This blog is based on a sermon I gave very recently on the question of is God a micro-manager invading every aspect of our lives, or does he simply set the parameters and rely on humanity responding accordingly? You don’t have to be a student of history – or even theology – to know and understand the contradictory nature of human beings, capable of extreme acts of good and evil in equal measure. The two texts that were used in the service were psalm 146, where the psalmist extols and gives praise for God’s help and John’s Gospel, chapter 10 vv 22-30, the story of how the Jews rejected Jesus because he refused to tell them if he was the longed-for Messiah of their expectations, rather than the itinerant teacher who declared himself one with the Father through the works he undertook in his Father’s name. Below is the transcript of the sermon where I presented my understanding of the question.
I have every reason to remember Psalm 146, for while studying for my theology degree at The Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham, I had to write a 3,000 word exegesis essay on it. The term exegesis is linked to another theological term called hermeneutics, where hermeneutics is described as the interpretation of biblical or other literary texts, and exegesis is the outputs or results of the interpretation. Believe me, after that exercise you soon get to know all the ins and outs of what the psalmist was on about!
Here the psalmist begins by declaring his praise to the Lord now and for as long as he lives. From verse 3 we get into the main body of the psalm and here the writer is saying that God’s power is such, that hope for people living in troubled times such as we are experiencing now, is not found in earthly princes or earthly leaders, whose ideas die out when they do. Think of today’s obsession with the superficial cult of celebrity. Hope is to be found in the God of Jacob, the creator God who made heaven and earth and the sea and every living creature. The God of justice and mercy who frees the prisoners, brings relief to the oppressed and sight to the blind. The Lord who looks after the widows and orphans but brings the wicked to ruin. This therefore is the hope, that God will do all these things.
In our gospel reading from John, the Jews demand to know from Jesus is he indeed the Messiah, the one they have been waiting for as predicted by the prophets, the one who in the context of their times would lead the Jewish people to freedom from the oppression inflicted on them by the Romans. But Jesus answered them, “I have told you, but you do not believe; the works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” This itinerant rabbi who has taken to turning the religious establishment upside down, by challenging the hypocrisy of those who profess to rule by God’s law but as we know from other Gospel accounts of Jesus and his teachings, very rarely did so.
He says to the Jews – most likely Pharisees or Scribes rather than the ordinary Jews who later came to baptised in great numbers on Pentecost – “But you don’t believe because you are not part of my flock. You have not chosen to follow me upon hearing my voice.” In other words Jesus is saying to them, you seem to totally misunderstand why I’m here. “I am the source of eternal life, the gifts of my Father are the greatest of all, no one, certainly no earthly being can take them away.” Finally, he says “The Father and I are one.”
In these two passages from Holy Scripture, we can see how both the Psalmist and Jesus himself, declare that God is the ultimate source of all things, who is and was and is to come. The Psalm begins and ends with a call to “Praise the Lord” as do psalms 147-150, all declaring the greatness of God over heaven and earth, all acknowledging the ultimate source of power.
Likewise, we come together to share witness to God’s glory and in the belief of the resurrection of his Son on which our faith is founded. To glorify their names and to seek inspiration so that we may live according to their teachings. Yet we know that we live in a broken world, where we often wonder if things will ever be the same again? We still find ourselves living with COVID and the impact it has particularly on the vulnerable. We are in the midst of a cost of living crisis, a global refugee crisis, a climate and energy crisis, an economic crises due to shortages caused mainly as a consequence of supply chain issues, all likely to be made worse by the war in Ukraine and its impact particularly on supply of wheat and other agricultural products, where Ukraine is a major exporter.
And of course, as if we can forget for the media talk about little else, we have a political crisis, of #partygate and #beergate. Where trust and faith in our politicians is so low, that people become disengaged from the political process and many don’t even bother to exercise their right to vote. A right many good men and women, suffered and in some cases died for us to have. In times such as these more people are asking, “Where is God?”, and not just the usual suspects.
People constantly blame God for the ills of the world and surrounded by numerous examples. But it’s NOT God who is responsible! Poverty, racism, greed and violence, war, economic exploitation, COVID and its variants etc are NOT God ordained; these are of human origin, in the same way much of the good things in this world are also of human origin. It is us, humanity, which have let these things happen and it is up to us to solve them.
Corruption and abuse of power among those in authority is hardly new, it’s as prevalent now as it was back then. Jesus often called out the corrupt elite and they killed him for it. Yet we have seemingly become immune to it, most of us look the other way, we shrug our shoulders and say, “If it doesn’t affect me directly then it’s not my problem, I don’t want to get involved.” Sadly, this means that even where good and talented people do exist, they too prefer to keep away from what they see as a tainted system. A system so tainted, that any chance of meaningful reform and a return to the values of love and service to others at the centre of public life is further diminished.
The reason we believe in the good that the Lord brings is because we have hope that he sends and has sent among all this chaos, those who work to right the wrongs of the world. It began with sending of the prophets, then with Jesus, the apostles, St Paul and the early church fathers. In today’s secular world we think of those gifted in the fields of science and technology, the humanities, literature & the arts, sport, economics – yes even people with Theology degrees.
God is NOT some earthly micro-manager type who is constantly looking over our shoulders to see what we are up to. God set the parameters of human existence yet trusts us to respond and when we don’t – which is frequently – still forgives and says try again, very often by guiding us in the most unexpected of ways.
By sending his son to show us the way, by sacrificing himself so that we may live again, in a few weeks’ time we will come together to celebrate the feast of Pentecost; our chance to once again re-engage with the Holy Spirit.
By doing so, we can be the example to others in how we live our lives, to be that witness to God’s ultimate power over all things, so that we too can – not without some difficulty it must be said – hope to become one with the Father.