Letters from Bishop Keith
Three letters, 8th, 24th April & 31st May
Pentecost Sunday 31st May.
Something you can’t see
Something that can touch anyone
Something that will have profound impact on individuals and whole communities.
No, not Covid 19 virus, but the Holy Spirit.
Not for illness and death, but for wholeness and life.
This Sunday the church celebrates the Holy Spirit being given. Jesus has been taken up into heaven, he told his followers to wait for this gift. And on the day of Pentecost the Spirit is given.
Here’s how Luke describes what happened (you can read it in the Bible if you want in Acts chapter 2)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (1-4)
The Spirit’s coming is like the rushing of a mighty wind, you can’t see the wind, but you can see what it does.
Here is how Luke describes the effect of what the Holy Spirit did when he came
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (44-47)
Not like a virus which brings lockdown and death, but the Spirit of God who brings freedom and joy.
Luke tells us about
The people who were there, from all over the known world, so we can know this includes us.
The sermon St Peter preached, exalting Jesus, and saying what had happened to him wasn’t an accident but God’s plan, so this wasn’t just for back then but for now and all time.
The response of the people; they asked, “what shall we do?” How can we receive the Holy Spirit? So we too can know how we can receive the same gift.
Maybe today is a day not to major on what the virus is doing; but on what the Holy Spirit is doing.
Maybe this weekend especially we would love our neighbourhood and country to be like that community of the early church at the end of Acts 2, a people free in sharing their goods, homes and hearts.
Pentecost tells us what God wants to do in the world, starting with me. And Peter, in answer to their question, tells them and us how we receive the Holy Spirit.
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (38,39)
We repent of our sins and are baptised or confirmed to show we know what is stopping God’s Spirit working what he wants to do in our lives and our neighbourhood and our country. Repentance is turning around, and baptism (or confirming our baptism) is recognising that for our sins to be forgiven and taken away Jesus died on the cross and was raised. In baptism in water we remember the washing away of our sins by his death, and we say we know his death was for us. When we come to God like this, as they did, we receive the Holy Spirit.
Like the wind or like breath, the2rin the way we hear of in Acts 2.
We are to turn from everything that leads to death, every sin, every lie, every untruth; AND from every judgement, every condemnation, every accusation. This weekend, isn’t that the kind of person we want to become, isn’t that the kind of neighbourhood and country we want our neighbours and our children to grow up in?
The day of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit says it is possible, not because we can achieve or create this, but because we can receive what God has given and continues to give if we will receive.
What must I do? What must we do?
People are asking this question now in new ways including online. Churches are finding people they have no contact with signing up to courses exploring what Christianity is all about and about how to receive the Holy Spirit.
We want to pray for our political leaders, we do give thanks for our NHS, we will pray against the spread of this virus.
Today we say, death and disease are not the last words, invisible and powerful it may be; but God’s gift, also invisible but so powerful is also given.
Maybe today echoing Peter’s words to the crowd you would like to pray “Lord I repent, Lord I will be baptised (or confirm my baptism) in the name of Jesus Christ, Lord I receive the forgiveness of my sins, Lord I receive the gift of your Holy Spirit”
A letter from Bishop Keith 24th April 2020
We are now post Easter. Whatever our focus has been until now, as we look ahead to another three weeks of lockdown which is very likely to become more, how are we doing?
I continue to hear stories of encouragement and surprise. I think my favourite this week is from Runcorn and an older lady accessing an online service from her parish holding a telephone up to her computer screen so that a friend, another lady on her own, could hear the sermon! I have written to funeral directors and the staff at crematoria assuring them of our prayer and support, and I believe the letter has been received with gratitude.
But with encouragement and thanksgiving there is challenge and testing. For some, perhaps the novelty of online worship has begun to pale as we crave actual company (even if we can actually participate in worship in this way). Maybe we are wondering what our lives are going to be like when whatever “normal” looks like returning, if it ever does. We may be crying out to God for some sense of what this all means.
As we give some thanks that the present strategy of our government here appears at least to be helping the NHS to cope, what might be the possible impact of this pandemic globally, especially in our link dioceses in Congo and Melanesia, who have none of our health infrastructure and capacity for self-isolation?
As an African friend in a neighbouring country to Congo said to me in an email this week, "Please pray for special protection from Jesus who conquered death as we do not have means and facilities to handle that pandemic disease”.
As members of Church House were gathering for online prayers on Monday morning (via Microsoft Teams) the words from the Colossians reading really struck a chord in the prayer of St Paul “may you be prepared to endure everything with patience” (Col 1:11) while echoing everything else St Paul includes in that wonderful prayer.
I wonder if now in this Easter season we could really give ourselves to prayer in a new and deeper way. I know some have found the use of those other verses from Colossians (3:12) helpful with our hands; compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience (on one hand), and praying for our communities, the NHS, the government, those on the front lines, ourselves (on the other hand); there is a guide to this prayer below.
And God is present with us.
The resurrection scriptures have been speaking powerfully of the Lord Jesus meeting us and calling us by name. I have found these assurances of the risen Lord with us enormously sustaining, even with and especially with those who are going through bereavement and the nearness of death. We pray for those, including those from our churches, who are working in the hospital and ICU’s and in care homes. I thank God for the way the whole diocese has stepped up to the new challenges of worship and pastoral care and found themselves unexpectedly, perhaps, connecting with those way beyond the “normal” Sunday congregation.
But with this prayer of intercession and thanksgiving, I wonder whether in this time before Ascension Day and Pentecost, we might also give ourselves to silent prayer. I have often found Romans 8:26 an enormous relief in prayer:
“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words”.
Sometimes when we will allow ourselves to be silent before the Lord we allow the Spirit to pray in us and through us in this way “with sighs too deep for words”, and this is the beginning of our discovering how it is that we ought to pray.
I know some have been going back to the book of Job, one of the wisdom books of the Bible, which out of the terrible narrative of one man’s unimaginable suffering, there is both a great crying out to God and an extraordinary discovery of the presence and word of God right in the middle of his awful experience. One of the most telling verses in Job is Job 2:13, about his friends, who were appalled at what he was going through, the verse says:
“They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great”.
There is a kind of prayer that is like this sitting on the ground, and while they were silent all was well. When they began to speak it all started to go wrong; they thought they knew what God was doing, they started telling Job what he needed to do or not do; a huge part of the book is taken up with “explanations” which meant well, but which didn’t help, and in the end receive God’s censure (42:7).
I am sure I have been like Job’s friends at times, and we need to be very careful we are not like them now! But if we give ourselves to silent prayer, and the experience of Romans 8, it may be that we will in time receive words which are true and can be spoken. And even if we do not, we will still be praying after the heart of God who himself speaks to Job, and to us, about our creation and the world we inhabit, still given by him and still under his sovereignty and grace.
The risen Jesus brings us that same word. His suffering exceeded that of Job; his own life was taken on the cross, even as he laid it down for us.
So, let’s pray, let’s continue in prayer; let’s receive this time in lockdown to pray to the risen Lord.
If silent prayer, given you have a house full of preschool or primary school children sounds remote, know that there are others in the diocese who are praying for you.
If you are at your wits end with loved ones in hospital, or you have financial and job uncertainties and all the praying you can do is more in panic, praying “Help!”, know there are others in the diocese praying for you too.
And if we are praying in this way and learning to sense the Spirit interceding within us, don’t be surprised if in that moment you find God giving you a person to call, a word to speak, a website to recommend, or an online service to access.
We do not know what is to come. We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit helps us in our weakness. And when the Spirit does, then the Spirit (as the rest of Romans 8 reveals) will open to us even more the heart of God for our lives, our country and our world.
With love in Christ
PRAYER FOCUS DURING THE COVID 19 CRISIS
Take one hand and look at:
Your thumb-pray for your church community and family.
Your first finger-pray for the NHS and those medical researchers looking for a vaccine.
Your second finger-pray for the Government and all those making tough decisions.
Your third finger-pray for those in care homes and working with the most vulnerable in our communities.
Your little finger-pray for yourself and those known to you.
Take the other hand and read out loud
“ As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience” (Colossians 3:12) and let your thumb and each finger represent one of these “clothes” we are to put on.
When you pray, put your hands together and let the “clothing” of one hand touch the people and places in the other and see what God does!
A Letter from Bishop Keith 8th April 2020
This is going to be a Holy week and Easter like no other. To be isolated from one another when we will crave fellowship is truly awful. To be absent from the remembrance of the Lord’s supper, to be absent from the worship at the Cross on Good Friday, to be absent from the great celebration and the Easter Acclamation, “The Lord is risen; He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”, will be strange indeed.
At one level this absence will be a huge loss. At another level the absence will be a moment in which the Lord speaks. How keenly we will feel the Lord’s own isolation through betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion. We will taste a very little of what it was like to be deprived of your closest friends at your moment of greatest need. Please God none of us will want to echo the cry of dereliction from the cross, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”. All of this Jesus did for us, as the beautiful Good Friday Hymn says, “We believe it was for us he hung and suffered there”; his death a bearing of our judgement, his death a taking away of our sins, his death a bringing to us of forgiveness, his death an experiencing of death so that he might destroy its power.
All of this we will remember whether in our own reading and prayer, or as we access our local services online if we can, or the Cathedral or national services as we are able. In a time when there will be no gatherings and no socialising, only continued concern because of the Covid-19 virus and its impact on the whole world, we will be praying for the NHS and all those on the front line, we will be praying for those we know who are sick or bereaved, we will be praying for those facing the possibility of death. And as we pray for our own country, we will be praying for those countries we know, especially the Solomon Islands (also struggling with cyclones) and the Congo (Aru and Boga are also struggling with the absence of an infrastructure we take for granted).
It may be strange to offer now a verse that comes in the readings set for Morning Prayer in the week following Easter Sunday - who knows what that week will bring? Will there be some capacity for there to be some kind of “holiday at home”? I hope so - but this verse comes near the end of one of the great chapters in the Bible on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15. I hope each day, at the moment, all of us can include some reading from the Bible and prayer. During that week after Easter, the readings from this chapter are spread out over each day (Monday v1-11; Tuesday v12-19; Wednesday v20-28; Thursday v 29-34; Friday v35-50; Saturday v 51-end).
The verse I offer you, both for this week and next, is 1 Corinthians 15:49:
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust so we will bear the image of the man of heaven”
Last year I spoke on this verse at an Easter Assembly at Woodchurch C of E Academy on the Wirral. I asked them to notice that the verse doesn’t say we may or might bear the image of the man of heaven, but we will.
This is our hope and joy this Easter. We know, I think, about bearing the image of the man of dust; our mortality, our frailty, our sinfulness, these are all included in this description. How can we not know that reality in our present crisis?
But the hope that the Church has held out to the world since that first Good Friday and Easter, is that just because Jesus went all the way to the cross alone, and to the depths of death, experiencing it in the fullest form of its cruelty and desolation, we now would be in no doubt that his resurrection life would be ours too, begun now and completed then – bearing the image of the man of heaven, Jesus himself.
What a hope? What a promise? What a word for those facing their own death or the death of someone so dear to them?
We may be isolated from one another, but we are never isolated from him. As 1 Corinthians 15 goes on to say, “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. (55,56)
This is the truth summarised in the great Easter acclamation: “The Lord is risen; he is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
This Easter Sunday, whether in the evening when we maybe lighting a candle and putting it in the window or at some other time in the day, may we find a way of sharing this greeting with our neighbourhood; perhaps by some post on Facebook, or some recording on YouTube, or creating some poster in the window, or seeing if any of your neighbours might like to join you on each of your doorsteps as you join in the joyful shout together! You might want to join in the chorus of a great Easter hymn: “Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son; endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won”.
This Easter and Holy Week will be like none that I have ever known; but yet somehow the very isolation and danger we are now in from this virus, I believe will enable us to enter yet more fully into the truth and the victory Jesus has established for us and for the world.
With love in Him