Finding Hope

What do Abraham Lincoln and George Washington have in common, other than the fact that they were both Presidents of the United States of America.? No, it wasn't that they were both left handed or had both lost an eye - it is something else. But more of that in a moment. 

Most of us will share something identical or similar with other people in Swindon There’s one thing, though, that we all have in common – that is our desire to find real meaning in our everyday lives.

Prayer: does it matter?

Our spiritual well-being is as important as our physical well-being. In the past year both of these have been seriously challenged: the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to be careful about our own health, taking precautions such as washing hands and wearing facemasks and maintaining social distance. 

Some of us have been ill or have lost someone close to us. Meanwhile the working lives of many have been disrupted and families kept apart, often at huge personal cost. Perhaps it has made us all more anxious about our health and more aware of our vulnerability.

It matters

“… they were all together in one place … all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The message of Pentecost of one of radical Christian inclusion. Everyone was filled with the Spirit and, onlookers in the temple courts and in the streets who had come to Jerusalem from across the Roman Empire heard about God in a way they could all understand.

In a multi- cultural empire the first Christians reached out to everyone they encountered. Looking at the names we find in the New Testament, there were Greeks, Romans, Jews and people from Africa in the first house churches. There were fishermen and tax collectors, merchants and labourers – they believed that anyone (all) who called on God would be saved, irrespective of their background or their personal circumstances (Acts 2: 21, 38, 39).

Human beings generally prefer order to chaos which is why we arrange the books on our shelves and the dates in our diaries. It’s a good habit to get into but a bad one to apply in circumstances where drawing a line, making a choice or pigeon holing a person becomes more important than the event or the person themselves.

As recent events in Minneapolis have demonstrated, it is when we see others as being of less worth or value than ourselves that the real problems can be found. Those views reflect deep seated prejudices that have caused hurt and reinforced exclusion for generations. Drawing lines around or between people inevitably means that some are “in” and others “out.”

The fact that others may define us by the way we speak, on the basis of the words we use for our evening meal, the colour of our skin or the place where we were born [*], is totally at odds with the Christian Gospel where all are welcomed and valued. [* Note: These are a few examples; there are many more instances of prejudice observable in daily life].

Confronting the evils of discrimination and entitlement can lead – especially where there seems to be no move to resolve injustices meted out to others – to more radical action than the peaceful protest favoured by many. We can look outside in at such escalations as toppling the statue of Edward Colston but perhaps not appreciate the extent of the pain and frustration that drives people to follow such a course of action. Perhaps, like Keir Starmer has said, we feel that something should have been done sooner rather than leave the decision to crowd justice in the heat of the moment when frustrations beyond racial discrimination are boiling over.

Discrimination, partiality and assumed entitlement are wrong whenever and wherever they occur. God sees us all just as we are (see Psalm 139): when we see people in any other way, then we are judging them and putting ourselves on a (often self-created and self-determined) pedestal.

When we are committed to living out the values of the Kingdom of God we so easily and quickly profess with the words of the disciples’ prayer (Our Father), then we will stand out for justice, seeking mercy and walking humbly with God. We’ll also stand with the oppressed, the excluded and the broken. We’ll love the so-called unlovely and call the world around us to account with the voice of the prophet who can see the signs of the times.

I cannot begin to understand the hurt experienced and rejection felt by others but I can recognise the life God calls me to lead which seeks to draw everyone to Him. I – you – can present a different way, one of peace but one that does not allow exclusion to remain unquestioned. At this time of significant change in the life of our nation let’s recognise that all are loved by God, since it was for us all that Christ died on the cross.

In Christ

Living by example

I wrote the words which follow, on the 12th March, as a reflection for our AGM. They are still as relevant today as they were then

cross shaped worldWe are living in unprecedented times. Changes on the national stage which we may have assumed would have only a peripheral affect on our lives, have been eclipsed by the very real (and personal) concerns over the potential impact of the Corona virus.

As I write these words, the Government’s Emergency Committee are meeting to decide what steps must be taken to contain the outbreak. What began as a localised problem in a far off city many of us had never heard of, has now become an international pandemic.

We’re all involved, in the sense that this is not something that just happens to other people. There’s some very good advice around (we’ll keep you up to date with it where we can) but there is also a great deal of worry and concern.

As I was praying this morning, I wondered what might bring both a wider perspective and a deeper reassurance at this time of national need. My thoughts turned to Jesus’ words to His friends at a similar time of uncertainty:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled…. (John 14:27)

Peace is what we need at this moment. Peace to be able to hand everything over to God. Peace about the practical measures we can take to keep ourselves and others safe. Peace that says whatever happens, we can be sure that we aren’t on our own.

Jesus’ words remind us that help is here even in darkest days. When we have exhausted our own resources, God has so much more to give.

God’s peace may not change our immediate circumstances but it will help us to view them in a very different light. This gift reminds us that, irrespective of what is going on around us, wherever we are and whatever we feel like, we are both precious to, and are loved by, God.

At the beginning of the year, none of us could have anticipated the particular circumstances we would find ourselves in today. Our motto text for 2020 invites us to set an example to others – let’s do just that: let’s seek and share the peace and love of God, as we support those in need.

In Christ

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