This is a fun way to start discussion of how we are ‘tied’ to God by bonds of love – bonds that we can’t get out of, however far from God we walk.
You will need
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Find two victi ^Z^Z^Z volunteers and give each about 2m of string or yarn.
Have one volunteer tie each end of their yarn around the other’s wrists, like very long handcuffs. Make sure that the wrist loops are not too tight, but they must not be slip knots that can be loosened and taken off.
Now thread the second length of yarn behind the ‘handcuffs’ and have the second volunteer tie the ends around the first person’s wrists. You should find that if each person holds their hands apart, the strings cross behind each other.
Now tell your volunteers to get apart.
They will probably try all sorts of contortions (hilarious, for those watching) – stepping through each other’s loops, getting tangled and always ending up tied to each other.
The solution, when you want it, is to take one string, fold it in half and poke this loop through the other person’s wrist band, over their hand and pull it back through the wrist band.
We have high hopes for the children in our lives – Maybe your own children, maybe nephews and nieces, pupils or friends’ kids – we want to see them doing well, being happy, having good lives.
But what if that goes wrong? What do we do when a kid goes off the rails? Because some of them will, even kids of Christian families, even ministers’ kids.
Their children’s savings account, squirreled up for them since they were 5, gets spent, not on a deposit for a flat, or a first car like you‘d intended. They blow it all on a party weekend in Ibiza. Grandma’s inheritance gets spent on drugs. That uni course, that job at your friend’s company? Nope. Six ‘friends’ in a filthy two-room doss-house in a nasty part of town and goodness knows what they do to get the rent. And forget church, they stopped all that nonsense when they hit their teens.
What would I do if my kids made those kind of decisions? I have teenagers who don’t come to church anymore. I don’t want to insist they come. It needs to be their faith, not mine. I have grown-up Godchildren who have vehemently turned against the faith they were brought up in. What’s to do? We can’t make our children love God, and forcing kids to go to church can do more harm than good. My neighbour attended a Catholic boarding school and the compulsory interminable religion has been a very useful tool in the enemy’s arsenal for keeping her well away from any kind of faith.
God had the same problem. This is a beautiful passage of God’s love for his children. And this is not some distant father dashing out of his study to pat the washed and brushed children on the head before nanny puts them to bed. This is one who lifts infants to his cheeks, who bends down to them and feeds them. This a hands-on, story-reading, nappy-changing dad. He taught them to walk, took them up in his arms – yet they did not know that he healed them. They did not realise that the law he gave them was for their good – cords of human kindness, bands of love – designed to bring them to himself.
Just as rebellious teenagers, the more he called them, the more they went from him. So many times this happened, and God warned them of what their choices would mean. You want a king instead of my judges? OK, but he’ll tax you. You want to live by your own rules? OK, you’ll have to learn the hard way. You want to trust Assyria to keep you safe? Yeah, good choice!
As a parent who sees their bright-eyed boy in the drunken slob throwing up in an alley, who sees their chatterbox daughter in the foul-mouthed, angry addict slumped in the corner of a cell, God sees the children he loves in these idolatrous, self-centred, deceitful, stubborn teenagers. He does not give up on them. He rescues them despite themselves. He runs after them even when they are yelling at him in anger.
God is the father of Luke 15 who runs to hug the son who wished him dead, squandered the family fortune on sex and drugs, and degraded himself beyond comprehension. He does not wait for the son’s well-rehearsed speech or the grovelling apology or the menial service as penance. It is enough that the son has turned, and has returned. It is the father who is prodigal, prodigious with mercy and forgiveness.
As is our father God with us. All we need do is turn.
Where am I being a rebellious teenager, struggling to free myself from God’s bands of love?
I am amazed by your compassion and mercy
I am humbled by your undeserved forgiveness
I am overwhelmed by your majesty of goodness
Thank you for binding me to yourself with bands of love.
Hosea 11:1-11 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
my compassion grows warm and tender for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
They shall go after the Lord,
who roars like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.
They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.