**Churches Together in England (CTE), of which the Methodist Church is part, publish a monthly newsletter and monthly reflection. The below reflection is their reflection of the month for June.**
Beyond lamenting Covid-19's impact, CTE's Principal Officer for Pentecostal and Charismatic Relations, Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, shares his Reflection of the Month for June 2020...
The past three months, March to June 2020, has been the most intense and sustained trauma I have ever experienced. An unprecedented number of my friends have fallen ill or have died during this time; a situation made worse by social distancing measures introduced by the UK government in an attempt to bring the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19 under control. These measures meant I, like everyone else, could not visit my sick or dying friends, or the bereaved. All but essential services have been closed down, including churches leading to a mass movement to online activities.
Early on I was invited by the Woolf Institute to take part in its Covid-19 Chronicles series and found myself reflecting upon what it means to ‘lament’. I was reminded that a major theme in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, including over a third of the Psalms, is lament; i.e. to cry out to God in times of deepest distress and despair for intervention. My own lament has been less a crying out to God and much more a deep sense of loss and sorrow, and an inner searching in the spirit of Jesus when he prayed, ‘My Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ (Luke 22 & Matt 26).
As this Covid-19 pandemic has tightened its grip upon every aspect of our lives it has become clear that my own grief is better served as motor for reaching beyond myself and deep into the concerns of those around me. My Pentecostal tradition offers a mainly activist and interventionist approach to challenges punctuated by crisis moments leading to radical change – sometimes tending towards theory than practice. But how do I do activism and interventionism in lockdown? Professor Robert Beckford helpfully initiated an audio documentary: Better Must Come! Black Pentecostals, the Pandemic and the Future of Christianity, to which I was pleased to contribute and which has much to say to the wider church beyond Black Pentecostalism.
Lockdown has presented challenges and opportunities for us all irrespective ethnicity, faith or denomination. I am reminded of a visit I made to China in the early 1990s, when the country was emerging from its Cultural Revolution during which all faiths saw their places of worship closed. As they began to re-emerge from enforced lockdown collaboration across faiths and Christian denominations became essential. Covid-19 has in some ways levelled the faith and denominational playing field, with everybody locked out of their places of worship and all having to discover new ways of being. An interesting form of unity has emerged, with unprecedented sharing of information across faiths and denominations via multiple online platforms.
From this place of mutual inconvenience, grief, and a searching for new ways to be together, we have additionally to face up to some of the lessons of Covid-19. For example according to a recent report into factors impacting health outcomes from Covid-19 by Prof Kevin Fenton, the over 80’s are seventy times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the under 40’s; those living in deprived areas, those most recently come into the country, and BAME people are all over-represented in infections and deaths linked to Covid-19.
And so, as together we search for meaning and how to be good neighbours to fellow sufferers in the wake of coronavirus, just maybe this cup of suffering can teach us something about our oneness as a humanity and as the church of Jesus Christ.
There is an intriguing verse in scripture which speaks of a young man who nearly got arrested as he was following Jesus and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was dressed only in a linen cloth, and when the Temple Police tried to grab him, he wriggled out of the cloth and ran away naked (Mark 14:51) leaving the cloth behind.
It was in the house of Mary the Mother of John Mark that the early Christians met (Acts 12:12), and it is generally accepted that the young man in the linen cloth was this John Mark. It is also generally accepted that John Mark became a close friend of Simon Peter, and in the early days of the Church, St. Mark’s Gospel was often referred to as the Memoirs of Peter or Peter’s Gospel.
So here we have a very early account of the ministry of Jesus, by a brash young man called Simon Peter, fiercely loyal and yet afraid to admit his own weakness and thus gaining love and respect from Christian disciples ever since.
He is a man of impatience: when Jesus says “follow me”, Peter jumps up and follows without question (Mark 1:18). Yet he is a family man and he does not turn his back on his family obligations. He loves his mother-in-law and when she is ill, brings her to Jesus for healing (Mark 1:30).
Peter likes to know what’s what and whose who, and when Jesus withdraws to a quiet place to pray, Peter goes looking for him, and having found him, says quite querulously “everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:36).
When the gospels list the disciples, Simon Peter is always the first to be named (Mark 8:29), is this because he was a natural leader or because he made the most noise?!
Nevertheless, it is Peter who first has the inkling of who Jesus really is, “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29). This is confirmed with James and John at the Transfiguration when Peter quite overwhelmed blurts out ‘“Let us make three tabernacles for you, Moses and Elijah…”…they were so frightened they did not know what to say’ (Mark 9:6).
When Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship, Peter says boldly "we have left everything to follow you" (Mark 10:28).
When Jesus is in Gethsemane he warns them that difficult times lay ahead, Peter immediately responds “I will never leave you even if all the rest do" (Mark 14:29).
Peter, James and John did their best to face the coming difficulties by sticking close to Jesus, but they were tired and overwhelmed, and they actually went to sleep while Jesus agonised.
When the Temple Police came, they all fled, except Peter who followed at a distance to see what would happen. To his horror, people in the Temple Courtyard recognised him (Mark 14:67)--“he is one of His men” they said. “I don’t know him” Peter replied. Then the cock crowed and Peter broke down and cried (Mark 14:72).
And so St. Mark’s Gospel comes to an end with Peter in distress—but no, there is still hope and consolation when the faithful woman comes to anoint the body of Jesus.
They found the tombs empty and a young man dressed in white, who said “don’t be alarmed, He has been raised—go and give the message to His disciples including Peter, He is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see Him just as He told you”.
F. Bernard Dodd
**Each week, the Methodist Church Vocations and Ministries Team are putting together worship sheets for use at home. These worship sheets include songs, prayers, readings and a reflection.
The theme this week is about rewards and the reflection below is about God's generous love.**
Reading: Matthew 10:40-42
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
Have you ever been sent out to knock on a stranger’s door with a message or a request? If so, did you wonder what sort of a welcome you might, or might not, receive? The disciples were about to take the good news of Jesus’ love into the wider world. In these verses Jesus reminded the disciples that as his followers, they were representing him and the one who sent him, his Father, God. For those who received and accepted them, it would be as if they were welcoming Jesus himself into their homes.
The concept of welcome and hospitality in the Middle East is of high importance. Visitors are treated as honoured guests and food and drink is generously shared. That generosity can be a humbling experience. On a fact finding visit to Jordan in 2015, I was welcomed into a damp and shabby basement by Nahla, a young Syrian refugee mother of six. There was very little in the way of furniture or equipment and nothing of comfort in this makeshift home. The older children were out in the streets scavenging for whatever scraps they might make use of or sell. Yet Nahla insisted I have some tea with her. Not wanting to take from her meagre supplies, I refused politely, but Nahla was offended by this. It was deeply embedded in her culture and tradition to offer hospitality to guests. Poor though she was, she wanted to share what little she had with her guest.
Generosity and welcome may come from the most unexpected sources, often from the poorest who understand what it is to have nothing.
I did not find knocking on doors for a house collection for Action for Children easy. It was even more challenging to find that those who lived in larger houses gave far less, or even nothing, than those who lived in more crowded or less affluent conditions.
Jesus gave an example of how people should show unselfish generosity to others through the giving of a cup of cold water to “little ones”, arguably not just children but the adult poor or marginalised too. (see Matthew 18.6).
Not everyone welcomes Jesus’ offer of love and salvation. Some may reject us and our gospel message. For those who choose to welcome Jesus into their lives, there is an amazing reward in heaven, eternal life and peace with Jesus Christ.
Like the disciples, our lives should reflect God’s generous love to others. How will you receive the one who knocks on your door?
We pray for your guidance and wisdom as your church finds new ways of reaching out into the world with the good news of your generous love and forgiveness. Gift leaders with the innovation and inspiration that comes from your Holy Spirit so that your church may be more effective witnesses of your saving grace.
Lord Jesus, as the world continues to suffer the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, we pray for compassion and fairness in sharing practical resources and medical expertise so that there might be healing and wholeness for all.
We pray that all those who have influence over the lives of others, might make decisions based on kindness and for the common good. We pray Holy Spirit that you infuse with love the hearts of those who use war as a weapon of power. Hear our prayers for an end to all conflict, and for recognition and support to be given to refugees and displaced people around the world.
Compassionate Christ, we pray for comfort and strength for those who are still isolated, for parents and children, for the elderly and those suffering long term illness. Lord, lift anxiety from those who are worried about the future, their jobs, businesses and their financial situation. May they know that they are not alone, that Jesus is always with them.
Holy Spirit we pray for ourselves, for our plans that have been changed, for the people we have lost and miss still, for our hopes and dreams for the future. Strengthen our faith, deepen our commitment to your ways and help us to better serve God and to see Jesus in everyone we meet.
Thank you Lord that you that your love never fails. Amen.
In his first letter to the Gentiles of Asia Minor, who at the time were suffering religious persecution, S. Peter offers them advice counselling steadfastness and perseverance. In I Peter Chapter 2 Verse 9 he writes “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
It is easy to glance over such passages thinking ‘they do not apply to me’ as the language appears deeply exclusive talking of an chosen race and language like ‘priesthood’ has come to refer to those called to a particular vocation: ordained ministry in the Church. As in the cartoon, we certainly seem to pray for certain people and their ministry more than others. Indeed, one of the 'good things' (if we can say that) about the current COVID-19 crisis is that for the past thirteen or so weeks we have prayed for a larger diversity of people in our community.
But S. Peter is actually talking of the gift and call of the Baptism of all believers. This is of course not to say that presbyters do not have particular gifts and talents that suit them to that ministry, but that they are not somehow ‘special’. I recall the Methodist theologian C. K. Barrett preaching on this text once commenting that all the presbyters he had ever met had had noses, but so, in fact, had every person he had ever met.
In what at the time was a ground-breaking document, All are Called published in 1985, the Church of England Board of Education commented because all human beings are made in the image of God, they are called to become the People of God, the Church, servants and ministers and citizens of the Kingdom, a new humanity in Jesus Christ. Though we are tainted by our sinfulness, God’s wonderful grace and love offer us all this common Christian vocation. God leaves everyone free to refuse this call; but the call is there for all without exception.
We continue to discuss issues of inclusivity. We are finally seeing women appointed to senior positions in the Church of England and the Methodist Church in Britain are due to discuss a landmark document about the wider inclusion of gay men and women in the Church. However, S. Peter is clear all Christians are called to work for the enlarged realisation of the Kingdom of God. This begins in the Church but extends to the family, to the workplace and to the community. The young are called, the elderly are called, the healthy are called, the sick are called, those who work for the Church are called and those who work in other professions are called. All are called.
Of course caution has to be exercised when we use this term ‘vocation’ and the former President of the Methodist Conference, The Rev’d. Dr. Roger Walton, has a salient remainder in his book The Reflective Disciple:
In a society where some work is still exploitative and some experiences of ordinary living are degrading, we need to be careful before baptizing everyone’s daily experience with the word vocation, simply because they are disciples. That does not mean that in any of those settings one cannot carry a sense that one is there to work with God, perhaps especially to express love and support, to resist dehumanising, to seek for justice or simply to offer a smile to help strugglers survive.
In much discussion of vocation the emphasis is on choosing a path, a role or career to serve God but the only choice open for some people may be how, not whether, to live in this way. Vocation in this context is the fundamental vocation of all Christians to be with God and in practice will mean owning that it is a place where God shares people’s experience and wants us with him to bring some light and hope.
The imprisonment of the Kingdom of God to a Sunday or to Church building is an attempt to restrict the description of God’s activity to the ecclesiastical sphere of our lives. Christ the King is Lord of the entire world and, as the Good Shepherd, cares for all its people. There has been no better time to reflect on this as when our Church buildings have been physically closed.
With thanks to Mr. Dave Walker of Cartoon Church for kind permission to re-produce the cartoon, A Hierarchy of Vocations.
This Psalm of lament and praise in a time of coronavirus was written by The Rev'd. Kenneth Howcroft, former President of the Methodist Conference:
How shall we praise you, Lord, our God?
When we are locked down,
how shall we praise you?
When the doors to your house are barred,
and your people cannot assemble?
When those desperately in need of money and work
cannot even wait in the market-place?
When we have to circle round people in the street,
and to queue for shops maintaining safe distance?
When we can only communicate
by hearing on the phone,
or seeing on the screen;
or digitally messaging,
or even just waving through a window?
When we cannot meet our parents and children,
grandparents and grandchildren,
or other family members and friends?
When we cannot touch them in their flesh and blood,
to know they are really alive?
How shall we praise you?
How, like Thomas, shall we not see yet believe
that your son is raised among us?
How shall we praise you?
How can I praise you, Lord?
Are you plaguing us with this virus
to punish us because we have all done wrong,
or thought wrongly,
or felt wrongly,
or just been wrong?
If so, why do only some die,
and those, apparently, the ones who are the least worst or most caring amongst us?
Or are you trying to teach us a lesson?
If so, why is it so hard to learn?
And how are we to find the answer
when we do not even know the question?
Or are you still the same loving God,
coming to us in our sufferings
and opening up the way to new life in Jesus?
Lord, I will try to praise you.
Through gritted teeth,
I will try to praise you.
I will try to remember that you have created all things,
and this virus is part of your creation.
I will try not to hate it
but seek to mitigate its harm.
I will try to keep myself and others safe.
I will work to pray for them
and seek to help in whatever way I can.
Lord, when I cannot pray or worship
help me be aware of all your people
and your saints and angels
hovering around me,
lifting me up.
When I feel alone,
let me feel you near me,
even if only for a moment that enables me to go on.
Let me hear you say
“Peace be with you”.
Lord, I will praise you.
Let all the peoples praise you.
Hope, the Bible tells us (see 1 Corinthians 13:13), is one of the three cardinal gifts of the Spirit. A gift of God that remains always. The other two being faith and love.
We are told that hope is "an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (Hebrews 6:19). There are many similar passages in the Bible that speak in the highest terms about hope, so it is extremely sad when the hope referred to seems lacking or even absent from a person's life.
So what is this hope that some lack but need? The first thing to realise, if Christian hope is to be evident in a person's life, is that he or she is to be able to differentiate between the way the word is commonly used in ordinary conversation and what the Bible speaks of. We are apt to say things like "I'm hoping for fine weather", "hoping for a pay increase soon", "hoping to be fitter and healthier", things that we are not given any guarantee of in scrtipture.
When the Bible speaks to us about hope it talks to us about God, our hope in Him and the certainty we may have in Him and his eternal purposes for us and all which will never be thwarted. It is about taking God at his word, even at times when appearances are to the contrary.
Writing about people who so believe and take it this way, Carlo Carretto explains that when we take this approach (from Summoned by Love (1977)):
"We overcome the obstacles in which we are ensnared"
"die already seeing our bodies in resurrection light"
"believe in things which are impossible to mankind without God"
Hope is born when we experience the abyss of our helplessness, as Israel did in Babylon, as Jeremiah when he was lowered into the prison cistern, as Jesus on the cross, seeing in Jesus "all the worlds suffering concentrated", "the redemptive fire of mankind in evolution", "the key to love's great secret".
Let us then never forget who to hope in, for as Priscilla Jane Owens reminds us in the hymn Will your anchor hold:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love
Priscilla Jane Owens (Singing the Faith 645)
One of our members has suggested the below meditation for our daily reflections. It is take from Living Stones (Saint Andrew Press, 2015).
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. - Colossians 3:15
There are seventeen different adjectives to describe skin colour.
That could be a kaleidescope of colour.
But it could also be the names that seperate and filter.
Where we move from poetry to packaging
and start to create boxes in which to put ourslves and others,
there are so many names that we call ourselves and others,
so many tidy little ways by which we find our niche.
We wear our titles out with pride,
yet we also label and condemn.
We don't need colours or creed,
sexuality or superiority,
denominations or dogma,
gender or gravitas,
to define who we are.
All we need
is to be God's people.
All we need
is to clothe ourselves in love.
All we need
is to be bound in perfect harmony.
That's the joy of God
and of God's people.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ - Matthew 22:34-40
Since mid-April the Methodist Church has been running a campaign called #loveyourself #loveyourneighbour. As part of this they have been highlighting some of the things people have been doing. and could do, both to care for themselves and to care for those around them during the period of lockdown for COVID-19.
As we emerge from lockdown this perhaps becomes more critical. In addition to adhering to government rules, we have to our make personal choices and decisions.
In exploring how we do the 'right thing', I came across this helpful reference point, written by Paul Fitzgerald, a Jesuit and professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley:
To orient oneself means, literally, to turn to the East, where the sun rises, to get one's bearings. Faith serves the same purpose as the sun, in a figurative sense, in the practice of ethical judgment. Faith allows individuals and groups to search out the present good against a (relatively) stable backdrop.
And what better basis for this really could the Methodist Church have chosen during COVID-19 than the Greatest Commandment. This Bible passage is one that we know well, but that also means it is easy to forget quite how incredible this passage is, and how much Jesus is telling us.
The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus and he gives the ‘right’ answer and tells them the most important thing we can do is to ‘love the Lord’. But he goes beyond what he needs to say on that occasion and this is where he tells us we must love our neighbour as ourselves. Of course he does not quite tell us we must #loveourselves but to love our neighbour as we love ourselves tells us we must first love ourselves and then love our neighbour just as much.
So Jesus tells us everything in the Old Testament in some sense depends on these two commandments: the commandment to love God and the commandment to love our neighbour.
John Piper, in a wonderful two-part sermon delivered in 1995, says this:
"Love your neighbour as yourself" is a very radical command. It cuts to the root of our sinfulness and exposes it and, by God's grace, severs it. The root of our sinfulness is the desire for our own happiness apart from God and apart from the happiness of others in God.
Jesus is telling us that we all want to be happy, we all want a place to live, we all want new clothes to wear, we all want good food to eat, we all want to be safe from COVID-19. And that this is a human trait. We all have this desire. And in fact it is part of God’s plan, this is how we are born. And Jesus is telling us it is not wrong, it is not wrong to want food, shelter, clothes, safety or happiness for ourselves.
John Piper puts it something like this: Whether it has become wrong in our life will be revealed as we hear and respond to Jesus' commandment. He commands, "As you love yourself, so love your neighbour." Which means: As you long for food when you are hungry, so long to feed your neighbour when they are hungry. As you long for nice clothes for yourself, so long for nice clothes for your neighbour. As you work for a comfortable place to live, so desire a comfortable place to live for your neighbour. As you seek to be safe and secure from COVID-19, so seek comfort and security for your neighbour.
So first we must love God completely, and then we must love ourselves, and then, because we love God, we share this love with others. John Piper (again) puts it like this:
God has called me—indeed he has commanded me—to come to him first for all these things. He commands that my love for him be the form of my love for me. That all my longings for me I find in him. That is what my self-love is now. It is my love for God. They have become one. My quest for happiness is now nothing other than a quest for God. And he has been found in Jesus.
This does not mean that choices will be easy. There are competing claims on our time. There are hard choices about what to give up and what to keep. There are different interpretations of what is good for another person and good for ourselves. But loving God sustains us through all the joys and difficulties of what loving our neighbour and loving ourselves should be.
Walter Klaiber, who is a retired Methodist bishop from Germany has written: ‘The first thing that strikes me during this pandemic is that it shows with impressive clarity what is in people’s hearts. And that’s good and bad.’
During this crisis, we have lots of competing concerns: what do I need to do for myself in the short- and long- term? What is best for my family and those immediately around me? What is best for our society, our country, and others around the world?
During lockdown should I use the time as an opportunity to go out to exercise more, or stay in my home to stay most safe from the virus?
And as we slowly open up, do I support local businesses, or do I continue to ‘shield’? Do I go into the post office really quickly, trying not to touch anything? Or do I not go? How do I behave in public spaces to protect myself and others?
When will it be safe to reopen our churches and chapels? How should we do it? And for whom will it be safe?
Many of us are thinking about similar things right now. In reminding us of #loveyourself #loveyourneighbour the Methodist Church is giving us a way to get our bearings and start conversations about this. At the heart of all our decisions should be one thing: love.
Here is a worship song by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend all about God's Kingdom:
One of our members has submitted the following prayer to help us in our devotions. As we prepare to celebrate Easter each and every Sunday, let's say:
As you did your son, drag us out of our tombs.
There is no virtue in the world, no lifestyle choices, no amount of wokeness that can pull the sun up from the East each day, Lord.
So turn our heads, even if ever so slightly, toward the dawn, so that we may know that it is your grace that both raises the sun and raises the dead.
Even if we have given up, yank us out of our graves of choice.
Rescue us from despairing.
When we return to tombs that are no longer meant for us:
revive old resentments,
pick up a drink after years of sobriety;
again give pieces of our hearts to that which can never love us back,
remind us that you never tire of reaching into tombs and loving us back to life.
Comfort the dying, Lord.
Revive the faltering.
Grant us joy and make our song Alleluia…not because we aren’t paying attention, but because we are.
- Nadia Bolz-Weber
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit to the Rocking Horse one day, when they were lying side by side near the playroom door, just before Grandma came to tidy the room.
"Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Rocking Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Rocking Horse, for he was always truthful. "But when you are real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Rocking Horse. "You become. It takes a long time.
That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be kept carefully. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.
But these things don't matter at all, because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
This story from the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (1922), reminds us that love makes us real. St Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians that we may be able to speak even the language of angels, to prophecy, to know all manner of things and even have the faith to move mountains. We may give away everything we have to feed the poor, even sacrifice ourselves, but without love we are nothing.
Today we experience the love shown to us by our family, our friends, our neighbours, the person who happened to call us at just the right time, the WhatsApp message that gave us the encouragement we needed, people we may never meet or know working hard for us in the NHS, supermarkets, utilities, security and transport. As St Paul reminds us,
“Love is patient and is kind. Love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13 verses 4-7, WEB)
This, is REAL love.
A familiar arrangement of the Beatles song, Real Love:
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Frodsham Methodist Church Sunday 10am Worship on YouTube.
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.