He doesn’t make it easy for us

Sermon at St James’, Colwall, Sunday 14 May 2017

John 14:1-14

To listen to the sermon recording as you read:

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father

A few years ago I was playing golf with a good friend of mine. We had just driven our balls down the fairway, which is always pleasing but not always frequent. Then suddenly apropos nothing we had been talking about before my friend said, “He doesn’t make it easy for us does he?” I had no idea what he meant. He wasn’t talking about golf. Who doesn’t make it easy for us? “God, of course,” was the reply. “God hides himself away and it sometimes seems that he is not there.”

I guess most of us have had the experience of praying into nothingness and feeling no response. As Psalm 77 has it: ‘In the time of my trouble I sought the Lord. Will the Lord absent himself for ever?’

We think of the Israelites muttering against God in the wilderness and starting to look favourably at the local gods, even making for themselves a Golden Calf.

We think of poor old Job not knowing that he was the subject of a test between God and Satan and being told by his wife to curse God and die.

Or move forward to later in our Christian era to a Spanish Carmelite monk of the 16th century, St John of the Cross. He it was who gave us the phrase “the dark night of the soul” which has become the term we use for a spiritual crisis that many endure in their search for God. The American author, F Scott Fitzgerald, wrote: “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three in the morning.”

He doesn’t make it easy for us does he?

Well, it has always helped people to look carefully at what God has done both in history and in individual people’s lives. “Thou art the God that doeth wonders and has declared thy power among the people.” Stephen, the first Christian martyr tried this approach when he stood before the Jewish elders as they started to pick up rocks to stone him to death. He tried to explain that God had been working through their ancestors but they had betrayed them. This made them even more angry and they rained down rocks on Stephen as he met his death.

For many questioning Christians there are two apostles to whom they look – Thomas and Philip. Thomas who doubted the resurrection and needed to see the risen Jesus and touch his wounds before being able to say “My Lord and my God.” And then Philip. Both men appear in today’s Gospel reading from John.

Jesus has spoken of going away and finally leaving his friends. Then Thomas questions Jesus: “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” At this Jesus describes himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

So it is now Philip’s turn to jump in: “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” You can then imagine Jesus sighing as Moses might have done with the Israelites, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

What then does this mean for us 2000 years on? Where do we stand?

The first thing to say is that questioning and doubt are all part of the journey of faith. Questioning and doubt are a means by which we grow in faith and move our commitment forward. Even our Lord went through the despair of doubt as he died on that Roman cross – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” A terrible cry at a terrible moment.

So, as we question and doubt, let’s take on board Jesus’ reply to Philip “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” This is the uniqueness of Jesus. The uniqueness of his death and resurrection and the uniqueness of his person, on which we should fasten our attention.

How then do we move from “He doesn’t make it easy for us…” to “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”? We need to get down to earth and be practical.

First we can read and contemplate. Read the New Testament and try reading a gospel at one sitting – nothing like it for getting the evangelist’s view of Jesus.

Second we can look. Find an image of Jesus that speaks to us. Our Orthodox friends use icons to bring their faith alive and to represent their Lord. Many Catholics have the reversed, negative image from the Turin Shroud – whether it is from Jesus himself doesn’t matter – in feeding their faith. So let’s use our eyes and look and find an image of our Lord.

And thirdly we should imitate. In doing what someone else does we can understand him and get alongside him. For St Augustine the imitation of Christ was the fundamental purpose of the Christian life. The ‘Imitation of Christ’ is the title of the most read devotional book after the Bible – written by Thomas a Kempis in the 15th century. The imitation of Christ means asking ourselves what would Jesus have done in a given situation.

The route from “He doesn’t make it easy..” to “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” might well involve: reading the gospels, looking at Jesus and the Imitation of Christ.