Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Trinity: Divine hide and seek: preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday, 22 August 2021 by The Reverend Christopher Huitson. (Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; St. John 6: 56 – 69)
I wonder if you have noticed how children play hide and seek. To our way of looking at things it may seem that the object of the game is to remain hidden as well as possible so as to escape detection for as long as possible. But clearly this is not how children see it. For after a fairly short time a hidden child becomes fed up with waiting and so starts to give clues to the searchers – asks them where they are, calls out, or even comes out to look for them. For children it is the excitement of being discovered which is the point of the game, not the long wait in hiding.
We can apply this neatly to our faith and, indeed, to God and the way in which he interacts with us. We begin to see that it is the discovery of God which is important and he helps us by calling us and stepping out of his hiding place in the person of Jesus Christ.
But why does God hide himself at all? In the Old Testament we find that the Israelites were very much in awe of God – an aspect of his nature which we perhaps undervalue. Contact with God was always seen as potentially dangerous and so all sorts of restrictions were put in place as a form of protection. An analogy might be with electricity which has useful visible effects but which is also dangerous and even fatal if touched. The people of the OT certainly saw the necessity of protecting themselves against the dangers of too close a contact with God.
But one consequence of this is that it is entirely possible for people to live their whole lives without involving God at all. Of course, that will leave some questions unanswered and some signs and promptings unheeded but it is possible and many people seem to choose to avoid God. Although God’s heart would be glad if the whole world turned to him yet He does not force belief on anyone for if it is compelled it stops being belief. So, God protects us from the awesomeness if his unveiled presence; on the other hand, he wants us all to find him and believe in him.
God is hidden yet uses ways to lift the veil and show us glimpses of himself. The words of the prophets and great religious thinkers of the Bible reveal insights into God’s nature. The actions of people like Moses and Abraham show us a living faith which was justified by God’s agreement with them – his covenant, his bargain.
In the person of Jesus Christ, the veil is torn apart and God is seen in Christ by his life and teaching. An even more spectacular revelation takes place at the Transfiguration which revealed Christ’s special nature and his divinity. The disciples see Moses and Elijah with him as representing the law and the prophets. Christ shows us that God is not a warrior God or an evil god or an uncaring god; but a good, loving and caring god who looks for a response from us.
The disciples gradually discover how special Jesus was and what he revealed about the nature of God. The account of the stilling of the storm has the disciples exclaim “Truly you are the Son of God”. The gospel writers have an eye on the symbolism of that story. We know how rough life can be and how turbulent our lives become at various times. When we are fearful, we need Jesus to calm the storm, pull us from the waves and shore up our faith again.
You might think that Jesus would find it easy to convey his precious truth to people and that they would listen to his words avidly. But our gospel reading today shows that it wasn’t easy at all and that some people were offended by his image of himself as the bread of life which could symbolically be eaten. We are told that many of his disciples drew back and no longer followed him or hung upon his words. What we are called to do is also not necessarily easy.
God wants us to search for him and to have faith in him. He takes the child’s approach in the divine game of hide and seek – he wants to be found. We however are tempted to play it the grown-up way. We will hide for ever without stirring. If we are careful no one need know that we are Christians. We will not call out or move from our safe cover. But this is not the way it should be. We are to be like little children in this respect and in a few others which Jesus had in mind. Our hiding place is to be discovered. We are to be known as Christians and our precious truth shared with all. We have something for other people. Something that will bring the taste back into their lives and lighten the darkness.
There was a sentence taken from St. Matthew’s gospel and used in the Book of Common Prayer as an introduction to the offertory. As a consequence, it has become associated with taking the collection. But it speaks not of money but of our Christian faith: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.”