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I’ve been doing a lot of marking of GCSE papers – in Religious Studies. One of the questions was a question about prayer – if God doesn’t answer prayer does that mean he doesn’t exist?
Answers to prayer – and sometimes the apparent lack of them – pose a big question. It’s important to realise, to discover, that God cares about us even if he doesn’t intervene in the situation. We can feel cared for, and we can feel God’s love all around us, even when things are bad and we’re hurting.
In our passage from Matthew’s gospel there are 3 ‘snapshots’ that show us just how much God cares – and the way in which he cares.
First of all we meet Matthew, the tax collector. In the other Gospels he is called Levi, which probably means he was from the tribe of Levi. As a tax collector he was a social outcast, a traitor, because he worked for the occupying Roman forces and probably extorted money from his fellow countrymen as well. And he was doubly a traitor because he came from the tribe of Levi – the priests.
He is healed – restored to a full and loving relationship with God through Jesus. No judging of his past – it is left behind.
Then there is the woman with a haemorrhage. She, too, would have been an outcast, regarded as unclean because of her medical condition. No one must touch her, or they would become unclean, too. But she touches Jesus.
Jesus makes it public. Everyone needs to know she is healed. Now she is clean and can take her place in the community.
Finally, there is a little girl. Children didn’t matter in Jesus’ time – not like they do today. They were more a means to an end. But Jesus cares about her and gives her back her life. She didn’t count. Obviously her father thought she did, but, in general terms, she was a nothing, a nobody. Yet Jesus healed her and brought her back to life.
Three people – all at the margins of society and yet God through Jesus acts to heal and restore them. Jesus showed how much God cared about them.
That is the kind of God we have. A God who cares about the weak, the powerless, people at the margins, people who find it difficult to take their place in the community. For whatever reason.
Why should it be any different today?
God cares for all those who are at the margins. He wants them to know that there is a place for them in his kingdom.
Perhaps some here have had that feeling of not being part of the group – of being an outsider – or, worse, of feeling they are not accepted by God – not acceptable to him because of something in their life, either now or in the past.
That is never the case. We are all always acceptable to God. His love is always total and free and unconditional.
Perhaps you can see others who you feel are not acceptable to God. We are warned not to judge. God loves everyone and whoever turns to him will not be rejected. Everyone, no matter what they have done, can be restored to a new and loving relationship with God and have a new start in life.
We can see that in the life of Matthew the tax-collector, social outcast, but beloved of God. We see it in the life of a woman called unclean because of her medical condition, not allowed to be part of the community – but set free by Jesus for a new life. And we see it in the life of a child who had no rights in society, no status, and yet considered by God to be worthy of receiving his healing. All restored so that they could become what God intended them to be.
That’s the kind of God we have. That is the kind of God we are called to serve and make known in the world.
First and foremost this is the kind of God we need to get to know. This is not the first time you have heard this – this cross shaped life where the upright bit of the cross is our relationship with God. It is the foundation of our life. It gives meaning to everything that we do. It is the firm base on which all our other relationships depend.
God invites us to draw on his strength to enable us to serve him. He gives us the Holy Spirit – he longs to give us the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is the life and energy of the church and of each one of us. When we are energised by the Spirit we can serve God and make him known in the world.
We can’t do it in our own strength. We may feel that we can love others but our human love is a poor reflection of God’s love. God’s love is free and unconditional – it is for all without distinction. Do we love like that? Or do we favour some and not others. Is our love sometimes a bit conditional? Do we find some easier to love than others?
If we are to love for God and in the way that God want us to, we need to be given the strength to do it. We need to have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. That vertical part of the cross needs to be very strong in our lives.
So we need to give time to getting to know God – here in church on Sunday, in the week if you’re around in the morning, in study groups like Connections on Wednesday evening, on your own in private prayer and bible study. God longs to give you the gifts which the Holy Spirit brings. He longs for you to know him better. And that takes time.
When you know that healing and restoring love in your life, life itself takes on a new meaning, life begins again with God at the centre. We walk each day with him. And we can know that whatever happens, it will happen within the love and care of God, and that love can never fail us.
God calls each one of us into a close and loving relationship with himself – because he loves us for ourselves, each and every one of us. Are you ready to open yourself up to receive what God longs to give you – and be in that loving relationship with him that restores and transforms? Are you ready to become the person God wants you to be? Trust God, trust in his love. Let him form you into the person he wants you to be, and know his blessing day be day. Amen.
This sermon was given on 8th June 2008 - the 3rd Sunday after Trinity. © Copyright Marion Gray 2008.
Page last updated 18 June 2008.
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