Evensong 15th March 2020
Fear, Courage, Resilience, Standing
Psalm 40; Joshua 1; Ephesians 6
Anyone who ignores the Covid-19 pandemic, or cites lack of concern, or says that we’ve seen worse and survived, is speaking and thinking foolishly. This cannot, and must not be avoided. I’ve been struggling for words to describe what this has done to everyday life and thinking, relationship and action. Someone described how they felt permanently “distracted”, finding it hard to concentrate on the everyday or the otherwise important. Another asked me how I was doing in this “febrile” times. Others speak of a general sense of fear, and the uncertainty of not knowing. These are uncharted days. From where will our help come?
It would be treating the Christian faith too lightly if we were to be so overwhelmed with fear that we could not act at all. It would be treating the Christian faith too simply if were to be so assured God’s purposes that we discounted the seriousness of what we face. The writer of psalm 40 is as sure of the reality of “the horrible pit, the mire and the clay” as of the “rock” on which to set their feet, and the ordering of their goings out of the chaos. In Psalm 42 there is an anguished and powerful dialectic between the knowledge of being submerged in tragedy, and the ultimate hope that trust in God will lead to salvation. “All thy waves and storms are gone over me…O put thy trust in God.”
Where fear is not groundless, where the waves and storms are real, where the pit is horrible and the mire and clay cling…what should we do? Tonight’s readings offer wisdom and understanding. The psalmist acknowledges the reality of devastation. Joshua, on the verge of Jordan, looks into the unknown, and is frightened and dismayed. The Ephesians are told of the reality of a struggle with things unseen which are all too real. The last thing we can do is to play down the reality and overwhelming nature of what the whole world now sees as an emergency for which there is no known solution. Be clear about the situation, and clear about what we lack, and therefore what we should rightly fear.
The psalmist then offers perspective. The God to whom the psalm is offered in worship is a God of hope, a God to be trusted, a God who for generations has proved that, whatever the disaster, however many storms and waves there are, God is to be trusted, God is a stronghold, a sure defence. Joshua is given a reminder that, in eth telling of the Exodus, God has not departed from the people of Israel through all their disasters and self inflicted wounds. “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” There is evidence for the presence of God in the complexities of the past. This is not about discerning every aspect of this as part of a plan: that would be mechanistic, and actually reduce God is size and scope. What this faith tell us that that God is not absent from what we face, but intimately involved in every aspect.
The Ephesians can therefore be encouraged, whatever they face, to be strong, to have courage, to take up every aspect of resilience, so that in the middle of a turbulent, febrile battle they know they can press on, stand firm, withstand the storm. They have been reminded through the letter of the eternal purposes of God, and the ultimate victory of God over sin and death through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. They have been assured that before the foundation of the world God was for them, that God’s purposes were for peace, love, salvation, and a sure inheritance in Christ. The storms will however be powerful. Just because there is the promise of a safe haven does not mean that the waves will not break over us. But the love of God is to be trusted, and the presence of God in the undertow and in the depths is assured.
Faced with his discouraging situation, and given the assurance that God was not absent, Joshua is offered some advice for what to do now. The wilderness has been the forge for the creation of a new society based on the new law of God. Observe this, Joshua is told. It is for your good. It’s not that, if you obey the law you will get house points and a prize at the end, but that the carrying on of a society and community exemplifying the love of God will mean that the poor are fed, eth stranger welcomed, the powerful denied the corruption of riches, the land managed to be sustainable and fruitful.
Faced with their discouraging situation the Ephesians are encouraged to pray, that the power of God’s Holy Spirit will be at work among them, to bring and to be good news. Faced with innumerable troubles, the psalmist does the counter intuitive thing and acts with even more righteousness, speaking of truth, and loving mercy. Faced with our discouragements, and the reality of fear, we are called to act righteously, to consider the poor, to point to the hope of God and to demonstrate good news by strengthening community, denying ourselves and acting for others.
These are days to make clear the reality of the kingdom of heaven. Though we may be overwhelmed we have not lost hope. Though we stand with the fearful and acknowledge the uncertainty of these days, we hold onto the rock which is Christ, the hope of the Gospel, the presence of God in the valley of the shadow of death. “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”, Joshua is told. “Pray in the Spirit at all times”, hear the Ephesians. “As for me, I am poor and needy” says the psalmist, “but thou art my helper and redeemer.” Amen.
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