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England Expects

I starting to write this blog on the morning of the Euro’s Final between England and Italy. Two nations await the result.

I am impressed by way that both managers have created a healthy mindset in their teams. It seems that footballers have suddenly grown up and got deeper. It is less about ‘me’ and more about ‘us’. As David Brent never failed to remind us in The Office: “There is no I in team!”

I was interested to read what Gareth Southgate the England manger wrote in a moving letter to the nation:

“Every game, no matter the opposition, has the potential to create a lifelong memory for an England fan somewhere.”

I like that. Football teams do have an astonishing power to create memories. I still cherish the moments at the end of the World Cup Final in 1966.

Win or lose tonight, there will be memories made on the pitch. As Southgate continues in his letter he writes:

“It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever.”

Finishing this piece on Monday 12th July I now know that England, unbeaten in six games during normal time, had their dreams shattered by another penalty shootout.

So now we know that the manager, haunted by his own penalty miss in Euro 1996, has had his dream of lifting the cup shattered by three penalty misses.

Yet these will not be the only memories we have of the England campaign this year.

We will remember a decent and dignified England manager, a diverse but united side working together, and the way that a carefully communicated vision can lift a nation. There will be some painful memories for those who missed penalties but many wonderful moments of sporting excellence to savour.

All this has got me thinking about the memories that preachers leave behind when they preach their sermons. We must not underestimate the way that sermons can shape the soundtrack of our lives. There are moments when truth becomes clear, Jesus appears more beautiful, God’s promises meet our needs, and loves comes down and lifts us up.

For this to happen preachers need to learn how to tell the old old story in a way that is perennially fresh.

I have been enjoying reading through the 1,500 year old sermons of Saint Augustine.

Here is how he starts one of his sermons on the familiar story in John’s Gospel about the healing of the man born blind:

“We have heard the reading of the gospel which we usually do. But it’s good to be reminded of it; it’s good to restore the youth of our memories from our elderly forgetfulness … the most familiar of readings has given us as much pleasure as if it were brand new.” (Augustine sermon 136)

Yes, that is what preaching does. It restores the youth of our memories from elderly forgetfulness.

This England team have reminded us of the reason we love football. Preacher, will you remind me of the reason I first came to love Jesus?

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