God is working his purpose out...(?)
Alison, our Lay Minister took the service of Morning Prayer on Sunday, the second Sunday in Lent. Surrounded by news of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and so many other examples of oppression and injustice, it is hard to trust that God has a purpose for this world...
There have, in the past fortnight, been several memes popping up on my Facebook feed which have been reminders that in the midst of the chaos of this world God is in charge. He is the author of our destiny, we should trust him to guard us and to keep us safe.
And, I’m sorry to say, I greet each one with a sigh and a rolling of my eyes. Because it doesn’t feel like it. For me, it feels like God has thrown up his hands in despair and said “That’s it. I’ve had enough. Get on with it yourselves.” Instead of trusting words from the Psalms, or from well-loved hymns, the words from a song by a band with the curious name of Prefab Sprout echo in my mind
We're only men and women doing what we can Sometimes I think that God is working to a plan
Then other times I swear that he is improvising Discordant and remote Another orphan baby in failed uprising Another real bum note
I swear that God is improvising.
And yet…and yet.
Our old testament reading today tells us of Abraham, promised by God that he would be the father of the People of God, and yet he was childless. The situation seemed hopeless to Abraham, and yet God was there in the midst of it. God was working his purpose out but Abraham could have no idea how.
God had promised and so it would be.
But how? Look at the situation, said Abraham. I’m childless, it is impossible. But somehow, with a bigger faith than mine, Abraham trusted. And God fulfilled the promise.
I look at the world around me, and with fears of what might happen, and what has already happened, with reports of so much poverty, and distress, and oppression, of humankind’s horrendous behaviour towards others I feel helpless. And so often, I feel hopeless.
One of the verses that has been bandied about frequently is the verse from Jeremiah that reads: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. And I cannot help but think Tell that to the Ukrainian mother who in desperation has just handed her child to a stranger, because it seems the only way…tell that to the abused child, who is dying of starvation, or those living in fear of their lives…
To say to them God has promised it; so it will be seems trite and useless. And, worse, unfeeling and unloving: Yes you’re living in Hell. This is God’s plan for you.
But, as always, we are looking at the tiny, finite world. We forget that God’s world is infinite.
So what are we to do, when faced with our fears, our doubts, our own situations which seem hopeless, or the terrible situations of others? What do we do when we cannot believe that God has a plan, or that we can do nothing in the face of all the evil and horror in the world. What can we do, when we swear that God is improvising…?
I think in these situations, we can only admit to God: I can’t. So help me to.
I can’t trust. So help me to.
I can’t believe. So help me to.
I can’t work out what to do. So help me to.
God has a plan. God has a purpose. And we are part of that purpose.
Those who watch British TV may know the programme The Repair Shop. In this programme people bring loved items which are in disrepair to a workshop in a beautifully restored barn, somewhere in the Kentish countryside. There skilled craftspeople bring these items back to their former glory, which usually results in gasps of wonderment, and copious tears. While I love the Teddy Bear Ladies work best of all, who, as their names suggests, restore soft toys, I am always fascinated by the intricate work carried out by Steve, the master clock repairer. I remember one show where he took a clock apart, and there were hundreds of tiny cogs and screws, all of which played a part in the mechanism of this large clock. He said that if one of these cogs, or screws or other tiny parts were missing then the clock would not work…
You may have guessed where I’m going with this…
In the reading from Philippians, the author tells us to remember where our true citizenship is and where we expect our help to come from. Then we have to start living like we believe it as we encourage one another along the way.
We have to start living like we believe it.
What is that phrase? Fake it till you make it. If, for you, in this world, you really can’t believe that God has a plan, or that God is love, then act like you do. Because God needs you. In his plan you are there. You are that tiny cog that is needed to make the plan work. If you are missing, it will not work as well as it might…
We are called on to stand firm in our belief. I’m sure that when the Pharisees came to Jesus and told him that there was a threat of death, Jesus did not just shrug it off. I’m am sure that he felt fear, and doubt about what he was on earth for. But he stood firm, trusting that even if it all seemed hopeless to him, God knew what the plan was. Jesus held onto that trust, and allowed it to lead his actions, rather than just going back to Nazareth and living out his life as a carpenter.
Jesus believed that God had a plan. Maybe he didn’t understand it – remember that somehow, Jesus was not only God’s son, but a fully human man, which would have included doubts, fears, possibly despair and unbelief. But he stood firm.
So when you are beset by similar doubts, and despair, don’t feel you are letting the side down. Tell God. That picture that Susan shared in the Grace notes last week, sums this up beautifully. Go to God with all the jumbled up mess of fear and love and doubt and hopelessness that is in your heart and tell him. And then ask: What is it you want me to do? How am I part of your plan?
A little later we are going to sing a hymn, written in 1894, which includes the words “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year”, a reminder that, even though we can not imagine how it is happening, God is not improvising. There is a verse that is missing from the version in our hymn books, and I think this is pertinent to my thoughts today:
What can we do to work God's work, to prosper and increase
the brotherhood of all mankind, the reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time, the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea?
What can we do?
What did Jesus do when faced with the death threats during his ministry? He reminded Herod, and all those who were causing the misery and horror in the world 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures
What can we do? We can say the same. And do the same.
Helping to feed others is casting out the demon of hunger and want? So whenever you provide a meal or some groceries for someone, you are rejecting the world’s demonic tyranny that demands lower taxes often Offering prayer for someone who is sick, alone or overwhelmed, you reject the world’s implicit message that only the strong and powerful will inherit? Whenever you listen, just listen, to someone who is trying to sort out a problem or recover from a broken relationship, you are helping to cure the misery of rejection and oppression.
We can cast out demons and perform cures by reflecting the love of God: through prayer, through actions. Recently Rob Warren posted something on his Facebook feed which was a quotation from Fred Rogers: When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’
I want to change that a little. Whenever we see scary things in the news or in our world, look for the helpers. And then join them.