God. Where are you?

Sermon for Ash Wednesday (Isaiah 58:1-12)

Do you ever get the feeling that God is just not there? I think we perhaps all experience this sometimes. I want to read to you the opening paragraph of a play called “Racing Demon” by David Hare. The character is the Reverend Lionel Espy. He is kneeling on the ground. He is in his fifties with a bald head fringed with white hair. He wears a black cassock. He is addressing God.

God. Where are you? I wish you would talk to me. God. It isn’t just me. There’s a general feeling. This is what people are saying in the parish. They want to know where you are. The joke wears thin. You must see that. You never say anything. All right, people expect that, it’s understood. But people also think, I didn’t realise when he said nothing, he really did mean absolutely nothing at all….(1)

Hmm it can be a very lonely place to be in when God seems that distant. Of course there are many reasons why we may find ourselves on the rocky road of doubt and our reading from Isaiah sheds some light on why sometimes it may seem as if God is simply not saying anything at all.

As we look at the reading we see that every day the people are seeking God, like they are knocking on the door of Heaven and there is no one in. They are asking themselves ‘what was the point of our fasting, it hasn’t got us anywhere?’ They thought they could somehow make God take notice of them by how religious they were. It’s all very well fasting but it doesn’t impress God at all because they are also exploiting their workers and fighting with each other.
God is only interested in an outward show of religion if it is accompanied by kindness and acts of love and generosity.

We need to be so careful don’t we? We can go through the routine of going to church, receiving communion, singing hymns, saying prayers, shaking hands at the peace and so on – we can do all those things without having a living, vital relationship with God.

From verse 6, God tells the people the kind of religious observance He expects of them:

6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

If our faith is real, if it is genuine then we will want to express our love for Jesus in practical ways. Imagine if all we ever did was tell our wife or husband or children that we love them but never actually did anything to show or demonstrate that love! In a much greater way we need to show our love for God in the way that we do things to demonstrate it.

So what do we do? We need to show acts of kindness, acts of charity and acts of generosity.
Do we find it hard to be kind and generous to our spouse and children? Of course not! We love to buy presents and do things that make those whom we love happy and smile. Well then let’s think like this when we want to please God. When we help someone imagine God’s smile. When we show a stranger an act of kindness, imagine God’s pleasure. When we give even a little money to help those who are suffering in another country and when we show compassion, don’t you think that causess delight in heaven?

As Christians we have to walk the walk not just talk the talk. Our words and our outward devotion have to be at least matched but what we do in secret to help others.
Here’s a great quote from John Wesley:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all people you can, as long as ever you can.(2)

And do you know what will happen if we can even begin to do this? Our relationship with God will take off onto another level! Listen again to verses 8 and 9:

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

There can be numerous reasons why in our journey with God He can seem very far away and distant, but one possible explanation is that we have just not been demonstrating our love for Him. In the same way our partner or children would reluctantly begin to shun us if we ignored them, so God may turn away (a little) from us. As I said, it can be for different reasons but if God seems far away and at the same time we are not being particularly kind or charitable then perhaps there is our answer.

And what better time than Lent to begin to turn things around? This very night let us recommit ourselves to serve Jesus by ministering to others with acts of love and kindness, always bearing in mind that the very least we can do is give our lives to the One who gave His life for us… Amen.
(1) David Hare “Racing Demon”, 1990, Faber & Faber p.1
(2) http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/c/charitable_giving.htm

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