Welcome to our weekly video service, for which the link is:
This week, I am emulating supermarkets by offering you a BOGOF (Buy One, Get One Free)! There are two different reflections available to you on this morning’s Scripture readings. One – touching on the arbitrary nature of suffering and natural disasters, and suggesting that, despite the mystery of suffering, there is an underlying hope, in God, that is deeply reliable and trustworthy. That is in the video service.
The other reflection comes at the Genesis reading about Jacob and Esau from a different angle, and invites us to reflect that God doesn’t call the most obvious people – so, are we listening for His call? For that, you will need to join us in St Peter’s for our service at 10am.
We were so delighted last Sunday to begin worshiping together in our lovely church building again – for the first time since 15th March! – with more than 60 people making their communion (a lot, of course, are still, of necessity, shielding for some time, so we very much look forward to them joining us in due course. Stay safe and well.) We are so grateful to Canon Sue Wallace for her feisty and inspiring sermon – a real tonic!
It was also lovely to preside on Wednesday at the first Mass in St Stephen’s since the lockdown. Sunday services there will recommence with Solemn Mass at 10.45 am today. Welcome back! Paul Coote has asked me to remind those of you who have collection boxes for Lebombo that he would gladly collect them from you over these next few weeks, and direct the funds to the right place.
Slowly, and surely, we are moving forwards where we can. Please, be patient, be vigilant and keep waiting on God in prayer.
These video services seem (from viewing numbers) to have been appreciated, so they will continue. Do commend them to anyone who you feel might be interested. They don’t, as I see it, take the place of worship in our church buildings, rather, they offer in addition a different, more informal style of worship, enabling you to sit in your own home, with a cup of something warming – and switch the preacher off if you want, or return and replay to enable you to gently mull over things. Sounds all good to me!
Enjoy the week!
Any of you ever heard something like this at home?
Mother: “Hush! You two children are always quarrelling. Why can’t you agree once in a while?”
Georgia: “We do agree, Mum. Sarah wants the largest apple and so do I.”
My sister hates it when I invade her privacy. It’s written clearly right here in her diary.
Let’s play Cinderella, you can be the ugly step-sister.
Sibling rivalry is old as the hills – the ancient Greeks talked about the rivalry between Hermes and his older brother Apollo. But even that is not as ancient as the sibling rivalry between Jacob and his older twin, Esau!
So, the surface problem today, is sibling rivalry and dysfunctional families.
But there’s another issue underlying that, for which the book of Job gives us a helpful timeframe and pre-creation perspective. It’s focussed in a question:
Why did God prefer Jacob, rather than Esau?
As we dig under the surface of that question, we’re faced with the mystery of suffering and its often-arbitrary nature.
I believe that the book of Job can help us. It begins, as we have done today, with a specific example of a general problem, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’. And it begins by making it clear that Job is a good-living man.
Then it pans the camera out from its focus on that one person, and it achieves the widest focus possible – it takes us outside of the limitations of time and place, to the court of the King of All – Yahweh, “One day the Sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, and among them was Satan.” Now, that’s the crux of the mystery with which we live; we simply don’t know how it is, or why it is, that Satan – who is shown to be a trouble-maker on a cosmic scale – is amongst those whom the writers of the book of Job calls ‘Sons of God’ – I’m presuming that’s shorthand for ‘members of God’s close inner circle ‘ his court, within kingly terms of reference.
There has been much speculation, of course, but no lastingly satisfactory answers, to the thorny questions as to why Satan has so much power – and uses it to catastrophic effect – and why God allows it.
Job was faced with those questions as his life fell apart at the hands of Satan. And, for us too – we are faced with those questions as millions of lives fall apart in this pandemic. Why?
Matthew shows Jesus speaking, in our Gospel reading, about ‘the evil one’ (Satan, by any other name) – who ‘comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart’, – so Jesus has a clear awareness of this problem. Further, the Sower in this parable had to contend with trouble and persecution, and Job also had these ‘natural disasters’ – and we also know all about ‘natural disasters’, feelingly …!
Jesus links these disasters to how people exercise their choices – and that has to be a part of it all; but not the whole. For the Bible makes it clear that Job was a good man, who made good choices, but, nonetheless, very bad things happened to him. And we probably know quite a few people like that.
However, the arbitrary nature of evil and suffering are starkly clear in the story of sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau – why? – because neither of them is shown as a good-living person, but Jacob thrives, and he doesn’t deserve to – he was a ruthless cheat, who manipulated those closest to him to his own ends; whereas, by contrast, Esau doesn’t thrive – and he was also a pretty unattractive character! What is that about? Why is God, through undeserved grace, allowing one brother to thrive but not the other? These questions ought to trouble us – as undeserved suffering throughout the world undoubtedly does – but we have ‘no answer’. We must live with this uncomfortable mystery.
Both Job and Genesis are clear that God is in control. In the book of Job, Satan has to return to Yahweh each time he wants to inflict more suffering on Job. But there is no answer to the question, ‘Why does God allow this?’.
And, looking at Jesus’ parable, why could not the Sower (who stands for God) have found a sheltered but well-watered plot of land for his planting, and made sure, as you or I might do, before sowing that the ground was free of rocks, thorns, thistles and all that might hinder growth? Why did God allow life to be so very afflicted and conflicted?
The parable’s interpretation is that each of us who hears the ‘word’ of God has choice about how we respond. And how we exercise that choice makes a difference. So, we are wise to get on with making some choices that carefully informed by Godly wisdom.
Meanwhile, the mystery of evil and suffering is a mystery we will just have to live with. But we have a degree of control over how we are with each other.
Notice though – the overall message, seems to be about God, not about us: you simply can’t do anything to make God love you more than God does at this moment… and you also can’t do anything to make God love you less than God does at this moment. It is all down to God’s grace, not down to what we might deserve.
That’s good news for the Jacobs amongst us.
But what about for Esau? He didn’t seem to benefit from God’s grace.
I think Esau’s vindication lies with that of Job, who endured pretty much the worst of what life could throw at him – or you could say, he endured the worst that God allowed Satan to do to him.
Similarly, as God allowed Jesus to suffer on the cross, Jesus suffered the worst of deaths, and that had a cosmic impact for good.
The book of Job ends by again linking the microcosm of Job’s life directly to the macrocosm big-picture of Yahweh. And Job discovers that, all along, he was right to trust God, despite everything. He bows down, “I knew you then only by hearsay; but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract all I have said, and in dust and ashes I repent.” For years he had raged a bit, and trusted, but now he knew for sure he was right to trust Yahweh.
Look at it from another angle: C.S. Lewis created the world of Narnia, with the Great Lion, Aslan, as a form of Christ. And once Aslan is resurrected the Great Lion leads Susan and Lucy to the seat of the Witch’s power, where he breathes on the stone animals and beasts and creatures and they all come to life again. Aslan explains it like this:
“Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we know that, in the end, all shall be well, and that we are held, lovingly,
through life – with its nasty bits, such as sibling rivalry, through all kinds of inexplicable sufferings
and through death,
by the living God;
who on the cross made it clear for all time how things truly are, and have been since before time began. Because of that deep and lasting truth,
we are able to say, with the prophet, Job, (Job 19: 25):
“I know that my redeemer lives;
that in the end he will stand upon the earth,
that after this skin has been destroyed,
in my flesh, I will see God.”
That ~ nothing less! ~ is the message of hope for us to share with the world. +