Sunday 7 September 2014

What sort of persons should we be?

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness. 2 Peter 3:11
In the calendar of the Coptic Orthodox Church this Sunday is the only Sunday in the little month of Nasi, which contains only 5 or 6 days. Each month in the ancient Coptic, or Egyptian, calendar contains 30 days, and so this little month makes up the necessary difference to complete the number of days in the year. In the Coptic Orthdoox Church, and for many Orthodox Churches, this period comes at the beginning of the Church year. Therefore the readings for the Liturgy today are to do with times and seasons. 

I would like us especially to consider the reading from the Second Catholic Epistle of St Peter. St Peter is considering the question – Where is God? Why has He not appeared to bring an end to all things? Why do we have to wait for God to act?

Quite probably we are not always wondering why the end of things has not come about, and we are glad of the opportunity each day to repent of our sins and seek the salvation which is offered to us in Christ. But I know that for myself it has often been the case that I have asked God why He has not intervened in some situation in my life, and I have often wondered, with great anguish of heart, why must I wait, even for years, for God to grant the solution to some problem.

I am sure that I am not alone in asking, where is God? Not doubting His existence of course, nor doubting His love for me. But wondering and waiting to see Him act in a way that we hope for and expect.

We may be facing problems with obstinate and sinful habits. We may have problems in relationships with others. We may have problems with needing a job, or not enjoying the one we have. We may have health problems, or may be overwhelmed by anxiety for the health and wellbeing of those close to us. In all these circumstances and many others we may find ourselves crying out and saying, Lord, where are you? Why will you not act?

St Peter is particularly addressing a group of people who use this apparent failure of God to act as an excuse for living a life of self-indulgence and pride. They say to themselves, look at how I am living, and nothing happens to me. There is no God otherwise He would have punished me. But St Peter reminds them that God has sent judgement upon the earth before, especially during the time of Noah when the great flood swept away all those who lived godless lives. And he warns them that there will be a judgement in the future, when those who live ungodly lives will be judged according to the righteousness of God.

But we are not like these people. We are seeking to serve God, and worship Him. We desire to be close to God, and to honour Him with our lives. But we find ourselves confused and anxious when it seems that God is not dealing with those situations in our lives which seem as though they will overwhelm us.

What does St Peter say to us? In the first place he reminds us that God is outside of time and space. With God a day is as long as a thousand years, and a thousand years is a short as a day. God is both completely aware of every single detail of our lives, no matter how insignificant, while also being able to see the whole length of our life on earth with a single glance. He sees the big picture of our lives, as well as every detail, while we very often lose the sense of what God is doing throughout our lives because the details that trouble us at the moment become so important. More than that, God sees all of the connections in our lives with others. He truly holds the whole world in His hands, and while preserving the space required for the genuine exercise of our human will, for good and for evil, so that we are not robots, nevertheless He works all things for our good, even if we cannot see it. God is so much greater than the details of our lives, yet these details are not insignificant to Him, and he involves Himself in our lives so much that not a hair falls from our head without Him taking account of it.

But secondly, God asks us to live our lives to some extent stepping outside of the difficulties we face in the details of our lives. He asks us to live our lives with our eternal destiny in view. This does not take away the reality of the problems we face, but we have to remind ourselves and be reminded, that these things will not last forever, but our life with God will truly last for ever. St Peter says,

“What sort of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness”.

If we are going to spend eternity with God then the way in which we cope with the difficulties of our daily lives are the means by which we see what sort of persons we are. Are we prepared for eternity? Do we face the details of our life in holy conduct and with godliness? Or do we abandon hope and trust in God as if only this moment matters more than all those moments in the past in which we have already seen God at work in our lives, and all those moments in the future in which we may hope and expect to see God at work in our lives.

What sort of persons are we? It is the difficult times in our lives which allow us to see what sort of persons we are. And to a great extent this is why we are allowed to pass through many trials and difficulties. If our lives were filled with ease and comfort we would never search the depths of our hearts, we would be superficial people, living only for the enjoyment of life. When we are forced to face many difficulties we find that it is only the important things in our lives which come into focus. We are forced to rely on God, to turn to God in fear and with anxiety, but to put our trust in God, because the difficulties of life teach us that we cannot rely on ourselves, and cannot always rely on others.

Thank God for the difficult times in our lives. They allow us to see what sort of persons we are, and by knowing ourselves we turn even more urgently to God, for life and healing and salvation.

And thirdly, St Peter says,

“Therefore, my beloved, looking forward to these things, be careful to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation”.

What does this mean? It seems to me that St Peter is inviting us to find peace and holiness in the difficult times of our lives. How can this be? Surely the difficult times are when we are most agitated and upset, and when it is most likely that we will fall into sin? Let me say that there comes a time in our lives as Christians, if we continue to trust God, when we realise that in fact we cannot determine the direction of our lives. We are not the masters of our own fate. Things will happen that we cannot easily or completely control, and we have to learn to let go of the desire to control everything and seek only to find God in every circumstance. When the Apostles found themselves in prison they did not lose their peacefulness. They did not complain that they couldn’t preach or lead the Churches of Christ because they were imprisoned. Indeed it was clear to them that whether they complained or not their circumstances would not change. So they refused to complain and instead the praised God. It is my experience that this is the same for us. There is no value in losing our peace when we cannot change our circumstances. There is no need to be anxious when we cannot change our circumstances. 
We cannot change things simply by worrying about them. But if we put our trust in God, even if we cannot see how He will act on our behalf, then we can find peace.

But we must be longsuffering. This means that we must remain trusting in God even if the circumstances we are concerned about do not change. We cannot trust God for half an hour and then wonder why things are as bad as they were before. We may have to trust God for days, and weeks, and months and years. Indeed this is the goal of the Christian life - that we trust God each day and every day, no matter what the circumstances we face.

If we remain faithful and trust God then He will come to us, and He will grant us His peace and will save us. Not necessarily taking us out of the situations in which we find ourselves, but transforming those situations into opportunities to trust God, to rely on God, and to give thanks to God for His constant presence.

God is not present only when things are going well. It is easy to feel happy and content in such circumstances. God is truly present when things seem to be going badly but we still have a sense of peace, of God’s peace which is beyond all human understanding.

Let us remember that God is aware of every detail of our lives, but He also has a plan for our whole life. Let us remember that we must live our lives with eternity in mind. This short life is a preparation for the everlasting life that we will one day enter into with joy. And let us also remember that the Christian life invites us to find peace even in times of pain and difficulty. A peace which cannot be taken away from those who love God and trust Him.

May we find such peace and live such a life, looking forward always to the life that is to come, to the glory of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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