Have you ever thought that having a relationship with God would make your life easier? With God on your side, you’ll slide through life with no problems, right?
The readings this morning should disabuse you of that notion.
In the Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah rails against God, using words on the edge of blasphemy. Jeremiah has been out doing what God asked Jeremiah to do, and it hasn’t gone as well as the prophet had hoped. Jeremiah says, “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.” He goes on to complain, “All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.”
The psalm offered no comfort either, lamenting:
Save me, O God,
For the waters have risen up to my neck.
I am sinking in deep mire,
And there is no firm ground for my feet.
I have come to deep waters,
And the torrent washes over me.
I have grown weary with my crying;
My throat is inflamed;
My eyes have failed from looking for my God.
Then in our gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” Jesus is himself the master of the house and we are the members of his household, so if Jesus was called Beelzebul, a name for Satan, then how can we who follow him expect to be treated?
This is the Good News? So much for getting comfort from scripture for the week ahead.
Yet, for those who would follow Jesus, perhaps the question is not, “Why do things go wrong for those of us with a relationship with God?” The questions may well be, “Why are things going so well?” “Why aren’t we having more problems?” or for any follower of Jesus, “Why am I not being persecuted?”
Jeremiah did what God asked of him, and he was laughed at. The psalmist tried to follow God’s will and grew weary with crying for justice. Jesus was put to death, and after his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples went on to preach, teach and with the exception of John, the disciples were killed for their faith in Jesus.
So where did we go wrong? Why don’t people laugh at us more? Make fun of us more? Why are our lives going so well?
Certainly we are fortunate to live in a time and place when those who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ may do so without risking their lives. Baptism into the church no longer puts a death sentence on you as has been true in some times and places.
But we still can’t expect that following Jesus will lead to a life of no problems. Your relationship with God will not remove all the obstacles from your path. You aren’t guaranteed a perfect marriage, perfect kids, a perfect job or a perfect boss. Faith is not the path to a life of no worries. Jesus promised the victory, but he never taught of a life with no battles.
So what, then, is the point? Why believe?
Well, for one, believe because the gospel is true. There is a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us. That God is best known to us through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. As God made man, Jesus not only showed us how we should live, but his death and resurrection reconciled us to God. Knowing the truth of Christianity is at the core of our faith. One believes, not because this is the easy path to a good life, but because the faith we profess is true. The Bible warns that problems can and will follow.
In fact, the 16th-century spiritual writer and mystic Teresa of Avilla wrote to God, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”
Often a problem is that the faith we were given in Sunday school of “Jesus Loves Me This I Know,” while true, may not be realistic or even muscular enough to handle a cancer diagnosis, the decline of a parent, the death of a friend or the end of a marriage.
But when we read further in our texts for this week, we find a confidence in God’s presence and mercy.
Jeremiah says confidently, “My persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.” So convinced is the prophet that a few verses later, while people are still laughing at him, Jeremiah can proclaim, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.”
Likewise in Psalm 69, the poet first felt that he was sinking in deep mire with no firm ground for his feet. Then he grabbed hold of the conviction that God is the firm ground on which he stands. For the psalmist never loses the conviction that God’s love and compassion will get the last word. The psalmist refers to God’s unfailing help, God’s kind love and God’s great compassion.
Finally, Jesus tells his followers, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Not only does he not promise smooth sailing, Jesus warns that storms will besiege the faithful. But in the tempests of life, we are not to be fearful. The question is not “Why are things going wrong?” Maybe we should ask, “Why is no one bothering me?” Perhaps your faith has not so changed your life that anyone else can notice.
For as Verna Dozier, an Episcopalian and great champion of the ministry of all baptized persons, once wrote, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe.”
When your faith leads you to make public stands that are not popular, opposition will come. Problems will arise. This is to be expected. But we also know that we do not face these problems alone.
The anchor has long been a symbol in Christian art for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Though storms may come, we have a sure and certain hope that gives us purchase on the rock. Hold fast to the faith that is in you, knowing that Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are counted. Do not be afraid.”
Or to borrow the imagery of the psalmist, when all around begins to seem like deep mire, count on your relationship with God to provide the firm ground on which you can stand. Jesus did not promise you a life of no battles, but he did promise the victory.