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Preacher: Canon Missioner Maggie McLean
Title of sermon: God who will not give up on us
Date/time/service: Sunday 24 July 2022, Choral Evensong, 4pm
What on earth is going on in the book of Genesis?
‘In those days, the Lord said… I must go down and see… I mean to find out’.
So, we might wonder, here is a God who doesn’t know it all. A God who needs to be present and among people in order to ‘find out’. It’s the same God who decides, earlier in Genesis, to ‘walk in the cool of the evening’. I’m quite sure that after last week we can all sympathise with anyone, even God, not wanting to get too hot. But all this might seem rather peculiar if you believe in a God who is omniscient and unchanging. Why would God find the cool of the day any more bearable, or need to ‘get up and go down’ in order to find out?
Perhaps the idea of Genesis is not only that creation begins, but that the human understanding of God also starts a long journey.
In one sense the casting of God as a human character is fully understandable. How else might we talk about God, describe God or relate to God? There is even that hint of kinship from the start of Genesis, that God formed us male and female ‘in his image’.
Like the recent Mystery Plays here in York, God is a character in the story – a dazzling person who commands and argues; condemns and saves.
As Derek Browning, Morningside Parish Church puts it:
‘God is surprising and subversive; God is angry and gentle; God is cool and fiery. God is more than we can ever imagine. In the face of our persistent unfaithfulness, God is persistently faithful. God is no divine doormat, but the relentless, restless Lover who, because of us, despite us, will not give up on us’.
In other words, God isn’t another human being – God is far beyond our imagining and may be experienced and encountered in contrasting ways. However, it is very understandable that in order to talk about our relationship with God we reach for examples of human conduct. After all, as we heard in our Gospel this morning, it’s what Jesus does.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus appears to tell his hearers that it’s never a bad idea to pester God. If you don’t get what you need on first asking, keep asking. Persist. Even, perhaps, become a nuisance. Because, although God might be fed up with you, God might give you your daily bread simply because even God sometimes wants a bit of peace and quiet.
It feels to me that in this teaching Jesus is communicating something absolutely vital to his mission. What we’re not asked for in this parable is sacrifice. The person who petitions brings nothing other than their need in the hope of generosity. This isn’t about burnt offerings to a distant Deity. It’s about honest relationship. Something that becomes possible because, in the text from Colossians, any debt that we had to pay has been cancelled.
Little wonder that this teaching follows the Lord’s Prayer. Not everyone finds it easy to begin an approach to God as ‘Our Father’. Many of us haven’t always had easy times with our parents. However, it seems to me that the key aspect of this prayer is that it begins in the language of close relationship. It is a prayer that places us back in Eden, with a God who walks beside us in the cool of the day. A God we converse with on familiar terms.
The Bible offers us a wealth of stories about how people experienced God. Perhaps like our art installation below the crossing, these are countless reflections and glimpses of light – some that catch our attention and others that seem almost invisible. But together there is a pattern of movement, a direction of travel, and an impetus to which each individual piece of glass contributes.
The people of God, the Church – us together here today – bring our own pieces of reflection, lit by a God we have known at different times and in different places. Sometimes a God who has been near us, and at other times a God more distant. As we focus today on the most familiar prayer of the Christian Church I hope that we are encouraged to hear once again a call to be in relationship with this God: ‘the relentless, restless Lover who, because of us, despite us, will not give up on us’.
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