One of the best movies I’ve seen for a long time is “The King’s Speech” which won several Oscars three years ago. The story is about how the Duke of York unexpectedly and unwillingly becomes King George VI, just on the cusp of the outbreak of World War II. His role is to inspire and give courage and hope to the people of Britain in the face of the terrible march of Hitler through Europe. The main way in which he was to communicate with the people was through the radio – but he had a debilitating stutter and was terrified. It’s a wonderful story of how he overcomes this impediment to give the “King’s Speech.”The movie does not include what was to be his most famous and moving speech of all. As 1939 drew to a close, on the Eve of the first day of 1940, with all the horrors of the bombing of London just ahead, and with fear and foreboding all around, he spoke these words to the nation. They were written by Minnie Louise Haskins: “And I said to the one who stood at the gate of the year ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the Unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.” That seems to me to be a wonderful description of what Christians mean when we talk about living by faith. And in our three readings this morning, we meet three people who learn how to live not by sight, but by faith. These three learned in different ways that we cannot navigate the spiritual world, we cannot see the Kingdom of God just with our natural sight. We can only make that journey into God and into God’s kingdom when we actually allow ourselves to go into the darkness and put our hand into God’s hand, and take those first steps of trust.
“There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night.” Nicodemus is the first of the three people in our readings who begin a sometimes frightening and bewildering journey into the heart of God. Like the other two, he longs to see the Kingdom, to experience the love and salvation of God. And John tells us he comes by night. John means more than it’s just the evening: Nicodemus goes out into the darkness. “I want, I long to see.” And Jesus says, “You cannot see the Kingdom of God unless you are born from above, or born anew.” And it is John’s conviction that the only way for this to happen, the only way to gain the sight needed to see the Kingdom and then enter that Kingdom, is to allow our sight to be restored through the forgiveness of sins. To put our trust in the one who died for us on the cross, and through holy baptism to be washed and made clean. And to live the rest of our lives living not by sight but by faith,
The archetype of this blessed way of life is of course the first of the three people in our readings today. In Genesis 12 we read, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I shall show you.’” What a devastating thing. I want you to leave your country – I want you to leave your relatives – I even want you to leave your closest family. I want you just to go. I will show you – but not yet. Abram could not see where he was going – he simply set out into the darkness, and put his hand into the hand of God, and set out from Haran in faith. And it was that extraordinary walking in faith which caused God to bless him so richly and to make of Abram the one through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.
It was Abraham’s life of faith which was so important for the third person in today’s readings – and that is St. Paul. In the Letter to the Romans, chapter four, he explains that Abraham was so wonderfully blessed by God, not because of what he did, but by what he believed. He believed in God’s promises, and had faith that they would come to pass. And God showered down blessings upon him. In the same way, says Paul in verse 24, if we believe and trust in the one who raised Jesus from the dead, and believe, as he says later, that we too will be raised to life, then God will shower us with blessings also. We live by faith not sight.
Of course this was not disembodied theology. Paul himself had experienced what Abraham and Nicodemus had experienced. He knew that longing to know God, to see God’s Kingdom, and on the Damascus Road, he was blinded. It was night. The Risen Lord appeared to him and then, as the Acts tell us, “he got up from the ground, and although his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.” (Acts 9:8) “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.” Paul was learning to see in a new way – learning to walk by faith, not by sight. Three days later Ananias prayed, and he received his sight – new sight, and he was immediately baptized. Perhaps Paul might have prayed that great Psalm 18 in a new and wonderful way: “You, O Lord, are my lamp. My God you make my darkness bright.”
Abraham, Nicodemus, Paul. Three men who entered the darkness and learned to see again: learned to walk by faith and not by sight. They challenge us I think, to ask ourselves some searching questions about our own life of faith. Can you think of times in your life when you can say “I really trusted in God then.” Times when you felt you were taking a step into something unknown – or when you didn’t know where you were going, but had that experience of putting out your hand into God’s hand – and letting yourself be led by God.
I think in my own life, it has been after times of darkness which have paradoxically, been places where I have most known the presence of God. Perhaps you know the same? Perhaps a time when you lost someone dear to you, or when plans went wrong, dreams were broken. Perhaps you were very ill, or in a dark pit of unhappiness, or even despair. It seems to me it is then that God comes so close to us in love, and longs for us to put out our hand to be grasped by him. T. S, Eliot wrote: “I said to my soul, be still, and let the darkness come upon you, which shall be the darkness of God.”
These times are so often invitations to surrender, to give up the frantic need to control our lives, and recognize that actually God is in control – an invitation to surrender, and let yourself let go – into God. Let go and let God.
Perhaps this Lent is a golden opportunity to do precisely that. To let go and let God. To practice trusting, and really trusting again. What would my life look like if I walked by faith, like Abraham? How may blessing would God shower down on me, if I lived with child-like trust and confidence?
Why not try it this Lent?
Why not “go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way. So I went forth and finding the hand of God trod gladly into the night. And he led me towards the hills and the breaking of the day in the lone East.”
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