Covid-19 / CoronaVirus

Corona Virus or COVID-19 is of huge concern and making the headlines daily. At present we are in a good position, flu is still a far more serious health threat, but things could change very quickly and so our churches are making sure we are ready.

We are produced a couple of documents to help us prepare and I will put links to them below and we will keep them up to date as events move on.

04-03-20-Covid-19-poster

04-03-20-Covid-19

Choosing Life

I was asked if I had notes from Sunday’s sermon, I didn’t but this is roughly what I said …

Readings

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:21-37

Choosing death

Moses gives us a stark choice in the reading from Deuteronomy

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity”

And then he says, “Choose life”

It’s a bit of a no-brainer – who wouldn’t choose life? Who in their right mind would choose “Death and adversity”?

And yet so many of our decisions are effectively choosing death. We seem to think that we can fool God or do a bargain with him. We hear it all the time. ‘I never do anybody any harm’; how do we even know that that is true? But even if it is, is that really anything to offer to God; ‘I didn’t do anything’? That is basically what the person with one talent says in the parable of the talents; he does not come out of it well! (Matthew 25:14–30)

Sometimes we act as though we can fool God. I think it was on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 (honest it can be really interesting!) someone wrote in asking why their toddler told lies. Apparently he had appeared with red all over his face. When asked why he had been playing with Mum’s lipstick he had totally denied the obvious, even when Mum said that she could see the lipstick on his face.

Sometimes it must seem like that to God when we think we can fool him by being good and respectable on the outside. He would probably laugh at us too, except that it is rather more serious when we are choosing between “life” and “death and adversity”.

Faced with the choice

Jesus in the gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount presents us with the reality of our choices.

Here they fall into three sections:

  • Resentment and hatred
  • Lust
  • Honesty

“But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

I find this scary. There is someone who really winds me up, I had a message from him the other evening, just before going to bed, and it took ages to get it out of my head and I couldn’t get to sleep. “You fool” was mild compared to what I was thinking! And yes, I was in turmoil; it was me who couldn’t sleep, it was me who kept rehearsing what I needed to say to him (though he never would hear it, nice rectors don’t say that sort of thing!). The person I was annoyed with wasn’t, and never would be, touched by what was going through my head – but I was, it was a sort of death for me.

Jesus goes on to talk about lust and adultery. Yes, this is clearly about sexual desire but lust itself goes beyond than that. It happens whenever I reduce someone else to be just a thing that can give me pleasure or something to be got rid of because it irritates me.

Again the truth is that when we do that to others we do it to ourselves too – we reduce ourselves to being a mere bunch of animal instincts and we destroy in ourselves that image of God who is love and generosity.

Finally, we are challenged simply to let our “yes be yes and our no be no”. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Queen Gertrude says of an insincere actor performing in the ‘play within the play’, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

Overstating our case can be a cover up for guilt, it sometimes shows that we are trying to convince ourselves of the lie as well as others.

As a priest I hear this a lot, people who launch into why they are as good Christians as anyone who goes to church (and at some point, yes, they will usually say ‘I never do anyone any harm’!) as soon as we start to talk. Perversely they actually give the impression that they feel guilty about not going to church and are trying to get their defence in first.

All this seems pretty grim, especially when we see how seriously Jesus takes it.

The Good News – forgiveness

There are two traps that we can fall into when trying to change the way we think. First, we just give in, ‘we can’t help the way we think so what choice do we have?’ Clearly that can’t be right.

But the second may seem more helpful but, in reality, is no more effective; we try to push the thoughts away, to force ourselves to stop thinking about whatever it is. This can work for a while but as we repress our thoughts we are not really dealing with them, so they start to build up. Eventually we can just explode – maybe even venting our frustration on some poor innocent who hasn’t got a clue what is going on. It ends up that this is not much better than the first trap.

But then there is a way that Jesus opens up to us; forgiveness.

As the thoughts come we can just note them. We don’t act them out, but we don’t push them away either. We gently observe what we are doing. So we move from “I think XXX is a complete and utter idiot!” to “I’m thinking that XXX is a complete and utter idiot”. We may find it easier to use our name, so I might think “Richard’s thinking that XXX is a complete and utter idiot”.

I then remember God’s love. God loves me as I am, he does not love me less because I am sinful or because I have thought the thought.

He also forgives me. The word the gospels use for ‘forgive’ is probably better translated ‘let go of’. God lets go of my thought – he does not hold it against me – so I can let go too.

Through all this the though recedes into the distance and I loose sight of it, I find the peace of forgiveness that God offers. I have not squashed it down (just to pop up later) and I have certainly not acted on it. I have simply allowed God’s forgiveness to take effect and found his peace.

Don’t get me wrong – if you’re like me the thought will soon be back, old habits die hard. But remember what Jesus said to Peter about the number of times Peter had to forgive? It was not seven but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22) and if God expects Peter to forgive at least 490 times I guess God will be even more patient. God’s forgiveness does not run out but it is effective, it does change us and Grace works through the Holy Spirt over time.

So we come before God with all our deathly thoughts but we are offered life-giving forgiveness.

We don’t have to be subject to our thought habits; we can choose life.

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor

I’ve been sent that saying, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” (its sometimes attributed to FD Roosevelt), by different people twice in as many days. I’m getting the feeling someone’s trying to tell me something!

One of the emails was a mail shot from a sailing school that I once did some training with. Since then we have also taken our own boat on a couple of their flotillas across the channel. Colin, the skipper, the last trip:

Last year we took eight vessels to Le Havre and we enjoyed weather, a breakdown, great sailing and camaraderie.

Two points to note, first that on this occasion it was not us who broke down (though with an old boat that’s not unknown), and second, he said we enjoyed ‘weather’, he did not say ‘good weather’! That said, it was not as bad as the force 7 that we ‘enjoyed’ on the way back from Holland the previous year. But it can’t have been that bad, we’re thinking about going with them again this year. All good experience and, mostly, great fun.

Learning to cope is part of learning to sail, especially at sea, which is exactly why I started training with Colin in the first place. Developing a skill, whether sailing or anything else requires both training and experience. And yes, sometimes the most valuable (if not the most enjoyable) experience is when the sea gets rough.

Growing up can be a bit like that. Even if you basically enjoy school the tests and exams can be rough. We don’t know much about Jesus’ early life but as an infant, according to Matthew’s account of his life, his family was force to be refugees in Egypt and then had to move around Judea and Galilee (areas of what is now Israel or Palestine) before it was safe for them to settle back down back in Nazareth. Jesus also would have been taught about his faith in the local Synagogue and according to another account of Jesus’ life (written by Luke) he astounded his teachers when he went to Jerusalem at the age of 12. So, may be for him, the exams would not have been such a worry after all.

Have you ever wondered about your faith and wanted to understand more? Sunday mornings are often not a good time for families (especially for those who are members of sailing clubs – most of the races are organised for Sundays!) so we are experimenting with organising events on Saturday evenings at St Nicholas School (at the end of Priory Chase behind ASDA on Rawreth Lane). We are meeting once a month on Saturdays at 5pm with refreshments (a light teatime meal) from 4:30pm.

These services are for all the family, thinking about different aspects of developing faith and with activity and worship to engage people of all ages, adults and children.

In January we think about that story of Jesus aged 12 with the professors in Jerusalem. Over the following three months we will be thinking about how we can learn about our own faith. In February that will be about growing as a community, in March about how we grow together as a family (this will be just before Mothering Sunday so we’ll be thinking especially about our Mums) and, in April, thinking about the Easter story and what Jesus’ execution and then resurrection might mean for us now.

Just as with developing sailing skills, we never stop learning and developing our faith. There is always more to explore, and this is a chance to do it together.

The dates are:

18th January Jesus Growing Up (and a panic for his Mum and Dad)

8th February Growing Together

21st March     Family – Growing in Love (Mothering Sunday)

25th April       Easter – Growing in Faith

We meet for refreshments (a light tea) at 4:30 and activities will start at 5pm, we will be finished by 6pm. We hope to see you there!

Happy Sailing … or whatever you do for fun.