What follows is the first of a series of sermons and accompanying prayers that will be pasted up on this site every Sunday morning at 9am, for as long as church services are suspended. This first one addresses the current situation, but in future weeks, I propose not to restrict myself to what’s happening in the news, but to offer a wider range of reflections, both old and new. I feel some of you may already have had enough of the COVID19 issue! Please do let me know what you think, either via the ‘Comment’ facility on the site or, if you’d prefer your comments to remain private, by sending me a message via the ‘Contact’ tab or in an email.
‘God is our hope and strength: a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear though the earth be moved: and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea.’
Psalm 46 – Book of Common Prayer
We are very far from being the first generation that has had to confront fear, as the Psalmist reminds us from his position approximately 3,000 years ago. But we are perhaps the first generation to have to confront fear against a background of 24/7 media, the Wild West of social media and, for some, self-isolation. In that respect, this is a most challenging scenario. I hope that those who have to make the decisions that may deprive us of the human contact that we most crave, are aware that this is very far indeed from a decision without cost, as we shall undoubtedly find, the longer it continues. If you have been tempted to think in the last two weeks, like me, that it’s almost as though someone has put a fear drug into our water, then maybe that fear drug is actually social media and the disinformation that goes with it?
As I’ve watched the situation unfold, I’ve become acutely aware of how hysterical some voices have become. It’s very easy to condemn these voices and the panic-buying that goes with them, but we need to be alert to the fact that what they are underlining is the terror that has now gripped ours and other nations. And it’s far too easy to find ourselves suggesting that others ‘need to get a grip’. The truth is that the current situation will hit every one differently, depending on their age, psychological profile, resilience to stress, how their jobs and financial security are threatened and the extent to which they are terrified about the safety of their loved ones.
One of the curious facts much researched over the years, is that those who have a faith are some of the healthiest in the population, both physically and mentally, which has led some to wonder whether faith provides psychological benefits.
So what might it be that could possibly lead to those with faith generally being amongst the more healthy and contented groups in the population? It is, of course, true that at the heart of our faith lies the very simple precept that God loves each and every one of us in an unfathomable way, and our proper response should be to give thanks for this mystery. But this makes it all sound rather like a duty, something we owe God and, rather like writing our Christmas thank-you letters as children, it’s something we know we have to do but it’s definitely not a pleasure. Can this possibly be what makes us healthier and happier?
Our society has changed out of all recognition. And one of the ways in which it’s changed is that we’ve become much more focused on ourselves. Our lives seem now to revolve around stroking our own egos and, with the possible exception of a number of rather old-fashioned rural places, people don’t rely on others as much as they used to. One of the paradoxes of faith is that when you focus your life on yourself, it can become strangely unfulfilling. Is it this, perhaps, what we as Christians can offer to the current situation – the paradox that the more we focus on others rather than on ourselves, the more contented we become?
So my suggestion is that it might be good, whilst current troubles last, to try to force ourselves to find something for which to give thanks each day. Giving thanks is extremely good for us, as it takes us away from concern about and focus on, ourselves. Thanking God encourages us to look at our lives, and realise that, despite the many challenges that of course mark all our human journeys, there is still so much that we have to thank God for, not least life itself.
And if you genuinely don’t think you can find anything to be thankful for, try to get out into the countryside. The sun is shining today, the aconites and daffodils are in flower, solitary butterflies can be seen and everywhere you can see signs that life is about to burst into song in the ancient ritual we call spring!
Gracious and loving Father, help us to become less focused on ourselves in this time of great fear. We pray that you will guide us to remain cheerful and resilient. Give us a sense of perspective and encourage us to give thanks for what we have, and for your love for us. Amen