A Tweet from my friend Brendan Mulgrew, early in the week, set off a Sunday sermon thread in my imagination:
“That is a day full of bad news. Where is the light?”
That went rather well with the last sentence of the Lectionary Reading from Exodus 7: 1-7:
“Is the Lord among us or not?”
Those two phrases had me immediately hearing in my head a song by the late Rich Mullins. I was actually thrilled to find a potent reason to use Rich’s song Hard To Get in a Fitzroy sermon.
Hard To Get is I believe Rich at his most spiritually honest, vulnerable and insightful. It is also one of his cleverest lyrics and best honed songs. Not part of this blog but a blog in itself is the incredible line - “And I know it would not hurt any less/
Even if it could be explained”. Let that depth charge seep!
Sadly, we only have a poor quality version of Rich singing it, into him boom box. The late Rick Elias does a great version on the main CD of the Jesus Album. For our Fitzroy sermon I used a version by Belfast singer songwriter Andrew Patterson.
Hard To Get is a questioning of God. In fact it pushes the lines towards blasphemy as it turns almost into an interrogation. Accusing God of playing Hard To Get isn’t part of the regular diet at modern worship services!
Rich asks Jesus who is now in heaven, radiance and eternity whether he ever thinks of us who are left on earth and in time. Has he forgotten about us because as Rich prays in the dark night of his soul Jesus seems to indeed be playing Hard To Get:
“You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then
Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat
Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You're up there just playing hard to get?”
There is acknowledgement of the incarnation and Jesus living among us but have you forgotten us now.
I used the song as the central thread of a sermon preached in Covid-19 Times on a text about the Israelites wondering if God is still among them as they thirst in the wilderness.
Many of us might feel like those Israelites and wonder if God is with them or playing hard to get. Many of us might feel like every day is full of bad news and wonder where the light is.
Rich leads us on and then ambushes us with his final insight. A spiritual twist in the tale. He acknowledges Jesus love for him and how that love was demonstrated in the incarnation. He concludes with that twist. It is not so much Jesus playing hard to get as it is us finding it hard to get the ways of God. Powerful!
“And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this somehow
All I really need to know
Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can't see what's ahead
And we can not get free of what we've left behind
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt blame and regret
I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led
And so You've been here all along I guess
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get"