Each time we are issued with a boarding pass prior to a flight, either domestic or international, we presume that that flight will land us at the advertised destination. In the same manner when we buy a train or bus ticket, we trust that we will arrive at the destination designated. And those times when we settle a utility bill, or prepay our mobile phone we believe that the financial transaction we have concluded will be honoured. Each of the thousand choices we make each day involve us in varying degrees of demonstrated faith. We believe that our travel and financial arrangements will be honoured, and that paying for a parking ticket will assure us of a place to leave our cars safely. Without faith, a word we rarely use for mundane matters, our lives would be plagued with uncertainties.
As you walk down the corridors of the Children’s Home on the North Coast you will discover the notice, God’s Little Helper – See me when God won’t answer, on one door. Perhaps a strange statement in an organization dealing with young people who are unable to live at home, either because of abuse – physical, sexual or drug related – or because of either physical or psychological damage. Staff know that if the General Manager is unavailable there is someone who is able to listen and advise them on day-to-day challenges. When dealing with young people who may be brain damaged because one parent threw them up against a wall when they were infants, where does one draw one’s individual strength and resilience, if not from a personal awareness of and proven relationship with God.
Across every nation and every culture from our earliest ancestors, humanity has displayed an awareness of a power or presence with attributes far beyond our own abilities – a power responsible for the formation or creation of the natural world. That force or presence we term God, other cultures at other times have used a variety of names for their concept of a supernatural power. And at other times, and in other lands, people have worshipped this presence in a variety of fashions from the rituals of the Incas, to the rites associated with the sacrificial harvest king, and include human sacrifice.
All of us, as social creatures, have a deep need to know that someone is there, where ever “there” may be, someone who will listen to us, and keep us company during the long dark hours of the night. Those who grieve need a sympathetic shoulder to lean on, a person with whom they can share their sorrow. Many children often invent imaginary playmates to provide a constant companion. We need to interact with others, and to gain a sense of being worthwhile, being needed. Many, from childhood, have been taught of a spiritual power that created all things who will listen to our prayers. Such a power will give us strength when our private worlds seem to have collapsed, and will protect our nation, including those we love, when natural disasters or external conflicts arise. And such a power will still, in this day and age, work miracles for those whose faith is absolute. Jesus taught that faith conquers fear. If our lives are clouded by fear, fear of what the future holds for us personally, fear of financial instability during times of global economic crises, or various fears during times of international conflict, by these fears we deny the faith Jesus demonstrated that God is in control of all creation at all times.
Throughout the centuries we have prayed – and often attempted to appease – this supernatural deity. By accessing the histories of past civilizations we have learned of those times when this deity acceded to our fervent pleas. The Old Testament contains examples of miracles wrought when prayer was answered, such as the water that gushed from the rock struck by Moses when the Israelites cried out from thirst. The power that Jesus used to still the waves was drawn from his total devotion to God and his intimate ongoing relationship with God. That miracle working power is still available, just as Jesus promised to those whose faith holds firm. About thirty years ago when I lived in Sydney, I was often called out to crisis situations. Many times these occurred at night and as often as not there was just enough petrol in my car to get me to a service station the following day. Yet, without fail, that petrol always lasted until I had answered the call and the crisis was resolved and until I visited a service station the following day. In times of crisis, I learned, “empty” on the fuel gauge meant that my supply would be coming from God.
But just as petrol gauges read empty, so do parts of our lives at other times. There have been times when I have prayed for food to feed my family, and each day I was in need, God supplied not only my needs, but also the little extra. It was this constant gift of the “little extra” that lead me to open my home to folk in need, confident that all that was needed, for, beds or clothing, would be supplied. But there have been times in my life when God has not seemed as close as that. In fact many periods when God seemed to have deserted me. There have been those times when I have seen justice thwarted, not only in my own life, but also in the lives of those I serve. Where then is God? What has God’s presence been withdrawn?
Jesus felt this sense of desolation, as if God had abandoned him, at least twice in his life. In the Garden of Gethsemane when facing imminent death he prayed earnestly that somehow God would intervene – yet he prayed with the “nevertheless” we all need to learn. Again, on the cross we hear his cry when he suspected God had abandoned him. Those instances when Jesus experienced what we term the “black night of the soul” allow us to recognise that there is an end to this desolation, and past this is renewed and invigorated life. Jesus returned to earth in a new, spiritual body, a body such as we will wear the other side of death’s door.
“Nevertheless,” is the thought that makes all the difference to our lives and prayers. No matter how dark our day, how lonely we may be, how destitute we may feel, it is the “nevertheless” in our attitudes and prayers that draws ever closer to Jesus. He knew what lay but hours ahead of him, yet he could leave the present and the future in God’s hands, confident that God was in control. When we exercise our faith in God’s control, we are able to also to demonstrate our compliance with God’s will by our trust in the “nevertheless” in our prayers.
Floods have deluged our city in the past days, and many have lost everything they owned as their caravans and houses stood in the path of an unstoppable torrent of water. To hear their stories, knowing that all they now own is what they are wearing, is to discover how God is working in the lives of those whose faith holds secure. Much have been lost and cannot be replaced, but the way others have gladly shared their possessions has encouraged folk who could have let despair engulf them. Instead many are planning a future beyond the piles of ruined possessions. Of course there are some folk blaming God, rather than freak weather conditions, for the floods, but these are folk who seek excuses for every difficulty. Those whose lives are moving on have held fast in the belief that God does know, and has experienced, the aching agony of loss.
Throughout his ministry Jesus constantly attributed all miraculous healing to God’s power. It was God’s power that flowed into the lives of all who were gathered together after Jesus’ return to God’s domain. Love is the name of this power, unqualified, undemanding love – love that is both forgiving and welcoming. When we are linked closely with God this love is able to flow through our lives and we will discover miracles flow freely. Do not assume I am an expert on God’s love and provision for our lives. Rather I believe that I am a “work in progress,” day-by-day discovering more about myself and about God. I consciously seek out theological researchers and authors who strip away the mythology that has grown over the ages and obscures the real Jesus that walked this earth. In place of the Creed I have recited most of my life, through every Anglican service of Holy Communion, I offer the following creed written by Tom Harpur, from his book For Christ’s Sake.
A New Creed For a Church Nearing The Year Of Our Lord 2000
We believe and put our unconditional trust in God, Creator and Sustainer of all things, from the farthest-flung galaxies to the most microscopic forms of life; “he” is above and around and within everyone of us, and yet so far beyond us in glory that our minds cannot fathom the mystery, and our only response is to bow in worship and in wonder. And we believe God sent Jesus, anointing him in the power of “his” Spirit, to declare by word and deed the gospel of personal and social liberation from the power of fear and all injustice and oppression. Though he was cruelly and unjustly put to death on a cross, God raised him from the grave and set “His” seal forever on his message and his ministry. In him we know that God is love, and that forgiveness and acceptance are ours today and every day. In him we are called to realise God’s Kingdom in our own lives and in the lives of others, particularly the poor and needy. In him we are called to join with our heavenly Parent in making all things new. We believe God grants to us that same Holy Spirit that was in Jesus, creating community and empowering us to be “his” sons and daughters. We believe in a life and a dimension of existence yet to come on the other side of death. We seek to build God’s kingdom here, but we also look beyond to the day when wars shall be no more and God’s new Jerusalem shall be revealed. We believe. This is our faith. God help our unbelief. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
I believe this creed is a statement of faith allowing us to move beyond all the fears of events in our world today, putting our trust in God’s control of all on this planet and the millions of galaxies that exist to the very edges of space. This creed speaks not only of today but looks forward to the day we exist in full lives beyond the grave.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.