a love story

This Sunday morning in my sermon I will be exploring Hosea (the whole book). Every time I come to Hosea I find myself thinking, “What would I do if I was in Hosea’s position?” How would I feel? How would I cope?

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Hosea’s story is a love story… of sorts. The narrative is fascinating: Hosea set aside his personal preferences and on God’s instruction married a woman, Gomer, who was of dubious reputation (to say the least). This was to be a prophetic symbol to the nation of Israel about how God saw them – promiscuously pursuing other gods. He even named his children with names that spoke prophetically – how would I feel if God told me to name my daughter ‘Not Loved’?! And then there’s the emotional pain and heartache of Gomer’s further unfaithfulness and prostitution.

God not only told Hosea to take her back but he actually BOUGHT her back – perhaps paying off her pimp! Again, this was to be a prophetic sign of how God was going to treat Israel for a season (Hosea bought Gomer back but they were to abstain from sexual intimacy for many days and in the same way Israel’s return would be gradual). It’s only 14 chapters into the book (the final chapter) that there is a glimmer of hope for Israel as Hosea the prophet finishes denouncing them and instead announces the possibility of return to God, forgiveness, reconciliation and a renewed relationship with him. Hosea went through an emotional and reputational wringer in order to give the people God’s message. Some of you may be empathising with him a little! But he was willing to allow his whole life to be a message from God, not only his words. It’s a love story where we are Gomer and God is Hosea.

Ministers can feel a pressure (it may come from within or from outside us) to be a shining example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and not admit to any weakness. We can present ‘supercope’ to our people: nothing fazes us and we are as close to Jesus as it is possible to be this side of heaven (I exaggerate for comedic effect) (I think). But do we really want people to look at us and see a message from God that it’s wrong to admit weakness and that we never struggle? That’s not a message we find in the Bible: read Romans 7 if you doubt me!

It is important for people to know that we are trying our best with God’s Spirit’s help, they need to see leadership from their clergy, and the qualities of a leader are clear in the Bible. But I believe that we also need to admit that we are fallible, that we are not perfect, and that we don’t have it all together. I’m not talking about airing all of our dirty laundry – we have to be sensible about what we share. But how often are we prepared to be vulnerable about our own doubts, failings and struggles? Can we admit to people that we make mistakes – even Ministers who have trained, studied and are set apart for ministry? Do we dare allow the admission of our mistakes to be a message from God  – that no follower of Jesus is perfect but when we struggle, fail or even doubt there is hope because his Spirit is in us? Does admitting our struggles strengthen or weaken the message that there is the possibility of return to God, forgiveness, reconciliation and a renewed relationship with him?

What message from God do people get when they look at you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

out of all proportion

When our children were very young I started something that became a family ‘thing’. I was messing around with them and, resting my head on top of one of our son’s head, I jiggled my jaw back and forth. It made him laugh so I did it again. Our daughter didn’t see what I had done but she wanted it done too, so I jiggled my jaw on top of her head too. But neither of them saw exactly what I was doing. It felt funny to them but they couldn’t work out what I was doing.

They really wanted to know what I was doing and for ‘no partic’lar reason’ (to quote Forrest Gump) I decided I wouldn’t tell them. The more I refused to tell them the more they wanted to know and the more they wanted to know the more I refused to tell them. From then on, occasionally I would jiggle my jaw on top of one of their heads without the other one seeing what I was doing (and the jigglee had no idea). Each time they wanted to know what I was doing.

old enough to know the ‘thing’

When this had grown into a family ‘thing’ I told them that I would tell them the secret when they were 18 and not before. And so the ‘thing’ kept going. When our son reached 18 he remembered about it and asked for the secret so I told him on condition that he couldn’t tell our daughter because she was not yet 18. She turned 18 at the end of June this year and earlier this week she suddenly remembered that she was now entitled to know the secret of the ‘thing’.

I showed her how I was merely jiggling my jaw from side to side on top of her head. She couldn’t believe that’s all it was. It was the family ‘thing’ and now she knew (she laughed hard when she found out the secret) but there was also a bit of a disappointment that it was so simple. But there’s now no more family ‘thing’.

Incidentally that’s why magicians don’t tell you how we do our illusions: if you found out how illusion was performed you would probably be disappointed and the illusion would be ruined for you because now you would not see and enjoy the performance of the illusion you would just be thinking about how it is done.

But sometimes it’s best to burst the balloon because sometimes things are blown up out of all proportion and become much bigger than they need to. That disagreement that escalated to an argument and became a row and then led to the breakdown of a friendship. That upset that became hurt feelings that festered into resentment and became septic hatred. That misunderstanding that was unresolved and dug itself into entrenchment that ossified into confrontational positions.

These things can be prevented with a good dose of Christlike love, grace, forgiveness, humility and gentleness. These characteristics are not something we can generate ourselves, but God’s Spirit blesses us with them and nurtures them in response to our desire for them. They are indominatable and irresistible. I think that’s what Paul meant when he wrote to the churches in the region of Galatia:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:22-26)

And these things can help to deflate the balloon (less messy than bursting it but non-alliterative). It starts with a recognition of the value of what has been lost: that a friendship is more important than being right; that a relationship is more valuable than hatred; that collaboration is better than confrontation. And that recognition leads to action, to someone making the first move towards reconciliation. Which also points me back to my recent series on the atonement – God loves us than we can ever know and has made the first move towards reconciliation.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

living together

reconciliation must be better than this
reconciliation must be better than this

Picking up from last Friday’s bloggage, this passage from the Bible was in my email inbox today (I subscribe to ‘Red Letter Days’ from my friends at Kore – they have an iphone or android app which daily sends you some words of Jesus):

If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell them – work it out between the two of you. If they listen you’ve made a friend. If they won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If they still won’t listen, tell the church. If they won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront them with the need for repentance and offer again God’s forgiving love.

Matthew 18 v 15-17 TM (altered to be gender inclusive)

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The passage from Matthew 18 used to puzzle me because Jesus talks of ‘church’ but the church had not been established yet. However the word we translate as ‘church’ more accurately means ‘assembly’ and relates to the synagogue community of Jesus’ day as much as to churches today. But rather than get distracted by translation semantics, it is better to be attracted by the attitude of humble reconciliation and grace.

You can never have enough grace (you can quote me on that!).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

“Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?”

Face - Trying to copeSo begins one of the all time classic songs, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

I had an experience where I felt like that this morning. I had a vivid dream in which I was left feeling really exasperated and upset by a fictional person in my dream. There were a lot more details, but in essence this is the dream:

In the dream Trevor Peacock, the actor who plays Jim Trott in The Vicar of Dibley, was supposed to be selling me a railway ticket but deliberately delayed it until my train had left. I was getting more and more frantic because the time for the train’s departure was getting closer and closer and he was not doing anything. Finally, just as I could see the train pulling away, he pressed the button to complete the transaction which meant that I had paid for the ticket but it was useless.

For a moment as I gained consciousness I was left wondering whether or not it was real because it was so vivid. I was left feeling the stress, strain and exasperation of the dream. The feelings it had generated were real, even though the dream was fictional.

I would rather none of you attempted to analyse my subconscious mind through that dream. I don’t think it is a dream of biblical proportions where God was trying to tell me something. I once heard dreams described as the way that, while you sleep, your mind files all that has been happening to you. I like that concept. It is quite neat and cute. But if it is true about that dream I think it is safe to say that the filing cabinet needs some attention!

So, what deep and meaningful thoughts have I gleaned as I have reflected on this today? The thought occurred to me that I can be the cause of exasperation, stress and upset for others. If they feel as badly as I felt this morning when I woke up it is something that needs to be dealt with. It might not be anything that I have intentionally done but I need God’s help to be discerning and to have the grace to respond if I have done that.

As communities of followers of Jesus we need to have the grace and courage to tell someone if we are upset by them too. It’s not easy, it can be painful, it can be awkward, but it is worth it as God pours his grace into the situation and the process of healing and reconciliation begins. And somehow, if we all have been honest and vulnerable, God takes that brokenness and makes something stronger out of it. That’s his way, of course, it’s the way of the cross.

Be blessed, be a blessing