How many of you have watched the Channel 4 TV show Gogglebox? For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Gogglebox is an observational documentary that features couples and families from around the country watching TV. Yes, incredible as it sounds in this TV show you are watching people watching TV! Well, the irony isn’t lost on me, nor is the discomfort that comes from realising, that I too, am contributing to the show’s success.
Christians for a long time have got very hung up on the idea that God is watching them. In fact, it could be said that the ‘Religious Gogglebox’ is the notion that God is watching us watching him… watching us watching the world; I could go on, thankfully I won’t! The idea of a god watching us in this way is not helpful, it makes our God sound like GCHQ waiting to catch the bad guys. Does God really watch us, or does he watch over us? Psalm 121 says “The Lord will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul. The Lord will watch over your coming in and your going out.” Likewise, the Father in the ‘parable of the Prodigal Son’ didn’t watch his son’s every move, he simply responded, as God does, with an overflowing of grace, and rejoiced at his son’s return.
God is there when we need him, just as the son needed his father. God’s prophets in the Old Testament were often called Watchmen or Sentinels, not because they watched the people but because they watched out for danger on their behalf (Ezekiel 3:17).
God watches out for us, cares for us, loves us, pours his grace upon us, he even stands in for us. Does not the Easter story tell us that very truth? Although this is something to be joyful about it might be that Easter this year has been a difficult time for you. If that’s the case, know that you have a heavenly parent who loves you and will watch over you. In fact, watching is simply not enough for God, he is with you, he shares the sorrow and the hurt. Jesus came so that we might understand the deep personal love that God has for each one of us.
Easter is a time of joy, but it is very easy in our society to think that just watching is enough. There is no Gogglebox for Easter! So I hope that you have been drawn into the whole experience of Easter, the love, the joy, even the pain and the fear, and maybe even the odd chocolate egg too. Be blessed this Easter time and know that God is with you.
Five things you might want to give up for lent.
1. Give up the past tense for Lend.
2. Give up, giving up things for Lent.
3. Give up new year’ s resolutions.
4. Give up procrastination next Lent.
5. Give up making lists.
When we talk about religion we very rarely talk about freedom. For most people the last thing that religion leads to is freedom. For centuries religion has been synonymous with the law, with order, with structure, with boundaries and limitations. Some would argue that religion is a gift, that when accepted wholeheartedly, and with gratitude it brings life to the soul, body, mind and spirit. However, since Jesus’ death and resurrection, despite religion emerging as the defining force in culture, church, society and law, scripture suggests that Jesus came to abolish religion not to establish it! How is it then that although the Church of Christ is larger and more numerous than it has ever been (2.23 billion worldwide), we find that religion is still the defining force of what we do as a church?
For many in this country, turning to God has become more difficult. Believing in God is often seen as a limitation on freedom, not the spiritual and physical liberation that it claims. Is Lent just another example of ‘religion’ rather than freedom in Christ that the early apostles proclaimed?
I know this might sound controversial but Jesus didn’t come so we could clear out our larders on Shrove Tuesday! St Paul insists, in his letter to the Romans, that Jesus replaced the ‘law of religion’ with the ‘law of the Spirit’, and that through the Spirit we are set free (Romans 8:1-4). Unfortunately, Lent has become a time for physical detox, when we hope to improve ourselves in some way; but actually Lent is more about freedom and joy than it is about austerity and detox. It is true that Lent is meant to reflect the wilderness experience of Jesus but you’ll remember that just before those 40days in the wilderness, John the Baptist said “Repent”, which means “Turn to God”. Turning to God is the most freeing thing we can do. When we turn to God we rediscover the personal relationship that God longs to have with us. And so instead of Life/Lent being bound by religious or even cultural obligations it becomes uninhibited and liberated by the love of the One who came to save us.
If you are to give up anything for Lent this year, why not give up the often religious or cultural observances that are popular at this time of year, and instead give in to God. And with it I pray that you will know the joy and freedom of His companionship, and love for you.
May the freedom of Christ be with you and all whom you love. Jeremy.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.