Hebrews 10:23-25; 6:19-20 We have entered a new and uncertain era in the history of our nation and in the history of the world. This is not being dramatic and it does feel very apocalyptic. Could this be the judgement of God on creatures who have abused his creation and abused each other? Not only do we find ourselves fighting against an environmental catastrophe, but we are also fighting an unseen enemy, against which we have limited weapons of attack. In our current situation it could be very easy to slip into apocalyptic mode, pronouncing judgement and looking forward to the rapture or plunging into depression and fear. However, as people who have a gospel of hope to proclaim, this would not be helpful for the fellowship of the church or the wider community of Gravesham, of which each of us is a part. We need to keep in mind that God has the right to judge, as creator and Lord over all, but he has also come in judgment through Jesus Christ, bringing the opportunity of reconciliation and renewal. If we feel ourselves slipping into an apocalyptic mindset, we need to balance that against the fact that since early Christian times, crises have arisen and people have wondered if the end has come and Jesus is returning. We also need to remember the words of Jesus that there would be troubled times, but the end was not yet, and that even he didn’t know the exact time. I believe God will come one day in judgement and it may be today. That is his prerogative. As followers of Jesus Christ living in these times we are to be bringers of hope through the gospel of reconciliation to those who will listen and respond. By now most churches will have cancelled their activities and leaders will be wondering how best to keep their communities together and connected. This Sunday will be strange for us all as we enter into Virtual Reality Church. At EBC the leadership is considering how we can keep that sense of community and connectedness through technology, during this time when doing it physically is not possible. The leadership don’t have a monopoly on ideas or huge expertise in the use of platforms that might enable us to get together. Please share ideas and resources so we can help each other – but also be prepared to take the lead in implementing them, since you may be the person with the ‘know how’. During this time when we are all dispersed to our homes and limited in our physical human contact, our commitment to meeting together and connecting with each other could easily lapse, which is why I have chosen the passage from Hebrews 10 as part of our focus this morning. The message of these verses is clear: don’t give up meeting together, no matter how challenging or hard it is. There are plenty of examples of Christians across the world who manage to meet and connect in spite of very difficult conditions. We have some people in our fellowship who can give first hand testimony to this. There is a fledgling Christian fellowship in a particular country as a result of a Christianity Explored course run at EBC and subsequently shared over the internet. In making use of this passage I am going to take you back to the beginning of the year when we began the second part of our theme ‘Community Focussed’. I am going to repeat some of what I said then, here, because it is particularly relevant and will be particularly challenging for us to follow through – but follow through we must. Being community focussed is one of the core values of being a Baptist Church. I said that I saw the idea of being a worshipping community as the hub of the wheel for us at Emmanuel. Taking the word ‘worship’ in its narrowest sense to mean our meeting on a Sunday, it is the place where we come together as the body of Christ, we pray, praise, declare scripture and learn from scripture together. It should also be a time when we get to know each other a little better and begin to extend relationships beyond the brief time we are together on a Sunday. It is the hub that supports the wheel and enables us to be the worshipping community beyond Sunday in the various places we find ourselves during the week. This now has to take on a different format. I still think that gathering together is important and we will need to think creatively about how we do that. I will be broadcasting via Facebook Live and this will give a focal point for a Sunday act of worship. The text of the sermon will also be on the website each week; audio soon! I will use the website to publish a weekly order of service so people can use that to join in with the FB broadcast. Please look at the website which has extra pages and will be changing regularly. I will share a prayer and reading for the day on FB Live Mon-Fri which will be posted by 9:00am. I will be looking at creating prayer groups over the internet, using either Skype or Zoom – once I am familiar with how to work them! Basil has set up a Bible study on Zoom which anyone is welcome to join. Please contact him for details. Never before have I thought so much about the use of alternative media! I will also sign post to other sites that could be helpful. Please make use of these facilities to stay connected and worship and pray together. Bear with me whilst I get them set up. We will need to make an effort to join these groups and grow as followers of Jesus during this crisis. It will be very easy to drop out of worship on a Sunday and as time goes by it will be harder to reconnect. If we don’t remain connected to each other we are not likely to grow in our Christian faith and understanding, and we will weaken as followers of Jesus Christ. If we don’t remain connected we can easily go off on our own tangents and lose our way. There is a lot of stuff out there on line that is unhelpful. Please be discerning and not just tune into anything you come across. When we are on our own and can’t easily find someone to share things with, we can easily follow false and unhelpful teaching. Paul warned Timothy about this in the opening chapter of his first letter to him. In 2 Timothy he said this: For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3 The internet provides ample examples of this, so be discerning, ‘shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’. It will be harder to maintain relationships. This means that each person has a responsibility to look out for others in the fellowship and contact them. If we are community focussed we will care for each other and not leave it to one person or a few people to do. With each of us taking on this pastoral role, not only will people know they are not forgotten, but also we will grow stronger as a worshipping community. Perhaps you could keep in regular contact with those you know, encouraging them and spurring them on. This week Wendy and I received a crocheted rainbow through the door from Judith, and the assurance that she was praying for us. That lifted us; a small act through which we knew others identified with us and were standing with us. What can we do to encourage and build each other up, as well as those down our street? This Sunday Churches Together for England have issued a call to prayer for all churches across the country. They are asking for as many people as possible to light a candle and put it in a street window as a beacon of the light of Christ, and then to spend time in prayer concerning this virus. Do connect tonight at 7:00pm, once you have put your candle in the window – away from the curtains! We can also continue to use the prayer meditation I sent round during last week. There are so many aspects for us to lift in prayer before God our Father.
- First of all those who are vulnerable in our community, who are unwell, who have developed this virus and those who will become seriously ill.
- Within EBC we have a number of front line health staff – doctors, nurses and care workers – who will be coming face to face with those suffering from coronavirus.
- We have teaching staff who will have the challenge of putting lessons online, as well as being in school to meet the needs of vulnerable pupils and those whose parents are in vital jobs.
- We have people who will be laid off, have to take unpaid leave or face losing their jobs altogether as a result of the attempt to control the spread of the virus.
- This in turn leads to anxiety as to how they will pay their bills or provide for their families and themselves.
- We need to pray for those in authority and responsible for strategic action. Encourage and support them, rather than criticising and undermining. Our agendas are irrelevant in these times. We need to pray and act as good citizens of the Kingdom.
In whatever way you can, join with people across the country in prayer. Apart from those in our congregation who experienced the 2nd WW and its aftermath, this is a new situation with which we are having to learn to live. It is also an opportunity to put our faith and hope into practice. ‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.’ Hebrews 6:19-20. In Christian faith there are many tensions that are held and not least that of a loving saving God who came in the form of Jesus to redeem the world; and the fact that there is continued evil and suffering in the world – and deadly and evolving viruses such as COVID 19. We also hold the tension of death being the gateway to eternal life, but also the enemy that tears apart and separates from those we know and love. Paul in 1Corinthians 15 talks in terms of Jesus’ victory over death – the last enemy to be defeated. It is viewed as a foe that Christ has done away with and from which the sting has been drawn. Yet there is still anxiety and fear among people about death – even Christians. It isn’t just the process and what might happen before we die; it is being separated from those we love; it is leaving this life that we know; it is stepping into the unknown. There is a lot of panic and fear around and none of us wants to catch this virus. However, we are also a people of hope and we have an eternal future thanks to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We are resurrection people, which we will find some way of celebrating in about three week’s time. We are people who believe that Jesus will come again to be our judge and that there needn’t be fear in that, but the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. At EBC in the face of this crisis, let’s hold fast to that hope and be people of hope to those we talk with through whatever media, as well as to our families and friends.