With the coronavirus pandemic developing, we are living in truly extraordinary days. These are days of crisis, which present us with difficult challenges. And yet this is also a time full of all sorts of wonderful opportunities. That’s why this blog is about crisis and opportunity, and puts in blog form the message I gave to our church last Sunday morning, which was also Mother’s Day.
US pastor Rick Warren says that when we hit a crisis, people tend to go one of two ways: ‘they either get bitter or they get better’. They either get bitter: they get negative, hyper-critical and blame others. Or they get better: they grow, mature and become stronger, wiser and more whole.
This is an unprecedented time, and the way that we, as church, respond to this crisis, is crucial. If we respond well, we can help shape the future of our communities and of the church in our city, region and nation.
Justin Welby, who is Archbishop of Canterbury knows this, which I why this week, he said these words: ‘we must face the challenge by becoming a radically different kind of church … less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day. This is a defining moment for the Church of England.’
So, what should we do, in these days? And how should we be? Romans 12:9-16 is particularly helpful. In Romans, Paul speaks to a people going through hardship and struggle. Having laid out his theology in chapters 1-11, about all what God has done in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he now gets throughly practical.
I want us to similarly think practically, under 3 headings (3 C’s): CHURCH, CHRIST & CITY.
The fact that we can’t meet as church, doesn’t mean that we stop being church. We just do church in a different way. Like many of us are doing by meeting online. And on the phone. Using different forms of technology. And we do so not because we have to, but because we want to. Because we are the family of the church. And families are united by a bond of love. Verse 9 talks of this, saying ‘Love must be sincere.’
We’re called to show genuine, sincere love, by caring for each other at this time. I’m not just to look after myself, but after others. As it says in Galatians 6:10: ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’ It’s tempting to just look after myself. But that’s not church. That’s individualism. No, we’re family, and we need to look after the church family. So please be doing that. In your small groups. Through the new buddy system, caring for people not in groups.
We have a real opportunity to mature as a church family in this crisis. Showing sincere love. There are encouraging signs of this happening already, with people already doing what it says in verse 10: ‘honour one another above yourselves.’ This means prioritising others. Philippians 2:3-4 says this even more clearly: ‘in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’
So, if you know people who are self-isolating, give them a call. Ask if you can help.
I don’t want to be overly morbid, but it’s possible that some of our church community might get this virus. Some, especially older people, might even die. I pray not, but if it happens, we will then have to do what it says in verse 15: ‘mourn with those who mourn.’ Many are presently dying in Italy every day. We mourn with them. We’re going to need lots of love in this crisis. Practical love. And God will supply it to us.
In everyday life, no-one models this better than mothers. Today is Mothering Sunday. We’re thanking God for good mothers. A good mother thinks of her immediate family before herself. She works hard. She cares. She loves. So like a good mum, let’s mother each other well. Let’s really care for our church family. This crisis is presenting us with a wonderful opportunity to be a church full of love. So let’s be kind. And let’s demonstrate in a fresh way, what a loving church is all about.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, then Christ is your Master, your Saviour, your Lord. That’s because through his death and resurrection he’s forgiven us, loved us and given us a brand new start. We’re called into a living and developing relationship with God, through Christ. So a second opportunity that we all have in this crisis, is to grow in our faith in Christ.
For all of us, our diaries and schedules have been disrupted. Many of us, unless you’re a key worker, will find you have some extra time. How are you going to use it? Of course, enjoy the space. Make the most of time with those in your household. Pick up a hobby. Take up gardening! But let’s not just all sit around and watch TV or Netflix all day, for the coming weeks & months!
Why not use this time to grow up in your faith in Jesus Christ? Why not read the Bible more? Pick up a bible reading plan & read through the Bible. Take time to learn Scripture. Have a good Christian book on the go. Some people in church have told me they’d like to read books, but they don’t have time. Well most of us do now! Read books from authors in this church. And beyond. There are many good books, blogs and podcasts out there. Take a topic and read up. It could be discipleship, or prayer, or justice, or something else.
Let’s not get spiritually flabby at this time, but use these opportunities to get spiritually fit! Paul says just this in verse 11: ‘Don’t be lacking in zeal. Keep your spiritual fervour’. Which means: stay vibrant!
Another important way to do this, is through prayer. Verse 12 says ‘be faithful in prayer.’ Most of us say the reason we don’t pray more, is that we’re busy. But now many of us will have more space. So why not commit yourself to prayer? Why not develop a good rhythm of prayer? First thing in the morning when you wake up – spend time with Jesus. Why not join the staff, who at 1pm every day will be pausing & saying L’s Prayer.
Here’s something we could do together. We’d like to do some more 24/7 prayer, where we sign up for one hour to pray. So over a period of time many, many prayers are prayed. We’re going to start that this coming Friday, with a prayer day, from 9am to 9pm. If possible, we’d love at least two people per hour praying. You can do this at home. But so we know people are praying, please sign up for a slot online, at: http://www.24-7prayer.com/signup/b54cc2 When you sign up, we’ll then also send you resources of things you can pray for.
Back to Mother’s Day. Church history is full of examples of good mothers, who’ve been followers of Jesus, who’ve wanted their families to similarly grow in their faith in Christ. You may have heard of Susannah Wesley, John Wesley’s mother, who in the 18th Century had lots of children, some of whom sadly died. Through difficult times, she trusted God and was a great mother who shaped her children, not just by her words, but especially through her prayers for them. She would lift her apron over her head to black things out, and her children knew she was praying!
This season we’re in is a great opportunity to go deeper in prayer and in our faith in Christ. If together we do that, we’ll see lots of good come, and our faith in Christ will be strengthened.
Thirdly, there’s a real opportunity in this season to reach out in compassionate mission to our city. Most elderly are rightly self-isolating. They need help. Many are fearful and anxious. We hcan share God’s kindness in very practical ways to the people of our great city. Will we seize this opportunity? I pray so.
Romans 12 encourages this when it says in verse 13: ‘Practice hospitality.’ Of course at present we can’t have lots of people round to our homes, but we can knock on doors. We can put notes through, asking if we can help. We can do shopping. Deliver newspapers. Check up with phone calls.
Some of us don’t know who are neighbours are. But what if, over the coming weeks, we all got to know, say, at least five households one side of us, and five households on the other, and a similar number across the road? And we cared for each other? What would that do, at the end of this crisis, for neighbourliness? Maybe your street will be transformed, through your practical care? Maybe your street can become kinder, safer, and more loving, as a result of this crisis? Certainly, when it comes to mission week next year, you’ll have a whole new bunch of people to invite!
On this Mothers Day, good mothers know that part of their role isn’t just to care for their children but also to encourage others. To care for those who are struggling in the neighbourhood. To share and care. There are so many opportunities to do this, if we’re not self-isolating. And if you are self-isolating, get on the phone. Do what you can. And in particular, pray! Let’s ensure we’re really supporting our neighbours and those who are vulnerable & struggling.
Finally, new advice seems to be coming out daily, so we need to be listening to that, and to stay flexible and sensible as we listen to the guidance of our leaders in the nation. Let’s also be listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He will lead us, if we will listen.
May I urge you to stay safe. And not to fear. God is with us through these uncertain days. And he wants to bring out the best of us in this crisis. When our church doors finally open again for public worship, God wants us to be a maturer, fitter, wiser, kinder, and more missional church.
So mums, grans, aunts – have a very happy Mothering Sunday! And may each one of you, know the presence of our good God with you, and your loved ones, today, and in these coming days.