Reflection for Sunday, July 29, 2018
Written by Rev. Jacqueline Samson of St. Stephen’s United Church in Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan
Psalm 14 Fools say, “There is no God.”
Gospel Reading: John 6: 1-21 Jesus feeds the multitude and walks on water.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer…
As many of you know, I recently spent a week in Ontario. I flew into Toronto … the most populated city in Canada. My sister picked me up and we drove to Barrie.
I was amazed at the growth and the seemingly never ending cars, trucks, highways, houses, apartment buildings, big box stores, restaurants and people of every sort imaginable. The Pac Man game came to mind as I saw everyone quickly running around eating everything in sight. It was a shock to be in large city centre after living in our rural prairie community … it was discombobulating to see the sheer immensity and power of our material world. For me it felt like a journey into the heart of greed … a journey into a world of idols and selfish concern. It was a time where I would need to pray in traffic for God’s strength and trust in the midst. It is safe to say that I was out of my comfort zone!
On a personal level my trip to Ontario was very challenging as I came face to face with my mother’s mental state … the exhaustion of my brother and sister as they continue to live with our mother’s seemingly endless mental games and demands … and my father’s strong and unquestionable atheist beliefs. I felt like some kind of religious anomaly in the midst of a consumerist world where God simply does not exist. In my preparation to leave for this adventure I had forgotten to pack the full armour of God … in my naivety I thought that I was just going to visit family. I did not even think for a minute that my spiritual beliefs would be on the chopping block!!!
My father is a self-made millionaire who rose from the ashes of poverty, bankruptcy, divorce, and weakness. In his words, he chose to be a success and he alone made it happen. The kind of success that he believes in is based on your ability to maintain a high level of self-sufficiency in a world that wants to take advantage of you. The strong survive and the weak have made their own beds and in turn they must lie in them. There will always be winners and losers … just don’t allow yourself to be the latter one. My father has succeeded by all his standards … he has a kingdom … he has servants … he has all the material possessions that one man could store in his barns and because he has all that he needs, why would he need to believe in God?
According to my father, religion is an absolute hoax. Religion is responsible for all sorts of atrocities and it has caused much suffering. Humans are nothing more than evolved apes … we live as all other creatures and then we die … end of story … that is it. During one of his atheist tirades he told me that I should read a book entitled, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a physicist who takes God down and out from an intellectual/scientific standpoint.
As you can see, I have a difficult relationship with my father. He has struggled to accept my vocation as a minister. During our most recent conversation, he wanted me to know that there is no God! I found myself without an appropriate comeback. In that moment, I could not prove God’s existence. Somehow, I felt like I had failed as a person of faith in the midst of such strong opposition, and my heart hurt.
My vocation and faith was also challenged by my mother who has struggled with religion, spirituality, and the material world her whole life. She has been ravaged by addiction and a personality disorder that has left her very much alone and filled with anxiety and panic. During our time together, she was very uncomfortable with my presence and angry. At one point she asked me, “Where is your God? ” I found myself once again in a position where I could not prove my faith, especially against such a formidable force as my mother, a woman whose world had become so small that it really only contained her.
Once again, I felt like I had failed as a person of faith and my heart hurt some more.
I arrived back in Hudson Bay with a sense of defeat. Then I opened up the lectionary readings for today and I was struck by these words from Psalm 14 …
Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.
What are the odds of my father’s words being in the scripture passage for this week? When I read them I knew that God was calling me to reflect on my recent experience with my family. The psalmist tells us that none of us are immune from being foolish … even those of us who proclaim to be Christian. In the land of plenty … the land of privilege, where most of us here today live, we are often a part of the injustices that happen in other parts of the world. The psalmist calls us to move from an intellectual debate on the existence of God to a real life discussion on oppression and resistance.
The folly that the psalmist attacks is that of social injustice that cuts the oppressor off from God. Whenever we turn away from loving God first and our neighbours as ourselves we can more easily commit to harming another or creation.
Truthfully, no one can cast a stone of judgement against another and we are often complicit in the ongoing injustices in our world. Thankfully, we are also reminded that God is our refuge in all the circumstances that we find ourselves. The psalmist also assures us that God is working to right the wrongs in our world and we are invited to be a part of this transformative work. In God’s world it is not about us and them, but rather us as one in God, beyond the differences and the roadblocks.
As Christians … as people of faith … we have chosen to follow a belief in a God who loves us … a God who walks with us … a God who sent his son, Jesus, to show us what life is meant to be lived like. In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus shows us the nature of God in many different ways such as abundance … feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. The story also offers us the example of the difference one person, in this case, the boy, can make by offering all that he has … God is generous. Jesus gave the disciples physical proof of God’s existence as he walked on water in the storm. In the end, God’s presence is experienced in many different ways and I am sure that each of us has our own stories of the moments that we have known God’s presence.
It is not easy being a Christian in a world where many believe that there is no God.
The good news is that we can strengthen our faith muscles and in turn show others the true character of God as we cultivate a “deep” understanding of Scripture for a strong faith requires a strong foundation … as we explore other world views … other religions … for this helps us to love as God loves … as we belong to a community of faith where we share our doubts, struggles, questions and joys … as we live out our faith regardless of what others say and do, for a life of faith is centred around service, love, and discipline … it is a life that grows the fruits of the Spirit … and most importantly our faith is strengthened through a close and personal relationship with God through prayer … pray often and especially in traffic. May it be so.