Hello, I’m Dan, and it’s my pleasure to be able to speak with you today.
Last week, almost all of us were aware of the Coronavirus and were making a concerted effort to wash our hands much more than we’d done before. Judging by the hand-washing habits of men in public toilets that would have meant some having to learn how to wash their hands for the very first time! Joking aside (although perhaps I’m not joking!), life last week didn’t seem much different than usual. On Sunday as people left the service we bumped elbows and said “See you next week” – (thanks for the bruises!) But in recent days things have become much more serious and the gravity of the situation is starting to dawn on us: self isolation, panic buying, companies collapsing, the pound plummeting, schools about to close, and this, probably the most shocking of all – online church – welcome to the 21st Century! These are unprecedented times and it’s all a bit surreal – almost as if we are living in an apocalyptic movie.
Ironically, given all that’s happening, I’m actually moving house today (woo-hoo), but somehow for me that seems quite secondary, because as Boris has said, we are engaged in a war – a war against an unseen enemy.
Now this (for the Christian) should sound rather familiar, for the Bible talks about (and makes repeated references to) our being in a spiritual war – a war all around us that we can’t see with our eyes but that we know is real and affects us; a war of ages between God and His followers and all the powers of darkness.
Have you ever considered why so many novels and films are set against the backdrop of crisis? I’m no prophet but there are probably writers shut away in rooms right now scripting next year’s Hollywood Coronavirus blockbuster! And why is that? Because this concept of there being a battle resonates with us – with the human condition and with spiritual reality. Even people of “no faith” (although that is a kind of faith!) acknowledge this on some basic level by attesting to the struggle between right and wrong – good and evil.
And in the last few days we have seen evidence of this battle displayed in people’s response to this outbreak. I walked past Iceland supermarket in Sutton on Monday as it opened its store and the amount of people pushing each other to get through the doors first was astonishing. Crises have a way of exposing the truth of our hearts.
When you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, toothpaste comes out! But squeeze a human (in a metaphorical sense, of course, we shouldn’t be squeezing people, especially at this time) – but what comes out when we are put under pressure? Already we are seeing flagrant selfishness in the wake of this pandemic, but we are also seeing so much love. Times of difficulty can bring out the best and the worst in people.
Some of you are old enough to remember The War (and I don’t mean the Falklands!) Despite the lack of hair on my head and my old-man beard I wasn’t around in the 1940’s. I have though been watching the Netflix series: World War II in Colour, and it’s been fascinating to learn of how the people of this nation and of others around the world came together for a common purpose in the midst of great danger and suffering. Now of course not everybody acted saintly, but by and large there seemed to be a deep sense of community spirit, of people helping out wherever and however they could, of sacrificial service, and of one unifying goal.
I can’t help but be drawn to this, even though I’m sure it must have been a scary time to be alive. I imagine all these things that were good about that moment in history point (in some very small and dim way) to something – perhaps just a flicker – of what the Early Church must have looked like.
We read in Acts about the believers single-mindedness, their outrageous generosity, their unswerving mission and their utter dependence upon God. They shared everything – they lay down their lives for one another and The Gospel. And they knew that they were in a spiritual war. Believing in Jesus was costly – most of them were eventually martyred for their faith, but they knew that they had a victorious and risen Saviour, and a glorious and unshakable hope in Him. And the greater the adversity that came against them, the greater their light shone, and God worked in them and through them in mighty ways.
Isn’t that something of what we, as God’s children, should be embracing and embodying at this time, and indeed, at all times?! We have the same God as the early church! We have the same promises to stand on! The same blessed-assurance! The same Spirit! The same calling to love and to make disciples of all nations! The same Jesus!
Like it or not, this virus is here, but surely God is with us and He is at work. He isn’t surprised by what is going on, nor is He idly watching on. At many moments recorded in the Bible God used adversity for the pruning of His people and for the furtherance of his kingdom. May we see this therefore as an opportunity to “wake-up” and to reassess our lives!
Though our weekly activities and meetings (apart from Food Bank) are for the time being closed, God’s church is very much open! We are the church – Christ’s people! May we draw closer to Him and to one another – whatever that may look like – and be reminded of who He is and of who we are in Him. With all the fear and negativity surrounding us, will we live by faith?
Ephesians 6 says:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
Ephesians talks of us being strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. How? By putting on the whole armour of God; namely truth, righteousness, the readiness to witness, peace, faith, the assurance of our salvation, the Word of God, prayer and perseverance.
Yesterday I phoned some members of our church community to see how people are getting on, and I was so encouraged that many of us are choosing to be strong in the Lord. And it was wonderful to hear stories of how people have been staying in touch and encouraging one another, and how so many of you are going the extra mile in things like shopping for those who need help and in providing much needed supplies to keep our Food Bank open. Thank you!
Another thing that struck me was how many people made mention of using their extra time at home to pray. During World War II, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer when the core of the British Army was encircled and facing imminent annihilation in Dunkirk, France. In a live radio broadcast he rallied the people of our country to commit their cause to God, and over the next few days there were some miraculous answers to prayer that led to the incredible evacuation of akmost all the men – some 335,000 soldiers. Prayer is so powerful. It may be our greatest weapon! Through it God moves in mighty ways – upon the pages of history, and in the hearts of people.
We are in a war, but our war is not against flesh and blood. Our enemy is not the other person who wants the last thing on the shelf! Jesus calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves and promises to provide what we need – our daily bread! In all the hysteria of Covid-19, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture and of spiritual reality. And let’s not forget the message of this season:
During Lent we remember Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, and His resisting the devil’s attempts to stop Him from trusting in His Father God. In this, our time of great trial, may we too trust in our Father God, and may we all be strong in the Lord who conquered sin and death. Though our streets are eerily quiet, the birds are singing and the daffodils are in bloom – we see glimpses of the New Life that we celebrate at Easter. There will be an end to this – there is always hope – for our Redeemer lives!