UNITED REFORMED CHURCH
News from St Andrew’s
Craig’s summer message
Revd Craig Bowman
Let me apologise in advance to those who don’t like football but I think I need to talk about it.
As I write we are just about to start the Euros – the four yearly competition between the best football teams in Europe. This was supposed to take place last year but was delayed until this summer because of the pandemic. I have to confess to divided loyalties. I would always want Scotland to do well but, as this is the first competition they have qualified for since 1998, I haven’t much experience of following them on big occasions, therefore I have also followed England in the big events too.
Both teams have raised my expectations in the past and then failed to deliver - beating one of the favourites but then losing or failing to beat an unfancied teams! Why, oh why, do they do this to me?
Heightened expectations soon dashed; it’s a familiar tale in human life. People we put our trust in let us down and organisations we rely on are not always able to help us. Human beings and the organisations they create are fallible and, even when we think we know them, sometimes they do not act in the way we expect or the way we hope. It is frustrating and can be hurtful, but unfortunately none of us is perfect and things do go wrong.
It’s a truth that the Apostle Paul knew well.
Paul had great hopes for the organisation that was the young church, and for its individual members. In his letter to the Romans he takes 11 chapters to explain how God has been dealing with his people through history culminating with the gift of Christ that reunites us with him – 11 chapters of sometimes convoluted, sometimes inspirational theology. Then in the 12th chapter he outlines the implication of God’s initiative with human beings. ‘Therefore,’ he says. ‘Therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices …’ and then goes on to give a wonderful description of what the church might be and what it’s people should be. (I don’t have space to quote it all here so please read the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans).
Paul had a wonderful vision of how great the church could be and great hopes for its people. It is inspiring and uplifting, but our experience is that reality is not often quite as inspiring. Many of us have had hurtful encounters with churches and have found some of its people to display little of the behaviour that Paul encourages. We have, of course, also found people who display wonderfully exactly what Paul is trying to encourage in his letter.
However, it is the disappointments that tend to stick with us more easily than people acting as we would expect. I recall many more games where Scotland or England failed to win a match that they should have won, than I remember games where they did what was expected from them. It is the disappointments and the failures that stick with us rather than our fulfilled expectations.
Paul knew how disappointing the church and its people could be. We need only read his letters to the Corinthian Christians to realise that the churches he knew were far from perfect. Yet he still had this great vision of what the church could be - and should be. In laying out his hopes for the church it is a description of what we might be, not what we are. Paul’s words in Romans should serve as an inspiration to us, and not as a tool for criticising those who fall short of how we believe they should behave. After all, before we open our mouths to complain about someone’s behaviour let us remember that they are, like us, only human, prone to failure but also, with God’s help, capable of great things.
In the coming weeks let us remember Paul’s words and find in them inspiration for our living as individuals and as a church. Let us also display the readiness to forgive others just as in Christ we are all forgiven.
The Revd Craig Bowman is minister of St Andrew’s Cheam and Wallington United Reformed Churches
Posted on 1 Jul 2021