After a few weeks with much going on in my private life, my wife Gabriella and I had a long weekend in London for a break. We saw #2 daughter, who is studying there and went around Henry VIII’s pleasure palace, Hampton Court, with her. We laughed when she took a photograph of part of the gardens on her phone and posted it saying that she had found the perfect house for her next year’s studies which even had a garden, and laughed even more when one of her flatmates asked her how she could afford such a nice place.
But for me the highlight of the weekend was on Sunday morning, when we visited Duke Street Church in Richmond on Thames. The Old Testament reading was from Jeremiah, Chapter 2, vv 4 to 13. The New Testament reading was John 4 vv 1 to 26.
In the Old Testament reading, we hear God’s complaint against Israel, that they gave up worship of the one true God for worship of other gods that were no gods at all. In the New Testament reading we hear of someone who was told she worshiped what she did not know, yet the One who could fulfill her every need asked her to give Him water.
God had wanted Israel to have a relationship with Him, which is why He provided manna and quail in the desert. Jesus knew, supernaturally, that the Samaritan woman’s need was in relationships (You have had five husbands, but the man you have now is not your husband). She sounds like the sort of woman that many of our tabloid newspapers complain about, yet it is clear from the encounter recorded in the Gospel that she is desperately seeking some sort of satisfaction in relationships.
Here we saw at both a corporate and an individual level the message that the only relationships that can bring lasting satisfaction are those with God at their centre. As individuals, we cannot rely on another human being to meet all our needs, but we can rely on God in Jesus to do all that we can ask and even more than we can imagine. As a body, whether we are talking about a nation or a church, we need to be in relationship with God, listening to what He has to say and obeying Him.
But God is not only a God of love and kindness, He is also a God of justice. In the Jeremiah reading we find the words “Therefore I bring charges against you” (v9) and “My people have committed two sins”(v13). Jesus not only said, “Suffer the little children to come to me” but also took a whip and turned the traders out of the Temple, saying “My House shall be a House of Prayer but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
On both sides of the Atlantic, there are countries in which the peoples have exchanged God for gods which are no gods, leaders who are steering their peoples further from God rather than encouraging them to be God-fearing, and individuals who mock and sneer at Christianity and the whole morality that is built up from the Laws handed down to Moses when Israel were in the desert. There are also people who are hurting and who do not know where to turn. When Jesus returned to His Father, and Our Father, He left us with a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide our actions. Let us all listen to what He has to say to each one of us, because for each of us it will be different depending on our circumstances. We should aim to emulate Jesus, or where that is not possible, follow the example of John the Baptiser, who pointed others to Jesus, the true Light that came into the world.