I was once told that the art of management was to see that someone else did the jobs you specified. It is a long time since I went to a course on management and I don’t know if that is the style that is advocated today, but I do know that it was not the way that Jesus practiced, and because of that it hasn’t been my way either.
One day, not long after I came here, there was a flood in the hall. One set of caretakers had gone and the new ones had not yet arrived. I took off my shoes, rolled up my trousers and started pushing the water out of the room. Three ladies in the congregation arrived for a reason I can’t remember and surveyed the scene. One of them said, ‘you shouldn’t be doing that — it’s not your job.’ Whose job was it? Clearly the three ladies in question did not consider it theirs because within five minutes all three were gone. I don’t consider myself a martyr for having done it, or special that it was done. It was there and needed to be done and I was available. I don’t have a status that disallows me getting my hands dirty.
- In the story that we know as ‘the prodigal son’ the father, who represents God, runs to meet his son who returns after messing up his life.
Now, in Jewish society, anyone with any status at all never runs. Actually, Jesus is never described as running anywhere, but in this story he makes a point of it. He is saying that God is prepared to throw away his status in order to welcome us, you and me, the people who constantly mess up our lives.
We therefore can see God as one who gets involved in our lives and in our recovery. This is the same God as we see in Jesus who becomes totally involved in our redemption. He didn’t act like a general and stay well clear of the battle by sending his disciples and followers into Jerusalem whilst he stayed in the comparative safety of Bethany. He was the one who sat on the donkey and cried all the way into the city because the children of Jerusalem were not prodigal, as he had hoped they would be. God was running towards them, but they kept their distance believing that their lives did not need reforming.
This morning’s reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah recalls the sufferings of the Servant. Of all the books in the bible, Isaiah for me, strikes notes like no other. It resonates with our deepest feelings that there is something very wrong with this world; that it is in some way out of joint, out of kimber, not running smoothly as perhaps it ought.
Tom Wright. who is now the Bishop of Durham, and who writes our monthly Bible Study in the magazine, says “isn’t it strange that those who grumble if we say that there’s something deeply wrong with the world, on the grounds that we are being too pessimistic and/or negative, are precisely the same people who complain if we say that Jesus has saved the world, on the grounds that the world is still in such a mess!” He reckons … and I agree with him … that people who think like this are leaving out the factor of suffering and pain.
Isaiah sees the suffering servant as totally involved as the nation and is identified with the nation to such an extent that the servant can be the nation.
If we have a God who is likely to redeem us, then surely he will be like this, he will be totally involved with us. He will not be one to try and solve the problems at arm’s length, not a military strategist looking on impassively and cursing when the troops don’t achieve his ambitions for him.
We have a God who is there with his back already bending under the load and encouraging us to take up our smaller consignments. He is there leading the way and encouraging us to follow the same route. He is the boss who is doing the job that is being advertised for us to fill but for which we are probably inadequate without his continual help. We need God to be involved.
- It is in this continuing involvement that the pain and suffering come to be known and we have to realize that in this life pain and suffering is part of the plan.
We may baulk at the idea that God should allow suffering let alone introduce it as a necessary ingredient but we need to know that this is so, always has been and always will be. Anything that we every achieve will be through effort.
Let us take a few examples: we want our teeth to be straight, not just because they look nicer that way, but because they function better and are less prone to disease. That may mean braces for a year or two and the discomfort that goes with them. Example number two: we want to keep and maintain our integrity in a world that gives little thought to anyone’s integrity so we should expect to be discriminated against. To maintain the beauty of our spiritual person we will have to brace ourselves against the twisting and bending forces of society. It looks as though any kind of gain that is worthwhile will cost us pain somewhere along the route.
Jesus chose his route and you will find it described by Paul in his letter to the Philippians.
How Jesus was the obedient servant and who had to go through mental and physical torture to achieve his place as the Messiah. That he found where the world’s pain was concentrated in order that he might take it upon himself in order to defeat it.
Like the woman who is expecting the birth of a child, to be able to experience the joy at the end means nine months of discomfort and a time of exquisite birthing pains. You cannot have the child without them.
We cannot become beautiful people in the sight of God without refining pain and on the first Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem to a tumultuous welcome he knew that the serious pain was only just beginning and the first of the tears began to flow and would not stop until Easter Day.
sermon by The Very Reverend Roger Dawson,
Bishop of St. Mary’s Anglican Catholic Cathedral, Caracas