A Very Present Help in Trouble

Sermon by the Rev. Andrew Kryzak for Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

Psalm 46:1–8
John 5:1-18

Our lives as Christians are complicated.

I think there’s a kind of conventional wisdom out there, which says that once a person comes to faith, everything just kind of falls into place for that person and he or she never has anything else to worry about. That idea matches not one bit the lives of the great giants of the faith, from Mary and Peter and Paul to St Augustine down to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr, all of whom knew hardship and struggle and endured mightily, and it doesn’t in any way resemble the real lives of the faithful people whom I know.

One of the persistently shocking things about Christianity is the idea that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God has not come into the world, riding on horseback, sword outstretched, slaying enemies left and right, but as a human man, who lived and died as one of us. Our Lord took on all of the complications and disappointments and sorrows of a real human life, and yet he was God incarnate. This was not an uncontroversial claim, and it has made people angry from the very beginning.

We can see this on display in today’s lesson from the gospel of St John. The religious authorities are grumpy with Jesus for healing a man on the sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, in violation of custom. This is the sort of thing that is always getting Jesus in trouble with the religious types of his day, who in all four gospels come across sounding joyless, uptight, and with their priorities all out of proportion. But what really gets Jesus in trouble with them is his retort to their persecutions: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” This drives them to distraction, as St John tells us: “For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.”[1]

In order to understand just how offensive a claim this was, I think we have to remember that God was worshipped in the temple, approached by the high priest only, once a year. God did not walk around in the streets, with the rabble, encountering the sort who would lie in a public place for 38 years, disabled. For Jesus to equate himself with God was to declare something not only about himself, but about the nature and character of God.

God is not distant, and God is not disinterested. In the person of Jesus, God has taken on the fullness of human life—with all of its complications and disappointments and struggles—and united humanity to the divine life in a particular and indissoluble way. This is how St Paul can say in his letter to the Romans, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[2]

This is also how, even in this time of trial and uncertainty, even as we battle a deadly virus, even as the world around us is turned on its head, we can nevertheless say with confidence:

God is our refuge and strength : a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved :
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

Though its waters rage and foam : and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

The Lord of hosts is with us : the God of Jacob is our stronghold.[3]

AMEN.


[1] John 5:17-18
[2] Romans 6:5
[3] Psalm 46:1-4