22nd November 2020 Ruth Millard

God has empathy for us when we are isolated

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I wonder – what did you learn in lockdown? What if you learned something profound without even realising it? That’s what I want to talk about today

My name is Ruth and for over seven years I have run a Christians Against Poverty (CAP)Debt Centre at Gillingham Baptist Church I am so grateful for you inviting me to share with you today.

A. Setting the scene
Let’s begin by looking at the very start of Jesus ministry, 2,000 years ago. To set the scene he’s just been baptised by John, the Holy Spirit has descended on him like a dove, the voice of God has spoken audibly to the gathered crowds. As we read it, there’s this sense of expectation that Jesus is about to start his ministry, healing people and putting the world to rights.

But instead, the story takes a surprising turn. Luke 4:1-2 it says…
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.”

We can be so used to this that we forget that it is rather a strange start to His ministry

Jesus is isolated, hungry and vulnerable. As you read it fresh you can’t help but wonder – what is going on? What is going on here? What was there to be gained in this isolated wilderness?

B. Parallels between lockdown and the isolated wilderness
I wonder how the time in lockdown felt for you. Does isolated wilderness resonate at all?
Perhaps you deeply missed friends and family and were, or still are desperate for the lockdown to end.
Perhaps – even now – you felt powerless in the face of this situation and long for some light at the end of the tunnel.

Perhaps you even lost someone you love.

When we go through hard times, we often wonder – does anyone really understand how I feel? Perhaps that is why Jesus spent time in the wilderness

How Jesus time in the wilderness shows God has empathy for us
When I read this account – I see a God who ‘gets it’. He wasn’t just content to ‘know’ suffering in the sense that he created us, emotion the whole world that we live in. No, he decided to ‘know’ it by experiencing it for himself in Jesus. Here in the wilderness we see Jesus experiencing isolation, hunger and temptation, the full reality of human experience, and we see it in his life all the way to the cross. Because he knows what it is to be human, the God of the universe can empathise with us.

During lockdown I’ve been doing Alpha, and a question was asked about how the Father felt when the son returned in the story of the Prodigal Son and a guest said “He understood”, “He understood” – and I saw the story in a new light.

Empathy is profound and powerful.
But what does this have to do with what you’ve learned in lockdown? Here’s the big idea – What if your lockdown experience had the power to give you empathy for the poorest in a whole new way?
So firstly God has empathy for us when we are isolated

Part 2 – How we can grow in empathy for the poorest

A. Lifeboat station metaphor to describe CAP
At CAP, we partner with churches to tackle poverty…
Picture us as a Lifeboat station, giving churches the tools, training and expert support to launch out from the coast and rescue those caught in the storms of life.

B. Debt is a life on lockdown
Some of our statistics for 2019
◦ Seven in every Ten (71%) felt isolated
◦ 24% weren’t leaving their house for a week or more at a time.
◦ One in seven spent Christmas day alone
◦ Over a third (36%) were cut off from visiting friends or family because of the cost. One client I know didn’t go to the wedding reception of her own sister because you had to buy your own drinks and she didn’t have enough money. Another client couldn’t afford to go to the graduation of her daughter

Cut off from friends or family, wondering where the light is at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps you’re starting to see the link.
When I was interviewed for my church about CAP during lockdown I said that for clients lockdown in some ways hadn’t changed things, except that everyone was now unable to do things not just them.
You may or may not know what it is to struggle to make ends meet. But now we all know how a crisis we never expected, can change our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined

C. Watch Sharon story on DVD with empathy
It takes incredible courage and determination to get out of the lockdown of debt. We are going to watch the story of Sharon. As we watch it – remember your lockdown experiences, the loneliness you felt, the lack of hope or the sense of freedom when restrictions started to lift, to help you empathise with Sharon’s story.

Sharon’s story video
It is so exciting to see stories of folk who see their lives transformed and a real privilege to walk alongside folk as they make that journey

D. Common causes of debt could happen to any of us
Coronavirus has meant everything we take for granted changed so quickly.
For those trapped in unmanageable debt, the cause is often something unexpected like ill health, redundancy or relationship breakdown. I’ve had a lawyer who had a stroke, a mum whose husband was murdered, a bereaved wife who couldn’t afford the rent anymore, those who have lost jobs through illness or redundancy, victims of domestic violent who have fled leaving everything, retired folk suddenly unable to pay the mortgage.
Many of these are things that could happen to any of us.

The Good news is that across the UK God is bringing hope to thousands of people like Sharon through CAP and the local church. In 2019 over 2,000 families, debt free and 850 responded to Jesus in 2019. This is the part I love the most. This is the part I love the most. The good news of Jesus’ love for each one of us, and his death and resurrection so we can become His friends really does transform lives like it did for Sharon.

If you are not yet in a relationship with Jesus, can I encourage you to start one, find out more, contact the church, join an Alpha course, or speak to a Christian you know. You don’t have to have faith to work with CAP but we are always happy to pray and talk with folk if they want us to.

One family I visited knew nothing about God except that which they had learnt from Dot Cotton on East-enders. Within a year they had both become Christians, got baptised and become members of the church. They had married each other, the children had been dedicated and they had both got out of debt. They had started helping CAP as befrienders and she had led her friend and her two children to Jesus. Even now 6 years after I started work with them, whenever I pop round for a brew they thank God for CAP, tell me they are still debt free and show me by their lives the impact Jesus has made on their lives. Wow!!

Part 3 – What is our response

A. Empathy is meant to move us to action.
Empathy is not just about a feeling, it’s meant to lead us to action,- as we read the next part of Luke and we see Jesus coming out of the wilderness and beginning his ministry of healing and bringing hope, and saying:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Jesus, coming out of the isolated wilderness, put serving the poorest and marginalised at the top of his agenda. What could it look like for us – for you – to do the same in your community here and now? Here are 3 ideas.

B. Remember your lockdown memories to help you empathise
First you can remember. Remember the hard times, as well as the good times that you had in lockdown. Remembering keeps the empathy God gave you for the isolated and forgotten. This will help you to serve and relate to those who are still imprisoned by their circumstances.

C. Look around you – serving and loving your neighbours
Secondly, you can look around you. Is there someone in your community who needs help? It’s astonishing to think this, but for many of those in the prison of debt, the end of lockdown is a source of dread rather than joy. All debt collection that has been on hold will resume and so will the constant phone calls and endless demands for payment. While many of us breathe a sigh of relief, those trapped in debt, might be breathing a sigh of despair.

They may be your neighbours, family, or friends.

Maybe that person is you. You just can’t stop your debts keep mounting up and you don’t know where to turn. Get help. Our freephone number is 0800 328 0006. (I’ll repeat that number later) – or look up Christians Against Poverty I need help on the internet. Call and take that step towards freedom or pass the number on to someone else who may need it. Put it in your phone addresses – for yourself or for those you meet

D. Become a Life changer
Thirdly we are only able to help clients like Sharon, because people like you choose to give the gift of hope through their donations.
In the months and years to come, the local Church is going to be needed more than ever
After this pandemic we are preparing for a significant increase in need.

 

Between March and August 2020, the number of people claiming out of work benefits rose by 1.4 million.
That’s 1.4 million people who’ve seen their income plummet
1.4 million who’ve had their livelihoods taken away.
1.4 million whose debts are starting to mount.

We must respond to meet the need that we know is coming; each of us must rise up to play our part.
Together, we can provide what the people of our nation need:
practical support and the good news of Jesus Christ.

So far in 2020, over 34,000 households have given to CAP.
So 1,618 families have gone debt free so far this year!
If you are one of those households, thank you.
Thank you so much. Your giving has transformed those lives.

But all charities are seeing a drop in their income at this time and there are countless more precious people like Sharon who are in darkness today.
People who are missing meals daily;
who can’t afford to top up their gas or electric
who are dreading the cold, dark winter months.

So I want to ask – will you give a gift of £12 a month today?
You see just £12 could bring hope to the next person like Sharon that calls.
That person could even be a neighbour, or a friend of yours from church who’s watching this service right now. And the number to get help in 0800 328 0006
Your gift of £12 could ensure we can answer their call to our helpline each month, offering the first glimmer of light in the dark.
Our heart is for the local church, so please only give above and beyond what you already give to this church.

To give that gift of hope right now, go to capuk.org/respond 207 on your laptop, mobile or tablet.
I’ll give you a chance to do that, that’s capuk.org/respond 207
Today, you can be the dawn of hope for someone trapped in the darkest of nights.
Do continue to do that as we close

Closing thought
As I finish, let me leave you with this thought.
What if the greatest legacy of COVID-19 was the way it changed our churches.
• Gave us fresh empathy and understanding for those in need.
• Led us to extraordinary acts of generosity and love.
• Led us to talk to people about Jesus with a new enthusiasm
Let’s believe that as we remember, look around us, and do what we can, God can and will do extraordinary things.

Let’s end by praying together.
• Thank you God for the transformation in Sharon’s life. Continue to protect her and her family, and let her feel your presence with her even in the hard times.
• Thank you God for the passion and calling of the local church. Thank you we are able to bring light to our community and be a beacon of hope to those around
• Lord, we thank you for all those listening today. Thank you that you have called them to be your hands and feet on earth at this time. We thank you for every action taken, every pound donated, so that more lives may be reached in your name.
Amen

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