Where is God?
Where is God?:Zephaniah 1:7-18,1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Matthew 25:14-30
On the third of August, 2007, a seventeen month old child was taken to a London hospital, where the child was pronounced dead. The child had very severe injuries. Now three people await sentencing for, “causing or allowing the death of a child”. During the course of the last week there has been extensive news coverage of the case, and angry exchanges in parliament. We don't even know the child's name, just “Child P”.
Over the last two months, around 250,000 people have fled from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That's the about the same number people who live in the whole of Stoke on Trent. They are homeless and starving, their children are being stolen to fight in child armies. All this is mainly because of the great mineral riches that exist under the ground that they live on, and the fighting over the control of those riches.
These are just two examples of radical evil that we see in the world around us. Darkness so deep that we don't even know how to respond. We flick over the radio or TV channel because we don't want to think about it. When we are forced to focus we find tears coming to our eyes.
The other reaction that I found springing up in me was one of, “What are you up to God? Why is this happening? What are you going to do about it?” How can I continue to believe in and trust a God who allows this stuff to go on, who doesn't make it stop?
It is with this background of what has been in the news this week, and which has been swirling around my head, that I came to the readings for this week. It seems to me that they might start to give us a few things that we can hold onto when we are confronted with these kind of events.
The first thing that I want to talk about is “The Day of the Lord”. This phrase appears in both the reading from Zephaniah, and in the letter to the church at Thessalonica. But these aren't the only places it is found, it appears as a running theme through much of the Old Testament, in the teaching of Jesus and in the writings of some of the first Christians.
Zephaniah was a prophet to the people of God, someone who spoke out for God into the culture that he lived in. At the time he lived, about 600 years before Jesus was born, the people were not following God faithfully. They were worshipping idols, things that they had made had become more important to them than the God who had made them. They were indifferent towards God and were doing evil things. So Zephaniah reminded them about the Day of the Lord, with a terrible warning. On the Day of the Lord, there will be light shining into dark places. On the Day of Lord those who believe that they are going to get away with the evil that they do will be bought to justice. On the Day of the Lord, those who put trust in money and things, rather than in God will be shown to be fools. On the Day of the Lord there will be judgement and justice.
When Paul writes to the Thessalonians it is this idea that he has in mind when he says that the believers know that the Day of the Lord will come suddenly, and bring destruction and pain. By now, a bit more is known about the Day of the Lord. Jesus has come and lived on earth, been killed and raised to life. He has returned to his Father, but he will come back to earth. At that time, the Day of the Lord, he will put a final end to evil and his light will shine into every heart and mind.
But hold on a minute, the Day of the Lord sounds like a dreadful thing. How can it be helpful to our thinking about evil? Well, as I read about these things I am reassured that in the end justice will be done. God is not blind or deaf, God sees and hears the cries of the hurting and the oppressed, and there will be punishment for those who are part of causing it. The Day of the Lord will be a dreadful time for those who still live in darkness.
That's all very well, but what about now? There are people being hurt, oppressed, murdered now. Saying that there is a time coming when justice will be done is all very well, but it's not much comfort now. The promise that this is coming doesn't appear to be stopping anybody doing evil now? Where is God now?
We've already said that Jesus came to earth and has returned to the Father, until he returns. But he did not leave the earth unchanged. When he was here he found people who followed him, and whom he sent out to proclaim his Kingdom, and to take his light into the darkness.
Before the invention of the internet, the telephone, the telegraph, the train, the automobile, communication between places could take a long time, limited to the speed at which a horse could run. But for some, urgent, messages, this was not quick enough. Especially if a barbarian hoard had just landed. So, systems of beacon fires were set up, on hill and mountain tops. At the first sign of danger the fire would be lit. It would be seen on the next hill and their fire would be lit, and so on until a chain of beacon fires from the coast to the capital could be seen giving their warning message.
A beacon fire was lit in Palestine 2,000 years ago. Since that time a chain of light has spread over countries and centuries shining light into darkness, carrying a message that the King is on the move. We are now the torch bearers of the light that we have been given. We are responsible for lighting the beacon of the good news of God's Kingdom in our lives and in our communities. We are responsible for shining light into the dark places.
In the reading we heard from Matthew's gospel we see what this coming kingdom is like. Sometimes I think that the use of the word, “talents” in this story can mislead us a little bit. In the story Jesus talks about the servants being given bags of gold. Because we use the word “talents” for these, we can sometimes be a bit blinkered into thinking that they represent the things we're good at, our natural talents. Whilst it is important to think about using the things we are good at in God's service, it seems to me that there is more meaning to this story than this. It is also about how we spend our salvation.
To see what I mean by this, it might help to think about the talents representing the light that shone into our lives when we came to know Jesus. As if we were given a candle. The story asks us what we are going to do with our candle. Are we going to use it to shine light into dark places, perhaps to light other candles? If we do then we will see an increase in the amount of light. Or, are we going to hide our candle under a bowl, to keep the light to ourselves. If we do, we will find that the candle will go out, and we will find ourselves in darkness again.
Where is God now? God is with us, by the Holy Spirit, as we take the light that we have been given and use it to take on the darkness. And it's not as if we are defenceless in this fight. As Paul reminds us, we have a armour: faith, hope and love. Faith in the one who has saved us, and who sends us to bring good news to the world. Hope that sustains us when the darkness around us seems to breed despair. Love for Creator God and for the people around us. These are things of strength and power that can defeat evil, when we use them wholeheartedly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It is in this faith, hope, and love, that we use our time and money to get involved in projects that support those who live on the edges of our society. The poor, the vulnerable, the stranger, the old and the young. It is in this faith, hope, and love that we share the good news of Jesus with our friends, work colleagues, and neighbours in the way that we live and in the words that we say. It is in this faith, hope and love that we build each other up and encourage each other in our walk together with God.
So, we don't know when the Day of the Lord will come, when Jesus will return in glory, to judge the living and the dead. But we do know that he will come, as surely as day follows night. We can trust him with our cries for justice. In the meantime, we have been given light, and it is no use us cursing and lamenting the darkness, if we are not straining every sinew and doing all that we can in order to share that light.