St Stephen Lewisham
21st August 2011
When people talk about God’s Providence they are usually thinking about their own lives, and how God has providentially intervened in them to heal them from their sickness, to comfort them when they are distressed, or to rescue them when they are in trouble – to name but three examples. All of us, at one time or another, have experienced God’s providence as individuals when we have turned to Him to help us.
But God’s Providence also ‘provides’ for His Church – and often in most unexpected ways!
Think of the case of Shebna whom we heard about in the first Reading this morning. In the time before Jesus Christ came to earth God’s Church consisted of His Chosen People, the Jews. Well they were constantly in trouble, often because of bad, or ineffective leadership.
Shebna was an important official (‘Master of the Palace’ was his title: ‘Treasurer’ we would call it today) in about 600BC. If you read the whole story it looks very much as if he had been helping himself to public funds in order to build himself a magnificent tomb. In other words he was corrupt and betraying the trust which people had place in him.
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? From MPs expenses, to those who went on the rampage a fortnight ago and looted and burnt other people’s property, and the corruption in High Places, which leaves so many Third World nations desperately impoverished, there are many examples of such betrayals of trust.
Doubtless many people asked themselves ‘but what can we do about it?’ without considering what God might do. What he did was to remove Shebna and appoint Eliakim, God’s trusted servant in his place.
If we now turn to the Gospel we hear how Jesus appointed Peter to lead His Church which at that time consisted of the Twelve Apostles and those who followed Jesus as His disciples. Peter wasn’t the obvious choice. John, His beloved Disciple, the brother of James seemed more appropriate on the surface. Even more surprisingly he chose Judas Isacariot to be His Treasurer rather than Matthew, the ex-tax collector who had spent his professional life dealing with finance.
Both Peter and Judas let Him down, on more than one occasion, Judas so disastrously that he committed suicide as a result. But somehow, despite all their shortcomings, the Church of Jesus came through relatively unscathed. God, in His providence, knew what He was doing!
If we think of Providence only in terms of what God has done for us personally, we shall indeed hear a part of the story, but only a small part of the whole.
If, on the other hand, we study our Bibles, both Old and New testaments we shall see what God has also done for, and through, His Church over its history, and understand why St Paul, in the Second Reading is so excited by the workings of His providence. Let me read the short passage again:
How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be his counsellor? Who could ever give him anything or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen.
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