Dear Church Family
Greetings from The Rectory. It has been another sobering week with the COVID situation worsening. This has prompted changes for Carol and I, following lots of dialogue with the children. With their support, we have suspended our role in two support bubbles (one for my single daughter and one for childcare support for my youngest son). One grandchild from each was attending school/nursery and thus meeting quite a lot of people. We have also decided to return to online grocery shopping and to go out only for medical appointments. We have done this partly on the basis of advice in Carol’s latest shielding letter but mostly in response to the horrific infection and death tolls. These things have raised our level of anxiety. This is a posh way of saying we are scared. This bit of soul searching provides the context for my reflection this weekend.
As mentioned last week, we are embarking on a version of reading ‘The Bible in a Year’. All the passages for Friday 15th were on the theme of ‘Fear’. We have often looked at this theme in our Sunday sermons. One of the recurring phrases in the Christmas story for example is ‘fear not’.
We know that fear in and of itself can be useful and healthy. It teaches us to avoid situations and things that can hurt us. We all have many fears. The problems come when those fears debilitate. One common biblical word for fear is phobia. The dictionary defines this as ‘irrational fear’. I for example cannot travel in the back seat of a two door car. Given the choice I always go for the aisle seat in an aeroplane. The list goes on but I wont bore you with it!
Amongst the negative (phobia) fears, the bible also presents us with a healthy fear; ‘the fear of the Lord’. Nicky Gumbel writes ‘This does not mean being afraid of God. In fact it means the exact opposite, it could even be translated love of the Lord. It recognises the power, majesty and holiness of God Almighty. It leads to a healthy respect of God and is the antidote of all the other fears and phobias which we experience in life. Fear God and you need not fear anything or anyone else.’
Here are some biblical examples: –
(Proverbs 1:33) but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
Again, these words are not a magic formula. They are about context. The book of Proverbs is about wise living and in it ‘wisdom’ herself is personified. The book carries many examples of the path of wisdom as contrasted with the path of waywardness. Wisdom’s path is one of integrity and good choices. These choices are based on the good of the whole community of faith. As I reread the book I was stuck on the number of timely insights that promote wellbeing. It’s a very 21st Century book.
The New Testament antidote to worry comes from Matthew 10 26-31
(Matthew 10:26) “So do not be afraid of people. Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered, and every secret will be made known.
(27) What I am telling you in the dark you must repeat in broad daylight, and what you have heard in private you must announce from the housetops.
(28) Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
(29) For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.
(30) As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted.
(31) So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!
This passage tells us no less than three times not to be afraid. Just before we phoned our children to say that we were planning to reduce our contact with them (and everyone else) we felt a bit bad. We are aware of the support they need, so these were hard phone calls to make. In the end they all responded with love and understanding. More than anything else they want us to feel safe and to be safe. That was more important to them than the helpful but short term relief and support we could provide to take the pressure off of their lives. They care about us and want us to be there for the long haul. If that meant less face to face contact in the short term that was a price worth paying.
God’s care and support of us is also for the long haul. He knows us and he cares about us. He actually knows us better than we know ourselves! It’s an amazing and wonderful fact that we (little us) are valuable to the God of the universe. This passage also declares that God knows the whole picture. In this era when we are bombarded daily by statistics and graphs and numbers that blow our minds, all of those numbers and statistics are related to people that God knows personally and loves completely. We could never compute all that but He can.
I finish with a couple of prayers from my commentary on these passages.
Lord thank you that you love and value me so much. Help me to know your love, to trust you and not be afraid.
Lord thank you for your promise to be with me. Thank you for telling me over and over again that if I fear (respect) you, I do not need to be afraid of anything or anyone else. Lord, I choose to fear you – to live a life of reverence and awe of your power, majesty and holiness. Help me to live life trusting you.
In Jesus name. Amen
God bless you and keep you. The UK Blessing — Churches sing ‘The Blessing’ over the UK – Bing video
Again the Bishop and Sarah have braved the outdoor to bring a reflection on the Psalms.