Finding hope when relationships are difficult by Revd. Amanda Denniss

This talk was given at Parish Communion on Sunday 26th November 2017 at St Swithun’s Martyr Worthy by Revd. Amanda Denniss.  

A recording of the talk is here – the transcript and the Bible reading John 4:follows:

In June and July this year, we did a door-to-door survey in our parish called Who Cares?  We asked people the question ‘What hurts the most?’  22% of people who responded said the thing they found most difficult to handle were problems with relationships.  This morning we’re going to begin to look at this area.

We all have relationships.  We all have families.  Our families have different shapes and different sizes.  Brothers, sisters, parents.  Some of us are married.  We may have children, grandchildren.  We have friendships.  We have colleagues that we work closely with.  If we are honest, none of us have perfect relationships.  I certainly don’t.  But when we experience difficulties in relationships, especially with people who are close to us, we all know-it really hurts.

These are some of the things people wrote on the survey cards in Itchen Valley about how they were hurt:

  • Being ignored and rejected
  • Being let down
  • Being misunderstood
  • Being lied to
  • My husband being unsupportive
  • Confrontation-especially with those I love
  • My daughter not being in regular contact
  • Mistrust in my marriage
  • My parents fighting and arguing

Some of us will be able to identify with these hurts. Others of us will have our own hurts and relationship problems that we could add to the list.  At the root of all this hurt is a lack of love. We know in our hearts that the relationships in our families and our friendships should be loving, but so often they’re not.  One of the most watched videos on YouTube is Adele singing the song, ‘Someone like you’.  The song includes the words, ‘Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.’

We all long for relationships that are loving and fulfilling.  Christians believe that God is love and he made us for loving relationships.  When we look at the stories of Jesus in the bible we can see how Jesus sees us and how he sees our relationships.  There is a story in chapter 4 of John’s gospel that shows us that Jesus understands and has compassion for a woman who had been hurt by a series of relationships.  She had been married four times and when she met Jesus she was living with another man.  Maybe like so many people today she had become cynical about marriage.  These are some of the quotes and popular statements about marriage from a book called A Box of Delights by Mark Stibbe and J John:

  • Married life is very frustrating. In the first year of marriage, the man speaks and the wife listens.  In the second year, the woman speaks and the husband listens.  In the third year they both speak and the neighbours listen.
  • Cher says, ‘The trouble with some women is they get all excited about nothing-then they marry him.’
  • Marriage is very much like a violin: after the sweet music is over the strings are attached.
  • I think, therefore I’m single.

Jesus doesn’t share our cynicism.  The bible tells us that when he met the woman at the well they started chatting.  Jesus was thirsty so he asked her for a cup of water. The woman couldn’t understand how Jesus could ask her of all people for water.  He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans didn’t have anything to do with one another if they could help it.   Jews certainly wouldn’t normally drink from a cup touched by a Samaritan.  As the conversation went to and fro, Jesus said an extraordinary thing to the woman, ‘Everyone who drinks this water (from the well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will become a spring welling up to eternal life.’  The woman said, ‘Sir, give me this water…’ Jesus could see the pain the woman had experienced.  He could see that deep within her heart was dried up like a desert with all the hurt.  People can say things like, ‘A little bit of me died the day you said you didn’t love me any more.’  Jesus sees our relationships and he sees our hurts and he sees our pain.  He offers us hope that he can restore and refresh our hearts.  He says that he can give us living water-a life with him that meets our deepest needs to be loved.

What does the life that Jesus offers us look like?  I’d like to look briefly at three things.

  1. Jesus shows us how much God loves us

Jesus told lots of stories to help us understand that God loves us just as we are.  We don’t need to be good and perfect for him to love us.  One of the stories Jesus told that you may know is the story of the prodigal son that I spoke about last week in Valley Worship (Luke 15).  In the story a son goes to his father and asks for his inheritance. In that culture, it was like the son saying to his father, ‘I wish you were dead.’  The father in the story doesn’t rebuke his son.  He divides his property and gives his son his share.  The younger son then sets off for a distant country and spends it all on what one translation of the bible calls wild living.  We don’t know exactly what that involves.  Prostitutes, drinking too much, gambling.

In Jesus’ story the son spends all his money and ends up getting a job feeding pigs.  It’s pretty gruesome.  The bible tells us that it was then he comes to his senses.  He remembers that he is a son of his father.  He decides to go home.  The Father is on the look out for him.  He sees his son when he is still a long way off and runs to meet him.  The Father embraces him.  The Father kisses him.

In Rembrandt’s painting of this story the son is kneeling before his Father.  He is dressed in a dirty ragged undergarment.  His sandals are worn out.  The Father gently leans forward and embraces the son with such tenderness.  Such compassion.  Such unconditional love.  Such forgiveness.  This is such a wonderful picture of God’s love for us when we come back to him.  He welcomes us just as we are.  He welcomes you just as you are.

  1. Jesus takes our shame

One of the things that is most hurtful is when people say words that tear us down.  This is especially true of words spoken to us when we were young by our parents and our teachers.  People that God intended to speak words of love and encouragement to us.  The harm these words do can be reinforced by words spoken to us later by friends, siblings, marriage partners and anybody who gets close to us.

Sometimes a parent or teacher can say something like,

‘Your life will never amount to any thing much.’

‘You are so clumsy, stupid, slow…’  You can add whatever may have been said to you.

Playground friends can then add in words like,

‘You’re ugly, boring…’

Later in life these words can be echoed and reinforced by words that others say to us.  We can begin to think they are true.  The playground rhyme, ‘Sticks and stones can brake my bones, but word will never hurt me’ is not true.  Words have power and they can harm us.  We can begin to believe that the words that have been spoken to us are true.  We can take them on as part of our identity.  Some of us we will be full of shame inside although on the outside we present a confident shell.

In Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, the father gives his child the best robe.  The father in the story represents God and his love for each one of us.  When we return to him, he covers our shame.  We may have been shamed by our parents and teachers but God will never shame us.

God sees each one of us as a masterpiece that he has created. (Ephesians 2.10) The psalmist says in Psalm 139 that each of us has been ‘fearfully and wonderfully made by God’.   All of us have been lovingly created and designed by God.  This is especially important for those of us who struggle with low self esteem or self hatred.  God loves you.  He’s created you.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  He has given each of us gifts and passions. He has created us for a life that has meaning and purpose.

God speaks over each one of us when we come back to him the words he spoke over Jesus at his baptism, ‘You are my beloved child on whom my favour rests.’

  1. Jesus shows us how to love and forgive

One of the most famous passages about love in the bible is often read at wedding.  It tells us what God’s love for us is like and how he would like us to love each other.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13.4-7)

What about if I put my name in this passage?  Amanda is patient, Amanda is kind…  What about if you put your name in?

—— is patient

——  is kind

——  does not envy

——  does not boast

——  is not rude

——  is not self seeking

——  is not easily angered

——  keeps no record of wrongs

——  does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth

——  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Actually we all fail in so many ways to love other people.  We all get things wrong.  When we think about hurt in all our relationships, the question for each one of us is: am I part of the problem?

The Bible says ‘You…have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement are doing the same things.’ (Romans 2.1)

People hurt us, but we hurt other people, even those we love.  We are all part of the problem.  Jesus offers us a way through this.  He offers to take the blame for us.

In a book called Who Cares? by Rob Tervet, he writes this, ‘One day we will be held responsible for the things we have done wrong but if we ask him, Jesus takes the blame for us, that’s what he did on the cross.  It was the day when he said, ‘I did it, I take responsibility for the wrongs in this world.’

Jesus offers not only to forgive us, to wipe the slate clean, he also offers us a new way of life with him.  He teaches us to forgive the people who hurt us and he gives us the power and strength to do it.  He can set us free from a bitterness that can eat us up inside when we hold on to unforgiveness.

It’s important to say here this does not mean that we need to endure abuse.  Sometimes the most loving thing to do is confront the one you love.  As Rob Tervet writes, “It is possible to love your spouse and be walking in forgiveness, but still move out and call the police because you or your family are in danger.’

Many people think that if there is a God, we can get to heaven by leading a good life or at least a life that’s not too bad.  Actually, Jesus didn’t come to tell us how to be good so that we could get to heaven.  He came to show us just how much God loves us by offering to forgive us for all the things we’ve done to hurt him and other people.  He made this possible through his life and death in our place.  He welcomes everybody who comes to him who admits their failures and their need for him.

Jesus offers each of us the same living water that he offered to the woman at the well.  A life lived with him that meets our deepest need to be loved.

We get hurt in our relationships because again and again we fail in so many ways to love each other.  People hurt us. We hurt other people.  Jesus invites us into a relationship with him where we can experience the unconditional love of God that will satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.  He welcomes us just as we are.  He takes away our shame and speaks words of love and hope and comfort over us.  This love of God is something we can know day by day.

Only God’s love is perfect.  In our human relationships-our marriages, families, friendships, we will all get things wrong and hurt one another.  There is hope because God’s love transforms us and it has the power to transform our relationships.  When we know we are truly loved by God, it sets us free to forgive the people who have hurt us and to embark on loving them afresh as we live our lives day by day with Jesus.

Amanda Denniss

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria John 4:1-30
4 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 4:1–30). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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