Sunday Reflection (27 June)

Dear Church Family

As you will have seen from Ruth’s email, we now have a date when we can meet to worship together. On Sunday July 12 up to 30 of us will be able to meet for a said service. Ruth has sent out a copy of the order of service, which we ask you to bring as we cannot hand out material.

It was a bit overwhelming to meet, online, with 197 diocesan clergy and office holders on Thursday evening. (see picture) It was mostly questions and answers, these flowing in on an attached side bar. I cannot speak highly enough of the diocesan leadership team. Bishop Paul has led the way together with Sarah. I have included a link to the latest reflection on Proverbs which also has a lovely worship song at the close.

Archdeacon Phil has been supportive and encouraging. I have known him for years. We used to be in neighbouring parishes and met weekly for prayer. He was a bright young thing in those days and I was his older mentor! Phil made the news when he expressed forgiveness to a young man who burnt the church hall down. He spoke up for him in court and negotiated a community service sentence. Then the young man decorated the refurbished hall. Phil always had a wise head and we are blessed to have him as our local archdeacon. His counterpart in the north of the diocese is also a familiar co-worker. He followed me as vicar in one of the churches where I have ministered. Mark is a whizz at planning and admin. For a number of years, he headed up a charity that ministered to street children in The Philippines. Now, as acting Archdeacon of Newark, he has been charged by Bishop Paul to interpret our return to worship programme, as a diocese. He has produced a flowchart that navigates all the challenges and pitfalls. In so many ways this crisis has bred creativity and birthed new ways of doing things. Praise God for His body the church and for the team that facilitate church in our area.

For todays scripture I have used the lectionary reading from Romans 8

(Rom 8:26)  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

(Rom 8:27)  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

(Rom 8:28)  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

(Rom 8:29)  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

(Rom 8:30)  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

(Rom 8:31)  What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

(Rom 8:32)  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

(Rom 8:33)  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.

(Rom 8:34)  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

(Rom 8:35)  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

(Rom 8:36)  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

(Rom 8:37)  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Rom 8:38)  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

(Rom 8:39)  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The great preacher; Martin Lloyd Jones preached 366 sermons on the book of Romans. Some 93 of these were on Romans 8. He held the congregation of Westminster Chapel spellbound with his expository preaching. When we see how densely these 13 verses are packed with truths, it is not surprising he found them a source of such wisdom. Today, I will distil a few thoughts into a couple of hundred words. I invite you to meditate on the passage yourselves and draw out your own gems.

  1. Verse 26 reminds us of our weakness (most of us don’t need reminding). Faced with a crisis that has wrought havoc to our world, we want to cry out in prayer. What do we pray? How do we pray? The needs are so various and so big. Our prayers seem so inadequate. We need help.

    Help is available.

    Much controversy has surrounded the ‘gift of tongues’. This is not the time for a discussion on such a huge topic. I just say that there are times when words alone cannot express the things we want to cry out to God. We are reduced to inarticulate wordless groans. However, the Spirit of God is in those groans. God takes our raw ‘pain filled’ groans and he makes a prayer from them. For each of us the groans take a different form. Some arise out of the COVID crisis, most have been with us much longer than that. In February, as the family gathered round my sister in her final hours, we kept a rotating vigil. At around 1 a.m. I found myself alone with her and no words could express what I wanted to pray because I did not know what was best for her in that moment. I fell back on the wordless groans that bound my pain with hers and let the Spirit do His work.
  2. Verse 31 brings the all important truth that God is for us. When Archdeacon Phil (in a different zoom meeting) spoke to the 10 clergy in the diocese who were self-isolating or shielding (as I have been to support Carol) his repeated message to us was that the senior staff were supportive. He said ‘Let me say this very clearly. We are on your side. We want you and the people you are supporting to stay safe. We will do all in our power to support you. Just let us know what you want from us and we will provide it. If you feel pressured in any way to do anything or be anywhere you do not feel safe, we will send a message from the bishop to say “The bishop says … and we will insert whatever you want us to say’. Most of us never needed to call on that because no one has pressured us, but everyone was encouraged by the knowledge that someone ‘had our backs’.  God is our father, he is always on our side. He always wants what is best for us. Whatever happens in the short term, in the long term we win.
  3. Verses 38 and 39 are awesome in their scope. When we face an uncertain short term future, as we all do, we can survive, and even thrive, if we know where it is all leading and what it is all for. A few weeks before my first wife died, we were enjoying a sabbatical. We were both in good health and looking forward to the final years of ministry and then retirement together. We visited a number of churches and one Sunday we ended up at church in Long Eaton where the Chaplain of Nottingham High School for Boys was preaching. His text was Romans 8 (the same passage as this because the Common Worship Lectionary has a repeating pattern) was focussed on these two verses. Hilary was not a big note taker and the notes in her bible notebook on this sermon were the last she wrote. Among them were the words ‘It is good that whatever we face here and now the final outcome is life in heaven with God forever.’ A few weeks later that was her experience. We sang, as she had requested, ‘In Christ alone my hope is found.’ Her faith has strengthened my faith. The COVID crisis is but a blip in eternity. The best is yet to come.

God bless you all and keep you all. Two weeks until we meet again. Alan