This week I am going off to North Wales for two days to ride on the Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog Narrow Gauge Railways. Whoopee! Now what has that got to do with God? Our 1st Reading today (Deut 4:32-40) seems far removed from holidays and steam railways. Here God is an immense power present everywhere “in heaven above as on earth beneath”, a God that should make us tremble! Our Gospel is even more challenging, as Jesus on the mountain – a symbol of God in all his glory and mystery – tells us to go “and make disciples of all nations.” And then, as if that wasn’t hard enough, he makes it even more difficult by telling us that we are to baptise people, not simply in the name of Jesus, but in a God who is “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” – a God who thus possesses this more than difficult concept of being so great, so beyond our understanding, that he can be both one and three at the same time! No chance of linking that God to Steam Trains!
It is St Paul in our 2nd Reading (Romans 8:14-17) who helps me today, because he tells us that this God of power and might and mystery has come into us – into the heart of all that we are – as the Holy Spirit given to us by Jesus; and there, within us, he teaches us what Jesus first taught. He teaches us to call this God, that is so far beyond us, by a very familiar name. He tells us to call God “Daddy” – “Abba” in the original language of Jesus.
Now the thing about Daddies (or Dads) is that they love to do trivial things with their children. To kick a ball around, to play hide and seek, to put them on a bouncy castle, or to take them for rides on all kinds of mechanical objects – at fairgrounds yes, but also – yes also – on trains, most especially steam trains! Of course parents (not just fathers) are also deeply interested and concerned about other more serious things in their children’s lives – like school and exams and their future. But the parent who does not play with his or her child, the parent who does not do fun things with them, has missed out on a vital part of what it means to love their child.
So if the God who is the immense power behind the Universe is also Daddy, then he is a God who’s interested in every aspect of our lives, not just the serious bits. He doesn’t want us to waste our lives on triviality, but he has made us, and indeed many other animals, as creatures who love to play. Indeed psychologists tell us that play is a vital part of a child’s development. It is crucial to what we are as human beings, and if this is so, which it clearly is, then play is an essential part of the design of the Creator. No wonder Jesus teaches us to call God Daddy.
It’s worth remembering at this point that the fact that Jesus taught this idea of God is one of the things that led to his execution. The religious establishment of his day were shocked rigid by this man who could speak about God in such a familiar way. And that is why St Paul links this teaching, to call God Father, to the massively significant idea that we are all called to join with Jesus, to become one with Jesus, as children of God. There’s that word “children” again! And beyond that, it is only be accepting that we are children of God, that we can inherit God’s glory – “sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory” – as St Paul puts it.
Now I am sure you realise that I am not suggesting that the whole of life ought to be one mad round of trivial pursuits, but we all know that we need such things to help us stay sane in this mad bad old world. God wants us to have fun because it is good for us, and helps us to be better human beings.
So when we pray, we need to be very careful not to limit our sharing of ourselves with God to the serious and solemn things, as if he is only interested in them. People often worry that when they pray their mind wanders off into all sorts of trivial things. But I always tell people not to worry too much about this, because God is interested in the things that concern us – the small things of life as well as the big momentous things. This is precisely why we Christians know God as Trinity, because God is both immensely distant, far beyond us, and yet close within us as Holy Spirit, and beside us as Jesus our friend.
So there we are then! You might have thought that Narrow Gauge Railways and God in Trinity had nothing to do with one another. I hope I’ve shown you today, that whatever you do to have fun – this weekend during the Jubilee, or in the week ahead like me on my steam trains – God has actually willed that such fun is part of what he has created us for!