This morning’s lead on the BBC news website: “Ukraine crisis: Hollande and Merkel in key truce talks in Moscow.” We wish them well.
I find it both fascinating and frightening that the future for a whole nation, some 45 million people, is for the moment in the hands of just three people: François Hollande, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin.
They are in role, of course; their representative status allows only limited room for manoeuvre. Nevertheless how they relate to each other as people is significant. What we now call their personal chemistry.
It’s been a week of personal chemistry, not least with the flamboyant and media-savvy Yanis Varoufakis, the new Greek finance minister, visiting some of his opposite numbers in Europe. Reporters watch earnestly at these encounters, trying to decipher body language and interpret their tone of voice.
Was it significant that Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the Eurogroup of finance ministers, visibly winced as he sat alongside this Greek bearing miffs? Their handshake was curt and cool. Does that mean that Greece will soon be leaving the eurozone?
The future of us all often invested the hands of a small number of individuals. And how they get on, how they relate to each other as people, may make all the difference.
What would have happened, for example, had Neville Chamberlain not been taken in by the charm of Herr Hitler at their meeting in Munich in the early hours of 30 September 1938?
In fact, arguably our most successful Foreign Secretary was Ernest Bevin who served in the post-war Labour Government, 1945-51. His remarkable ability to handle personal negotiations was learned through years of bargaining with employers during his time as a trade union officer in Bristol. He understood people.
Yesterday I took the funeral service for Ken Park, a remarkable larger-than-life Evertonian. Ken served as PCC treasurer for a distinguished seven years. We owe him a lot.
It was at the very beginning of the Ministry Centre project, way back in 1998, that Ken and I went to Preston to negotiate with the hard men of the County finance department the future of the old school building site. We faced several options, the worst one being that the County would decide to sell this prime plot to a speculative builder.
Ken – himself a local authority treasurer – was an experienced negotiator. I’m tempted to say he knew all the tricks. Either way, the meeting went our way and the way to a new church building opened up before us. The personal chemistry worked.
It was the apparently chance conversation between King Artaxerxes, king of Persia, with his cup-bearer which changed the course of Bible history. “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill?’ asked the King. “This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’
Nehemiah took a deep breath and replied “May the king live for ever!
Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ (Nehemiah 2:3).
The two men were in role. In effect, they represented two nations, two peoples and two ways of living in this world. And it could go either way, with the worst-case option the people of Israel disappearing from history.
But there was something between these two men which allowed the King to make a surprising decision. “What is it you want?” he asked.
What happens next is the Nehemiah invites God into the conversation.
He is aware that the stakes are high; in effect his people are relying on him for an unlikely outcome.
“Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
So begins the restoration of Jerusalem and the re-establishment of the Jewish nation. It was not easy, neither at the time did it seem inevitable. But Nehemiah’s relationship with Artaxerxes proved to be crucial. Something sparked.
So we pray for the meeting later today between Hollande, Merkel and Putin. I can’t see either of the two men inviting God into their discussions but Angela Merkel, as a pastor’s daughter, will know that things happen when God is involved.
And for ourselves, like Nehemiah, may we allow God his rightful place in our daily conversations, especially when we may be in a representative role. He makes good things happen.