'the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way' - Exodus 13:21
After all of the plagues, the endless back and forth, the people of Israel were finally free. They could get up and leave their masters and go to the land, promised to their forefathers. They packed up their stuff, they got up, and they followed God’s pillar of fire by night, and cloud by day.The Bible is filled with times when people followed God’s signs. At Christmas and Epiphany we remember the wise men following the star until they find Jesus. Samuel follows God’s call to find the boy who would be King David in the fields, and St Paul sees the giant Macedonian standing pointing towards Greece when he is unsure which way to go. In fact, if you look hard enough, almost every difficult journey that anyone makes in the Bible is in response to a call from God. The Bible could be said to be a history of people who followed the God who called them, and so too is the history of the Church a history of people following God’s call. So what about you?
As many of you know, before I became a Christian, when I was a young adult, I struggled a lot with drugs and addiction for a whole host of reasons, and one day I was out on the streets in Manchester, and I’d taken quite a lot of stuff. It was an average night and I don’t really remember much about it, other than that it was quite cold and I looking for one of the places that was open all night at about 4am because it was that cold and, although not usually the most wholesome of places, it’d be better to be inside and warm and vaguely unsafe than outside and cold. But as I walked, I want you to imagine this scene, I was scared and miserable and desperate, and stopped to tie my shoes when I saw the doors to a small Methodist Church were open, and there was a warm light inside. I went and looked inside and it was a bare chapel with not an ounce of beauty, there was one cross on one wall, it wasn’t a pretty place, if that chapel was a dog it’d be put down, but there, on the pews were a couple of men sleeping in sleeping bags, in a nice warm room, with two – I think – street pastors quietly drinking hot chocolate in the other corner. I fell asleep against the radiator, looking up towards that cross and, in that moment, I could have cried at how beautiful that chapel felt. It was like a little slice of promised land, though I wouldn’t have used those words to describe it at that time. I was not a nice person back then, and even for a long while after I had became a Christian and given my life to God, even though I knew I wanted to follow him, I had this idea in my head that I wasn’t good enough to follow God. I had this notion that to follow God you had to be perfect or that you had to have it all together. And that I should sort myself out before trying to follow him.
Following God, doesn’t require you to have it all together. That way of thinking is like saying to yourself, ‘I’d love to go to the gym but I’ll just get in shape first so they don’t think I’m unhealthy.’ You might be in this room today, riddled with guilt and sure that God could never use you, but God is in the business of using people like you and me, and the worst possible people by society’s standards are often the ones He chooses. I was a horrible person, I’d have robbed you if I could have, and even the greats like Moses had a speech impediment, Peter was a constant disaster. But God uses people like you and me just as much as the people with it all sorted. Following God doesn’t require you to have it all together. Following God just requires two things: to follow God you have to listen to what he is calling you to do, and you have to have the faith to say yes. If everyone in this Church just listened to God and said 'yes' to what He was telling you in the quiet of your heart, we’d see a revival; we’d see liberty for the oppressed and deliverance into God’s promise, just as we have seen in the people of Israel in our Exodus reading. Following God requires us to listen to His call and to say 'ye's. But sometimes that’s blooming hard.
It’s easy when it’s a cold night and God is calling you to the warm place where you can rest. It’s harder when saying yes means giving something up that’s important to you. It’s harder when it means embarrassing yourself and telling your friends what you believe. What about when God’s call is to something scary? Like the disciples in our Gospel reading, who had followed Christ all the way through his ministry and now found themselves following him to his crucifixion. Saying yes to God’s call won’t always be easy and it might hurt, it might be a battle as it nearly was for the Israelites, but it will mean that, as we follow God, we make earth a little bit more like heaven. Maybe some of you have had an impossible time recently, following God. Maybe you’ve almost given up. I certainly have felt that way in the past; unloved, mourning and desperate. Well in our reading from Revelations we can see a glimpse of what heaven coming to earth will look like. All you who are mourning or ashamed, listen.
'Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ In following God we are stepping out of the cold, dark of night to be in the warm glow of his love.'
As the disciples followed Jesus to the Jerusalem, through all of the pain, to see God’s kingdom come, as the Israelites followed God through the wilderness towards the Promised Land, so can we, through all of the pain, all of the hardest points in our lives, follow Christ, towards the new Jerusalem; where every tear will be wiped away as heaven comes to earth. All we need to do is listen and say yes. So what does following God mean for you today? Where is the pillar of fire leading you? Well, to find that out you’ll have to listen to God. Just ask him to speak to you when you’re next on your own. He might speak to you like he did to Moses, or he just direct you in the still small voice of your heart, but either way, it is up to you to say yes to his call. Let’s sit and listen to the voice of God in our hearts now and in the week to come, as we have a short time of silent reflection. Amen (from Fr Jordan).