Friday, 22 June 2018

"Is anybody there? Does anybody care?": a sermon (Mark 4:35-41)

I don’t know if anyone else here is familiar with the musical 1776.   Being a history tragic, I particularly enjoy it, as I’ve enjoyed it ever since I saw it on stage in New York City when I was in high school.  The musical is based on the political wheeling-and-dealing leading up to the United States Declaration of Independence in the year 1776 (and thus the title).

One of the great musical and dramatic moments of 1776, is a scene at a time when all the various political issues and all the wheeling-and-dealing are up in the air.  The musical’s central character John Adams is alone on stage and he poses the question (to his fellow-politicians, to his fellow-citizens, to future generations, to God, and to anyone who would listen) “Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

For any person of faith, whatever the faith, this pair of questions is the central religious question:  “Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?” 

And the two questions go hand-in-hand.  Even though the writer Kurt Vonnegut once had a character in one of his novels who was the founder of a religious sect called The Church of the Utterly Indifferent God, very few people would want to worship a god whom they believed was “utterly indifferent”.

Therefore, in today’s Gospel lesson, when the disciples woke Jesus up, during a wild storm on the lake while they were all in a small fishing boat, and they said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”, they were asking Jesus the single most profound religious question of all:  “Don’t you care?”

“Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

In many ways, the second part of the question is the primary question.  I believe a god who doesn’t care is worse than no god at all.  There would be very few people wanting to sign up to become part of The Church of the Utterly Indifferent God, … and rightly so.

“Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

At one extreme of the faith spectrum are those who worship a god so remote as to be totally removed from the concerns of our human life in any shape or form, a god who is completed uninterested in the welfare of people.

At the other extreme of the faith spectrum are those who worship a god who’s a bit of a bully, a god who will send people off to be fuel for an eternal BBQ just for getting their theology wrong (just as some politicians will deliberately mistreat vulnerable people to get cheap votes from the underbelly of the electorate).

In each of these images of God, is a sense of an “Utterly Indifferent” god who, when asked “Don’t you care?”, will blithely answer “Not really.”

For many people out there in our wider community, the prevalence of these two images of God is a principal reason for their disbelief in any god, in any form.

 “Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

All major faiths worship the God who cares about human well-being.  As Christians in particular, we worship a Jesus-shaped God, God who took human form to demonstrate the divine compassion.

“Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

The answer of the Gospel is “Yes!

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