Reflections from John on Duncan’s sermon

John Down town 2

John writes:

There’s lots to think about in Duncan’s sermon.

Challenges of Leadership

What is my attitude to leaders? Am I quick to complain and grumble at my manager or my minister, finding fault when in fact the person in question is doing the best they can? How can I support those who are in leadership at all levels of society? And where I see the need for change, how can I encourage managers and leaders to consider different approaches without undermining them?  And how should I act when a leader is corrupt or failing?

Perhaps we need to ask ‘Who am I allowing to be my leader?’  Am I shaped and directed by advertising, by celebrity culture, by strident voices in the media feeds I subscribe to, by the kind of theological writing I exclusively read?  Or is God my ultimate leader – do allow space in my life for that still, small voice of grace which evaporates my bitterness and prejudice?

How conscientious am I as a leader? Do I invite God’s partnership in all my leading, and respond to God’s gentle promptings? Do I model in my own life the quality of character I long to see in those I lead?  Do I have the courage to stay focussed on what I believe is the best way forward for whatever group I am leading despite the nay-sayers?  Am I humble, willing to learn from others, willing to acknowledge my mistakes?

And there’s maybe a challenge for one of us in the back-story to today’s passage. The people have followed Moses, and ultimately followed God out of a dark place towards a better future which they have been promised. And yet they are afraid to take the last steps into the place of promise because of fear that it will be too difficult.

How many of us stay in prison, in some dark place because we are seeking comfort in the familiar, even the familiar pain and struggle?  A new place lies ahead of us – a new freedom from the bondage of addiction, or a toxic relationships, a new job, a new direction, a new treatment, a new way of believing. But we look at what will be involved, and we see the joy of freedom, but the cost of attaining it seems far too much, and we sadly return to Egypt.  As we face the decisive choice which will bring us freedom we must not let the voice of doubt quench the still small voice of God which urges us ‘Go forward! Be free! I will be with you! It will be great. You can do it. I love you.’

Challenges of Scripture

I think it’s really good that Duncan acknowledged the perplexity which some passages in the Bible give rise to where it seems, as Duncan said, that God’s actions do not seem to reflect what we have come to see of God in Jesus.  We cringe when we hear some (usually American) Christian preachers claiming that a particular natural disaster is a God-sent plague such as that threatened in today’s passage.

Later in Numbers 14, Moses quotes God’s words back to him (v18) ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellions. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’  What’s this about, we may well think?  We recognise the uniqueness of the Bible in its understanding, from the very beginning, that God is a God of love, that God ‘walks’ with humanity. So what of this God of plague, and violence, and what we would today call genocide?

There are different ‘answers’ to our questions. But  it was so good to hear Duncan giving us permission to ask questions about the biblical text rather than imposing a particular theology on us. It is OK to question. It is a sign of healthy spirituality to ‘wrestle’  (the word Duncan used) with the text.

If this is ‘you’ – if you are a questioner – find a person of faith whom you know and trust and see if they can understand and discuss your questions with you.

I have a vision of people perhaps locked in a theology which they were brought up in, or embraced enthusiastically when first they became Christians. They are trying to dam up the flood of questions which wells up in them, and wonder why the old certainties no longer satisfy.  At times, they believe there is a promised land, a place where questions are welcomed, where asking questions is the way to growth, where living with unanswered questions is a joyful journey of adventure. They set out on the journey, but find themselves drawn back in fear to old ways of thinking. And then – perhaps with someone else who is on the same journey – they have the courage to take the first steps into the new place, and they find that the Jesus who has been with them on the journey welcomes them as they begin its new stage. I feel like adding ‘they who have ears to hear, let them hear.’

As an inveterate questioner, with more questions than answers, I rest in the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ through whom I know myself (on my clearer-seeing days) to be God precious child.

Challenges of remembering

As Duncan said, it’s great to look back over our lives, and remember those times when we knew for a certainty that God was with us, however we experienced that – whether as an answer to a prayer, or the inner sense at a difficult time that we were held in God’s love, or in a brief light in the darkness which brought us peace. To begin each day with ‘I believe you are with me, Father’ encourages us to live through the day humbly, joyfully, and with courage when God seems distant.

I am aware though, ever the questioner, that there are times in most of our lives when things go wrong, when God seems a million miles away, times when, if God is looking after us then he seems to be making a spectacularly bad job of it. And where is this God in the midst of famine in the Yemen, or the Indonesian tsunami? And where is God in the case of those tortured by mental health issues?

Again, it’s all right to question, all right not to accept glib answers. It’s all right to admit that we’re not ‘all right.’  It’s all right to acknowledge our pain, all right to cry out at God ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’

And on such times, there may be moments when we sense God saying to us ‘My child, I am with you in your pain, I enter in to your helplessness and despair. I am with you.’  The promised land of resurrection opens to those who accompany Christ through death to that morning when we step into the sunlight.

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