From the vicarage Nov 2011
This edition of “From the Vicarage” fits with my sermon “Don’t misplace your trust and hope” from Psalm 146 (23rd October). In the psalm, God shows us that it is natural for us to look to leaders for hope, as we need to trust someone to change what’s wrong with life, that is to save us. When Barack Obama was first elected he was a popular American President. More than that, many people invested their trust in him to sort out the problems with America and the world. But now, after three years in office, his ratings have plummeted, as the graph below shows. Once 45% of Americans strongly approved of his leadership now it is only 19%. I’d be surprised if I were much different in popularity.
This instruction applies to us at all levels: from US Presidents to council leaders to vicars and to our families, friends and neighbours. If we invest too much trust or hope in people they will inevitably not live up to our expectations, because, as the psalm goes on to say, they are only mortals. The problem with America is not the leadership, but the expectations of the nation in what their leadership can do.
The same lesson can be applied to church life, school life and community life. If a congregation invests its trust and hope in its vicar or leader, then we are heading for disappointment because a human being cannot save. It’s true that I am here because God has called me here; God is working out his plans of salvation in and through me as he is through you. But I am also an earthen vessel, cracked and weak, fragile and sinful, yet filled with the treasure of God’s Holy Spirit (2 Cor 4:7). I can do what I can with the gifts I have been given by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:11), though I constantly feel that my gifts are meagre compared to others in church and elsewhere. Most importantly, the bible does not list salvation as one of those spiritual gifts. God is the one who steps in to save, or rescue, us. He delivers us out of our distress (Ps 107:6); he redeems our lives from the pit (Ps 103:4); he makes us soar as on eagles’ wings (Isa 40:31); he sits us in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6). Blessings come to those who hope in him alone.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God. (Psalm 146:5)
So may God help us and bless us. May we all hope in him alone. May he save us all, as we are humbled by his love in Christ’s death for our sin and made alive by the work of his Spirit. May we learn to love one another with the sort of sacrificial love Christ poured out on us as he bore our sins in his body on the cross. And may we repent of the sins which caused his pain and which cause pain to one another. May we know his help as we are reminded in the Book of Common Prayer:
O God, make speed to save us: O Lord, make haste to help us. With love, Neil