Sermon for the Third Sunday of Trinity
24th Mar 2019
The Third Sunday of Lent Year C.
1 Corinthians 10. 12 “God is faithful”.
In today’s reading Jesus recalls a human tragedy, of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam, which killed 18 people, and with it the question which plays upon everyone’s lips. It is a question which honestly doubts the existence of a loving God because of the existence of impossible amounts of human suffering. And so we ask ‘Why suffering?’ Or, ‘Why does God allow so much suffering?’ The news this week of the three teenagers crushed to death at a party in Ireland, the thousands drowned in the floods in Mozambique as well as those slaughtered in New Zealand confounds any easy belief in God who stands for ever as the ‘easy answer’.
It is only natural that faith in a loving God is tested. It is not possible for the Christian to justify the existence of God apart from the fragility of our existence. Nor is it proper to use God as a tool to assuage grief. At times of great and unbearable tragedy and loss the voices of sorrow and anguish are not silenced, and many cry out to God to invoke his blessing on the dead and upon the suffering. Our Epistle this morning has St Paul remind us that in all this “God is faithful’. God is present both in terms of the present tense (here; now) but also present in the profound sense of ‘being in the midst of’ and truly ‘in and with’ the devastation after the storm that has broken.
In what sense then, can God, given the evidence to the contrary, ‘remain faithful’? God is not the One who changes the basic laws of nature and gravity. Jesus, God’s Son, beholds the world as he finds it, in all its beauty and brutality. Jesus enters into this world’s pain as he finds it. He is ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’. He is a healer and a mender of lives. He does not come to magic away the pain and suffering that surrounds him but to point to the life in and beyond it. His healings are not just literal, final acts of proof for his divinity. Rather, they are signs that point the faithful to a new and larger understanding of their own existence. Jesus stays with so much suffering and struggle rather than avoid them either out of fear or for his own convenience. He accepts the cup of suffering, which will not ‘pass from his lips’. Jesus leads in the direction to which the fuller meaning of human existence tends. It is ultimately borne by Him on the Cross. His Cross can then make sense of our crosses, too. If God is Love then this is a love which will prove trustworthy because based on the truth of what we are and what this world really is. Jesus does not take away the fact of life as a running of risks and the endurance of trials and tragedies of many kinds. And along the way many will have lost faith – especially when things have felt forever irreparable and intractable and hopeless. But many too will ‘hang on in there’ not out of desperation but out of real hope and trust beyond any ready assurance.
On July 7th 2005, the day of 7/7, I found myself here in King’s Cross, in the middle of a group of people, transport police, firemen, chaplains and railway personnel standing one or two hundred feet above a hell. Down below, in the depths of King’s Cross Underground Station, I later learned, lay a scene of almost unimaginable horror. I remember the feeling above ground of the eerie silence that befell King’s Cross on that day, and the sense of dislocation, both emotionally and in relation to the quietness. Everything seemed out of place. But in all that awful strangeness something quite remarkable was beginning to take place. Helpers on the ground were going about doing their duty and doing it without fuss, thoughtfully and carefully. In and through the horror and the chaos there began the doing of ‘mending work’ - in the ordinary business of caring, reassuring, saving, listening; of the showing of basic human concern with generosity and of kindness. Of the training which was revealing itself on a day that should never have come. The Salvation Army personnel had set up a refreshment centre after commandeering McDonalds. All these kind human works, were, in the midst of this terrible event, for me, the revealing of the faithfulness and the gentleness of the living God, who, from within the heart of human devastation, was working through ordinary individuals. In this activity lay no cure or answer for all that devastation but at least the beginning of its mending. Archbishop Donald Coggan once said, “With the breaking comes the re-making”.
Christian Faith is tested in the keeping of those questions which cannot in this life have ready or easy answers. The message to us at this stage in the Lenten season is that God remains and his mercy lies ever before us. The Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner….’ has now become the prayer of Humble Access, the way of communicating our need in the acknowledgement of God and ourselves as just we are; just as we find ourselves. There is too the reaching out for God’s mercy as though it were a living stream. As the Prayer Book reminds us, ‘We know of what we are made’ Carl Jung once said ‘Bidden or not bidden, God is present’. God is indeed present and faithful. He, above all others, knows of what we are made. Our trust lies in that mind which is God’s alone. We stand for ever in need of God’s loving mercy. We maintain such faith not as ignorant of the question of human suffering but in realization of its reality – its gravity and normalcy. Jesus holds before us a costly love which stands as faith’s ultimate challenge : the love which for St Paul ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things’. (1 Corinthians 13.7-8).
This is the love which has a correspondent. This is the love that never ends. This is the Way of Christ. This is our necessary Cross.