Sunday, 29 June 2014

Trust and Relationship

Do you think it is acceptable to God to get angry with him?  And if not, how should we pray if we are upset or hurting?

At the beginning of the service we heard the words of the psalmist, who typical of so many does not hold back in his complaints and questions to God.  “ How long O Lord, will you forget me forever”, “ How long will you hide your face from me”  These are statements of desolation.  One is left to wonder how long the author has felt isolated from God?  How lonely did this person feel?  And yet in the very darkest of these times, the psalmist points to a foundation of relationship.  “ But I trust in your unfailing love”. 

We all need trust in our relationships, especially when the going gets tough.  Often it is trust that will help a relationship survive when all else is lost.  Trust therefore is the root system of the Tree of relationship.  A strong foundation for the house.  If our faith is built on a deep rooted trust in God, then our root system is strong and healthy, our Faith we be fed with spiritual nutrients, it will grow and in time we will bear fruit.

This sort of trust is highlighted in our reading from Genesis, when you might think that Abraham’s trust in God is pushed to its breaking point.  What on earth was God thinking of when he suggested to Abraham that he should sacrifice his only Son.  For us this seems despicable, though we might find echoes in later history when we might well argue that God did indeed sacrifice his own Son for us.

Abraham was over 100 years old according to the writer of Genesis, which probably means that he was old.  He had developed a strong relationship with God.  And this is part of the point of the story.  It is important that God chose to push Abraham this far only when he had already matured in his relationship.

So for those of you today who have spent plenty of years walking with God, if you find yourself in a time of great testing, then I would urge you to remember this story from Genesis.  This story is all about relationship and really speaks about the primacy of relationship with God.  The family/tribal relationships were very important and still are to many people today.  In some cultures, even some sub-cultures within the UK, family relationships take primacy of place.  Even over God – and that’s a problem.  How often do you hear the phrase, family is everything; Christmas is all about the family; the political right often try and equate Christianity with the phrase “traditional family values”; and yet we see here a challenge from God.  In v 12 he says to Abraham, “ Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only Son”  Again a hint of things to come perhaps.

We also see this reflected in one of those disturbing scenes on Jesus’ life in Mark’s Gospel.  Jesus’ family (at least his brothers) had decided that Jesus was out of his mind, and presumably was causing the family some embarrassment, and they turned up trying to kidnap Jesus.  Jesus challenged the cultural importance of family ties by rebalancing human relationships when he says in v 34 “ Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister and Mother”.  So again we see the importance of seeking God first.  It is not that family relationships are not important or are in any way bad, it is just that they should not and never can be more important than our relationship with God.

Relationships however don’t stay static.  They have to evolve and grow or they stagnate and die.  This is as true of our relationship with God as it is of our relationship with our wife or husband, son or daughter, or parent or friend.

Paul puts our relationship in a start contrast of being a slave to sin or being a slave to righteousness.  The allegiances have been shifted from tribal allegiances or national allegiances to allegiance to that which is right.

What is interesting in Paul’s illustration is that the two directions are seen to mutually exclusive.  Slavery to sin leaves us free from the controls of righteousness, but leads to spiritual death and likely emotional ill health.  Take an illustration from modern life.  A gambling addict; a slave to betting will become financially dependent, will probably eat poorly spending the maximum amount of his disposable income on his habit, they may resort to lies and deceit in order to fund the habit.  This may  result in loss of family relationships, loneliness and mental or physical health issues, and isolation from God to whom he is blinded by his need for the adrenaline rush of the bet.  You can replace any thing for Gambling; status, work, drugs, adventure etc etc.

To highlight this, an alternative illustration could be the successful business person or politician who becomes addicted to power and further financial success.  In the same way this is equally addictive and can lead to the same negative effects on relationships both earthly and heavenly.  Which is worse?  Neither; as both risk losing relationship with God which is the relationship that feeds all others.  Did not Jesus quote Deuteronomy when he told the tempter in the desert, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.

Slavery to righteousness, however, leads to holiness and eternal life.  Paul of course uses the analogy of slavery because slavery was everywhere in 1st Century Rome.  Of course he meant it to be understood in terms of a spiritual truth.  What word should we use today.  Perhaps Addiction.  Are you addicted to work, to money, to success or status, to computer games, to the latest celebrity fashion or personality, the latest diet? – the list is endless or do you instead seek to spend time with God. 

I was reading a blog recently by Anita Mathias.  The piece was entitled; Does God have favourites? – Well the conclusion was of course that He doesn’t, but things happen to people who spend their time “ Hanging out with God”.  The more you spend your time Hanging out with Him then it gives time for the relationship t grow, you get to know each other better, you get to know his voice in a crowd.

So I guess the challenge this morning; I wouldn’t be a sermon if there wasn’t a challenge, is to say to you, take the opportunity to spend time hanging out with God.  If you don’t like that terminology, then pray, wait on him, listen to him, even read the bible.  The more we get to know God, the more meaningful and real our prayers will be.  The less we will be simply going through the motions.  We will start to enjoy a real relationship.  He can take our anger and our disappointment, God is big enough and has seen it all.  So touch base with Him every day, walk with God in the evening, he wants to walk with you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit


Amen

Friday, 27 June 2014

Soccer World Cups and fallen heroes

you would have to have been living on Mars to have missed the latest furore surrounding Luis Suarez, and his apparent biting of Italian Giorgio Chiellini.  

I wrote the following last year after a similar episode in the English Premier league.  How sad that nothing has changed.

1        "In the premier league football match between Liverpool and Chelsea on 21.4.13, Luis Suarez one of the Liverpool strikers bit Branislav Ivanovic a Chelsea defender on the arm.  There was an immediate reaction on the sports news sites both online, TV and in the newspapers.  The Guardian online in providing a review of the event and the apparent demonization of Suarez that had occurred in the immediate aftermath pointed out the difference in punishment handed to violent conduct associated with kicking as opposed to spitting/biting – which is considerably greater.  Suarez has since been banned by the Football Association for 10 matches, whilst he has also been fined by Liverpool FC.  It is understood he is donating the fine to the Hillsborough Families Support Group.  It is understood that Liverpool FC have said that they will work with him to improve his behaviour and that he will remain an integral part of their football team  (ref: www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2013/apr/22/luis-suarez-liverpool-bite-chelsea)



2      This vignette of human behaviour exhibits some fascinating and revealing facets.  In this case, a professional footballer who has courted celebrity as one of the top strikers in the English Premier league for one of the country’s most famous clubs.  Luis Suarez, however, is not stranger to controversy, having previously been sanctioned for a biting incident whilst a player for FC Ajax Amsterdam, and more recently having served an 8 match ban for the racial abuse of a player from Manchester United.  The latest incident suggested a behaviour born of frustration and a lack of emotional maturity in a “win at all costs” society.  I am using the word “society” here to refer to the enclosed society of professional football where cheating and lying are often accepted as normal behaviour to gain victory.

Within the wider human society, the media was quick to proclaim judgement on Suarez’ actions whilst his employer, the football club closed ranks and sought to present Suarez as a responsible adult who sought contrition for his actions.  The gave publicity to a statement of apology and to an alleged conversation he had with the victim, during which he apparently sought Ivanovic’s forgiveness.   Just how genuine the apologies were, it is difficult to determine as later Suarez was reported to have said that anything more than a nominal 3 match ban would have been unnecessary (in the end he would be banned for 10 matches whilst the club at present maintains confidence in him).  Even the Government sought to make some possible political capital out of the event by making a statement on the issue, possibly to reflect what it deemed was popular public opinion and gain favour.  Did this mimic the “win at any cost” behaviour of Suarez himself?  It could be argued that an unpopular government would seek to appear in touch with the voting public by making a popular pronouncement.

The media and social media (especially Twitter) revealed people ready to make judgements and call for a range of punishments to be applied with much of the language being highly charged.  There was however after a few days, a number of articles revealing skills of reflection and consideration, seeking to understand Suarez’ aberrant behaviour and in a modern age when behaviour is understood as being driven by genetics or psychology, it is no surprise that a variety of expert opinions were subsequently voiced as to Suarez’ problems and the likelihood of success in treatment strategies.


Overall,  we are left with a depressingly negative view of humanity, with the all too common traits of selfishness, greed, judgement, blame and deceit on show at times of stress."

I don't know whether Mr Suarez will ever change his behaviour on the pitch, I don't know whether the ban will really be considered long enough.  My own view was that he should have been banned for life, as this is the third time, not suggestive of much learning unfortunately, and what sort of message does this send to our youngsters on the sunday morning football pitches.  Come November Suarez may be back in a red Liverpool shirt as though nothing had happened again - this is what happened last season, when he was hailed a hero by the reds, and the same media that is currently vilifying him.  


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

In the midst of Anxiety

Angst

In the midst of anxiety
Worry abounding
Stomach churning
Heart out of sync
Fear rising

They say relax
Face your fears
If only I could
I try but pull back
The panic's too strong

So don't face the fear
Rather stop and wait
Listen for God-a still small voice
To comfort and console
To find a stopping point

Slow down and stop
Let the spinning subside
At the centre of the storm
A pearl of great delight
I fall into the arms of God

Spirit flames rise
Exploding within me
But in silence and mercy
And I am washed in Grace
Have faith my child.



Sunday, 15 June 2014

Prayer of Confession

Father, how often it is that we bow our heads in shame
For we carry even now our burdens of sin.
Even though you took our yoke from us
All to readily , we almost avidly seek to reclaim it.
Forgive us Father for our lack of faith –
Our inability to just let go of things.

We ask for your help so that we may stop putting our own needs over and above that of our neighbour;
Help us to stop abusing others just because they believe something different, or look different, or just sound different.

Help us to stop fearing change; to stop creating idols like football, nations, status, and celebrity.

Stop the greed, the arrogance, the fake humility, the false piety.

Father, help us to stop.  Just stop         and learn to listen and to rest in you.

Help us to pray.       Help us to trust.    Help us to love and Help us to forgive.

Father, we open ourselves to you now, letting you remove our shackles and yokes that we burden ourselves with; for your yoke is easy and your burden is light

In this moment of silence, release your selves to God, let the Holy Spirit enter you and know that you are beloved children and that you are forgiven.

In Jesus Name you are forgiven

Amen