Cheer up, it may never happen...?
Unfortunately, our Priest in Charge has had to resign her post, and so our services at Christ Church are being led by the laity. On 1st May, our Lay Minister, Alison, led the service & preached on the Lectionary Readings.
It’s really difficult, isn’t it, when you are feeling that life is full of challenges and problems, and some bright soul (possibly someone you don’t even know) chirpily says “Cheer up; it may never happen!” There have been times when something like this has taken place, and I have had to bite back some very rude words. Or have thought to myself “It has happened! And life is not good at the moment”
And at times like this God can often seem far away, and uncaring, and unfeeling.
I am not here to tell you that if you pray, God will immediately make your life brighter, or solve all those problems that are weighing you down. No, that in itself would be as unhelpful as telling you that it may never happen. I’m not even going to say that you will feel better, or more joyful. Because you might not. And if you don’t, then that is okay.
BUT I am going to tell you that God hears you. And he cares. And he loves you. And he will be there in the midst of your problems, and he will help you to find a way out of those problems – maybe not immediately, but God will give you what you need. You will need to accept it, but it will be there.
Take our readings, for example. In Acts, we hear how Saul was in the midst of a crisis, where he had met the Risen Lord and was brought down with an understanding of how he had persecuted the early church. You can imagine how he would be feeling: his whole raison d’etre – defending the Jewish faith that he loved against these new upstart Christians – had been taken away; he would no doubt be full of conflicting emotions, possibly bitter, or frightened, or angry, certainly confused about what he needed to do next. And in his blindness he was given that pause he needed with no distractions, time to reflect and to take breath, and then he was given a friend, someone to accept him as he was, and as he had been, and to assure him that he was forgiven, and loved.
Saul (or Paul, as we should call him) could have refused these gifts. He was, as we know, a headstrong young man. Instead of seeing his blindness as a gift of time to stop and reflect, he could have thrown himself into finding a cure, going the rounds of the doctors and specialists. Instead of fasting and praying, he could have spent the time railing against God’s unfairness “Why am I blind, and not other people?! Why did this happen to me?” But he accepted that this was part of God’s plan: he didn’t understand it, it was deeply unpleasant, but he knew that God was to be trusted.
And after a few days, Ananias came to the house and offered the hand of friendship and prophecy. Again, Paul could have refused, he could have said he wouldn’t see Ananias, or accept what he was saying, but he didn’t. Perhaps, this was not what he had expected, but he trusted that it was what God wanted.
We met Thomas last week. He was in the depths of despair and grief; he was missing his Master, and basically his friends, the other disciples, met him with words, not “it may never happen” but rather “Cheer up! It has happened! Jesus is alive!” And Thomas, being the kind of person who needed more than just words of comfort, didn’t hold back. He basically said “I refuse to believe it. Piss off.” In his fear and sadness he could not accept what was being said to him. And, quite frankly, I don’t blame him.
So what happened? Thomas to see, to touch, to feel, in order to truly come to terms with what had happened. Words from others weren’t enough for him. And Jesus recognised that, and gave him what he needed. And the wonderful thing was that Jesus didn’t lay anything heavy on Thomas, or make him feel to blame for needing to touch. No, “Peace be with you,” he said ~ don’t worry, take your time, look and feel, and then believe. Even then, Thomas could have refused, he could have turned away, but he didn’t; he accepted the invitation to feel, to consider, to make up his mind, to trust that this was in fact true. Jesus was alive.
Then there was Peter. He had seen the Risen Lord. He had been there when Jesus entered the room, and said “Peace be with you”. He believed. But he was still cast down; he was still confused. Why? Because he had failed his Lord. He had done something he felt was unforgiveable. He could not accept that Jesus still loved him.
But Jesus took time to reassure him that he was forgiven, he was loved, he would always be loved. Again, Peter could have turned away from that forgiveness that Jesus was freely offering him; he could have refused to answer that question “Do you love me?” , he could have walked back to the fire and the frying fish, and sat down with his friends. But he didn’t. Difficult as it was, he trusted Jesus, and he faced up fully to what Jesus was saying. It took him time, it wasn’t easy, but he accepted God’s love and care, and forgiveness. He trusted God.
Life isn’t easy. We all know that. We all have our problems and sadnesses. We know that Paul went on to spend time in prison before being executed, Peter was given a hint of what he would face in later life. We know that many of us will be seriously ill sometime in the future, as cancer affects 50% of the human race in one form or another; we know that our loved ones will die, or become ill; we may well face money problems, or mental health issues. Let’s face it, life is shitty sometimes.
BUT – and this is so important – we worship a God who loves us, and who will bring us to life eternal. The Psalm that we read is the story of our lives: sometimes it seems God hides his face from us, and we are afraid; other times it is that he lifts us from our enemies, and we rejoice. But God is always there, providing what we need. Our life is full of good times and bad. But God is there through it all. And if we trust him, there will be a way through the bad times – not being lifted miraculously out of the situation, but through it. But like Paul, like Thomas, like Peter, it isn’t enough to understand this intellectually: we need to accept the solution that God is offering us; we need to accept that God has our well being – and that is God’s understanding of our wellbeing, not ours! – in his hands.
When I had cancer, I prayed, as I know many others did, for healing. I still had a shitty year of it, with surgery, and chemo, and radiotherapy, but God was there through it, and yes, I was brought to healing. My healing was life. We need to accept that for others healing and wholeness might come through death. But however those prayers for healing are met, God brings us through the situation.
God does offer us what we need, but we have to trust him, and accept that answer to our needs. It may not come as we hope, or expect, but it will be what we need. Remember what Paul says, that we worship the Lamb that was slaughtered who is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing! And this God is full of love for us. The love that touches and heals, that brings us back to life.
Let us pray
Lord God, we pray that you would always remind us that, as we sang in the hymn, When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain, your touch will bring us back to life. Help us to accept your touch, help us to know your forgiveness, help us to share your love, that springs green and new in our hearts.