Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Discouragement
March 21, 2011, 10:02 am
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , ,

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 20th March 2011

You may remember that two weeks ago I took as a starting point for my sermon the little book by Enid Blyton, “The Land of Far-Beyond”, which I was given for my seventh birthday. I was so pleased to have looked it out again that I used it again last week at Holy Nativity, as the basis for my own personal Lent course on “Pilgrimage”. The story is about a group of people, both children and adults, who set out from the City of Turmoil to find the Land of Far-Beyond and the City of Happiness.

The pilgrims set out on a warm summer day. Even though each is carrying his or her burden of sin, they make good progress. They share their food and drink, and are quite hopeful about reaching their journey’s end. But before the first day is over, they find the path blocked by a swift-running river. There seems to be no bridge, so they ask a near-by shepherd whether the river is dangerous. He says that many people have been drowned there, but one of the group, Mr Scornful, pooh-poohs his advice and steps in to wade across. Of course, he is swept away by the current, and the others only just manage to pull him out.

The shepherd tells them that this is the River Trouble, but a little way along there are stepping-stones, at the Ford of Determination, and if the river is not too high they should be able to cross. The companions find the crossing-place, but it still looks quite dangerous. Mr Scornful is still confident, but Mr Fearful and Mr Cowardly hold back. Mr Cowardly does in the end hold someone else’s hand and cross the stepping stones, but nothing will make Mr Fearful try. In the end, they have to leave him behind, to go sadly back to the City of Turmoil, still with his burden.

It is often like this on our life-pilgrimage. We set out quite optimistically to follow Jesus Christ, but sooner or later (probably sooner) we run into trouble. It may be something that happens to us from outside- redundancy, family illness, a quarrel with someone we love- or it may be within ourselves, the feeling that we are wasting our lives, that we have taken a wrong turning somewhere. There is the temptation to doubt God, that he cares about us, that he is able to help us, that he even exists. There can be very dark and depressing times indeed.

This is the River Trouble, that lies across our path. How are we to tackle it? If we are arrogant and over-confident, like Mr Scornful, we can underestimate the difficulty, and by trying to force ourselves through we risk being overwhelmed. On the other hand, if we are over-fearful we risk still being overwhelmed without even the least attempt to persevere. We need to listen to the shepherd, who will guide us to the point where we can cross, although only with some difficulty and determination. We may even need some human help, holding our hand, to see us through.

Abraham set out on his journey of faith, not knowing where he would end up. It was a real act of faith on his part, trusting God to lead him and look after him. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, afraid to be seen enquiring, even though in his heart he recognised Jesus as having been sent by God. The Lord spoke to him of the Spirit, which like the wind cannot be seen or pinned down, and yet we can see its effects. And in hidden terms he spoke to him of the Cross: it is the crucified Christ, the Christ “lifted up”, who accompanies us and keeps us safe on our journey, however deep and strong the waters that would sweep us away.

The Christian way is always, sooner or later, going to involve setbacks and trials. We must never ask, “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” as if we should be exempt from the trials that affect others, as if our Lord had never said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up the cross and follow.” We must follow him with our eyes open; but at the same time we should never forget, and never despair of his promise, “I am with you always.”

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