Sermon for St John’s Adel, Last Sunday after Trinity 2019
Well, tonight’s readings weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs were they?
We have Timothy receiving advice on how to share in the suffering that being a Christian is going to send his way. And then we have Ecclesiastes…
I find this book very difficult to listen to…it seems almost like a ‘stream of consciousness’…a list of apparently unconnected thoughts. Unlike most other Old Testament writings it doesn’t tell the story of God’s plans and designs, humanity’s difficulty in following them, and the predictable consequences.
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”…the writer of Ecclesiastes suggests that the ways of God are not clear…bad things happen to good people…we don’t know what disaster may happen next on earth.
But then he ends with traditional wisdom…”fear God, keep his commandments…God will bring every deed into judgement.”
I struggle with this book – but I like the fact that it’s in our Bible, and that portions of it appear in the lectionary…so we get to hear them at evensong…
It holds together the tension we have to live with as Christians in the real world. Tensions we can’t ignore if our faith is a real, living thing that we try to integrate into our lives. The tension between knowing, sometimes very clearly, that God is almighty, good, and loving…whilst at others we look with incomprehension at news of cruelty, disaster and almost random suffering.
This tension is found in another favourite of mine – the poetry of R.S.Thomas – Welsh poet priest. Many of his poems speak of his doubts, even of the existence of God, yet they also contain the inexplicable moments of certainty that underpin faith.
Here, a few lines from the poem ‘Folktale’…
“Prayers like gravel
flung at the sky’s
window, hoping to attract
the loved one’s
have refrained long since
but that peering once
through my locked fingers
I thought that I detected
the movement of a curtain.”
Thomas’ poems are certainly not full of joy…but however he describes them, the glimpses he had of God must have been life enhancing enough to keep him searching, to keep him working as a priest.
I think, amidst his despondency, the writer of Ecclesiastes must also have had moments of revelation. They don’t stop him questioning and wondering, but they maintain his faith that God is, and that God is good.
In the middle of tonight’s gloomy reading is the verse: “Light is sweet and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.” It stuck out for me because of its beauty…and its truth. Light is sweet – sunny days lift the spirits.
It’s a great reminder that being a Christian, striving to know God, doesn’t mean everything will be wonderful…but it does mean there will be times, moments, of beauty and joy. Times of knowing we are loved…even beyond any human love. Times of knowing we’re right.
“Light is sweet and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun”, reminded me of a day spent with my Granny when she was quite elderly. Pete and I took her to Runswick Bay one summer. We wandered on the beach, had a good pub lunch and left her sitting in the sun looking out to sea whilst we had a walk. On the way home she said “Thank you for a wonderful day. I’ll store it up – it will last me through the winter.”
This reading made me think about learning to recognise the moments of revelation, of God’s nearness, and using them to help us through the wintry times when we’re not so sure.
Such encounters might happen as we enjoy the glories of nature, or in a beautiful service in this ancient, holy place. But they might equally happen at work or during household tasks. For me lately they have come as I visit and get to know you.
Whenever…whatever they are…stop and acknowledge the nearness of God. And if, someday he seems so distant you can hardly imagine his existence…remember that encounter and use it to help you through.