The Rev. Frank
Have you ever thought that having a relationship with God would make your life easier? With God on your side, you’ll slide through life with no problems, right? The readings this morning should disabuse you of that notion.
In the Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Jeremiah rails against God using words on the edge of blasphemy. Jeremiah has been out doing what God asked Jeremiah to do and it hasn’t gone as well as the prophet had hoped. Jeremiah says, “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.” He goes on to complain, “All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.”
The Psalm offered no comfort this morning. The Psalmist laments,
Save me, O God,
I am sinking in deep mire,
I have come to deep waters,
I have grown weary with my
Then Jesus tells his disciples, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” Jesus is himself the master of the house and we are the members of his household, so if Jesus was called Beelzebul, a name for Satan, then how can we who follow him expect to be treated?
This is Good News? So much for comfort from scripture for the week ahead. The question now is not. “Why do things go wrong for those of us with a relationship with God?” The questions may well be,
Jeremiah did what God asked of him and he was laughed at. The Psalmist tried to follow God’s will and grew weary with crying for justice. Jesus was put to death and after his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples went on to preach, teach, and with the exception of John, the disciples were killed for their faith in Jesus. So where did we go wrong? Why don’t people laugh at us more? Make fun of us more? Why are our lives going so well?
Certainly we are fortunate to live in a time and place when those who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ may do so without risking their lives. Baptism into the church no longer puts a death sentence on you.
But we still can’t expect that following Jesus will lead to a life of no problems. Your relationship with God will not remove all the obstacles from your path. You aren’t guaranteed a perfect marriage. Perfect kids. A perfect job or a perfect boss. Faith is not the path to a life of no worries. Jesus promised the victory, not a life with no battles.
So what then is the point? Why believe? Well, I for one, believe, because it is true. There is a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us. That God is best known to us through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. As God made man, Jesus not only showed us how we should live, but his death and resurrection reconciled us to God. Knowing the truth of Christianity is at the core of my faith. I must believe, not because it will give me a good life, but because the faith we profess is true. Then having professed my faith, the Bible warns that problems can and will follow.
In the Old Testament reading, Jeremiah is sick of how people mock him when he tells them the words God has given him. And yet, he can’t keep his mouth shut either. Jeremiah says, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary from holding it in, and I can not.” Jeremiah wants to keep quiet and yet he just can’t. He must speak.
The Psalmist has been faithful to God and yet can truthfully say, “Those who hate me without cause are more than the hairs of my head; my lying foes who would destroy me are mighty.” The Psalm goes on to say, “I have become a stranger to my own kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.” And “Those who sit at the gate murmur against me, and the drunkards make songs about me.”
Perhaps this is why the 16th century spiritual writer and mystic Teresa of Avilla wrote, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few!”
The Rev. Howard Hanchey writes this,
“I’ve found that many adults drop out of church because their knowledge of God doesn’t keep pace with the reality of their adult lives. For example, it is often difficult for an adult or teenaged friends of a person killed by a drunk driver to keep faith if their knowledge of God is no wider than a first-grade Sunday school image of God as a heavenly, always-providing-good-things parent. No matter how legitimate this image is, it is not an adequate picture of a God who has chosen to love us, a God who respects our freedom even when we choose to destroy one another.”
One of the few guarantees I can give you about a spiritual journey is that progress does not come without opposition. If someone comes to faith, that faith will soon be tested. If you decide to take your belief in Jesus more seriously, there will be resistance if not outright problems. It’s not that God will tempt you so much as the world will come against you.
For example, when Victoria and I decided to tithe, giving a literal 10% of our income back to God, we never went without. God did provide for our needs. But some of our wants had to go by the wayside and there were some times when whether we would make it looked in doubt.
Make some steps forward in your faith and you will find problems. This is what our readings for this morning tell us. Jeremiah stood up for God and was laughed at. The Psalmist lived a godly life and was hated without a cause. Jesus’ disciples went out to heal the sick and to preach the Good News of Jesus and they faced opposition. But this is not all that our readings say.
We also find that if you stick strong to your convictions, God will see you through to a better place. It takes perseverance to make progress on our spiritual journeys. There is a certain tenacity required. I want to show you what I mean in a clip from the movie Ice Age. Watch the doggedness of the squirrel that won’t let go of the acorn. Imagine the acorn as your trust in God in a world of opposition.
[insert short clip from the introductory scene to the movie Ice Age.]
The squirrel prevails, for that squirrel won’t let go no matter what comes against it. For at the instinctual level the squirrel knows its very survival depends on the nut. We find that same determination in the scriptures when godly people face ungodly opposition.
Jeremiah says confidently, “My persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.” So convinced is the prophet that a few verses later, while people are still laughing at him, Jeremiah can proclaim, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.”
Likewise in Psalm 69, the poet first felt that he was sinking in deep mire with no firm ground for his feet. Then he grabbed hold of the conviction that God is the firm ground on which he stands. For the Psalmist never loses the conviction that God’s love and compassion will get the last word. The Psalmist refers to God’s unfailing help, God’s kind love and God’s great compassion.
Finally, Jesus tells his followers, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Jesus warns that problems will besiege the faithful. But we are not to be fearful. Just keep doing what you know to be right. If you have set aside time for prayer or Bible reading, protect that time confident this is what you need to do. If you have started to give intentionally back to God from the money you make, don’t let a short-term financial problem distract you from where you see God leading.
If you have begun to try to let your faith infiltrate your daily life, don’t give in to off-color jokes in the break room. Stand firm for the things you know to be right. Be willing to take a few jabs from friends, family and co-workers who are still trying to figure out whether the new you is a good idea or not.
Opposition will come. Problems will arise. The question is not “Why are things going wrong?” But perhaps “Why is no one bothering me?” if you are not living your faith in a way that anyone can notice.
I’m not talking about being in your face with someone about Christianity. That’s neither the Gospel nor love. I’m talking about the times when you are just living the way you feel God calls you to live and others oppose you. Stand firm. Think of the tenacity of the squirrel in the clip from Ice Age. The Squirrel’s very survival depended on successfully foraging for food. Your very survival depends on standing firm in your faith.
Hold fast to the faith that is in you knowing that Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are counted. Do not be afraid.” When all around begins to seem like deep mire, count on your relationship with God to provide the firm ground on which you can stand. Jesus did not promise you a life of no battles, but he did promise the victory.
 Howard Hanchey, From Survival to Celebration: Leadership for the confident church from Cowley Publications, 1994, p. 88.