One of the dilemmas faced by those of us who are obliged to spend a proportion of their time in the ‘God bothering’ business of prayer is when is something so trivial or indeed so self-indulgent that it really should be something we are not bothering our Heavenly Father with at all.
The classic example would be your offering the fervent arrow prayer that when you reach that part of the city you need to be in, you will find that vacant ideal cheap parking space you would like to occupy. That, in short, God will keep a place just for you! The dilemma is that in a faith that has at its very centre a notion of self-sacrifice this simply feels a bit self-absorbed and frankly a bit wrong. We probably would prefer that God was focussed on more pressing issues of ‘world peace’ or at the least the presenting needs of the sick, the hungry and the unloved.
I had a bit of a dilemma then when I was faced with the task of leading the prayers for Truro Cathedral’s, Radio 3, broadcast Evensong, on the evening of the World Cup Semi-Final. Could I risk bothering God with the parochial, nationalistic concern for the England team, especially a God who is universally accessible to all through the idea of faith - a God, who after all, is not an Englishmen.
In the end I went for the rather bland putting ‘football matters’ in God’s hands in the secret hope that he might understand what I was really getting at. Just to be on the safe side though I also hoped that we might follow the recommendation of Paul in Romans 12.15 and be able to ‘weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice’ in coming days.
Well we not only think it is all over, we know it is now, and once again England fell a little short of the final hurdle. Nothing new for me really because I was only about 18 months old when we won the world cup in ’66 and so I have no memory of it, so my history of being an England fan has been a bit of a catalogue of disappointment. I guess then, in a world in which we are called to deal daily with our highs and lows - our joys and despairs -we are left weeping with the weeping again.
But it was a long way from being all bad and I have enjoyed particularly the joy and celebrations of earlier victories that saw the many faces of our diverse nation rejoicing under a reclaimed St George’s flag – a flag previously commandeered by those who may want to claim that it represents a far more narrowly defined ‘englishness’ – those who might want to claim that God is only the God of their tribe.
Perhaps also there is blow struck here against our incipient individualism, because part of the witness of all of this is the notion that whether we are rejoicing or weeping these events of our lives are given so much more meaning when we engage with them as a community. A community urged again by St Paul to ‘let love be genuine, hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good’ (Romans 12.9)
And of course, we can all remember that the European Championships, with a final at Wembley, are only 2 years away – and continue to hope that one day football will come home.