Please read the talk and prayers below or listen here – the Bible text follows below
It must be the closest thing that any of us have experienced to the world ending; like scenes from some disaster movie…the danger seems to be so high…we are all frightened for those that we love, maybe some who are older, maybe some who have underlying health conditions..will they survive this virus? What about our children’s education? What will happen about their exams? Will I still have a job when the dust settles? Will our pensions provide us with an income as we get older? It would not be surprising if we were really really anxious.
I have the sort of feelings that a generation before us must have felt in the summer of 1939 with all sorts of new realities suddenly becoming present – our children being called up- Air Raid Precaution officers saying to everyone very officiously ‘put that light out’. Perhaps we will soon have Infection Control Officers saying ‘don’t stand too close to each other! Two meters apart….what are you doing outside? Have you got papers to authorise your dog walk!
But, joking apart, all of us have a sense of dread. Which of our friends and relations will catch this thing? How will I be able to provide for my family?
But Paul says in this passage to the Philippians: ‘Don’t be anxious about anything’
We might say ‘But I am anxious what do you mean? ‘Don’t be anxious’.
Paul sets out in this short passage how we can be released from anxiety altogether:He advises thankfulness and prayer. These are the complete antidotes to any kind of worry.
Firstly, we need to be thankful
We need an attitude of gratitude; a true approach to the Father always comes after confession of sin to remove the obstacles between us and God, but also after thanksgiving.
But what, you may ask, have we got to be thankful about in this crisis?
We have of course to be thankful for our wonderful families, our spouses and partners and our children, if we are fortunate enough to have them, who are doubtless making their ways in the world, and on this Mothering Sunday our mothers!
We can be thankful for the place in which we live, where Spring is just about to begin: the birds are singing brightly, the rain seems to have abated and the threat of flooding is receding and none of us are starving or subject to threats of violence, as people are in so many places in the world. We are very blessed to be where we are and who we are.
But we can also be thankful for our community. We can be thankful that we are approaching the challenges of this time with unity, as Paul suggests we should be in verse 2: ‘we are of the same mind’. All our voluntary bodies working together to support the Parish Council to avoid duplication. We can be thankful that so many people are putting themselves forward to volunteer in the community to help the vulnerable in our parish.Beccy is putting a list together for the church and the Parish Council. If you would like to add your name to the list, please do drop her an email
I believe this crisis is really bringing out the best in so many people, despite their fears and worries. Self-less people are following the government guidance on social distancing because they are worried not because they will catch it but because if they don’t someone else may die because they or someone they infect is taking up a precious bed in ICU.
So another reason to be thankful is that, for the first time in years, I think we are really understanding what it means to live In community with others, learning what it means that our actions have an impact beyond ourselves.
But I think there is another thing which is very significant and about which we should be thankful, this crisis is making people, often for the first time, think seriously about their mortality.
The other night I went to a dinner party at which quite a young woman said ‘I don’t want to die’ And yet its the one thing that is absolutely guaranteed….The statistics are 100%! Crisis or no crisis, we all need to think about our mortality, what it means to die, not leave it to the last moment when, as one lady said to me a few days before her death, ‘I had planned to think about these things but now I just can’t, I am too confused its too late’ You may remember that we had a series of talks on dying well some time ago. The book by John Wyatt (A top NHS ethicist) Dying Well on how to die well and the opportunities that facing death provides was based around the Ars Moriendi the art of death developed by the church in the 12th century, while the Black Death swept across Europe.
I will provide links to this on the website.
It’s a book that everyone should read while they are sitting at home self isolating. It suggests a lot of useful things to do to prepare for a good death, even if we don’t end up dying before the end of this crisis, which I hope you won’t!
Thankfulness is so important but it’s no good in a vacuum. It needs to be expressed towards someone. We should not be thinking ‘oh I have been so lucky in my life’ as if it were all random. It is only going to help us in this crisis if we express our thankfulness towards our Father God in prayer.
Please let me assure you: prayer cures anxiety; prayer cures anxiety
But I don’t mean ‘saying our prayers’ as a child might by the side of the bed rattle off some regular routine words, I mean really really praying: we should be presenting to our Creator our circumstances and begging him to alleviate them. Prayer should be like a mirror in which we are constantly holding up to Father God everything in our lives.
I think that we will find that the most important blessing of this crisis is that we realise, that we are only human and that we are no longer able to rely upon our own abilities to solve our problems, because, frankly, maybe for the first time in our lives we must surely now realise that we may not be able to cope with everything that this crisis will throw at us. We will not be able to cope by ourselves. Maybe in the past when we have faced a family crisis: we have called a doctor or seen a solicitor or if we are really desperate we have contact Steve Brine our MP. But none of these people can solve this one!
We really have no choice we need to turn to God! He is the only one who can carry this for us, who can reassure us who can take away the fear who can actually flood us with joy when we approach him in prayer. As so many generations of alcoholics have discovered it is only when we are at the total end of our own capabilities and turn to the Higher Power (or as Christians call him Jesus Christ) that things which seem impossible to solve start to be sorted.
And each time, as we feel anxious and we give thanks to God for his incredible blessings to us and as we then plead with him to solve the many problems that we face; even though this cycle repeats itself over and over again then, as Paul writes we will finally feel a peace come over us, a peace which, as Paul writes verse 7, transcends all understanding, which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
As we turn in prayer to our Creator, nothing, including this terrible virus, will seem quite so terrible and we will be able to turn with joy to see the exciting signs of Spring breaking out in the Itchen Valley, as our lives are transformed
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Php 4:6–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Prayers by Nicky Barber
Lets pray together:
As we turn to you in prayer today Lord God we start by remembering who you are, that you are both powerful and loving, you are just and holy but also the bringer of security, you are eternal and present in the moment with us now. We praise you and we thank you that you do draw near to those who call on you, that you don’t keep your distance, that no-one needs to be alone today because you are here. Come Holy Spirit now, fill our hearts and help us to recognise the presence of the living God with each of us today whether we know you well or just a little.
Father, we are scared, we are anxious, events seem to be spiralling out of control around us. Some of us are isolated, having to live away from the comforting touch of those they love. Others are stressed, trying to keep normal life going amidst the turmoil, wondering how to do so with children at home to look after. Where are you in this God? We cry out to you. We need your help, your wisdom, your presence. The psalmist in psalm 46 called you “our refuge and strength an ever present help in trouble, our fortress. Be real to us today and help us to trust that you will be there with us whatever happens.
Our reading today encourages us to pray to you in every situation, to ask you for help and to literally hand our worries and fears to you so that your peace can fill our heart. We do so now. We thank you for all those you have put in positions of responsibility in this nation. Fill them now Lord with the wisdom they need to steer this country through these times. We lift to you our Queen Elizabeth, we lift to you all those in government and especially Boris Johnston and his team, we lift to you all those in local government and our doctors, nurses and teachers and all those key people who will keep the fabric of society moving over the next few months. Help each of them Lord, strengthen them, empower them, give them wisdom, help us to trust them as they do their best to look after us.
Remembering that you call yourself our Father, we come to you as the children that you love and we bring with us all those known to us who are in particular trouble at the moment. Those who are sick or in financial need, those whose businesses are being destroyed, those whose weddings and other events are being cancelled. Come to each of them with your healing power and your provision, and help us to be your hands, feet and voice as we carry your tender loving care to them.
Psalm 46 also tells us to “Be still and know that you are God” as an antidote to the fear and anxiety we might be feeling. We still our hearts and minds now before you. Calm our anxious thoughts, help us to know your presence and to trust you now, today, in the middle of this crisis. We receive your peace and we choose to trust in your love and not to despair. Even if for a while many of us will struggle as we lose many of the freedoms we have grown used to and taken for granted, we will take joy from those things which you still freely give us. Your presence, the feeling of the sun on our faces, the new life springing up all around us as the birds joyfully praise you each morning. Dark times may have come but your light still shines and you still breathe life into your creation each day. Thank you and praise you Lord God our Creator and Provider and Sustainer.