Finding God in the present
There is at the moment, as we are all well aware, a recession on, maybe a depression, some say the worse since the Second World War, some say the worst since the Great Depression of the nineteen thirties, some say the worst for a century… Every time I open the newspaper or turn on the news or go on-line I am greeted with yet more bad economic news and predictions of doom and gloom. Will we able to earn any money in this recession? How long could it last – just how many years could it go on for? What about any savings if there’s a banking collapse? How will we pay the rent or the mortgage? How will we buy food or clothes?
And that’s just the secular news services – if you turn to certain Christian channels you can be greeted with predictions of an imminent one-world financial system ruled by the antichrist wherein only those who have received the mark of the beast or antichrist will be able to buy or sell… What if this financial meltdown heralds the rise of the antichrist and we Christians can’t buy or sell, how will we get food to eat and clothes to wear?
‘God has heard your prayers’
Perhaps we can consider a few, brief thoughts on the Gospel for today. It is the account of the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias, and the message which came to him and to his wife, that though they were old in years, and their time of fruitfulness had passed according to all human wisdom, yet in the will of God all things were possible, and his wife was already with child, though advanced in years.
There are a great many things which we could reflect on, but in this short time together let us consider first of all the description of Zacharias and Elisabeth themselves which we find in the passage. St Luke says of them, that they were righteous before God, and walked blameless in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. These were good people. They were committed to serving God, and over many years they had prayed earnestly, asking that he would give them the desire of their hearts.
I know that in my own life, and in my service here at St Albans, we have often prayed for our little Orthodox community. And like Zacharias and Elisabeth we have had to have faith that God will work out his will, in his way and in his own time. I hope that we are good people. I hope that we are committed to serving God. And we have certainly grown older in God’s service. Yet we have not seen the answers to our prayers, both here in our community, and in our own lives. And we wait, like Zacharias and Elisabeth. We do not give up. We trust in God, since it is his service we are committed to.
Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul
29th June, 2008
I wonder if any of you here have been following the European Football Championships which have been taking place over the last few weeks, and which conclude today with a final in the Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna this evening. A sweepstake was organised at work, and I drew Turkey, a team which seemed to have little chance of victory. More than that, I have never had much desire to visit Turkey, and so I lacked any enthusiasm at all for the team I had pulled out of a hat.
Now if you had seen me on Tuesday evening you might well have wondered which team I was watching play against Germany. I was shouting encouragement at the television screen and jumping up and down each time my team scored. And I was entirely disappointed when in the last minute Germany scored and their opponents were knocked out of the competition. Yet it was the Turkish team I was supporting so enthusiastically, even though just a couple of weeks earlier I could have wished to have chosen almost any other team in the competition.
What had happened to change my feelings towards the Turkish team? I think that what took place was a natural and universal human response to being associated, even very loosely, with a particular group of people or cause. A certain prejudice develops towards others, and slowly our own side becomes more important than anything else as we come to belong to one party rather than another.
Today is the feast of Pentecost. A special day, a happy day, because Pentecost is the reason why we have kept the season of Lent, entered into the passion and suffering of our Lord during Holy Week, and remembered His glorious Ascension into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father.
Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ came down from heaven and became man for the sake of Pentecost. He was beaten, nailed to a cross and died for the sake of Pentecost. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, as he said Himself. If I depart from you I will send the Holy Spirit.
God is working His purpose out. And His purpose has been to make a new people for Himself, and the life of this new people is the Holy Spirit. God has sent the Holy Spirit to fill the lives of God’s new people, the Church, and through them to share this new life with the world. The promises God made in the Old Testament through his people the Israelites are now being fulfilled in the new Israel which is the Church, for where it was once the case that only one people bore the name of God, and it was necessary to be born into the Jewish people to become part of the people of God’s promise, now God has made his promise available to all people.
It is interesting that so much of the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testament, is written as a history of things that actually took place. If we had been given a text book, or a theoretical manual, then it would be harder for us to enter into the central message of the Bible, which is that God is at work in His world, calling out a people to be His family.
So when we read the Gospels we are reading about real people, with problems and attitudes that we can sympathise with, because they are weaknesses that we share in and understand all too well. The Scriptures are not about perfect people, they are about faithless people that God has to spiritually discipline and encourage to trust him, and about faithful people that God chooses to use in extraordinary ways.
Just one chapter before this passage in the Gospel of St Matthew, some of the disciples had been with Jesus when he went up on to a mountain to pray. He had taken His closest friends, Peter, James and John. They had seem Him perform great miracles and had sat at His feet while He taught them ‘as one who had authority’, and then, on the mountain, they caught a glimpse of His Divine glory as He was transfigured before them.
And then just a short while afterwards and the disciples are asking who among them was the greatest. Jesus must have sighed. Had they learned so little? How could they even ask such a question?