I want to share with you two good news stories that have come my way over the last couple of weeks. As I tell you them I do so with the people’s permission and as an act of encouragement to all of us that God is with us even in these times of uncertainties and doubts.
Story number one is about a lady from our previous church. When I was there I invited and encouraged people to become involved in helping to lead worship. Thankfully some did respond and this story is about one lady who offered to help. After we moved to our current church, St Michael’s, she has continued in the life of her church and its worship. As time passed by she felt an ever increasing sense of serving God in a more structured way. She called me with the exciting news that she had applied, been accepted and was now in training with the Church if Scotland as an OLM, Ordained Local Minister. She remembered the encouragement offered and phoned me to thank me for, in a very small way, acting as a sort of springboard for her and the ministry she is now training for.
Story number two is about our son-in-law who works for the Church of Scotland in Livingston. Already having achieved a BSc in Mathematics and Physics some ten years ago, he has just completed a two year ‘Master of Theology in Ministry Studies’. He received a phone from the university last week to tell him he is to be awarded the ‘John Hope Prize’ in Practical theology.
As I said in my introduction, there are good news stories happening even now. There are some people for whom their faith is being tested, for others there may be doubts about so many things, not least the future. I share these stories to offer all of us a hope that the light of God is still shining even in the dark.
Reading: Job 38:1-7
Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Last week when we looked at the reading from Ecclesiastes we discovered the author asking the big question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’
From the beginning of time people have been asking questions. Through all ages until our present time we want to know the answers. I realise every generation could add on the strap line, ‘like no other time in history, we need answers.’ This tells me that actually each generation, each time in history, mirrors the others. The particular issues of each time in history may be unique but our desire to solve the mystery remains an inbuilt component of our psyche. We have used different methods over the years as technology plays a bigger part in our lives. Do you remember the day when before a journey you would sit down with the road maps checking then double checking the road numbers and the motorway junction numbers you had to exit so that you arrived at your destination? Work out where comfort stops should be taken. Before setting off you ask others the best route to take. On the journey you would ask the co-pilot, better known as the back seat driver, to keep a watchful eye. Truth be told you don’t actually ask they just instinctively offer the advice. Now you buy a wee box, fit it to your windscreen, or you take out your smartphone, enter the postcode of your destination, and off you go. These mini computers do the thinking for you. They ask some satellite way up in the skies all the questions that you used to ask of the road maps.
We still need the answers but we have a new way of asking the questions. Video footage of CCTV on our streets allow people to retrace movement of people before and after an event. People with dash cams fitted to their cars more and more are being asked to provide evidence on issues that occur on our roads. Cyclist have mini cameras fitted to their helmets recording their journey. I wonder if people occasionally go into churches looking for answers on where they are going on their journey? Who would have thought at the beginning of the year attending worship would involve logging in details and passwords to go online? What does my life mean? What am I supposed to do? Does anything matter anymore? Is it the Churches who possess the answers? Or is our responsibility to point people in the direction leading them to discover for themselves God is the answer. Take Job for instance. Job seeks answers from God. He feels sorry for himself. We discover as we read through the book of Job the enemy have taken possession of his property, his family is lost to the elements. He is covered, head to foot, with loathsome sores. His wife holds him in contempt: “Do you hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” Amid this misfortune, Job questions God. “Why”. “Why not destroy my life altogether? What hope is compelling me to care about life?” Job receives his reply. But he gets no answers. We join the story as question upon shattering question is fired back at him. “Where you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it. What holds up the pillars that support the earth? Who closed the gates to hold back the sea when it burst from the womb of the earth? Declare to me if you have knowledge!” And so it goes on, Job’s pleadings thrown in his face and God now asking the questions. Leaf through the pages of Scripture: “Adam, where are you?” God’s challenge to Moses, “Will you lead my people?” to Isaiah, “Who will go? Whom shall I send?” and to Job: “Brace yourself, stand with courage and I will question you.” God taking the initiative as we make our response. How often it happens when we look for answers, we end up getting more questions. This works with the big questions as well as the lesser important ones. I often ask Ingrid, ‘what’s for dinner tonight?’ Her response far too often is, ‘I don’t know, what do you fancy? Oh my goodness, how frustrating a question answered with another question. Stop making me look for an answer and just tell me what it is. Don’t make me take any more responsibility than I have too. The question sets the conditions for the answer. If it is too restrictive, such as, ‘Can I help you?’ you get the short one-word answer, yes or no. If it is broader based, such as, ‘How may I help you?’ it requires more from the one being questioned. Ask the wrong questions, you may get the wrong answers. ‘Can I help you?’ No. That’s that then end of conversation. I wonder if people are looking for a religion that poses fewer problems and prescribes more cures, a religion to solve the riddles of existence. “Who will save us?” “Why this loneliness and heartbreak?” “Why is there all this injustice in the world?” I think this is where we need to be careful. None of us can provide all the answers and each of us need to be alert to the attraction of being able to offer them. I believe the church is in a position to offer those who are seeking an answer a way of finding it in the person of Christ Jesus. I think realizing our full humanity lies in questions being asked and answers being thought through. God stands as the question mark on the edges of social justice. Compelling us to ask about the young people without jobs and the prisoners without hope. Inviting us to search the reasons why cities and towns are broken with hostile neighbourhoods. God comes asking the questions on behalf of men and women with no fixed address, the men, women and children beaten and bruised in their own homes. God can be found in the tears of the lonely as they hunger for encouragement and grasp for friendship. God comes to you and I, the ones who make up his church here on earth, the ones who pray, your will not mine be done. And he asks us some serious questions as we trust his love lies at the heart of it all. Are you available? Do you care? Can you meet me there? “Brace yourself”. He says
“Stand with courage and I will question you.”