Obedience, Worship, Faith
Genesis 2, Revelation 4, & Luke 8:22-25
Have you ever seen one of those films in which some of the characters find their way into a treasure hoard? They run from side to side, not knowing where to start looking at things. They pick one thing up and then dash over to the other side of the room as another jewel catches their eye. Suddenly a gleaming nugget drags their attention away again. They are so overwhelmed with the enormity of the find that they dash round like headless chickens unable to focus properly on any single item.
I felt a bit like that this week, as I wrestled with the readings that we have heard. Three readings from three very different types of writing, yet all three are to be found, bound together in our Bibles. One from the very beginning of time, one from the very end of time and one from the turning point of time, the life of Jesus here on earth with us. Each reading is full of images and emotions and meaning. I could pick any verse from any of these readings and preach for an hour. If I did, we’d be here until this time on Tuesday. And we still wouldn’t have scratched the surface of the depth of richness that God has given us in these portions of the Bible.
So, I have picked a few things that I’d like us to look at this morning, if I can stay focused for a little while and not get distracted. But, there are many other things here to enjoy, so I’d encourage you to spend some time this week reading over these passages and seeing what catches your eye, and what else God might be saying to you through them.
But, for now, back to this morning. I’d like us to think about three responses to God that these passages provoke. Obedience, worship, and faith.
Obedience is not a very popular concept nowadays. But, then again, I’m not sure that it ever was. The shout of this age is, “You can’t tell me what to do.” It seems that each individual has the right to decide their own moral code, their own way of deciding what is right and wrong, for them. There is no external authority to be obeyed, the only authority is what feels right to me at the moment.
Speaking about obedience to God in this kind of culture can be challenging, but I think that if we look at our reading from Genesis we discover some things about obedience that mean that we cannot dodge it.
The first thing to notice is the order in which God says things. The first thing that God says is that the man was free to eat from any tree in the garden. The second thing God says is the exception to the rule. The first, and most wide ranging subject of the command is the permission. The second, and limited part of the command is the prohibition. Even then, the thing that he’s forbidden from doing is not for its own sake but in order to protect him from harm.
It’s like me saying to the kids that they can choose anything out of the biscuit barrel for a snack, but they’re not to go into the cupboard in the utility room and eat a dishwasher tablet.
Early on in God’s dealings with humankind, God sets the pattern for the obedience that is expected from the one created, towards the one who created. As creator, God has given humankind great responsibility within creation, and with that responsibility great freedom and permission. There are, however, certain things that God has forbidden, things that would do us harm. Our obedience, then, is an expression of thankfulness for the freedom that we have been given and an expression of trust that the God who created us knows what is best for us.
How do we express this obedience today?
Well, it seems to me that one way of increasing our obedience is to recognise our disobedience.
So, we spend time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to show us the parts of our life that are damaging us and those around us. We give time and effort to thinking back over our days and seeing where we have spoken words thoughtlessly or in haste that have not built people up. We recall thinking those thoughts about another person that were unkind or bitter. We remember the opportunity we missed to speak of the good news of Jesus to somebody, or to be that good news by helping them.
Having remembered and recognised our own disobedience, we repent. We say sorry to God and turn away from this disobedience. We then ask for renewed strength to live a different way, in the way of love that Jesus showed us. The practical way of thankful, trusting, obedience.
Of course, one of the reasons that we obey God is that God is holy and is worthy to receive all honour and glory from all of creation. And so, our obedience is also part of our worship. And our worship is drawn from us by our response to God’s amazing love shown in creation.
To get to our second reading we jump many thousands of years to a vision that one of Jesus’ disciples had, decades after Jesus had died, been raised, and returned to his Father. In this vision he was shown the throne room of God. Here at the end of the Bible, as at the beginning, we find this theme of creation, and it is this theme of creation that is given as the reason that God is worthy of worship.
If it were not for God, none of us would be here. And I don’t mean, here in church. I mean here, in existence at all.
If it were not for a particular furniture maker, this chair would not be here. But this chair will go on existing, until it eventually rots, independently of the existence of its maker. The joiners firm could go out of business and this chair would still be here. The crafts person who worked on it could die, but the chair would still be here.
This is not the way that it works with us and God. If it were not for God, there would be no universe, no world, no England, no Stoke, no Shelton, no Etruria, no you, no me. If it were not for God’s continued presence and decision that creation should continue to exist, then it would not. God did not wind the universe up, set it in motion, and leave it to it. The existence of creation depends, absolutely, at every moment, on the present decision of God that it should continue to be.
If it were not for God, none of us would be here.
It seems to me that if this is the case, then that is worth some heartfelt worship. Not out of fear that if we don’t worship we’ll suddenly slip out of existence. No. Out of sheer thankfulness and wonder that God loves us so much that we were created and given life and purpose and joy and love and promise of life in the kingdom of our creator for ever. What a gift we have been given, what a thank you we have to say.
So, we have seen how obedience and worship are natural responses to our creator God. What about faith?
To find an answer we jump to the turning point of history, Jesus’ life on earth, and hear an episode recorded by Luke in his account of the good news that Jesus’ brought.
Our answer is found in the middle of creation, in the presence of God who created it all, present in the middle of it, asleep in a boat.
It seems to me that Jesus’ actions are an object lesson to his followers, an object lesson whose aim is to increase their faith.
Jesus had told the disciples where they were going, and they obeyed him. Then he went to sleep. He left them to their own devices, but was still with them, when they needed him. The storm arose, and the disciples were afraid. They were fishermen, they knew how to ride out a storm, but they also knew what happened to boats caught on the lake in this kind of storm. They were afraid that they were going to die. So they did the sensible thing, they go to Jesus and wake him up.
And what does he do? Does he tell them to calm down, because everything’s going to be OK? Does he miracle them right over the water into safe harbour? No. He demonstrates his authority over creation. He tells the wind and waves to calm down. He makes everything OK. He opens the way to the safe harbour.
Then he asks them, “Where is your faith?” At the time they are gobsmacked, but it seems to me that in the end the answer would be, “in you, Lord”. Jesus’ demonstration of his authority over the elements of creation, elements that nobody but God could control, was a practical demonstration that he is trustworthy in all situations. He is worthy of our faith.
The ultimate proof of this was his defeat of death at the cross and in the empty tomb. But, there is something that seems to really connect with us, in this story of the calming of the storm. We all have situations in our lives that we experience as a storm, as wind and waves that are out of our control. We identify with the disciples, Jesus is asleep.
This week I’ve been chewing over a particular issue and its implications for mission and the church. It’s felt like I’ve been in a storm and it’s felt like Jesus is asleep. Where is my faith? As we think about the life of this church, the finances, the falling numbers of people involved, it might feel like we are in a storm and that Jesus is asleep. Where is our faith?
Our faith is in the one who did calm the storm on Galilee. Our faith is in the one who has proved to be faithful again and again in the story of the people of God. Our faith is in the one who created us, and who, in great love, continues to create us. Our faith is in the one whom we joyfully obey and gladly worship.