Restoring our walk with God

Sermon Date: 
13 Mar 2011
Bible Base: 
Romans 8:14-17; John 15:1-11

David Jeans

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I was very struck by the comments made by Peter Beck, the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake a couple of weeks ago. He said that what mattered was not the Cathedral building, but the people who might be trapped under it. As it happened, one of the few bits of good news for the people of Christchurch was that there were in fact no people under the rubble in the Cathedral. Disasters like that earthquake and the tsunami in Japan remind us of the importance of people over buildings and possessions. Our first concern for anyone we know in places affected by disaster is ‘are they safe?’ – concern for their property (though of course loss of this can be distressing) comes second.
I guess having a new life in the family changes our perspectives too. A new life reminds us of the importance of relationships. Initially we love these precious new people simply because they are there and we want the very best of them. But nothing beats getting to know them and their little ways. As they grow they develop little mannerisms that we get to know and love – they grow and our relationship with them grows.
As most of you know, I love watching science programmes on the TV – at the moment I’m enjoying Professor Brian Cox’s Wonders of the  Universe. At times in the first programme it was easy to get overawed by the scales of time that he was talking about. But I am glad that he talked about the significance of the time we are in now – the time when there are people who can study the universe and try to understand it. Actually, I think that while our study of the universe is important, what is even more significant is that we are persons, that we are individual people. One of our philosophers (Descartes) said that ‘I think, therefore I am’, and that has been the idea that has most influenced our Western culture of individualism. One of our Pacific island lecturers at the College in New Zealand said that for Pacific island people the saying is ‘we are, therefore I am’. For them what defines who they are is the relationships they have with other people.
The most important thing about us is the relationships we have with others. They make us who we are. A couple of years ago we took some NZ friends to Bradfield (which they loved). We noticed how the gravestones don’t say how much money you had, or what career you followed – they mostly say ‘son of’ ‘father of’ ‘wife of’.   
Our relationships are at the heart of the meaning of life. And I believe that is because relationships are at the heart of who God is. We baptised Max in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In both our readings we heard about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Father, Son and Spirit are in relationship with each other. Relationships are fundamental to who God is, and therefore to who we are.
And both of our readings invite us into a relationship with God – in Romans we are told if we are followers of Christ, if we are led by his Spirit then we are children of God, and God is our heavenly Father. In our Gospel reading the same truth is spoken of with a different picture, a picture of being a branch of the vine, with the life of God flowing through us.
These are very organic pictures, pictures about relationship with God as well as relationships with other people. I believe we need both of those relationships to be the people God really wants us to be.
Those of us who have the privilege of parenthood know that parenthood does not stop with birth. We don’t send our children out of the nest as babies. We nurture and care for our children, and we have a growing relationship with them as we walk with them through their lives.
In the same way God doesn’t create us and forget about us. And he does not save us through Christ and forget about us. He wants a relationship with us – a relationship that builds. As our Father he delights in our growth, and he delights in getting to know us, and wants us to delight in getting to know him. He accompanies us on our journey through life. We walk with him and he walks with us.
In our series in Lent we are using the language of restoration. Today is about restoring our walk with God. But first I want to remind you of the ‘Footprints’ poem about the footprints on the sand. Sometimes there are two sets of prints as God accompanies us; but sometimes there are only one set of prints – that is when God is carrying us.
One of my favourite older hymns is ‘In heavenly love abiding’. At the end of verse 2 it says ‘He (God) knows the way he taketh, and I will walk with him’. God doesn’t want our walk to go our way – he knows what he wants for us, and he wants us to go his way!
A key time of our lives was when I moved to a new teaching job in Ipswich. We found a buyer for our house in Leeds, and went house-hunting in Suffolk. We found a nice house in a peaceful village, and the house was just 100 yards from the cricket pitch. So we asked God’s blessing on our decision. But we had problems – our buyers (who had said they were first-time buyers) actually had something to sell. Come the start of the new academic year 3 months later they had not sold their house. So I had to commute between Leeds and Ipswich, only coming back home at the weekend. By half term nothing had happened, and I spent a day in prayer and fasting. By the end of that day I was in a place to say ‘OK God, do with us whatever you want – but please make it quick!). In the next couple of days we lost the house we were buying, but then new buyers turned up for ours – and we ended up in a totally different town called Stowmarket. My call to ordained ministry came through Stowmarket Parish Church. We allowed God to take us His way, rather than asking God to come with us on our way.
God wants the best for us – and that best is that we should grow in the family likeness. Again, those of us who have children know the way in which we see family likenesses in our children- poor things. Those of us of more mature years have that very scary experience of realising that we are growing like our parents, and we find ourselves saying things to our children that our parents said to us! Isn’t that scary!
But growing like God isn’t scary; getting the Jesus family likeness isn’t scary; bearing the fruit of the vine isn’t scary. Because the family likeness is what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control.
Those are the qualities our walking with God will produce in us, as our relationship with him grows. So how can our relationship with God grow? First by deciding we want to go his way and not our own. The decision part of the baptism is all about that – turning away from things that are wrong, and seeking to follow Christ. It is hard to walk with God if we are trying to go in the opposite direction. How do we know the right direction?
To do that we need to follow the example of our elder brother Jesus and how he built his relationship with his Father. He spent time with his Father in prayer; he worshipped with others at temple and synagogue; he studied the scriptures. Through all those things he learned the character of his Father and learned to recognise his voice. So we build our relationship with God by spending time with him in prayer; by worshipping with others; by reading the Bible (and especially the stories of Jesus, because he shows us what his Father and our Father is like.) We need to read it on our own and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The picture of the vine reminds us that we must not cut ourselves off from God. But that picture also tells us not to cut ourselves off from each other. Our relationship with our Father God also involves relationship with our brothers and sisters. Both strengthen each other.
How is your relationship with God? Are you producing the fruit of the Spirit? Are you learning to recognise your heavenly Father’s voice? One of my strongest memories of my childhood is the sound of my dad’s first car. A black Standard 8 with running boards – registration JK 8808 – I can hear clearly in my mind the sound of the engine hanging gear as dad’s car turned into our road. When we look after our grand-daughter Izzy we love to see her face when our Richard – her DAD! – comes home. Her face lights up, and she holds her arms out to greet him and embrace him. What a picture of a child-father relationship. That is the relationship God wants with us as he walks alongside us in our journey towards him.
A few final points. Firstly, of course, the language I have been using is difficult if you have had a bad experience of fathers. Please remember that God shows us what fathers should be like, and not the other way round. Of course, that means that those of us who are fathers have an immense responsibility. When we tell our children that God is like a father, they will look at us to help them decide if they want to know such a God.
Secondly, the Footprints poem speaks of spells with only one set of footprints on the beach. The hymn ‘In heavenly love abiding’ has these last 4 lines in v 3
‘My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free; my Saviour has my treasure, and he will walk with me’.
God is walking with us even when we are not aware of him walking with us. His grip on our hand is much stronger than our grip on his hand.
Thirdly, do you feel cut off from him? Has your branch broken off the vine? One of the best-loved of Jesus stories is that of the Prodigal Son – but it is often given the title of the Waiting Father.  If your walk with God has been going astray, he is waiting by your side. He is waiting for you to say – OK Father God, I’ll go your way’ – and then the relationship can start growing again.