Finding direction in the ordinary, the unusual and the difficult
- 21 September 2021
- Bruce Kaye
Covid the phase through which we are living
Good morning and welcome to you all. We continue to live through unusual and difficult times. Covid continues to scythe its way through human societies around the planet. Even in our much less challenging situation here compared with our near neighbours of Indonesia and New Guinea covid continues to be the bringer not only of restrictions but uncertainty. Some e more directly affected by these things than others;
- small businesses facing ruin trying to survive with few or no customers,
- essential workers facing disruption and illness as they travel across the city doing the vital things that keep our society functioning
- frontline health workers facing infection and worse as they care for the ill and dying.
Spare a thought for those who have to make difficult decisions that affect a lot of people’s lives. The details and ambiguities must often be overwhelming. We may not like or agree with some the things they decide, but not one of us would like to take their place and bear the daily burden of urgent and life affecting decisions.
I am reminded of the king of Siam in the great film of my youth – Anna and the King of Siam. In the face of a tricky decision, he sings ‘when I was a child what was right was right, what was wrong was wrong. Now I am a man some things nea-ea-ea-rly right some things nea-ea-ea-rly wrong.’
We are not in Siam and we don’t bear royal responsibilities, but we do live in a highly complex society and in unusual and difficult times.
We need a way to help us not just to live, but to live christianly through the ordinary, the unusual and the difficult times
Paul and his travels Series of sermons during Trinity
During this season of Trinity we have been following the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles of Paul’s apostolic travels. He faced many decisions about his directions and how he approached his mission.
Sometimes it was quite clear – when the locals start stoning you it is time to move on.
BUT how did he handle decisions in general and in the more ambiguous situations.
- He kept in touch with his home base in Antioch
- He negotiated with Barnabas at the start but fought with him over John Mark
- He consulted with the apostles in Jerusalem and made an agreement with Peter about mission strategy, but later had a public disagreement with Peter over relation between Jewish and Gentile christians.
- He was directed by the spirit /spirit of Jesus, and a vision in Corinth encouraged his to stay longer than he seems to have intended.
- He made plans ahead and generally stuck to them
- He worked within an understanding of his place in the spread of christian witness given by Jesus in Acts 1.8. ‘ But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’For Paul the end of the earth was what we know as the straits of Gibraltar. For this purpose, that meant Spain, which is where he planned to go after visiting Rome.
- He stayed in Ephesus for three years as a final part of the eastern mission
Paul’s approach was not a matter of weighing up pros and cons, or calculating balancing consequences. The essential heart of the matter for Paul was to live as one united to Christ in his death and resurrection, and to be part of the community of Christ’s disciples. His approach to moral life was not essentially a question of rules and commandments but a question of living in a way that was appropriate to his relationship with Christ. The christian life becomes then a matter of character that is modelled on Christ.
We live 2000 year after Paul and the context of our decisions is in many respects different – yet we share his fundamental allegiance to Christ and are called to live christianly in the here and now.
HABITS TO LIVE BY
A summary I have found useful in thinking about this is an old Brethren saying I first encountered in my teens. What does scripture say, what do the brethren( that is my fellow christians) say and what does the spirit say.
My modified version of this is:
1. How do my christian values relate to this – what is the real question here for me as a christian
2. What do my fellow christians think
3. What does the spirit of God seem to be saying to me
1. How do my christian values apply to this
- Values are shaped by our life habits
- Scripture is important in shaping our habits by our grasp and understanding of the whole of the individual documents.
- Hence a reading of the NT documents is fundamental because they are the evidence of the originating foundation of our faith in Jesus and the apostolic representation of him and his significance.
i.e. A lifelong habit of forming ourselves by the foundations of our christian faith in Christ.
2. What do my fellow christians think
- Shared engaged understanding of our faith and how to live christianly
- Shared engagement with the life of our community in worship, praise and prayer
- a ready access to wise fellow christians
3. What does the spirit of God seem to be saying to me
- Space to reflect, meditate on God, prayer as being open to and engaging with God.
- This kind of prayer take space, time and concentration
These practices help to form
- our habits of thinking and feelings
- our acting in a christian way
- and they will enable us to grow – as Paul put it – to be mature in Christ
- And thus, to respond to questions of living christianly both as individuals and as a community especially in the ordinary, the unusual and the difficult
COVID is a present example which we must inevitably face and do so in a way that is christian.
How then might we frame the question and our response as individuals and corporately?
Facing a plague is not a new question for christians. It happened early in the history of our faith in the second century in the time of the emperor Trajan in Asia where Paul had been travelling. The plague was devastating, mostly in the towns.
Our fellow christian were directly caught up in this. What happened ?
- Those pagans who could fled from the towns to the hills.
- The poor were left to fend for themselves.
- There was no health service, only individual personal care
- The christians chose as a group to stay in the towns and care for their suffering neighbours. The image of the Jesus parable of the good Samaritan was made manifest in what they did. Many died
- Our ancient fellow christians saw this situation as a challenge to act as good neighbours to others. That was how they framed the challenge before them
In our very different circumstances. What would that framing look like ?
- A determining reality for us is that in Australia we have a professional health system with extraordinary resources of technology and people. If you walk through one of our hospitals you encounter a great range of skills being deployed – welcomers, covid testers, administrative staff identifying patients, their details and where they should go. Then there are more people to check health, medication and what will happen next, nurses to triage cases , prepare patients for treatment and then after all that you get to the doctor or surgeon..and so it goes. All of these people have different skills all focussed on the care of the patient.
- Unlike our ancient fellow christians the way we can best help those in need is not to hinder or complicate the work of the health workers who provide our health service.
- Rather our primary responsibility is to support those professionals who are caring for the ill
- Not frustrate their efforts to serve people affected by the virus or to reduce its spread with public health orders
- Seek to care for good of others as we can
This parish is doing a lot in this direction – quietly and unseen
So many are mobilised to care and support others. It is a manifest expression of Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan.
This is a way to frame our present situation
This is a community challenge, and needs a community directed response. This is how we love our neighbour and fulfil the example of the good Samaritan
On a wider front beyond our parish, I read yesterday a public letter from our Archbishop which sets out in some detail the issues facing churches at this moment in time. It is a truly excellent statement and addresses directly those principles that can help us respond christianly to the challenges of this transition period in the covid pandemic. We can thank God for the archbishop’s contribution and for the consultations within the diocese that he has initiated.
Hold the faith, strengthen the sentiments that move us
How to see the question, how to think about it christianly is not always easy. Like Paul we need to have a sense of where we are in the providence and purpose of God.
Such, a way of thinking, a sense, a set of formed instincts, will help us not to be captured by the assumptions of the culture around us. Lifelong habits of engaging with scripture, with our fellow christians and in prayer, will draw our lives into the framework of God’s active presence. We will grow into what Paul called a maturity in Christ.
In such a way will we be strengthened in living Christlike lives, able to think, feel and act christianly and find direction, like Paul, in the ordinary, the unusual and the difficult times that have come our way.