To hope when bashed by the storm
Today – 20 iii 20 – could be the last Friday for some time, at least the Friday we have become accustomed to, as the schools close and the regular routines of life disappear, at least for now. It’s not just the schools which are closing for the ‘foreseeable future’ but the familiar habits which structure our week. No ParkRun tomorrow and certainly no church on Sunday. Or more precisely, no public worship in any of our church buildings on the Sabbath. The problem is "What is the ‘foreseeable future’?" Our Prime Minister is suggesting 12 weeks in order to give us an end-point but I’m not sure the epidemiologists would agree. However, as two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough correctly observes “There's no such thing as a foreseeable future.” We have no idea how long all this is going to last. It’s like starting a race not knowing the distance. And more, in this inter-connected world, this seems to be happening everywhere. I note this morning that Argentina, where this blog is about to be read, has imposed a nationwide lockdown to stem the coronavirus pandemic, marking one of the strictest measures taken by any Latin American nation. Everyone, everywhere – quite a crisis. I happened to make a mistake in locating this morning’s Bible reading from BRF Guidelines, reading tomorrow’s instead. (Actually, for the record I’m slightly ahead for reasons I don’t need to go into). A familiar passage from his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is describing what happens when we do what God wants us to do here on earth, to actually live out the prayer he taught his disciples. To do so is to build on rock and so weather any storm. “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 6:25). I’ve never experienced that kind of storm, the kind that could bring the whole house down. We did once spend a night in the lantern room of a converted Welsh lighthouse during the worst storm to hit those parts in ten years. Our bedding was soaked, true - but not once did I expect the Victorian structure to collapse. Mind you, now I think about, it was built on rock! But what we are experiencing this day, for the most part for most people, is the storm clouds gathering and the sky beginning to darken. In some ways this is the most unsettling time, the anticipation of something terrible about to happen. We don’t really know what; we have no idea of the scale. And we certainly do not know how long. For many, an inescapable sense of foreboding. Maybe it was already there. But the one thing that we as Christians know is that our security is in Christ. Our calling is to simply live out his teaching, come what may. As I write these words the song from Brian Doerksen comes to mind: You are my rock in times of trouble You lift me up when I fall down All through the storm, Your love is the anchor,
My hope is in You alone.
We’ve sung the song enough times (as well as “My Lighthouse!”). Now is the time to actually live the lyrics and offer a steady hand to our neighbour . For as our Archbishops are telling us, we are being challenged to be church in a radically different way. Justin and John encourage us: “This is a defining moment for the Church of England. Are we truly are a church for all, or just the church for ourselves?” “Our life,” they write, “is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day.” For this could be a watershed moment - the rains may continue to batter us but the waters now flow into a different ocean. So this is a time when we are called to show God’s love in a whole variety of new ways. Often it will mean a degree of courage as we leave the safety of our homes to go to work, especially those in health and the care of the vulnerable. Sometimes acts of love can be very mundane. We depend on our Father each day for our daily bread and so buy what we need rather than stockpile and deny others their fair share. Christians, of course, have no monopoly of goodness, of being kind to strangers – but we can certainly help hold the line. And churches are one of the few neighbourhood associations still intact after years of individualism. We have the support structures already in place. But more than anyone else the disciple of Jesus can look forward to the future with confidence. What the Bible calls hope and such hope, explains the apostle Paul, “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5). Through the resurrection of Jesus, his disciples simply have a different perspective. As we see the future differently, so we can live today in Christ. This gives us the ability to engage in the world with confidence. Again, to quote Brian Doerksen, a song I uploaded onto my phone last year: Whatever comes Cultures will rise as nations fall Troubles will challenge and assault Your word will stand above them all Whatever comes All that we cannot comprehend Disasters will break the pride of men You will be faithful till the end Whatever comes #security #hope