Easter, the Coronavirus and ‘Doing Whatever it Takes’

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“Every single person in the country is affected by this” I was told and so we are. Who would have thought that our lives could be so dramatically transformed by a disease that nobody had ever heard off until a few months ago? All social gatherings have been banned and people have been encouraged to work from home. Schools have closed and Churches have had to cease all acts of public worship. Prime-ministerial news briefings have spoken about ‘flattening the curve’ to give the NHS the time and space to cope with the rising number of infections and those who are over 70, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions have been encouraged to go into self-isolation. Social distancing has become the new social responsibility and the nation has been put on a ‘war’ footing. The health crisis has also become an economic crisis with the Chancellor of the Exchequer pumping £330 billion pounds (15% of GDP) into the economy to help businesses pay their rent, salaries and suppliers – the largest ever injection of aid in ‘peace time’ Britain. The Chancellor is clearly committed to ‘doing whatever it takes’ to overcome this crisis and yet the Prime Minister’s frankness has been clear from the start ‘many more families will lose loved ones before their time’. It’s a truly nerve-racking and terrible situation, a situation outside of our experience, and which has brought out both the best and the worst in us. Many people are kindly looking after their neighbours whilst others are sadly and selfishly panic buying in the supermarkets and shops.

If we ever needed a reminder of the imperfection of our world, then surely this is it! For many of us, calamities and disasters usually happen to other people, somewhere on the other side of the world. We are not used to the fact that in a global situation and in a truly global pandemic this one might actually affect us.

And yet for the Christian this all rings strangely true, for the Christian will be aware that in many ways, theologically speaking, we have never lived in a perfect world; for Genesis reminds us that when we think we are ‘masters of all that we survey’ and are in charge of our own destiny perhaps knowing better than even God himself, then something always happens to trip us up and we are destined for a fall. Now God has graciously gifted us with many wonderful qualities and characteristics, such as knowledge, skill and intellect and we are constantly amazed at what human endeavour and intuition can achieve, but fundamentally the heart of the problem is always the same – it’s the problem of the human heart, which wants to do things our own way and keep God out of the picture. This bias to self (which affects us all) the Bible calls sin and spoils our relationships with God, with one another and even with creation. It’s the worst of all social distancing! What we need is a new start and a new hope!

Fortunately, the Christian is aware that despite the fact that many of us may have forgotten God, he doesn’t forget us, for in the person of Jesus, God steps into this broken and fallen world of ours and bears the brunt of our pain and our sin in his own body upon the cross. He’s the one who truly does ‘whatever it takes’! He dies the death that we all deserve precisely so we don’t have to when we put our faith and trust in him – and he does this because he loves us. Christ’s death is awful and frightening, and if he were just an ordinary man then it would be the end of the story, but it’s not – because Christians recognise that Jesus isn’t simply human, he’s divine, he’s the Son of God, God made flesh, God incarnate and his resurrection proves it as witnessed by so many of his day.

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He is therefore as the risen Lord, , a man of the ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5.17 / Revelation 21.1), a man of the new life and  perfectly restored order, which is promised eternally to all who believe. This is the joyful essence of Easter Day and it provides us not just with the courage and strength to meet the challenges of this moment (however dark it may be) but hope for the future, for as the Bible reminds us ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3.16).

So, yes, despite the difficulties of the present moment, may I take this opportunity for myself and the parishes I represent to wish you all a very happy and joyful Easter.


May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all … this day and always. 2 Corinthians 13.14


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Fake News, Brexit And ‘The Prophets Of Doom’

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Long before Donald Trump coined the phrase ‘Fake News’ (dismissing whatever is inconvenient), British politicians were juggling with ‘spin’ and ‘spin doctors’, as certain individuals or political parties tried to get their own political message across in the most favourable way possible, whilst portraying competing projects, events and points of view negatively. ‘Project Fear’ is perhaps one of the most recent and prominent examples of this where politicians favouring a ‘no deal’ Brexit consider the arguments presented by Remainers as scaremongering, whereas those in favour of remaining portray Leavers as chasing after unicorns and duping the public (arguing therefore that many of those who voted to leave didn’t really understand the implications of what was put before them). Naturally, this is seen as patronising twaddle by those who voted ‘leave’. All of this has been magnified by television, social media and the internet to fever pitch. However, the stakes have been significantly raised by Conservative politicians each vying to be the next Prime Minister with many leaning towards a harder or no-deal Brexit in the light of the recent European elections. But this has caused many on the opposition benches and those wanting to remain in the EU to highlight all the more fervently the perils of a no deal Brexit and falling off the so-called ‘cliff edge’.

The problem is of course that we are not homogeneous human beings – we all come to life with our own particular values and perceptions, but in the game of politics, many of our politicians are deliberately selective, trying to promote their own particular viewpoint or party-line to gain some sort of party or personal advantage. It’s therefore very difficult for members of the general public to ‘see the wood for the trees’ and discern the impartial truth. The BBC may try to give us its own ‘reality check’ but many people are still wary of fake news and ‘media spin’ and therefore find it hard to discern fact from fiction. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate that people want honest politicians but discerning the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is very hard.

With so much at stake it’s becoming increasing important that we should trust the politicians who represent us – and honesty is paramount, because it’s honest and transparent politicians who garner the greatest trust and respect. As someone who the Bible describes as being ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14) it’s not surprising that Jesus encouraged his disciples to be equally open and honest, advising them not to make promises that they can’t keep but urging them to simply, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5.37). Biblically speaking it’s not just cleanliness which is close to godliness but truthfulness, whereas lies and deceit generate confusion and are much more likely to be destructive. So let us do our best to discern the fact from the fiction, the fake news from reality and when it comes to determining our future, let us call for less political spin and more honesty and truth from our politicians and then vote for those who do so.


He whose walk is blameless … speaks the truth from his heart. Psalm 15.2


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‘In God We Trust’ – Or Is It The American President?

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In the light of Brexit, one of Prime Minister Theresa May’s most notable remarks was that ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’, but now that President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal, we are all left wondering whether a bad deal is actually better than a broken one? Naturally, the complexities of the issue are immense and the implications of pulling out of the deal with the Iranians very serious indeed, especially as it was generally believed that the Iranians were in fact ‘keeping their end of the bargain’. This was underscored by the vain attempt of several national leaders to keep Donald Trump ‘onside’ prior to his announcement.

Now of course, it’s very difficult for the common man to get any sense of what’s really going on behind the scenes or the ‘inside track’, but boldened by his recent success in North Korea, it appears that President Trump is playing a tremendous game of brinkmanship in an attempt to force the Iranians once again to the negotiating table in order to generate a new, better, more wonderful deal than the one previously negotiated under President Obama. Of course, if he succeeds then he will deserve the world’s plaudits, but if he doesn’t, then we will all have to girder our resolve as we come to terms with the consequences.

However, on a simple level one is left wondering ‘what do these events say about trust?’ How can we expect Iran (or any other nation state for that matter) to trust America if it can tear up its agreements at a moment’s notice? It’s slightly ironic that one of Donald Trump’s campaign slogans was Trust me! I’m going to make America great again!’. No doubt the President believes that this is precisely what he’s doing in keeping with his ‘America first’ approach but surely it will become much harder for other signatories or nation states to be so confident about US policy or the trustworthiness of its President!

Perhaps the US, which takes such pride in it’s Christian heritage, should pause and reflect upon its national motto which is stamped on the back of every two-cent coin, the simple slogan which reads ‘In God we trust’! The Spiderman movies may have brought to the public consciousness the thought that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, but the Bible also has a lot to say about the folly of those who look purely to their own strength, wealth and resources to get things done (see Psalm 52.6-7), whereas the godly man humbly appreciates that he can’t do everything in his own strength, but only with the wise and prayerful backing and support of others, trusting God as he does so. For trust needs to be cultivated and encouraged – it can’t be demanded. If you want people to trust you, you need to give them reason to do so. Christians will recall how Jesus encouraged his disciples to ‘Trust God and to trust also in me’ (John 14.1), but this wasn’t a blind sort of trust, ‘a stab in the dark’, it was a reasoned trust based on what they knew God had done for them in the past and what they could see Jesus doing for them now. His deeds gave his words authenticity. His whole life was one of integrity. People may break their word, but God never does and now, through the person of Jesus, God was keeping his Word, and fulfilling every promise, agreement and covenant that had ever been made. Let’s hope that in the fulness of time the American President will win a fulsome victory, but will it also earn him praise, respect – and fulsome trust?


“He who was seated on throne said, ‘behold I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” Revelation 21.5


 

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