Monthly Talking Point – April 2019

This months edition is provided by Revd. Judith Ryder

I offer here the message of a sermon I preached in February. Normally I concentrate on the gospel reading in my sermons, but that day, unusually, I decided not to, because I felt that there was an important message that needed to be heard. The response to what I said convinced me I had made the right decision, and now I have been asked to offer it to a wider readership in Caversham Bridge. I hope this will help others in their lives and their faith!

What difference do you think it should make to our lives if we believe in God?

What spurs me on to ask this is a recent encounter with someone who told me how they lost their faith and gave up going to church. It would be wrong for me to go into that conversation in detail, but it was a familiar enough scenario. This person had known good faithful churchgoing Christians to whom bad things had happened like illnesses and early deaths for example, and out of that trauma they had lost their faith.

These kinds of things of course often challenge people’s faith, unsurprisingly. But equally often they do not – paradoxically, it can be precisely these kinds of things that bring people to faith. What makes the difference?

What struck was that there was a basic reason why this person’s faith had been so challenged: because of what they had learnt, at some point, about what faith was about. Their understanding was that faith was supposed to protect you, in the sense of stopping difficult and painful things happening.

This was something I had never learnt; and therefore traumatic events in my life have not shaken my faith.

As Christians, we do of course often pray for God’s protection for people, and it is an important part of our Christian discipleship that we do. But then bad things do happen. So what is God doing? What’s the point of all this praying and believing?

Jeremiah 17:5-10 gives us a way into understanding this, through a word picture.

Jeremiah describes two different plants. One is a small plant struggling in a dry, salty wilderness. The other is a tree planted near water, so its roots can draw upon that water.

The difference between the plants is not the weather all around. The weather all around is the same for them both. In fact, v. 8 talks about ‘when’ the heat comes, when the drought comes – because they come, for both plants. The difference for the tree by the water is that its roots are always able to draw on the water that gives life. Even in the hardest times they still reach out, reach down, and find that life-giving water. And the passage goes on: even in the time of drought, that tree shall not cease to bear good fruit.

And this is of course about the difference God makes in our lives. Even when our faith is unsteady, God is faithful. Even when we are not sure we trust, God is trustworthy. What we have to deal with in life does not necessarily change (although it ‘can’, sometimes, very dramatically). But there is a deep source of life we can draw on to help us through; and, indeed, even more than that, a source of life that can help us continue to make a difference ourselves, to bear fruit. ‘That’ is the difference faith makes in our lives, that is the protection faith offers. If we understand that we can be assured that God will help us weather all storms.

Revd. Judith Ryder Curate St Peter’s, Caversham