Bible reading: Psa 50:7-12
[Note: this sermon was live-streamed from Holy Trinity Church, Norwich, on the morning of Sunday 22 March 2020. This was Mothering Sunday, and also the first Sunday on which our church (and many others) did not meet for public worship because of the increasing threat posed by the Corona Virus (Covid-19) pandemic.]
The world is a very different place today than it was even a week ago. From lockdowns and school closures to travel restrictions and self-isolation the impact on us all is enormous. Politicians are busy passing measures to limit the spread of the Corona virus. Medical staff are working flat-out to treat the sick. Scientists are on a mission to develop a vaccine. And we’re all trying to work out how to survive – let alone flourish – in this strange new world.
It seems a very odd time to be talking about self-sufficiency. If the pandemic is telling us anything, it is telling us that we are not self-sufficient. We are not ‘masters of our fate’; we are not ‘captains of our souls.’ We are weak, needy, vulnerable creatures.
And yet I do want to talk to you about self-sufficiency today. Not ours, but God’s. It’s part of a series of messages we’re doing under the heading, ‘None like him’. And, although the series was planned before anyone had even heard of ‘Covid 19’, I don’t think it could have been more timely if we’d seen it coming.
There are two things I want to say from Scripture.
1. God is self-sufficient
God lacks nothing and wants for nothing. He doesn’t need our help or our advice. He doesn’t need to apologise for anything.
Psa 50:12 “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”
Acts 17:24f – ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.’
(a) God is self-sufficient in his power. Even fastest runner, the highest jumper, the strongest weight-lifter, have severe limits on what they can achieve. But God has no such limits. Psa 115:3 – ‘Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.’
(b) God is self-sufficient in his thought. We ourselves do not know a fraction of a quarter of a percent about anything. We are all ignorant, only on different subjects. Isa 40:13/Rom 11:33f – ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’
(c) God is self-sufficient in his life. ‘What is your life?’ ask James (4:14). ‘You are a mist that appears for a short while, and then vanishes.’ But God is ‘the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal.’ (1 Tim 6:16)
(d) God is self-sufficient in his relationships. Our relationships come and go. They have their delights and disappointments, their make-ups and break-ups. But God finds complete satisfaction in his own three-in-oneness. Jesus, at his baptism, saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”’ (Mt 3:16f). And this was a relationship which, as John’s Gospel teaches, they had enjoyed since before the world began.
(e) God is self-sufficient in his happiness. We are dependant for our happiness on people and things outside of ourselves. So it is as fleeting as shafts of sunlight on a stormy day. But the apostle can write, in 1 Tim 1:11, of ‘the gospel of the glory of the blessed God’. God is for ever “blessed” or “happy” in himself.
2. Because God is self-sufficient, he is all-sufficient
Let me take you back to Acts 17:24f – ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.’
Do you see the connection? Because God is self-sufficient, therefore he is all-sufficient. It is because God is so full of life in himself, that life overflows from him.
(a) God is all-sufficient in his love. For us, love is so often called forth by something attractive, or lovely, in the other person. Deut 7:7f ‘The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you…’ In other words: ‘I love you…because I love you.’ This is wonderfully liberating: God does not love people out of any sense of obligation, or because he finds us lovable. And there is nothing you can do that could make God love you more, or less, than he does right now.
(b) God is all-sufficient in his gift. 2 Cor 8:9 ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’ Am I speaking to someone who is still on the outside of the Christian faith, looking in? What more could God have done to bring you back to himself? What is stopping you from receiving his all-sufficient gift right now?
(c) God is all-sufficient in his presence. Just now, there are places we cannot visit, people we must keep away from – even our own mothers and grandmothers! But God is not confined to any particular time or place. Acts 7:48 ‘The Most High does not live in houses made by men.’ There is no place where God cannot be known; no corner so remote that prayers cannot be heard; no isolation so lonely that God cannot be present to bless.
(d) God is all-sufficient in his compassion. Isa 49:15 poses a question, which William Cowper puts like this:
Can a woman’s tender care
Cease toward the child she bear?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
Yet will I remember thee.
The most caring of health workers, carers, and even mothers may experience ‘compassion fatigue’. But ‘the Lord’s compassions never fail.’ (Lam 3:22f.)
(e) God is all-sufficient in his grace. The apostle Paul knew more trials and troubles than most. Among other things, there was his ‘thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:7-10). Brothers and sisters, what will it take for us to rediscover this for ourselves?
Two simple prayers:
‘Lord, change me.’ The coming days and weeks and months will make many demands on us all. Let’s use the present crisis as a wake-up call. Let us give up our proud claims of independence; our boasts of self-sufficiency. Let’s lift our eyes to our all-sufficient God. And then let us return again to the challenges and opportunities before us with a new perspective, with fresh generosity of spirit, and with renewed hope.
‘Lord use me.’ 2 Cor 9:8 ‘God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ If everything that we are and have is a gift from the all-sufficient God, let us hold it lightly. ‘Freely have we received; let us freely give.’
Question for reflection or discussion: ‘How do you think God might want to change you at the present time? And how do you think he might want to use you?’