In The Time of Coronavirus...
Friends, we have had to cancel one or more coming church services following the
advice of the Synod (further notice will be given in time), and we might not
even have an Easter Service at church, but Easter itself cannot be cancelled
whatever may come. Hope in our Christian faith cannot be denied. Limited social
interaction, in terms of physical contact, public gatherings, even
self-isolation, may well be part of our “wilderness experience” and our Lenten
journey this year. But, as our Moderator writes to the churches:
face uncertainty with faith. The people of God in the Hebrew Scriptures found
their existence as God’s own people tested by ultimately reinforced by their
time in the wilderness. God’s love and care is as sure for us as for them – we
may not see the “fire and cloudy pillar” but we sing of it (in the hymn “Guide
me O thou great Redeemer). Jesus has promised I will be with you always and
although we may have to celebrate Easter in our homes, the truth of the
resurrection of Jesus from death is undimished by whatever we may live through.”
Yet, how can we practice our faith in these changed circumstances? How can we
keep in touch with our fellowship and help them in practical ways? These are
important and challenging questions. We need to find answers to them. For some
time we might have to miss meetings with our friends in our buildings (though
the premises need regular checking and maintaining), but we won’t have to miss
our fellowship in a wider sense. Please make sure our church members and church
attached friends are aware of our prayers said for them, of access to online
devotions, e.g. URC’s Daily Devotions, virtual worship, use Skype or any other
means of the Internet for regular contact. Also, we have to make sure church
giving is also maintained during the period of temporary suspension.
It is possible that, strangely enough, the absence of church services for a
while will be a great testimony to the presence of God in our care for our
neighbours. Finally, let me share a prayer with you written by Rt Rev Colin
Sinclair, Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
Lord, we pray for this pandemic spreading across our world, remembering all who
have lost loved ones. and praying for those seriously ill at this time. We pray
for doctors and nurses and all in the caring professions and those working
behind the scenes testing samples, confirming results, giving information to
patients. We uphold others trying to understand this virus better. working to
create an effective remedy.
We pray for our Government, as they work with the best medical advice to guide
us on how we should respond and what action we should take. May this crisis
bring out the best in us, not the worst. Help us to live by faith and not by
fear; to build bridges not barriers, and to resist all who would speak ill of
any other group.
Help us to find ways of keeping in touch and offering reassurance to those with
underlying health issues; for any who feel particularly vulnerable or in danger
at present as the virus spreads.
We remember those who cannot visit loved ones in locked-down care homes; for the
elderly whose social contacts have been severely curtailed; help us to find
creative ways of keeping in touch of assuring them they are not forgotten or
ignored. May our congregation find new ways of living through this time. May we
not forget our faith, but draw strength from it.
Strengthen us, by your Spirit, so that: we may carry on our lives as best as we
looking out for others, showing love in action, being faithful in prayer, and
bringing encouragement, hope and peace; always trusting in you. our Rock and our
Yours in Christ, John
I hope you are well and had a good week. - The affection David held for his sheep is transposed to God in one of the most loved passages in the Bible, Psalm 23 as David imagines himself as the flock and God as the Great Shepherd who cares for him. In subsequent history, especially through the mouths of the prophets like Isaiah, Zechariah and Ezekiel, the Lord extends this metaphor and refers to himself as the Shepherd and to the entire nation of Israel as his flock. No matter how desperate the situation, God’s promise was to watch over them and protect them: “Like a shepherd the Lord will tend his flock, in his arm he will gather the lambs and carry them in his bosom; he will gently lead the nursing ewes.” (Is 40:11) - As teachers of the religious law, the Pharisees had a distinguished role in this relationship that existed between God and his people. The Great Shepherd had appointed “under-shepherds” to guide and teach his people; and the Pharisees were the inheritors of that privilege. The Pharisees knew God’s Law, it was the staff by which they led their flock, their wisdom was the field in which the people grazed and their instruction was the fold in which everyone was safely guarded. The Pharisees knew their people, and their people knew them and respected them. - When Jesus begins to speak of shepherds and flocks all this imagery would have rushed to the minds of those who were listening. If the question were posed in chapter 10, “Who are the shepherds?” Everyone would have pointed to the Pharisees and they would have claimed the title. Jesus, however, undercuts this appreciation by describing himself, not the Pharisees, as “the good shepherd.” The prophets affirmed that God had provided “under-shepherds” for the nation Israel; but Jesus alludes to the fact that the prophets also warn that all too often these under-shepherds could transgress against their responsibility…Ezekiel the prophet writes these words, “Thus says the Lord God: you shepherds of Israel … Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand!”
“I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus says. In effect, he says, “I am here to do what you have not done.” Since the reign of David every generation of Jews had looked forward to the day that another good shepherd would be raised – one who, like David, was a “man after God’s own heart.” God had promised that one day such a man would be sent. Thus it was written in the prophets, ‘Behold, I Myself, the Lord God, will search for my sheep and seek them out…I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them.’” - When Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,’ he is claiming to be no one other than the expected Davidic Messiah, the fulfilment of prophecy. He is the Good Shepherd and he is claiming his flock back from his underlings.
The Pharisees, by intimidating the man cured of blindness out of the synagogue, rather than caring for him, had demonstrated that they were unfit shepherds. Whereas they reviled the blind man, Jesus sought him out. Whereas they had attempted to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus set her free. Where the Pharisees judged and condemned, Jesus healed, forgave and offered a new chance in life. At each turn Jesus shows what it means to be the True Shepherd of Israel. It means to care for the sheep – especially the lost ones and the hurt ones. - Jesus is the shepherd, he has come to the Jewish fold and is calling his disciples out. One of them, the man born blind, had just been pushed out; others had come out already and yet others would come out before long. “I have other sheep also, who are not of this fold,” Jesus says. I have sheep all over the world and throughout time; they must also be gathered into the flock. That’s us and anyone who responds in faith to Jesus. Somewhere along the line the Good News of the Gospel was shared with each of us who knows Jesus as Saviour, and we heard in the quiet of our more than a year long isolation God’s gentle voice say our name. And in the hearing of that name, our spirits came alive and we followed; out of the stony confines of the fold and the pandemic that held our souls into the great pastures of God which may well be new adventures of our future church life we follow our God Shepherd. In psalm 100 we read these words, “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth! Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”