Sunday, March 8, 2015

The God who cares

For the first Sunday Special of the year we planned to get people to think of all those questions that intrigue, perplex, interest you about faith, God and life itself.

Little did we think that 48 hours before atrocities would be committed in Paris that shocked the world.

No wonder that Sunday that people asked lots of difficult troubling questions about the troubled world we are all too conscious of.  Why is so much war and so much terror linked with religion, where is God in such a troubled world.  The questions came thick and fast.

And over the next two or three weeks those were the kinds of questions we addressed.  We went on to look at other troubling questions too.

In February’s Sunday Special we found ourselves reflecting on the way the Psalms touch our emotions not just with songs of praise but with poems of lament too.

It tied in with the program we have been following since last September.  We have been using a DVD and set of resources produced by Fischy Music Bring it All to Us.   They are a collection of songs for all ages based on emotions expressed in the psalms.

It’s good to give children access to this wonderful collection of prayers and songs in the Bible, not least because so many of them are laments.

In some ways it’s troubling to share difficult psalms of despair with children … but in other ways very timely and appropriate.   Our children live in the same world as we do … they have times of strain and stress as they are put under all sorts of pressures at school … and all of them will be alongside children in their schools with very troubling and difficult problems, often mental health problems.  It can be difficult for them as our adult world has chosen all too often not to address child mental health problems as child mental health services have taken a back seat when it comes to funding and general provision.
A fortnight and more ago Felicity, Andrea and I turned to making plans for today’s Sunday Special.

I for one have had enough of troubling questions.

I wanted to go for something that was calmer, quieter, something uplifting and positive.  Something in a word ‘nice’.

It’s all well and good being absorbed with the troubles of the world, but there is so much to celebrate and so much to rejoice in … let’s have that as our focus today.

And so we homed in on the song we sang earlier in the service.

It’s a lovely song that captures the warmth of a God who cares for us with a care and a love that will not let us down.

It’s a song that’s inspired by a set of Psalms that all use one particular image.

Psalms 57, 61, 63, 91

Psalm 57
In the shadow of your wings I find protection,
until the raging storms are over

Let me live in your sanctuary all my life
Let me find safety under your wings

As I lie in bed, I remember you;
All night long I think of you
Because you have always been my help
In teh shadow of your wings I sing for joy
I cling to you
And your hand keeps me safe

He will cover you with his wings
you will be safe in his care;
His faithfulness will protect and defend you.

Psalm 91
Whoever goes to the LORD for safety,
whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty,
2can say to him,
“You are my defender and protector.
You are my God; in you I trust.”
3He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers
and from all deadly diseases.
4He will cover you with his wings;
you will be safe in his care;
his faithfulness will protect and defend you.
God will put his angels in charge of you
to protect you wherever you go.
12They will hold you up with their hands
to keep you from hurting your feet on the stones.

It’s a  lovely image of God taking us under his wing.

And sometimes we need that image, that sense of the protection and the love of God.

And this has been just such a week.

We have been thinking of Dick since he was taken ill before Christmas.  Diana has worked her socks off to get Dick an appropriate place in a care home where he could be looked after and receive the care he needs.

On Monday morning I received a text to say an interview with Dick had been arranged for Wednesday morning and he would be admitted to the Grange on Pilley Lane on Thursday.
And then it came as a tremendous shock to hear on Tuesday morning that Diana had collapsed and died.

Our thoughts and prayers are very much with Dick and with Lesley and Wayne, Thomas and Samuel, and with Graham and Sheryl and Bethan too.

It felt touch and go for a while whether Dick would actually move … and then on Thursday afternoon Lesley and Graham were able to move their father into a room in the Grange.

Our hope and prayer is that Dick can settle there and be as well as he can be.

When it came to turning to prepare the service for this morning, our theme had already been chosen.

I turned up those readings … and somehow they seemed to speak very much of the care of God with us.

The song too had a sense somehow of speaking very much into all that we were as a church family feeling.

We your children
You are the one who will call us
You are the one who will draw us
You will always be for us
You are our God.

You are the one who will find us
You are the one who’s behind us
You will always remind us
You are our God.

We, your children, come to you
We, your children, run to you.

You are the one who will lift us
You are the one who forgives us
You will always be with us
You are our God.

You are the one who will call us
You are the one who will draw us
You will always be for us
You are our  God.

We, your children, come to you
We, your children, run to you.

The songs are interpreted in sign language – it’s been one of the wonderful developments of the way we sing in church.  A lot of the actions we put to the songs we sing now use sign language, often Makaton, and in this instance British Sign Language.  It’s a really good way of getting into our way of thinking signs that are full of deep meaning for people who use sign language.

Some of the songs we have sung on Sunday Speical Sundays have simply used the signs of the sign language as our ‘actions’.

Each song also has a video background that doesn’t use the sign language so much.

This was one of those songs where it seemed good to learn the signs for the simple chorus, but then sing the song through with the video background.

How appropriate it was to see all manner of people who can say ‘we, your children, come to you.

Many people come towards the light, and among them people using walking aids and people using wheel chairs.

I for one was not in a mood to be asking big and troubling questions … it’s one of those moments to sense the support of friends and family around, and one of those moments to sense the support of God, the God who takes us under his wing and cares for us with a care and a love that will not let us go.

The choice of that particular song then seemed doubly appropriate.  There was one other Psalm associated with the song … Psalm 23.

I come back to it time and again.

And this week I have come back to it again.

It’s a lovely Psalm as it prompts in our thoughts so many lovely images.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

It’s a Psalm that for me goes to the heart of the faith that is so important.

There can be no escaping that dark valley – and sometimes it can be very dark indeed.

But there is the promises of a presence that remains with us as we walk THROUGH the darkness of that valley …

That’s the promise I want to hold to now of all times.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Where is God when I need him?

There with us through the deepest darkness.  Always at our side – even at those times when we don’t know it.

But one question remains that I had noted to address today …

Why does God look after us?

I simply want to return to those few words from 1 John 4.

This is very nature of the God we believe in.

For he is the God of love who cares for us come what may.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.9 And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him.10 This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.11 Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another.

There is a wonder in nature with the rhythm of life.

How often in a family as one departs another arrives.

So it has been for us this week too.

As one departs, so one has arrived.

We have a grand daughter – with the arrival of Edith Marie to Phil and Lynsey.

A new life to celebrate even in the middle of a time of such sadness.

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