17th May 2020
You are probably trying to make sense of all the statements from the Prime Minister and the Premier and thinking about the possibility of Church again. If you are an optimist you will expecting a return to church on a restricted basis sometime in June and back to normal in July. If you are a realist – try not to laugh too loud. Some states will return earlier than others and every indication is that NSW will be slow and cautious. So, I cannot predict when we will be able to meet together again. Of course, as restrictions are eased there may be a new spike in infections and that would see everything pushed back for quite a while.
I can, however, tell you what will happen when we are able to meet (with the proviso that exact arrangements will only be made after the Parish Council has met.) For what has been labelled as stage 2:
- Only 20 people can meet together.
- There will be no singing.
- There will be no morning tea.
- You will have to “book” a place in the service by the Friday before.
- The Diocese will have to approve of our arrangements.
My recommendation to the Parish Council will be that we hold 4 services each Sunday morning – at 7.30, 9.00 and 10.30 and then an afternoon or evening service. As we get closer I will set out a list of times and you can choose what suits you. We will go with the most popular times. Annie will have a sheet in the office and you will be expected to ring or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place in one of those services. Once the 20 places are filled you will have to choose another service. The informal evening service we started will be put on hold until things return to normal. To make things easier for Jeremy who does the visuals I intend to make all services the same and none will be exactly as you are used to. We will use a simpler form of service which will combine both traditional and modern elements.
When Stage 3 occurs we will be able to go back to our normal service times and by then we should be able to sing hymns again. No hymns seems ridiculous but there is evidence of the virus being transmitted by people singing even though they are social distancing.
I know that this provides some hope but very cautiously. Everything will depend on how well people keep the law. Some countries have relaxed too early and there has been a second spike in infections. I think that we already have enough evidence that some people can’t adhere to regulations – beachgoers, stupid footballers etc – be concerned.
Even if you read in the newspapers that churches can open, please note – we have to get permission from the Bishop. This will be based on how we have organized all the protocols recommended. And the Bishop will be very cautious.
It may be possible to open the church at various times in the week to allow people to come there to pray (while we can pray anywhere there is something special about being in the place that we associate with regular worship.) This will have to be checked out thoroughly and we will need to ensure the safety of those who come. I will give this consideration when restrictions are relaxed.
We will continue to provide online services until church returns. Thanks to Frank for producing these – he puts a lot of work into it. We have 2 more sermons to go in our series on Lamentations. After that I plan to start a series on one of Paul’s letters – probably Colossians. When we start that I will provide you with some suggested Bible Readings for the week so that you can prepare for Sunday. You can also see the services John West has been producing. I commend these to you.
Annie has been asked to put together a new Parish Directory. Our current one is two years old and hopelessly out of date. The present situation has shown how valuable the Directory is and I have been frustrated by not having details (and photos) of so many members of our congregation. Can I encourage you to get your details to Annie quickly and send an up to date photo if you can (although I understand why leaving the older picture there is an attraction.).
There has been a suggestion that small groups could start again. Group leaders have been cautious and have suggested that they will wait until Sunday services resume. I fully support that. I will not be starting the midweek communion service until Sunday Services commence even though we could. I know you want to get together again but I cannot say often enough how we must be cautious. As I have followed what is happening overseas I am delighted that we have done so much better than many other countries but I also note that some places are having a second spike.
I have included another 2 Reflections from Bishop Peter Brain. I am finding them really helpful and many of you have told me how you are enjoying them. I spoke with Peter late last week and passed on comments that I had heard and encouraged him. I believe, when this is all over, he should publish them in book form.
Just to remind us that we often need to put our situation in perspective – I keep hearing that the start to May was the coldest for many years. We are sitting at night watching tv with a blanket over us and we have discussed getting the electric blanket out. However, I had an email last week from the Session (Parish Council) of the church that I preach at when I go to Scotland. They asked how we were coping. I noticed that our lowest temperatures were not much lower than their maximum temperatures – and they are rejoicing that spring has arrived! There is a lot about Australia to be thankful for!
Again, can I remind you that you should consider downloading the COVID-19 App and getting a flu shot. This will keep us safer when we can meet again.
Stay safe and well.
REFLECTION No. 12 Contentment when it’s easy to be otherwise! Peter Brain 9/05/2020
We were at a zoom Morning Prayer on Friday when one of the members prayed a prayer for those who are working hard to be content in their circumstances. Understandably, the example was of younger parents wishing park playgrounds would be open soon.
It was a good prayer that made me realise that I was becoming discontent by allowing myself to become focussed on what I am not able to do rather than rejoicing in what I can. Perhaps I am the only one who feels this temptation, but just in case I’m not, here a few thoughts that have come into my mind today as to how I can make this an opportunity for my contentment to grow. Put another way and to borrow a similar book title, how can I not waste my discontent? (I think the book title would be ‘don’t waste your discontent!’ Here goes:
- It was good to have Sam pray his prayer for those in his pastoral care. Thankfully this not only enabled Christine and I join in his prayer, but alerted me to the simple fact that I need to take myself in hand and pray for my own contentment.
- As I was walking around our local park I realised that there are so many reasons for me to be content. Just being able to walk for one, not to mention the glorious weather with a fresh, but not too chilly edge, all bathed in sunshine. No bombs to avoid, no major risk of infection and the list goes on.
- We were reminded during the service from Exodus 35:20-36:7 of the remarkable willingness of those normally recalcitrant grumblers, aka as the people of Israel, in giving themselves and their goods so willingly to build the tabernacle. I have been the beneficiary of so many generous Christians (not only in providing buildings in which to worship and fellowship but to employ pastors who have helped me as a disciple of Jesus). Of all people in this world I have more reasons than most to be content.
- One of these is that I have always sat under ministers of the gospel who have been pre-occupied with both living like and making Jesus known, and central to our thinking and lifestyle. I observed them living out the apostles’ exhortation to 1 Timothy 4:15-16 and example to the Thessalonians 1Thess 2:7-9). Indeed, by seeing the latter, I was moved by God to believe, and hopefully practise the former.
- But it was also my privilege to observe many parishioners whose example commended the Lord Jesus, confirmed that the Bible was not only authoritative, but entirely sufficient in giving us everything we need for knowing God through Christ alone and living for Him under the influence of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-18, Ephesians 2:8-10, 2 Thess. 2:16-17). With pastors who preached Christ as Lord, and fellow believers, both peers and elders, seeking to wholeheartedly live in Christlike ways, how can I remain discontent?
- I saw in them models of contentment, since many were struggling with health, financial, family difficulties and the usual ups and downs of life outside of Eden. No pandemics for sure, but sharing in and finding grace (like the apostle 2 Cor. 12:7-10) to contentedly grow in their circumstances.
- This led to two compelling fruits. The first to enable them to become absorbed in comforting others as a result of finding God’s comfort themselves (2 Cor. 1:3-7). The second to grow in the assurance of daily renewal (no doubt the ministry of the Holy Spirit, compare 3:18) and growth as minds and hearts were drawn more to the counter-cultural 4:18: so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
- Though comparisons are so often odious, they can be beneficial when they remind us, as we were in the prayers at our zoom service, of the far worse effects of the pandemic in places like the UK and USA and for out of work persecuted believers and those whose nations are much poorer than ours. My discontentment is given a massive wakeup call as I remember how well off I really am here in Australia.
- There are plenty of Biblical reminders and exhortations that will assist me to be content. Hebrews 13:5-6 and 1 Timothy 6:6-8, Luke 3:7-14 come immediately to mind.
- The beneficiaries of my winning the battle with the discontentment temptation are firstly myself, then those who have to live with me, not to mention my fellow believers but also those who will benefit from my contentment. This will only be complete when my discontent blossoms into gratitude for what I have, which will free me up to share my (God-given) bounty with others. This appears to be the genius of the apostle expressed in Ephesians 4:28, where a thief is only truly converted when he has become an active giver.
REFLECTIONS No. 13 A Prayer for mercy. Peter Brain 12/05/2020
The Book of Common Prayer contains some very realistic prayers. The one headed In the time of any plague or sickness is such a prayer. It is not found in our more recent Prayer Books, which is sad, since it offers us a perspective on the pandemic that is easily neglected, or perhaps no longer believed.
I was reminded of it a week or so ago when a friend remarked that he had been using the prayer in his own devotions. Then at last Friday’s Morning Prayer service, the minister concluded our extempore prayer with:
O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of Pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest; Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command of the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen BCP 1662
What are we to make of this prayer, with its realism concerning God’s wrath and understanding that plagues and sickness may be God’s visitation? Sometimes it is good to ask the why question of God’s actions, whereas at other times it can only be pointless. It can be right if we are genuinely inquiring with open hands and humble heart, but always wrong with a clenched fist that demands God account for His actions. We must be governed by the wisdom of Deuteronomy 29:29.
This prayer first appeared in the 1552 Prayer Book and according to a reliable source, Neil and Willoughby’s, The Tutorial prayer Book (1912), may have been included because of the 1551 sweating sickness that caused many deaths, of mainly the rich in England on five occasions (1485, 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551). It is interesting to note that this plague never recurred. Nobody is sure of its cause but the symptoms were quick, painful and most died within 3-18 hours. It was said, ‘people were alive and well in the morning and dead that night’. It is not surprising that the national church included such a prayer in its Book of Common Prayer.
The prayer refers to two Old Testament manifestations of His people’s blatant disobedience. The first against Moses by Korah and his mates (Numbers 16), the second by David’s foolishness in counting his troops (2 Samuel 24). On both occasions there was swift punishment by God and mercifully, at the intercession of Aaron and David, an end of God’s judgement. It is on this basis that the prayer is framed. Offence against God brings His displeasure and atonement His mercy. The means of receiving such mercy was humble repentance expressed in prayer.
Should we be engaging in such prayer in regard to the covid-19 pandemic? Is it an act of God’s punishment on our and other nations? We are wise to tread very carefully in these matters. There are some things we can say and others we ought not to say. These include:
- The Old Testament people knew that they these deserved punishment from God since their sin was a blatant and specific rebellion against God. We have no word from the Lord about this covid-19 pandemic.
- We have been taught by our Lord that when disasters happen we are not to ever assume that those who died were worse sinners being signalled out for punishment (Luke 13:1-5). Rather we are wise to see these deaths as warnings, to make sure that we have repented, and therefore ready to meet God. So important is this that our Lord twice warns, His hearers and, through Dr Luke, us: unless you likewise repent, you too will perish (13:3 and 5).
- With this in mind we are wise to examine ourselves when our mortality is threatened, and our meeting face to face with God more imminent. This is true at all times of course, since a sickness of any kind is useful in sobering us up (as Samuel Johnson said, “the prospect of hanging wonderfully concentrates the mind”). Any concentration on our unconfessed sins or tardy habits of discipleship can only be for our good (2 Cor 13:5), since, if rightly heeded will keep us from being drawn away by sin (1 Cor 10:6-13).
- But what about as a public prayer? No one would deny the request that the pandemic should cease. This is surely right as an act of love for our neighbours and fellow world citizens. And if it is true, as Scripture (Mark 7:20-23, Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-2:2) and the affirmation of our weekly liturgies, that we are not only all sinners, but sinners deserving of God’s judgement, then to pray this prayer is right. Our Saviour’s atoning death at Calvary for the sins of the world affirm the teaching of both Testaments, that God desires not the death of a sinner but that s(he) might turn and live (Ezekiel 18:23/32; 1 Timothy 2:1-6). Far from being the opposite as some would suggest, that there is no punishment to come nor any need for people to repent, the remarkable cost to God, both Father and Son, means that we have a greater obligation for fidelity to God than the Old Testament people, and far more reason to be faithful to Him. We see this in the remarkable conclusion of Hebrews 12:28-29 and the words of 1 Peter 4:17-18).
- This prayer then is one that we ought to pray for everyone, not only that the pandemic might cease, but more importantly that having been alerted by the pandemic to the simple and sobering facts that we are neither masters of our fate, nor captains of our souls, might repent to escape God’s eternal judgement.
- This prayer recognises that punishments such as the sweating sickness of 1551, the pandemic of 2020, the famines, wars, droughts, earthquakes of every decade of human history, as awful and devastating to so many they certainly are, provide room for repentance since the final one to which they point, allows no opportunity for repentance. This appears to be the tenor of our Lord’s teaching in Matt 24:4-8, where they are gracious reminders, given that there is time to repent, providing refuge on the Day of His return as judge (24:36-44) for all who own up to their sin, and own Him as their Saviour.
- As Christians, we ought to pray this prayer especially that God will show mercy to our church and denominations, since we who have been shown much grace have more responsibility for faithfulness than the world. We would be very unwise if we prayed the prayer only for the nations (which we should) but not for ourselves and for our churches.
If Hebrews 12:28-29 is the gracious reminder for us never to take God’s grace to us in Christ lightly, then 10:30-31 an ever present reminder that we believers do well to remain faithful. The words it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31), far from being a reason to cause us to doubt the re-assuring work of our Saviour’s nailed pierced hands or promises about His and our Father’s safe hands (John 10:28-30), are to fill us with wonder and awe in His presence. Such a prayer as this, builds into our hearts and minds a sense of God’s holiness and love, that would cause us to exercise our priestly role (1 Peter 2:4-10), as did Moses (Exodus 32:31-32) and Paul (Rom 9:1-5), of standing in the gap by interceding on behalf of our fellows (believers and unbelievers alike) that they would find both temporal relief from the pandemic, and even more importantly from eternal punishment. Praying like this will not only be an expression of our love but keep us from becoming like Jonah, or the pharisaical brother of Luke 15:28-32. In this way we recognise the privilege and awesome responsibility of having received God’s grace through faith in Christ.