Pastoral Letter - 21st January
My dear Friends,
Huge and heartfelt thanks to those of you who took the trouble to respond to last week’s Pastoral Letter, with kind remarks about my forthcoming Sabbatical and helpful hints as to which of the letters to include in any possible collection of "Letters during a Pandemic." I am most grateful. It has been quite a time for us all and, as many of you have said, it may be good to have a record of how St Mary’s and those who have become "honorary members" of St Mary’s over this period of pandemic, have risen to the challenges imposed by Covid 19. Like any significant, potentially life changing event, some have learned from it and grown as a result of it, whilst others have not, to quite the same degree.
From emails I have received and conversations I have been part of, I know that many I have been in touch with have used these last two years constructively, by reflecting on things in a way life may not have enabled them to do before. They have seized the opportunity to understand the truth of things a little more clearly than they have had the chance to do previously; they have used this experience to grow from, in a way that was not really possible before; they have had the chance to take stock of their personal relationships, their professions, their priorities and taken charge of the direction their lives are going in, in a way that hadn’t felt possible before; they have engaged with the scriptures in a different way, looking to them to help them find the resources to deal with the challenges which have confronted us in a way they have not felt the need for before. Though you and I also know of people who have not found it possible to embrace or be embraced by the positive aspects of the last two years and have therefore suffered much more than the rest of us and are continuing to do so.
I know, as you do, that each person is unique and wonderful, potentially at least! But it interests me to consider the possibility of God doing something experimental with His humanity, something to help us see things from a different perspective. After all, as we read in the prophecy of Isaiah (Chapter 43 verse 19) "God is doing a new thing." Perhaps a new thing might be this: how about if God decided to swap us round in the human family? What if each of us suddenly became someone completely different and they became us? That we became a different gender, age, nationality, of different intellectual ability, social status, became someone we haven’t even got a sense of even existing so that we developed an understanding of being other than who we are, seeing the world from a totally different perspective...
We might swap lives with: An old woman squatting under an old piece of tarpaulin as torrential rain pours down in some remote village in the Philippines. A man who has been incarcerated in a cell on Death Row who has had to live just with himself and the implications of what he did in a wild moment he can’t even remember that clearly and has been waiting for imminent execution for 17 years. A young child, with no surviving relatives, cowering under the debris of a collapsed building, trying to avoid the bombing going on all around, trying to forget the scenes they have witnessed. Someone who is weak with starvation, only having eaten what they have found in bins for the last 10 days. A political leader who has run out of ideas, run out of confidence, still faced with an extraordinary amount of responsibilities and decisions, feeling completely inadequate and not knowing what to do to save face and find some way of continuing. A nurse, who has not had a holiday in 20 months, exhausted by her workload and traumatized by the experiences she has had during Covid.... The permutations are endless. What must it be like to be other than who we are? What must it be like not to have had the advantages or opportunities we have taken so much for granted? What must it be like not to have had the health or strength we have been blessed with? What must it be like to live in an area of the world where human rights are not respected or in an abusive and exploitative relationship? What must it be like to live in a political regime which ensures people have no voice?
Developing a sense of what it must be like to live differently from ourselves, seems core to how society can function as a caring and compassionate one. Respecting points of view which differ widely from our own, seems key to how any meaningful dialogue can take place and progress result. I recall being told of someone who went on a Conflict Management course, arguing passionately with someone whose view on capital punishment differed dramatically from their own and then was told to swap seats and argue from the other point of view just as passionately........
What we see in Jesus, one of the many things we see in Jesus, is someone who listens, carefully, not just to what someone is saying, but for the fuller truth which lays beneath and beyond the words. In order for Him to really reach out and make a meaningful difference to the people He encountered, He had first to fully appreciate what it was like to be them. It was being able to sense their reality which allowed Him to connect in a significant way. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked someone who was obviously in need of physical healing, perhaps because he had sensed through His empathy and attentive listening, that there were other areas of his life which also needed healing, dealing with and liberating.
Those who research into why some are capable of cruelty, have often remarked that it is because the perpetrators of such acts don`t actually consider the other person as being as important as themselves, it is as if they see the "other" as not possessing the same degree of validity or humanity, as though they divorce themselves from the reality of the other person. It is this inability to empathise which then enables them to inflict pain. This may well give us an insight into what Jesus means when He tells us to "love others and you love yourselves." In other words, to ascribe to others the same dignity, sensitivity and worth as oneself and to see them as of equal worth as oneself. His call is clearly to respect the integrity, appreciate the wonder, acknowledge the uniqueness, of others as being equal in worth to oneself. These things are crucial if we are to make sense out of living as a serving community and not as a collection of self-serving individuals.
It interests me that recently there has been an outcry against those in leadership roles who are accused of not understanding, not appreciating, not being able to empathise with, those they lead, make decisions for, impose restrictions on, who don`t themselves follow the same rules. It is this same sense we have that all should feel that we are "all in this together”. We need others to be able to appreciate what we are going through, how things are affecting us, especially if they have any power over us or take decisions or impose rules which affect us. When our leaders do not seem to sense what it is to be us, be in our position, cope with the same difficulties, we cry out with the injustice of it, but it is again this instinct we have at a deep level that being able to empathise with others is integral to how society should function. To love others as we love ourselves, does seem to be one of the biggest challenges set for us by our Creator. But that is how He has made us to be if we are to inhabit His Kingdom and experience the harmony and integration He originally intended for His creation. "To love your neighbour as you love yourself," is indeed a challenge, if we do not even like our neighbours. "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus was famously asked and then answered with the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke Chapter 10 verses 25-37) Our neighbour is there seen to be someone we may be prejudiced against, someone we might consider to be from a different social class or intellectual ability, less able or cultured than ourselves. The man who is helped, is helped by someone they may themselves have crossed a road in order to avoid. The truth is, as people all of God’s making, we are all much closer to each other in the human family, than we may realise.
Over the last few years there has been much talk of those deemed eligible to be in this country and those who are not; those we should have close, co-operative, ties with and those we should be separated from and even distrust. In our own lives there are inevitably those we get on with more easily than others, those we find more physically attractive, those who have similar values and priorities as we do, those we simply feel more comfortable with than others. I don’t know that it has ever been that different. God may not exchange us, swap us around or implant us into another’s body or situation as I suggested earlier, but He does invite us to take an interest, take the trouble to acquaint ourselves without prejudice, with what being in differing circumstances to our own, must feel like. Instead of looking at those we are envious of and imagining what it must be like to have their advantages, to consider what it must be like to be someone who hasn’t had the advantages, gifts, talents or opportunities which we have had and sensing what life must be like for them. Not as an exercise in spiritual self-improvement, but as an attempt to knit together into a more cohesive and compassionate whole, the community of creation, the society of which we are a part.
Perhaps, as we seek to learn from the lessons of the pandemic, especially that we are all much closer to each other, needful of each other and dependent on each other in the human family than we may previously have realised, we may look to Jesus’ teaching on who is our neighbour and heed His instruction to love others as we love ourselves. Perhaps we should be mindful of His example of listening, really taking the trouble to listen and sense what it must be like to inhabit a completely different life from ours, setting aside any possible prejudice or judgement and being open to the revelation of what has made them who they are, what has dictated the course of their lives, mindful always that with Christ every situation has the potential for being a starting point for a fresh experience of Him.
There is no-where which is beyond His reach as He seeks to draw each and every person of His making into His embrace of forgiveness and love. Because, let’s face it, we are all presuming, if only subconsciously, that Christ will be generous, accepting and forgiving of us. If that is to be true for us, then why not for others too? They are of as much worth as we ourselves. I wonder if it would change our behaviour towards them, were we to really believe that? With blessings and best wishes
WELCOME to our worship at St Mary’s at this the Third Sunday of the Epiphany of Christ, as we worship in church and on Zoom.
At today’s Eucharist in church and at the Zoom service online, we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is Luke Chapter 4 verses 14-21.
ALMIGHTY GOD WHOSE SON REVEALED IN SIGNS AND MIRACLES THE WONDER OF YOUR SAVING PRESENCE: RENEW YOUR PEOPLE WITH YOUR HEAVENLY GRACE AND IN ALL OUR WEAKNESS SUSTAIN US BY YOUR MIGHTY POWER. THIS WE ASK THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD WHO LIVES AND REIGNS WITH YOU AND THE HOLY SPIRIT, ONE GOD, NOW AND FOR EVER AMEN. You can find the names of those we shall be remembering in our prayers by following this link to our website "Services" page https://www.stmarytwick.org.uk/services and clicking on the button for 'Our Current Intercessions List'.
The Hymns which we will be singing are: 41, 244 and 277
No booking is necessary for the 9.30am church service. Please use the hand sanitizer provided before entering the church.
We would ask that you place your collection envelope in the basket as you enter the church which will be brought up to the altar at the Offertory (or use the contactless/tap payment card facility close by). Please do not come to the church if you are displaying any Covid symptoms and please seriously consider whether it is wise to attend if you have cold or `flu symptoms, in fairness to others. We would ask that unless you are officially exempted from doing so, everyone wears a face mask, in keeping with Government instructions. Please also consider and follow the other guidance on our website http://www.stmarytwick.org.uk about Covid precautions as we all seek to keep ourselves and others healthy.
Communion will be offered in the form of the consecrated host, which you may receive in your hands and which we would ask you to consume immediately. You are welcome to join us in the Parish Hall for refreshments after the service.