Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Problem of Suffering

Readings for this Sunday

2 Sam 1:1,17-27
2 Cor 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Sermon notes from Rev Margaret Fourie.

Our readings are all about suffering today, and our collect underlines this. How often haven’t we been able to call out with the Psalmist, “Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord..!”

Here in Hogsback, as I look around the congregation today, I am aware of the huge amount of suffering of various kinds represented here.

Some have experienced physical illness and ongoing pain. We have had how many diagnoses of cancer, followed by surgery, chemo, radiation and pain and illness. Some of the congregation have died of it. Others are living with the pain, and the daily limitations and weakness. And again and again, there is the question, “Why?” “Why doesn’t God answer our prayers?” We prayed for Rose and she got steadily worse until she died. We prayed for Ansie’s young friend and she is not getting any better. How long have we been praying for Rudi and Ollie?

Then there’s Parkinson’s. We prayed for our Dominee and he got worse and worse till he died; we have been praying for John Bowker, and his Parkinson’s has only got worse. We pray for Peter all the time, too, and see no real improvements.

Where is God when we need him and call out to him?

Some of us have arthritis, or bone problems and manage daily with various ways of coping with the pain. Some of us suffer from migraines and nothing seems to help, to say nothing of the ulcers, digestive problems and reflux. Some have to carry TNT for the angina attacks.

But it’s not all physical. What about loss? Betrayal? Bereavement? Alienation? Family distress? Mental anguish?

Some of us suffer from the kind of depression that needs life-long medication and is always just one wobble away from paralysing us again, from sending us into suicidal hopelessness.

Some of us suffer agonies of uncertainty and doubt in our faith journey, or are deep into the Dark night of the Soul.

Oh dear!

So let’s look at the bible. Our gospel reading today told the stories of the suffering of the woman who had tried everything she could find, but her illness went on, making her a social pariah, and even preventing her from attending worship services; and Jairus’s family, with his little daughter dying. We hate it when children die – it seems such an offence to life, Mind you, these two stories have happy endings.

What was their secret? Well, they turned to Jesus, didn’t they? And there it was. Their faith solved the problem. So may be I can say, Go and do likewise.

But I won’t.

It’s too easy and facile to say that we should look at these stories and learn from them how to have all our problems of suffering go away. It is simply not true. We know that our Lord does not always heal, and sometimes suffering just goes on and on, and in the lives of people who are not obviously deserving of it at all.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Back to the bible. Let’s look at Job. He was an extremely good man, and the most dreadful things happened to him. He was angry with God, and with his friends who kept defending God. He could make no sense of his suffering, and this is exactly where so many of us are. It just doesn’t make sense. We do everything we are told to do – anoint with oil, pray with faith, lay hands on people...and nothing happens.

It seems as if either God is all-loving and is weak, or God is all-powerful and does not care.

And so Job goes on demanding an explanation of God. But read chapter 38 and God’s answer – Where were you when I formed the earth? Can you call up the wind or the snow, or even stop a storm on a lake, like Jesus? In other words, “WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU COULD POSSIBLY UNDER-STAND MY ANSWER? SUFFERING IS A MYSTERY!

That makes sense to me. There are things which we can never understand – great mysteries. God himself is the greatest Mystery – three in one, having no beginning and no end, all the things we know of him – our minds can never comprehend God.

Evil, for another example. We truly do not understand evil and why it is in the world. We can apply our logic to it and come up with some great suggestions, but we will find flaws in that logic, and will never arrive at a good, satisfactory answer. We can observe it, study it, describe it, but not understand it. It will still catch us out.

Falling in love is a mystery. Scientists suggest chemistry; Plato suggests a soul-mate type of other half; esoteric theorists may speak of cosmic connections. Whatever it is, we know when we experience it, and it happens without our permission, usually.

Mysteries don’t have solutions Problems can be solved, though. So where evil is a Mystery, resisting it is merely a problem that can be solved.

Suffering is a mystery, but coping with it is a problem that can be solved.

Job is not a nice book to read, and one could be forgiven for thinking that God is being really quite nasty, if one had no idea at all about God’s nature. We, however, do have a really good idea of what God is like. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, and he taught us to know God, not only through his teachings but through his life, death and resurrection.

We know that God is love, and that this love is expressed in every experience we have of him. So we must then read the bible with that knowledge – that is the filter of meaning we apply.

If you got a note that said, “I will be at your house at 3 o’clock”, you may feel excited, or nervous, or curious, depending on who sent it. If it was from someone you were in love with, it would be the best news. If it was from your enemy, it might be serious, If from an acquaintance, interesting. We interpret what is written through the filter of what we know about the person and their relation to us.

So we read God’s reply to Job through the filter of knowing his tremendous love for each of us. His reply is not sarcastic or critical. T is a loving explanation of the difference between Creator and creature. Our minds simply cannot manage all truth, even all knowledge.

Some mysteries we just have to accept in blind faith, and we can, because we know who is in charge, and that his plans for us are for good and not for evil.

What we can solve, then, with his help, is how to cope with the existence of suffering. Asking why won’t help, because we cannot have an answer. Asking HOW is far more sensible, because there he can help us. And we can know that the suffering will not be wasted.

St Paul, who knew personally about bad things happening t good people, wrote, “For we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.”

I offer you that today. No answers, no trite, comfortable words. Just the uncomfortable truth that, as Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, But do not despair. I have overcome the world.” And, “Look, I will be with you right to the end of time.”

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Heavenly food

The sermon today: John 4:34

Do you like to eat?  I am sure that most will immediately agree!  But what of spiritual food? Do we like to feed our spirits?

Food is enjoyable when we eat it, but do you enjoy spiritual food?  If you do not enjoy eating, perhaps your body is not working well?  And if you do not enjoy the “means of grace”, perhaps you should check up on your spiritual health.

What is important is to eat what is good for you and not what is useless or harmful.  There are many foods that look attractive, but do little good, and even harm.  The same is true of the spirit – are we feeding on what is helpful?  Is what we are exposed to spiritually harmful or beneficial?  What are we watching and reading?  How do we fill our time?

Just as there is a great variety of food available, there are many foods for the spirit, the “means of grace”.  It is not only church, but bible study, the communion, prayer, good books, even material on Youtube.  Perhaps a bigger mystery is with such opportunity, why do many starve themselves?

Of course, eating requires effort!  There is the buying, preparing, even the chewing of food, so we should not be surprised if spiritual feeding requires effort. There is a cost, but for our spiritual life Jesus paid a great price – are we prepared to do our bit?

Why do we eat? Firstly to give energy NOW, secondly to enhance the health of our bodies with vitamins and minerals, and thirdly to provide for the future. We cannot eat all the time!  The same is true of the spirit – to get an immediate boost, for our spiritual health, and to sustain us in our daily lives, and then forever.  Let His Word dwell in you, it will keep on blessing.

It is most important to realise that most food gives benefit slowly.  When we eat, we do not immediately get satisfied, but if we wait, and do not yield to the temptation of continuing to stuff ourselves, we will.  If you want to slim, eat only a little and wait!  The same is true spiritually.  (but I hope that nobody is trying to slim spiritually!)  If we have repented and accepted Christ we may immediately feel joy and peace, but more likely those feelings come later.  Similarly with healing – it is rare that the results are immediate – it normally is slow improvement, so persist in prayer.

Do you eat to live, or live to eat?     In JESUS – BOTH are true!

Sunday, 14 June 2015



Reverend Margaret Fourie

  • 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
  • Psalm 20
  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
  • Mark 4: 26-34
Today’s gospel reading immediately follows the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Mark. The agricultural theme is continued, which is not surprising, seeing they are on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee and can quite possibly see various fields and maybe even farmers from where they are.

This second parable on the kingdom of God seems at first sight to be simply that there is a gap between the two things that we as human beings can do, namely planting and harvesting, and that that gap is in the hands of God. The goodness of the seed in interaction with the goodness of the earth will predispose the seed to growth and fruiting, but how and why that should happen is a mystery, and the path of growth is not in our hands at all. It is intrinsic to the very nature of the seed that the growth will happen.

In the same way, from a small beginning, in the hands of God, by the activity of his Spirit, we who have received the seed of life, will be brought to harvest. It is a mystery and it is in God’s hands. We do what we can and leave the rest to him.

But if we look a bit further, there is another slant to this simple thought, told in the following bit.

Here Jesus introduces the mustard seed story with, “what parable will we use for it?” - in the Greek it means literally, “in what parable are we to place it?” as if the parable were a kind of wrapper for the truth. Here again we may suppose that the story merely confirms the message ‘from small beginnings may come a great harvest’, but the commentator Campbell Morgan suggests that Jesus may be continuing his imagery of the birds of the air as evil (compare the parable of the sower where they come and eat up the seed) and that the parable may be saying that the kingdom of God may grow to an unmanageable size and provide a nesting place for the very ones who would destroy it.

Certainly history supports this view. It was after the Emperor Constantine made Christianity not only legal but necessary by his patronage, that the church really began to decay.

That action led to the entry into the church of many who wished (and there are many today who still wish) to use the church for their own ends, to be respectable so that they could increase their power base, or to con people into thinking they were good.

Thus we have the shameful history of the Christian church over the ages, and for many people that is the final stumbling block against an already strange faith. In England today where the Church is still the state church, and the monarch titular head of it, with sole power to appoint bishops and priests to their office, the church is in disarray and the strange things we read on the back pages of Sunday papers confirm our worst nightmares for it.

We are in much the same danger here today. Our very respectability and success make us open targets for the powers of evil to attack. That attack will not usually be easily identifiable. It is more likely to come in a very subtle way, but even if we do not notice it, or cannot identify it, this evil will most certainly interrupt and restrict the work of God,

I believe most firmly that we are in the last days now, and the work of the Kingdom is urgent, urgent, urgent. How comfortable are you that many of your friends and family are doing nothing about their souls? Have no real relationship with Jesus?

To go back to the attacks on the church: one way in which we suffer attack is in our certainty that we would recognise Satan in any form that we very easily get lulled into not thinking at all. We become lazy and start to settle into familiar ways

A parable is designed to reveal a truth by contrasting two things; it is also meant to provoke serious thought and perhaps surprise and stir the conscience. We always like to think of ourselves as a great bunch of people, and I am sure that you are lovely. Does that give us the right to be complacent? Or to condone behaviour that is evil, immoral, dishonest, self-seeking? Does that give us the right to fall back on prejudices with impunity?

From time to time, I come across in the church, some deep-rooted prejudice, some closed minds to areas where the church is struggling to gain a clearer understanding of the truth revealed in scripture, and even some lemon-mouthed self-righteousness which allows others to feel judged and excluded. Not much, mind you, but some. And even, sometimes, some downright wickedness, like people who try to stop the work of God because of their own hurt feelings, disobedience or pride.

If I invite a gay couple to join us, will you welcome them? If I invite people living together without marriage to join us, will you welcome them? If I invite Xhosa-speakers and then wish to include some of their language in the service, will you welcome them with love?

As we have been accepted freely and without judgement by our beloved Lord, and as each of us has been accepted with love by our fellow parishioners, so we must accept freely, without judgement and with great love, those who come here at any stage and in any condition. And that means truly without judgement. It is God’s task and God’s alone to judge. Ours is to love and accept.

So as we read in 2 Corinthians, “...we make it our aim to please him...” so that we “...might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and was raised for us..”

Don’t be afraid that the shape of things will change, or that the fabric of the church will disintegrate if we let things change. It won’t. Jesus called the most extraordinary, definitely suspect people to be his disciples and followers. They created the church and spread the kingdom. They were specially chosen by God, who does not look at the outside, nor at the obvious bits that we can see. He knows the inside, and his judgement is often very unexpected. I have so often been brought face to face with a clear direction from God which has shown me that something I had thought quite unacceptable is in fact quite acceptable to God. Again, with Paul, then, we might say, “...From now on therefore we regard no one from a human point of view....”

It is a good investment to learn humility before the wisdom of God, and to open ourselves to being pleasantly surprised when we stop judging and start to allow the Kingdom of God to develop along its own lines, in its own time, in us and in the strange people we find ourselves sharing with right here. It is a maturing investment that will bring great rewards both for us and for those who will come to faith through and with us.

And to live a life free from compromise. The bible is quite clear. People who pretend to be good and hide secret vices will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Pretending seldom fools anyone for long. There are several Christians on this mountain who live lives so full of compromise and sin that others cannot bring themselves to come to church or be in any way identified with them. Then the work of God is halted and the attack of evil has succeeded.

How’s your life?

Where is your priority?

How is your eternity-investment?

Pew leaflet: 14th June 2015

This pew leaflet can be downloaded in PDF format from here: The sermon notes can be found here:

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Pew leaflet 7th June 2015: Pentacost 2

 Everybody welcome to join us for our morning service at 10am!  This Pew Leaflet can be downloaded in PDF format from here: