The Sovereign God and Human Rules
Readings: Amos 7:10-end and Matthew 9:1-8
May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
One of the most popular forms of entertainment at the theatre, particularly around places like Blackpool is the magic show. I don’t know about you but I love a magic show. Magic shows all share one thing in common. The magician, in every trick does something that seems to break the rules. A person is sawn in two and doesn’t die, they disappear without a trace, they seem able to read our mind, or they perhaps escape an impossible situation. They all seemingly break the rules we all understand about how the world works and we go away amazed and wondering how on earth they did all that. We humans like our rules and regulations, we like things conforming to our understanding and we really struggle when it appears our understanding was incorrect, or our rules are not followed. For people of faith particularly, this is perhaps one of the greatest dangers we can face, because we apply rules to God and assume we know how He can act and who He can act through, placing ourselves unconsciously above God.
This predisposition to assume knowledge of God and how He works is seen in both our readings. In the first reading from the prophet Amos we see Amaziah, a priest, bringing Amos in front of the King and accusing Amos of conspiring against the King and the Kingdom through his prophesies. Amos, by his own admission, believes he isn’t a prophet as well, but a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees. Amos is so humble that despite his prophesying he doesn’t even recognise how God is working through him. After all, Amaziah, he is the qualified one, he is the priest of the royal sanctuary, right? Amos, has these prophesies, but, he’s a herdsman. God doesn’t need our qualifications. God doesn’t count how many GCSEs you have before working through us. God doesn’t wait till your ordained, doesn’t wait till we are confident or well spoken, you see He doesn’t play by our rules, He works by promises, which He fulfils however He pleases. And it pleased the Lord to speak through a herdsman, a dresser of sycamore trees in Amos.
The scribes in our gospel face a similar problem – they understand that only God can forgive sins, so when Jesus forgives the paralytic, He is blaspheming. He has broken the rule. Jesus says to them, which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.’ The man is healed and gets up and walks. It should follow, if the scribes, the Pharisees and all the rest were to be logical about it, seeing these miracles of healing, that Jesus was who He said He was, that they didn’t fully understand the rules, that in fact Jesus could forgive sins. But no, their god, their understanding of god was so much smaller than the true God, and so they in the end reject Jesus.
Two things I hope you take from these passages. The first is that ministry is not confined to a dog collar or any qualification. If you are called by God, your age, you temperament, your energy or your understanding are no barrier to Him who calls. Some of you are called to ministry, are you able to, like Amos, step out even though we think we are only a herdsman or dresser of sycamores or whatever, to serve God how He calls us?
Secondly, let us be generous in our understanding of how God works. God often works in mysterious ways. If something challenges us, if there is some service we find difficult or a way of praying or believing we struggle with, let us have the grace to assume we don’t know everything and resist the temptation to put God in a box the size of our own understanding. Just because God is present in our ways of being church, doesn’t mean He is therefore absent from other ways of being church. I am speaking to myself here because I know I can be an argumentative so and so often. Someone may pray differently to us, or worship in a different way, or even disagree with our stance on whatever. Can we have the grace to not assume our own rightness, but through prayer and humility allow God to be God and work where He will and how He will?
God calls those we least expect, and God works in ways we cannot imagine. Let us strive to be a people who wonder in the God who is so much bigger than the rules our limited understanding give Him. Amen