<span style="font-size: 1rem;">Last week Joe left us with the challenge to feed the vulnerable in this parish. Thank you to all of you who have found ways of supporting our food bank. Meeting the basic needs of vulnerable people in our parish is crucial. Thank you also to those of you who have been phoning and keeping social contact with friends, relatives and neighbours. Another crucial way of meeting people’s needs and being a blessing to those around us. But there comes a time when we realise, we must find ways to sustain ourselves if we are to be able to pass that blessing onto others. We cannot donate food to the food bank unless we go to the shops and buy food for ourselves. In the same way we need to ensure our spiritual connections with God remains intact if we are to have the inner strength to keep going through the weeks ahead.</span>
So how do we do this when the world appears to be in crisis, our daily lives have been turned upside down, our routines have been destroyed. Many of us have had our jobs and incomes threatened. For some there is inactivity, for others there is the struggle of working from home. Where do we turn for security, where do we look for strength?
I am fortunate to be able to glance up from my desk and look at the hills that surround Stannington. Last Sunday in our online service we sang about the awesomeness of the natural world around us and the grandeur of the mountains. It is still available on our YouTube channel, you can find it under online services on the church website or though the YouTube button. We may be limited in our opportunities to get out into the countryside at the moment. Staying close to home is important. But we can see the hills across which the old pack horse routes to Manchester used to run. They often remind me that in times gone by walking in the hills wasn’t something done for relaxation and pleasure. It was risky. The paths were dangerous and lonely. Psalm 121 has long been one of my favourite psalms but I have to remember when the psalmist says
“I lift my eyes to the hills”
it isn’t in wonder and anticipation of an exciting day out. It was fear, of danger, of losing your way in the dark, of cold nights under the stars, of cliff edges, bandits, robbery, loss of goods therefore income or even loss of life. That’s why the following line is a heartfelt plea “from where will my help come?”. There facing unknown danger, the psalmist looks for help, and turns to God. The following verses give the reassurances. “My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth”. There is that deep inner connection that give the psalmist the courage to go on.
So how do we get that for ourselves. It is simply through prayer and reading. Just as we need to connect with the shops for our food, we also need to connect to God for our spiritual food. It doesn’t matter how you feel God wants to hear from you. So if you are angry with the present situation, tell God. If you are afraid, tell him. If you doubt his very existence tell him. You will be in good company. If you read though the psalms you will find brutal honesty as people pour out their hearts in despair. If you are old enough you might remember psalm 137 from Bony M’s By the rivers of Babylon. It tells of a broken hearted people who can no longer worship in the buildings they used to love. Or have a look at psalm 77 the writer cannot sleep for worry, they thinks God has taken his love away. They are in despair. Even Jesus, in desperation, struggling for breath on the cross asks God “why have you forsaken me?’. It is all right to express all these emotions to God, including anger, because within them lies our grief of what has been lost. And when we read these psalms of lament, they help us express that grief, and we will find that God is with us, grieving alongside for all the pain and suffering and loss. We are not forgotten.
If you turn to many of these psalms you will find that after the writer has written of their hurt they begin to remember. They look back and remind themselves of all that God has done for them. This is where our Bible reading is important. We need to read daily how God has worked in the past knowing that God is still at work the same way now. In Hebrews 13 v 8 we read a very well-known words, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever”. Looking back on the ways in which God has worked in the past helps us build our faith that God is still with us and for us. So in this time of disruption we have an opportunity to establish some new patterns of behaviour. Ones which will sustain us. Along with daily exercise and connecting with others we also need to connect with God on a daily basis. ON the website under Prayer there are some suggestions of apps and downloads that can help us establish a daily pattern. If you know of any others do let us know and we can add those on too. Another way is by using an ancient method of reading the Bible. There are 4 steps. Reading the passage to yourself, I find reading out loud helps me to concentrate. Secondly rereading and seeing what stands out to you in the passage. It may be a single word or a phrase and then taking time to think or meditate about this. The third stage prayer, allows that mediation to turn into a conversation with Jesus allowing his Spirit to speak to you. And then finally take time to rest, not forcing your mind to think intellectually but rest in the Word.
So let’s listen to a psalm listen carefully and see what is God saying to you today.
Psalm 23 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)1
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
3 he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]
Rev. Alison Cook, 01/04/2020