“I am very supportive of [the Domestic Abuse] bill. It has been a long time in coming, and although isn’t without difficulty, is a step towards protecting men and women in abusive relationships. However, there is one item that concerns me greatly. It is my understanding that within this legislation there is an aim to repeal Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. I think I understand the aim behind this, however I believe this will cause more harm than good.
I know that abortion is an emotive subject but is too important to be ignored. It is also too important to be a subsection on the domestic abuse act. Not only this but I believe that abortion is an afront to a civilised society and to human rights. Already abortions are allowed up to 24 weeks (and although there are caveats to this they are largely meaningless in practice) and up to birth in certain cases including Downs Syndrome. Softening this even more is a step in the wrong direction and will lead to the deaths of the most vulnerable in our society. Following the recent riots over Black Lives Matter it may surprise you that Marie Stopes, the woman behind the largest abortion provider, was a racist and a eugenicist who advocated the forced sterilisation of those with disabilities, addictions, mixed race, and those we could today call the BAME communities. Her aim was actively to strengthen ‘our race’ (by which she meant white people) by eradicating ‘weakness’. That is why her clinics were, and largely still are, in poorer communities who she considered ‘the inferior, the depraved, and the feeble-minded’. Today we are rightly appalled at such language, justification and action, and yet we carry out the same practices with different labels. We justify it under women’s’ rights, or the ability to minimise maternal mortality rates, even though the evidence shows that the abortion rate doesn’t correlate with maternal survival rates. Abortion of those with downs syndrome (even up to the hour before birth) and abortion for economic reasons shows similar patterns to Marie Stopes aims.
I do not write this to demonise those who have had abortions but rather to highlight the fact that the concept of freely available abortions as a women’s rights issue is a fallacy. If we want to see women’s rights improve, rather than removing the rights of the unborn which is both ineffective and counter intuitive, we instead need to continue to invest in better education for everybody on rights and responsibilities, in sex education such is provided by groups such as ACET UK, and in maternal health care for women. Globally this also means investments in nutrition, clean water, and sanitation on top of these. One way is to ensure that we do fair trade with the whole world to ensure that communities can afford to invest in education and infrastructure. From a Christian perspective there are other things to say, however today I wanted to write on data that is based on commonly held western values of the right to life, the right to not live in fear, and the scientific data that points us away from the shadow of eugenics and towards behaviours that actually improve maternal mortality rates and the day-to-day lives of all people.”
We’re in a time of great uncertainty. I’m writing this to you shortly after Boris’ address to the nation on the 10th May. It may be that by the time you’re reading this we are given a little more information, but I am certain that things will still be greatly unstable no matter who you are. Each of us is being effected different by the situation, but none of us are immune from the virus, or the effect it is having on the nation and the world.
It is understandable therefore that we are all looking for some signs of hope, of stability, or normality. We are all waiting to be told that everything is under control, that there is no need to worry, that we can socialise with out extended family, and friends, and the church again. It is not surprising therefore that some people have resorted to conspiracy theories to find meaning in this pandemic. Unfortunately this has lead to all sorts of dangerous practices, and groundless, prejudice theories. It is important that we listen to the experts and follow the advice given, and in doing so not only be committed to the truth (a core Christian principle, but protect ourselves and others in the process.
However, there is another trap that many of us can fall into – placing our hope into the wrong place. Hope is important as it allows us to endure through the present trials, and press on to better things. But if we place out hope in the wrong place, it can become a false hope. At this time I think that we can place too much hope of the government, on medical staff, and on scientists. Please hear me correctly. These things are good and should be encourage to fulfil there roles. I know we don’t all agree on politics but many vulnerable people would be in worse conditions if not for their actions (look at countries with poor infrastructure), and I doubt I need to tell you the amazing work medical staff are doing to care for us, and other scientists looking at research towards vaccines (just to mention a few of the roles). These things are good, and right, but we must remember their limitations. They, by necessity, plan, speculate and react, but can never truly solve the heart of the problem, because that is the problem of the human heart.
Our hope then must be in the one who can make an end of sin, heal humanity to its intended role and purpose, and restore all things. In other words our hope can only truly be in God and the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. If we hope in anything else, we hope in vain. In God’s grace he meets us now, walks with us in our pain, strengthens us by His Spirit, but we await the fulfilment of his promises patiently. Have a read of Romans 8: 18-30 and reflect on what you read there.
The words of the old hymn put it well (also ‘Cornerstone’ by Hillsong):
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name
Oh Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand”
Therefore let us listen and be thankful to the organisations that help us to thrive and look forward, but let us reserve all our hope for God, grounded on the solid Rock of Jesus –
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people –for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
(1 Tim 2: 1-2)
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
(1 peter 1: 3-6)
On another note, here’s a reminder of what is currently happening at Pip and Jims Ilfracombe, St. Peter Berrynarbor and St. Peter ad Vincula Combe Martin every week. Everybody is welcome to come and join in any and all of these events. You can find out more, and access the links on our website
17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-placeevery day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
(Acts 17: 16-34)
This is “the fullest example of Paul’s missionary preaching to a certain kind of Gentile audience” (Witherington III, 1998, 511) giving us the best opportunity to see how Paul engaged with a specific Gentile audience. Our passage starts with Paul at a loose end in Athens, waiting for his companions; Timothy and Silas (Fitzmyer, 1998, 603). Whilst doing so he seems to have wondered, observing the city (Barrett, 2004, 827).
Athens was “the very naval of what was even in Paul’s day viewed as the ‘golden age’ of Greek culture and the location of unnumbered artistic marvels” (Pervo, 2009, 424)’ It was also, the home of Socrates and the adopted home of Zeno and Epicurus (Bruce, 1988, 329) giving it quite some credence. However despite this, it had none of the political power it once had (Witherington III, 1998, 513). However, considering Paul’s response (v 16), I doubt he was overly impressed with this “golden age”, or “artistic marvels”. One rendering of this verse picks up on the root of the word κατείδωλον to make a case for translating it a “veritable forest of idols”, a reading which picks up on the scale well (Barrett, 2004, 827). However, a reading that I think picks up on both the scale and the disgust for Paul is “the effluvia of idolatry” (Pervo, 2009, 424). Παρωξύνετο could mean a range of things, including pity for the failings of polytheism (Pervo, 2009, 426), but in the Septuagint it is used at God’s extreme anger at the idolatry of the chosen people, suggesting that Paul was furious with what he saw (Witherington III, 1998, 512). I think this latter translation is most likely. Just in case we were in any doubt, Luke uses Είδωλον (idols), a term that in classical usage “already denotes a lack of genuine existence, since it is employed for lifeless souls, for shadowy and deceptive images”, and was therefore preferred by Jews as both a differentiation with the true God, and as an attack on polytheism (Klauck, 2000, 75–76).
Paul does his normal thing of going to debate in synagogues, but this time also headed to the Agora to reason with those that were there, which was not unusual in Athens (Pervo, 2009, 424-425). It is here that Paul runs into Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (v19) who begin to debate with him. They were clearly not impressed with his rhetoric, calling him a σπερμολόγος – metaphorically “a bird-brain devoid of method” (Pervo, 2009, 427). They also seem to misunderstand, thinking he is preaching polytheism. Luke explains that it was because Paul was preaching Jesus and the ἀνάστασιν (resurrection), whom they presumably understood to be Jesus’ female pair (Witherington III, 1998, 514; Barrett, 2004, 831; Fitzmyer, 1998, 605). It is even possible that they misheard ‘Jesus’ (Ἰησοῦς) as ‘healing’ (ἴασις), and therefore thought Paul was preaching divinized healing powers (Bruce, 1988, 331).
Stoics and Epicureans were not the only philosophical schools in Athens and it therefore begs the question; why are they specifically mentioned? It is possible that they were the most influential at the period, particularly stoicism (Wright, 2013, 212), and engaged in what “one could call in modern language pastoral care” and therefore they were “the only serious rivals to Christianity in this field.” (Klauck, 2000, 77; Witherington III, 1998, 514). This may be behind Paul’s speech, but I think the reason that Luke singles them out here is to point us towards interpreting the speech through Stoic Philosophy (Barrett, 2004, 829).
The Areopagus’ identity is greatly debated. Does Luke refer simply to the place i.e. Ares’ Hill (more commonly known as Mars’ Hill), or more specifically, to a council? (Pervo, 2009, 428; Witherington III, 1998, 515). Although the former is possible, most commentators tend to side with the latter (Pervo, 2009, 428; Witherington III, 1998, 515; Fitzmyer, 1998, 605-606; Winter, 2004, 4). However, there is a distinct lack of information about the role of the Areopagus council in this period (Winter, 1996, 89), but it seem likely that Paul is there for further discussion, not a trial (Klauck, 2000, 79). Before we hear Paul’s speech we are warned that the Athenians curiosity may not be as positive as it first seems, and that they may not take Paul as seriously as they ought, being only interested in curiosities (Pervo, 2009, 425; Witherington III, 1998, 517; Fitzmyer, 1998, 606).
In the speech we find that Paul critically assumes the assumptions of his audience whilst not compromising or hiding his own beliefs, meaning that in the end we find Hellenistic, Jewish and Christian thought. He particularly takes Stoic thought, which was the default position of the day (Pervo, 2009, 430-431; Wright, 2013, 212). We even find Paul using an elevated style of prose, using “the idiomatic πίστιν παρασχὼν” within the expected rhetoric formula of Exordium, including Captatio Benevolentiae (22-23), Propositio (23b), Probatio (24-29) and Peroratio, including Insinuatio (30-31). The only thing missing is narration which Luke covers in v 18-19 (Pervo, 2009, 425, 432; Witherington III, 1998, 518). This is seemingly not an approach taken in the Agora, but perhaps he changes style for a more classically educated audience. Whatever the reason, what is clear is the “use of points of contact, familiar ideas and terms, in order to make a proclamation of monotheism in its Christian form”. (Witherington III, 1998, 518, 524).
Possibly the most famous part of this speech is Paul’s declaration’s about the Unknown god, which Paul used as a means “to meet the audience where they are”, which incidentally is how Paul first encountered Jesus (Pervo, 2009, 425). Paul was quite insistent that he was not introducing new gods, but rather “declaring the nature of the God whose presence they had already recognised with the erection of an altar to him.”(Winter, 1996, 89). This might be an attempt to avoid the fate of Socrates (see below), or simply to find a starting point from which to speak. Much is said regarding the use of the singular, ‘god’, as although a similar descriptions have been found in Pergamum, this was probably plural (Pervo, 2009, 433; Klauck, 2000, 82; Witherington III, 1998, 521), as well as literary evidence, such as Jerome’s “correction” in his commentary on Titus 1.12; Epist. 70 ad magnum (Pervo, 2009, 433; Witherington III, 1998, 522). However, lack of evidence is not the same as evidence. The fact that no altar with a singular inscription has yet to be found doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and literary evidence is often vague, with the plural possibly referring to the alters, not the gods (Witherington III, 1998, 520-521). There are a number of plausible reasons how this statue could exist, including simply that it was an Ex Voto inscription (Pervo, 2009, 433) to a deity the benefactor didn’t know (Witherington III, 1998, 523). It was also known that when statues were damaged in war or disaster, they would be repaired and re-used. But what if the statue and inscription were so damaged as to be unrecognisable? Is it not reasonable to imagine that the statue might be rededicated “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD”? (Bruce, 1988, 336; Witherington III, 1998, 522). It is also suggested that the argument over God/gods inscription is misplaced as Paul’s hearers would happily use either interchangeably (Winter, 2004, 5) In fact, stoic pantheism saw itself as a modern version of pantheism, viewing what others saw as different deities as different facets of one God (Wright, 2013, 217), a clear foundation for the introduction of Paul’s monotheism. Is it perhaps this that Paul was playing on here? Whatever the reason, the intent is clear: they confessed their ignorance of the divinity, so Paul would tell them the truth (Bruce, 1988, 336).
In vv 24-29 we see Paul express some natural theology (Barrett, 2004, 840; Witherington III, 1998, 511, 523). Paul expresses a Jewish view but using Greek philosophical language; note for example the use of κόσμον (Pervo, 2009, 434; Witherington III, 1998, 525). The concepts were not unknown to the philosophers either. Contrary to most English translations, v 26 is vague. One what? (Witherington III, 1998, 526). Most translations render it as one man, i.e. Adam, which would fit the context. However, if Paul being deliberately vague here in order to interest the Stoics (Klauck, 2000, 85) with their cyclical view of history, possibly referring to the one deity whom starts and ends each cycle? (Wright, 2013, 215-216). It was also this cyclical view of history, along with Deuteronomy 32:8 (Witherington III, 1998, 527) that may have been behind Paul’s comments on times (καιροὺς) and boundaries (ὁροθεσίας). Whichever way the audience heard it, the point was the same: God made everything, and ordains nations and history (Pervo, 2009, 436), so is not in need of human temples, statues, or service.
Paul then walks us to his conclusion: this happened, “so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.” Here is grace from God, that he has differentiated the nations and the cultures, that the Gospel might be preserved and people might find God (Kitamori, 1965, 128-129). Ψηλαφω (grope) has the sense of the fumbling of a blind person, or in the dark. The irony being that although God is not far, being omnipresent, humans fumble in the dark to find him (Witherington III, 1998, 528-529). This might be Paul’s attempt at drawing back from a full natural theology, before he expresses his conclusion around Jesus (vv 30-31). We must not forget that for Paul, learning how to translate information about the world coherently is not enough by itself. Rather, “the one God of Abraham is a god of revelation” (Wright, 2013, 1360. Italics original). For now however, Paul still continues with the conclusion from his natural theology by quoting [Pseudo]Epimenides (Bruce, 1988, 339-340), a poem originally to Zeus (Witherington III, 1998, 529-530), followed by a famous quote from Aratus of Soli, a notable Stoic (Pervo, 2009, 439). “The function of the … quotations here is to cite an authority recognized by one’s audience to support one’s point.” (Witherington III, 1998, 530). This leads to us asking who the authority is that the modern Japanese would recognise.
Paul’s conclusion therefore is obvious (Fitzmyer, 1998, 611): Since god made everything, including us as his children, how could he possibly be made of material crafted by humans? This is where Paul moves from natural theology to revelation, and to being at odds with the philosophers. Ignorance was over looked before, but now, due to the full revelation in Christ, “it is inexcusable” (Bruce, 1988, 340). Natural theology is not enough, as what is needed is a “conversion to a new worldview, not merely additional knowledge” (Witherington III, 1998, 531). Not merely to add God to the pantheon, or to call the pantheon by a new name, but rather that everyone μετανοέω, turning away from the idols and towards the true God. For time was not cyclical but linear, and judgement is coming by a man [“the son of Man” / Jesus] (Bruce, 1988, 341), which was proved by his resurrection.
Ironically, the resurrection that gets Paul dragged before the council for judgement, is the same the achieves the judgement of all before God (Witherington III, 1998, 530). Yet it is also the concept that makes some of the hearers scoff. The concept of resurrection was rejected by Apollo in the Eumenides, “after the dust has absorbed a dead man’s blood, there is no resurrection.” (Aeschylus, 458 BCE, 647–648). It is unlikely that people had this consciously in mind, but were probably influenced by it (Witherington III, 1998, 532; Bruce, 1988, 343). It is uncertain whether those that requested to hear more were genuine, or giving a polite snub – either way, Paul leaves them (Pervo, 2009, 441-442). Perhaps Paul meant to leave this role to the church that was founded in Athens? For despite Luke’s warning in v 21, at least some became follower, including some notable people: Dionysius the Areopagite, a mystery woman, Damaris, who one assumes was known to the original hearers of Acts. (Pervo, 2009, 426; Witherington III, 1998, 532-533; Winter, 2004, 1)
Throughout this passage it becomes increasingly clear that we are meant to be viewing Paul as a Socratic figure, with Luke having him mimic the great philosopher (Pervo, 2009, 426). Paul was accused of proclaiming foreign gods (v19) and proclaiming strange things (v21) the same crime for which Socrates was executed (Xenophon, 1923, 1.1.1; Pervo, 2009, 425; Witherington III, 1998, 516-517). Paul also began his speech with Ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι (Men of Athens),which, in this form, is reminiscent of Socrates (Plato, 1966, 17a; Barrett, 2004, 834). Paul even discusses some similar themes that Socrates had famously addressed. Compare for example Acts 17:25 with Euthyphro 12E-15E (Plato, 1966b; Witherington III, 1998, 525-526). All this sets Paul up as being able to stand of equal footing with the intellectuals of his day, even in Athens, and excels over Socrates, walking out of the Areopagus, where one Socrates was executed (Witherington III, 1998, 514; Klauck, 2000, 94-95). However, this conclusion is clearly a latter editorial gloss from Luke for the benefit of his readers and not the intentional work of Paul. I must therefore discount this from my application.
Klauck (2000, 94) concludes from this passage that due to the interaction with limited characters in the narrative, this model,
cannot be transposed to the context within which Acts was read and used…Luke does not in the least intend the event in the past, which is awakened to life by being narrated, to function in his own days as a model for preaching to Greek Philosophers. Rather, it is intended to strength the self-assurance of his Christian readers. But even if his final conclusion is correct, what does he think Luke is strengthening his readers for? Surely, now that his readers are confident that they are not “philosophically backward” (Klauck, 2000, 94), and their faith holds up in this context, they are being spurred to go an emulate Paul, perhaps not in Athens, but in their own Greco-Roman contexts. “It is hard to doubt that Luke sees this speech in Acts 17 as something of a model for how to approach educated pagan Greeks”. (Witherington III, 1998, 533; cf. Bruce, 1988, 334–335) But even if a model can’t be found, at the bare minimum this text says that the faith is sound, so go and tell it. After all, Acts concludes with, “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” (28:28).
 Pervo (2009, 432) concludes that Paul failed in this task. However I think this is impossible to conclude from this snippet of the speech, edited by Luke.
 Same quatrain quoted in Titus 1:12. (Bruce, 1988, 339)
An extract from my Masters dissertation “Compare and contrast how the Apostle Paul engaged with Greco-Roman culture in mission, with how Christians might engage with the Japanese today.”
On Good Friday I was collecting nettles from our garden. My children had been stung more than once and it was time for them to go. I decided not to let them go to waste. God taught me a lesson I want to share with you.
On Good Friday we remember the death of Jesus. As I stood stripping the nettle leaves from their stalks I felt the sting in my hands. I was wearing gloves to protect myself from the stinging, and yet despite my best efforts I was still stung. There was nothing I could do. The stinging was enevitable. Likewise to follow Jesus means to associciate ourselves with Jesus’ death. To feel the sting of having our saviour die a horrid death in our place. On good friday as we remember that he is there in our place the stinging is real.
Now Mary stood outside [Jesus’] tomb crying.
The day after is Holy Saturday. On this day the disciples scattered and hid. Unsure what had just happened. Unsure what to do next. On this Holy saturday my hands are numb. The pain of the nettle sting has turned to a cross between a dull ache and a numbness, like my hands are unsure what to do with the sensation. This year the majority of the world is experiencing something of what this was like; stuck inside, unsure what to do next, not knowing when all this will be over, not knowing if they are safe. The disciples waited. We wait.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
Psalm 22: 1-2
It’s amazing what one can make from a stinging weed. What others consider unredeemable can be made into something so delicious, so life giving: Nettle Soup. Likewise, it is amazing what God can make from death and dispair. New Life and New hope:
5 The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now I have told you.’
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him.
Matthew 28: 5-9
Jesus death is not just some trick, but the start of a new kingdom, with Jesus as the king. Where justice and mercy reigh, and where all are loved. It is the story that you are known, you are loved, you are welcomed, and you are made clean. It is the story that nothing can overcome the power of God, not even death itself. And just like the sting had been taken away from the nettles and the death of Jesus by his resurrection, so will the sting taken away from the death of those who belong to king Jesus becuase as we share in his death, we also share in his resurrection.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Good news! The diocese of Bath and Wells have produced this amazing resource for families to do together. It is called Bible Chat Mat. Simply follow the instructions together as a family: enjoy time together, enjoy the story, enjoy the activities, enjoy know Jesus more.
Click on the Sunday we are on, and then print off the sheet
It doesn’t have to be done on a sunday (although its often when families are together) but make sure you dig out some time together each week as a family to spend time together with God. We’ve divided the 7 sheets across the next 7 sundays as a way for all families to be learning the same thing as a church in a particular week (although the resource is available any time).
Why not start a whatsapp group with another family in church, or agree to meet on Skype/Zoom/etc, each week at a certain time to talk about life, enjoy time together (virtually) and share some of the things you’ve learnt about God that week?
following the governments update yesterday (Monday 16th March 2020) we are now seeing much larger numbers of people needing to self-isolate both because of potential and actual infections, as well as people being classed as high-risk due to their age or unrelated heath concerns. This is both true for the wider community and for our congregations.
In response to this you will have noticed that all meetings and groups have stopped meeting in person, and this will now include Sunday services which will stop immediately. The risk on infecting one another is too high at this time, and we have a duty of love and care for one another. This is not a decision made locally but rather is advice given by both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. You can read more about this on the church on England website if you would like. However, this is not to say that fellowship, worship or mission will cease. The church is present where ever His people are present, even if we are disperse. Continue to call one another and to keep in contact. Continue to email about things that would otherwise have been meetings. Continue to devote yourself to worship in prayer and the reading of scriptures. For those that would like to join in a corporate form of worship I will be uploading a video each Sunday at 10:30 to all of the church Facebook pages where you will be able to watch and join in. See here for links: www.combetocombechurches.co.uk
If you would like some other resources I can suggest the following to you. Please do keep an eye out for emails and website updates for further events and resources that will be available:
Buy a reading plan or devotional books that you can use regularly. There are available online or to buy at a Christian book shop.
If you have no access to the internet or additional books, why nor just set aside some time on a Sunday morning to read a passage from the gospel of Luke (or another of your choice)? Think and pray about it – and anything else you want to – and know that although you cannot hear us, the church across the world is praying with and for you.
Most importantly be wise, but don’t worry. God is King over all things and is always with you. This is also not the first time that the world and the church have had to respond like this. I think you may find the following from two of the men of great faith helpful:
Martin Luther on how we should respond to situations such as this:
“Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbour does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body?”… “If my neighbour needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Charles Spurgeon on sharing comfort in fear
“And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that.”
In short, our response in faith is to use the wisdom of God to respond and love our neighbour. For many of us loving our neighbour will look like self-isolation, so as not to but yourself at risk or others that you may come across. If this is you, please do so with the knowledge that you are acting in the wisdom of God to love your neighbour.
For others who are in a lower risk category our response will be different. Please be in contact with church members and your neighbours to ask if they would like any assistance that you might be able to offer. Many who are isolated will not have access to shopping (hard to get delivery slots), or may simply like someone to talk to on the phone each day. Simply knowing that someone cares enough and is available in an emergency can be enough. You may like to write them a card or postcard with your offer and contact details in, just in case. Please also continue to support social initiatives in any manner you can, especially the food bank which is likely to be overwhelmed at this time. And to paraphrase Spurgeon, at a time of fear of fear offer those you come across the comfort that only comes from the Good News of Jesus Christ. Whatever you do, do so with both the love and wisdom of God.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have also called for a day of prayer and action this coming Sunday – Mothering Sunday (22nd March). Mothering Sunday has always been both a day of celebration for many and a sensitive and emotional day for some. Wherever you are this Sunday please do join in this day of prayer and action and remember especially those who are sick or anxious, and all involved in our Health Service. As one action, they are calling on everyone to place a lighted candle in their window at 7.00 p.m. as a sign of solidarity and hope in the light of Christ that can never be extinguished.
Here is a helpful prayer by the Rev. Barbara Glasson (President of the Methodist Conference)
We are not people of fear – We are people of courage
We are not people who protect our own safety – We are people who protect our neighbour’s safety
We are not people of greed – we are people of generosity