been about 14 at the time ‘When are you going to come to God?’

She replied abruptly, effectively telling him to mind his own business.

The next morning, having reflected on this conversation, she apologised. ‘Actually,’ she said, ‘I don’t know how to come to Jesus.’

‘That’s all right,’ said the visiting pastor. ‘Just come!’

And in response she wrote the famous hymn Just as I am.

Years later, Charlotte’s brother, who had preached a lifetime of sermons, said that though people would probably not remember a word he had spoken they would recall, as Iain put it ‘his sister’s wee song.’

There is hope! God has not resigned. God is active in the world, longing for us to go forward in faith, to say

‘I come.’

The Father is out there, looking for us, heart overflowing with unconditional love. Jesus will transform us, and help us fulfil our potential.

God will never forget us.

Just come!

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