Hand in Hand
(Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe – 8 May 2023 – Easter 4)
Text: I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. (John 10v28-29)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers
Apparently someone has put a value on God,
Well at least a value on God’s hand – which, as God’s hands are quite busy and powerful, we should expect it to fetch a good price.
Sotheby’s sold ‘The Hand of God’ during this week past for just a little over £7 million.
Well it wasn’t God’s hand ‘per se’ but instead Diego Maradona’s famous, some may say infamous, ‘Hand of God’ football shirt. And in so doing made it the most expensive piece of sporting memorabilia ever, easily surpassing one of Babe Ruth’s New York Yankee’s Baseball shirt which had sold for a measly £4.5 million at the end of 2019.
For most of my life my view of God has been determined by how I have experienced my own hands and the hands of others.
This is unsurprising as, like the clay on the potter’s wheel, (Jeremiah 18v1-11) the only thing we know of our Creator’s presence is the touch of God’s hand as we are moulded into God’s image and likeness.
In my younger years, and even through to early middle age, I was not too sure the hymn ‘Thy Hand O God has Guided’, was at all helpful. Why this was the case? Perhaps it was because my father was often absent at sea and mum, with four kids living in married quarters, often ruled the home by the liberal application of hand to backside! There was one memorable occasion in our primary school years when brother Mark and I were paying for the error of our ways and mum was beating us with her hairbrush, which then broke. Mark made the mistake of laughing, so she carried on with a wooden coat hanger instead! (Just to reassure you all is well with mum. and I will, as I try to do every Sunday, be taking four or five bunches of flowers to her flat on Ipswich Waterfront after this service).
In those decades it seemed to me that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was oh so correct, it was indeed ‘a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ (Hebrews 10v31). Thank heavens that I did not stay in that place. It is a dark view to have of a God of love and too many people of my generation, taught that ‘God is out to get you’, have called ‘Foul’ on this picture of the One who Loves us Best and have turned away from experiencing ‘the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ (Romans 8v21)
I do not blame them. How can we be expected to believe on the one hand in a God who loves us, ties us with bonds of love and nurtures us as a mother does her child (Hosea 11v4) yet at the same time punishes us every time we stray from the straight and narrow?
For me, until the last twenty or so years, the Hand of God has caused me to cower in a corner. Feeling threatened by the possibility of punishment, I have given in to two heresies.
The first that God demands retribution for any and every misdemeanour I slip, or even run, into. I have lived a faith that bowdlerises Newton’s Third Law and, rubbing its hands together, proclaims, ‘For each sin there is an equal and opposite punishment’.
The second heresy is perhaps worse. It is the idea that if I am really really holy. If I am strict about my daily times of prayer and Scripture Reading. If I am scrupulous about giving away one tenth of my income, including windfalls and tax rebates, God will love me more and I will scrape my way into heaven by the skin of my teeth.
As the apostle Paul said in the Letter to the Romans (7v24), ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’ and the reply returns to me, and for all of us, as it did for Paul, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (7v25)
What has changed?
What was it that made it possible for me to handover to God how I relate to the Hand of God?
For almost all of my life I thought that faith was about struggling, fighting the good fight, being in a constant battle against ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’. And yes it is, but we do not do this alone,
The salvation won for us on the Cross is not about us holding on to God, that is salvation by works or at the very least works of supererogation – you just have to love Article XIV of the 39 Articles of Religion.
Salvation is this, not that we hold onto God but that God in Christ stretches out His arms on the cross and holds the whole world in God’s loving embrace. The Sunday School song was correct all along. God does indeed, ‘have the whole world in His hands’.
Our faith is not about holding on, but instead it is about realising, wonderfully, gloriously, and of course unworthily, that we are held.
A twenty-something young man living in Cape Town caught a glimpse of this in the glorious St George’s Cathedral (the People’s Cathedral) and, in the hope that faith was about welcome not punishment, wrote to tell his former vicar at St George’s Cathedral in Windhoek about the stirrings to serve the people of God in his heart. The Very Revd Murray Dell, of blessed memory, sent me these words that I have kept in the pages of my bible for almost 50 years…
The Touch of the Master’s Hand
‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile; ‘What am I bidden, good folks,’ he cried,
‘Who’ll start the bidding for me?’
‘A dollar, a dollar; then two!’
‘Only two? Two dollars, and who’ll make it three? Three dollars, once; three dollars twice; going for three..’
But no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; Then, wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as carolling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said; ‘What am I bid for the old violin?’
And he held it up with the bow. A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two? Two thousand! And who’ll make it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and gone,’ said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried, ‘We do not quite understand what changed its worth.’
Swift came the reply: ‘The touch of a master’s hand.’
And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin, Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin,
A ‘mess of pottage,’ a glass of wine; a game – and he travels on.
‘He is going’ once, and ‘going twice, He’s going and almost gone.’
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.
(Myra ‘Brooks’ Welch)
No one, no one, can snatch us from the hand of God
Whatever happens to us
Wherever we find ourselves
Whenever the world, the flesh, and the devil assail us
We are held.
And, if we but allow ourselves to rest in the Master’s Hand, we will sing with the angels;
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one [No one] will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10v28)