160 10.4.11 God's own time Morland Passion Sunday
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tid, Mid, Miserai
The church used to count its way through Lent with this rhyme. 'Tid' was the second Sunday in Lent, when, apparently, the Te Deum was on the agenda; Mid apparently refers to a hymn 'Mi Deus', sung on the third; Miserai is the psalm 'Miserere Mei', sung on the fourth; and here we are on Carlin Sunday.
That's not what I want to talk about this morning, but I can't let it pass without mentioning the ancient Morland carlin tradition. In the days when the Dragon ruled the King's Arms, on this day you could always get a dish of carlin peas there.
And if you don't know who the Dragon was, and if you don't know where
the King's Arms was, and if you don't know what carlins are, ask me over
coffee at the end of this service.
Now to the point.
'When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.'
You dial 999 for an ambulance. It sets out, but then the driver takes a two-day trip around the Scottish Highlands before he gets to your door. Satnav gone mad? Or just sheer perversity? He probably wouldn't keep his job long.
But this is just what Jesus did. Well, He didn't go on holiday exactly,
but He was apparently pretty slow in setting out for Bethany.
So many questions arise from this story, not least, 'Why Lazarus and not somebody else?' It's in the nature of things that there were people sick and dying all the time, just as there still are. We can't attempt to answer, 'Why Lazarus and not somebody else?'
But what I want to focus on is: Why did He stay where He was? The fact was that there was something only He knew. 'This sickness will not end in death,' He said, 'but it is for God's glory, so that God's son may be glorified through it.'
Jesus stayed where He was to pray. He spent two days in prayer. And then when He finally came to Bethany, He was upbraided for being late, and told that by now the body would have started to decompose. Doesn't the AV put it beautifully: 'By this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days.'
Jesus knew better. He had not been praying for power to raise Lazarus.
He had found out that Lazarus was already no longer dead. He knew that
there would not be a terrible smell. All it needed was for the stone to
be rolled away and for Him to command Lazarus to come out. What a strange
sight it must have been, all wrapped in his grave-windings.
I expect that we can all remember instances where things turned out quite
unexpectedly. And it seems to happen too often for it to be just coincidence.
I'd been talking to Stewart last week about the number of things around
the world that seem to be going wrong; about how we feel sometimes that
we are overwhelmed and don't know where to start - what to pray for and
how to pray; what to do and what not to do. And the hymn book fell open
at No. 176, which we will shortly be singing as our Offertory hymn.
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;/ It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:/ When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again/ A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue/ The theme of God's salvation,
and find it ever new./ Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can
say,/ Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.
I don't know why the hymn book fell open at that hymn, but this kind
of thing happens too often for it to be coincidence.
We are not puppets on strings. God does not direct our every step, but how often we realise afterwards that He was there in some crisis or other.
It's over 40 years since I took what turned out to be a wrong turning in life. It resulted in my arrival in Morland and the best part of six years which might be described as 'in the wilderness,' but since then many good things have come my way.
I don't think I'm being controlled like a puppet, but I do think that
I've been encouraged to use whatever gifts I have. I hope that others
feel that that has been useful. I do believe that I have met people who
I was meant to meet, and I have learned from them. Who knows what would
have happened if I had not taken that wrong turning? I'm quite clear that
that event was my choice: it was not directed by God, but He has then
enabled me to find a new way.
There's another hymn, not in our book, that I'd like to point you to. Well, it's not really a hymn: it's some verses from the Old and the New Testaments, as well as lines from Martin Luther and others, set as one of J.S.Bach's earliest cantatas:
'God's own time is the best, is ever best of all./ In him we live, move and have our being/ As long as he wills/ And in him we die at his good time./ O Lord, incline us to consider that our days are numbered,/ make us apply our hearts unto wisdom'
and so on. (Perhaps this cantata should be the next big project for the choir.)
Isn't it easy to sing our hymns without any thought? Now that you know
what the theme is for today, perhaps you'll be able to spot why I've chosen
the hymns I have chosen. Perhaps when you have made your communion, you
might come back to your seat and look up any of the hymns on the board
and use them as your own post-communion prayer.
We seem to come back to this topic so often. At times it seems so difficult. At times it seems useless. At times we might think that we are speaking into an empty space. At times we are asking for something that we are sure is good for us and is what we need. And it appears not to be answered. Sometimes an answer comes later, sometimes much later. God's time is the best, we realise afterwards. He really did and does know better.
And sometimes the answer is not one we would have chosen. Sometimes it is painful. In the 15th chapter of John's gospel, we read: "'I am the true vine,' says Jesus, 'and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit; and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it can bear more fruit.'"
I've put that last phrase in bold in my script. If we pray (and mean it) 'Thy will be done', we must be ready for the consequences. If Jesus finds that we are bearing fruit, we'll be pruned, so that we can bear more.
Sometimes that pruning might be very pleasant and congenial. Prayer, talking with God on a pleasant sunny day, and receiving the Sacrament, might be a happy and rewarding experience.
Sometimes it might involve pain and sickness. We can all think of people
who suffer in one way or other whose life is a model and an example to
us. We can all think of poets, like William Cowper, who in the midst of
their difficulties and anguish produce deep insights and powerful poetry.
So we have to remember that God has really taken us at our word. If we asked in his name to do his will, we can be sure that whatever else we go through, it is for God's sake that we are doing it, and indeed He will give us the strength to do it.
And although the current outlook of our lives might for some appear to be dismal and sad, there will be brighter days ahead; it is just that we cannot yet see these days.
When we are going through a period of pain or uncertainty, we should
remember that the end result of this period of pruning will be that we
can live fuller lives bearing more fruit. And eventually we will able
to enjoy far more than whatever it is we asked God to do for us!
Lest you think I'm brilliant, I'll tell you that I have taken the closing parts of these thoughts from a sermon on the Internet. Plagiarism, you might call it. Well worth repeating, I say.
God's time is the prepared time, the time He has chosen. And we don't know when that will be.
God's time for us is any time. We must be ready at all times to hear Him and to act. Being what we are, it is good to have the period of Lent each year to give us time to take stock and prepare for the joy of Easter.
God's time is the best time. If it doesn't look like it viewed from now, we all know that, looking back, it all made sense.
God's time is Covenant time. If we agree our side of the Covenant which He offers, we find blessings poured on us.
God's time is Divine Time. Holy Time. 'Holy' means 'set apart'. If our
lives are 'set apart' for Him, there's no knowing where He will take us,
So let's try not to grumble, with the family of Lazarus, that Jesus should
be here now. Let's pray that we really can be in touch with Him, live
our lives with Him, and accept that He knows best.