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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 08.02.2024

8th February 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

One of the flip sides of a technological society like ours is the illusion that we can control everything.  Science has made the most extraordinary strides. People within living memory would regard what can be achieved today, even in basic household products, as miraculous. Its sobering that the average smart phone has vastly more computing power than the lunar module that put Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969.

And yet things come out of left field when we aren’t expecting it. A normal car drive becomes a life-threatening accident.  A routine operation reveals something much more serious, as his majesty experienced last week. We pray that this will be successfully treated and he will be restored to full health as swiftly as possible.

The Apostle James mused on this in chapter four verse thirteen. “Now listen, you who say, “today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  I’m not sure I would be so pastorally brusque as this, but they lived in a much more uncertain time in every way. Disaster and destitution, fatal illness and violence would commonly strike at any moment.  Common sense would suggest any planning would be highly provisional.  I heard of a Christian in a very uncertain part of the world summing up their prayer life as this: “in the morning we pray; in the evening we give thanks!”  I was once flying on a plane in Pakistan when the tannoy announced we would be landing shortly, ‘insh’a Allah’.  At that point I craved a greater degree of certainty.

Faith is living in a trusting way in the midst of this reality.  Being of a scientific mindset, we are prone to seek after explanations for things.  The scriptures give us none to explain the mysteries of divine providence. In fact, we are confronted with paradoxes and riddles.  God is portrayed as in sovereign charge of the unfolding of events. The book of Revelation in its disturbing imagery tries to peel back the surface of reality to currents of spiritual substance that lie beneath. But it is a reality riddled with suffering, albeit one that will eventually lead to a good conclusion, as the Lord brings the redemption project to a happy ending. Despite this, the Bible doesn’t portray human free will as illusory. Gods sovereignty is shown to weave even human disobedience into the story, redeeming it and drawing us inexorably into love.

It is very, very hard when we see friends going through the pain of illness, or loss, or economic crisis to sit content with abstract philosophy or theology. I was struck during all the preparation for the Coronation how affectionate and close the Royal family are.  I’m sure that will be a great comfort to the King in the weeks ahead.  For those of faith, trust means we hold on to God’s love in the mystery, but as part of our journey he places us in community.  Research shows clearly that loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! We shouldn’t see faith simply as an individual resource, but as a builder of the sort of community that can provide the support, care and nurture that sustains us when life is really hard. I’m struck as I visit churches Sunday by Sunday how evident that community is. Its clear that not only are individuals supported who are part of the community, but there is a spill-over to those around as well.  Those relationships can provide bridges to faith that people can walk over, but thats not really the point.  The fact is that love for God gives rise to love for others both inside and outside the church.  Part of the instinct of faith is to look outwards seeking ways to share that love with others. My experience of thirty years of ordained ministry is that people are rarely looking for explanations for their pain.  They want someone to listen to them and walk alongside them in the midst of it. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if our church communities could provide succour like that in the midst of the mystery and questions?

+ Richard


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