• Ross Moughtin

We'll praise him for all that is passed and trust him for all that is to come

Sunday, 8th April, 2018. That’s the date I am planning to retire as vicar of Christ Church Aughton. And it’s going to be difficult, praise God. Praise God because I enjoy being vicar here and I am not eagerly counting down the days before I hang up whatever vicars hang up when they retire. But it is going to be a testing time. I know that from speaking to retired vicars over the years. “Grim,” shared John with me at the New Wine seminar last year. The problem is that retiring as vicar involves too many changes at once. Each change is challenging enough by itself – changing your job, leaving your church, moving house, new routines. But taken together retirement can be overwhelming, even more so if you overidentify with your role. There is always the danger of blocking off. That’s what blokes do. I know of two vicars who simply hid their retirement not only from their congregation but from themselves. Or to seek refuge is overactivity or for me, going on long, meandering train journeys. (Not that Jacqui would let me). Moreover following Everton around the country is not a healthy option. There are limits to what the human frame can take. But significant life change is something we all have to face; it’s an unavoidable part of being human. “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most,” wrote Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in Crime and Punishment. In fact, some 15 years ago a mother confided in me that she was so enjoying her young children that she wished she could freeze time and live that moment for ever. As it happens her son started at university only this week. Bring out the Kleenex. But how do we handle major change in our lives? The people of Israel experienced significant changes, not always unwelcome, during the course of the Old Testament. Take the Exodus, for example. In my Bible reading this morning the people despair in their predicament as slaves under Pharaoh. They can see no way out. Only God can help. “Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.” (Exodus 2:23f). That’s God as subject for a verb four times: you can’t be any clearer than that. And God acts. But having been liberated against all the odds, including the miracle of the Red Sea, what happens?. God’s people are finding the change and the uncertainty too stressful. Who wants to trek the wilderness and live off manna? They start to moan. In words reminiscent of the Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch God’s own people long for the wonderful life they enjoyed back in Egypt. “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.” (Numbers 11:4). God has to keep his people moving forward, to the land he had promised them. It’s worth it – “milk and honey” beats leeks and garlic any time. Look forwards not back. Similarly the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament want to keep his fellow saints pressing on. “Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them.” (Hebrews 6:12). He explains “God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.” (Hebrews 12:8f) For the reality is that we grow most as disciples of Jesus during difficult times, when those familiar routines and rhythms of life disappear, even abruptly. We may be tempted to retreat to the past even one of our own imagination. But nothing is gained by denying reality. We are privileged to live with hope – we can look forward to the future with confidence. So we need the courage to go wherever God may be leading us. As he promises Jeremiah in the highly stressful situation of the exile, so he promises us. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) The challenge for Jacqui and I is to keep looking forward, to the next challenge God has for us. After all we gave our lives to him. It is his responsibility to direct us aright. As we sang on our wedding day: “We praise him for all that is past; And trust him for all that is come.”

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