As we journey through these uncertain times, each day Sean will to seek post a thought or reflection, a Bible verse or a prayer.
Saturday 25th April 2020
'Public morale and the people of God'
A couple of years ago, I spent a few days in New York. It was the first time I had visited the city and it was a bit of an overwhelming experience. We did the usual tourist things. Looking down from the top of the Empire State Building, jogging around Central Park, a visit to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and a walking tour of the financial district (More interesting that it sounds!) and coffee in Trump Tower surrounded by heavily armed police and guys wearing jackets that read ‘Secret Service’ (How can you be the Secret Service if you tell everybody about?), and travelling on the Subway at rush hour. But the most memorable place was ground zero – the site of 9/11 where in 2001 the deadliest terror attacks in history left 2,753 died and tens of thousands injured. To describe the place as poignant is a bit of an understatement. It had a most peculiar atmosphere.
Up to 9/11 you could argue there was a general consensus that religion was a good thing and had a positive influence on society. But since then religion has increasingly been under constant criticism. Some of this criticism was well deserved – such as the heart breaking revelations of child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the criticism is misplaced and ingenuous such as so called ‘militant atheism’ which appears to have burnt itself out. No surprise there. But the place of religion in society has been under increasing scrutiny to the point in which most folk would deem it irrelevant to their lives. Much of this is our own fault, especially when it comes to hanging onto traditions or styles of worship that are no longer culturally relevant. And there is still a mind-set that expects people to come to us. No wonder people have voted with their feet!
There is an interesting question here. What is the place of religion and faith during the current pandemic? There is certainly more religious broadcasting on TV. Churches have been at the forefront of organising foodbanks and offering support. I recently heard of one Christian group in Aberdeen who found a foreign national sleeping outdoors. It turned out he had recently lost his job at a hotel and been booted out of his accommodation. Speaking very poor English he ended up sleeping rough and begging for handouts. Fortunately, he is now getting the help he needs. But the question remains what is the place of religion and faith during the current pandemic?
In a previous generation religious customs, rites and festivals would have been central to community life. Participation in these would have contributed to the values, routines, sense of community and self-identity. Bible passage such as the Good Samaritan and Ten Commandments would have informed and shaped people’s values. In a past generation when life was far more uncertain and challenging, faith would have given rise to hope and hope given people inner strength. But what about today. Where are people finding inner strength? Where are people finding hope and meaning as loved ones pass away? The answer is probably not from the church.
However, there is I believe something very subtle happening right under our noses. Not the old style fundamentalism or liberal church, but something rather interesting. One article I was recently reading suggested a new form of church was beginning to emerge. It is more self-critical, scientifically reasonable and humanitarian. It reflects many of the recognised values of modern culture (not all of them!). This ‘new’ church wherever it exists or is emerging is deeply significant for the morale of individuals, the community and nation. Still every early days but I believe that inward change is in the air, and this change will enable faith to again become relevant for the community and nation.
Luke 10:25-37 - The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Exodus 20 - The Ten Commandments
And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honour me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21 the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.
Do you feel that your faith is you helping at this present time?
Do you feel the church is a source of hope and inspiration?
Why not pray for your neighbours, friends and family?
Prayers in a time of coronavirus
Love never fails
Even in the darkest moments, love gives hope.
Love compels us to fight against coronavirus alongside our sisters and brothers living in poverty.
Love compels us to stand together in prayer with our neighbours near and far.
Love compels us to give and act as one.
Now, it is clear that our futures are bound together more tightly than ever before.
As we pray in our individual homes – around the nation and around the world – we are united as one family.
So, let us pause and find a moment of peace, as we lift up our hearts together in prayer.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession
For the health workers tending the seriously ill
for the scientists working on a vaccination
for the researchers analysing data and identifying trends
for the media outlets working to communicate reality
for the supermarket workers, hygiene and sanitation providers
for the good news stories of recoveries and effective planning
for the singing from balconies by locked-down communities
for the recognition that isolation doesn’t need to mean loneliness
for the notes through letterboxes offering help and support
for the internet and telephones and technology that connects
for the awakened appreciation of what is truly important
Thanks be to God.
For those who are unwell and concerned for loved ones
for those who were already very anxious
for those immune suppressed or compromised
for those vulnerable because of underlying conditions
for those in the ‘most at risk to coronavirus’ categories
for those watching their entire income stream dry up
for those who have no choice but to go out to work
for those who are afraid to be at home
for those who are more lonely than they've ever been
for those who are bereaved and grieving.
God be their healer, comfort and protection,
be their strength, shield and provision
be their security, safety and close companion
And raise up your Church
to be your well-washed hands and faithful feet
to be present to the pain
to respond with love in action
if even from a safe distance.
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
A prayer for times of isolation
‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38-39)
God of heaven and earth,
in these times of isolation,
apart from loved ones
distant from friends
away from neighbours
thank you that there is nothing
in all of creation,
not even coronavirus,
that is able to separate us from your love.
And may your love that never fails
continue to be shared
through the kindness of strangers
looking out for each other,
for neighbours near and far
all recognising our shared vulnerability,
each of us grateful for every breath,
and willing everyone to know the gift
of a full and healthy life.
Keep us all in your care.
A prayer for the church
May your love that never fails
strengthen the weak
encourage the fearful
calm the anxious
heal the sick
through your church –
your washed hands
and feet on earth –
distant but still present
virtual but still connected
apart but still helping.
God in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. You will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.
May the grace of God uphold you,
the peace of God surround you,
the love of God flow from you
and the strength of God protect
and bring you safely through this day.
As the deer panteth for the water