Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. This is wonderful time of year with the spring flowers emerging from the cold and dark of winter. It mirrors the hope felt as we begin to emerge from the year long winter of COVID. Paradoxically, things can get particularly tricky as we emerge from a crisis. During WWII political differences were set aside in a government of national unity. As victory looked more and more certain, the old antagonisms re-emerged. In the end, much to everyone’s surprise, Churchill, the leader to whom the country owed so much, lost the first post-war election.
During a crisis, a lot of emotion is repressed to enable us to better cope with the trauma of the moment. But feelings can only be suppressed for so long. Unless you deal with them they have a nasty habit of emerging to bite you (and whoever you might be close to) when you least expect it. I’ve experienced people during my ministry, who, normally placid and kind, exploded when under stress. I remember one person, who knew their Bible very well, held a senior lay leadership position, but who would explode if they lost face or appeared incompetent in the sight of others. There was a deep-seated history of only being valued as a child for their performance. Failure, felt to them like a sort of death, an undermining of their sense of identity and best avoided.
I wonder whether Jesus is picking up something of what lies beneath in the baying crowd in the story of the woman caught in adultery that you find in John 8? We are tempted to judge them as they demand a rigorous application of religious principal without mercy. Jesus kneels to write in the sand. I suspect in part to calm his own anger that a broken woman was being used to get one over on him. His response when he does answer their demands is brilliant, “Let the one who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” They depart one by one, the oldest (and possibly wisest?) first. Instead of addressing the presenting vile behaviour, he responds in a way that gets them to own their stuff. Rather than direct confrontation, this opens the key for them to examine themselves and see what lies beneath.
God has been very gracious with me in my own foibles. I am generally very patient with people but hugely impatient with inanimate objects. My anger is sometimes aroused in my workshop when reach exceeds grasp and I attempt things beyond my capabilities. In one such episode, when my frustration boiled over, I did sense the Lord saying to me that my anger was actually directed at Him for not re-arranging the laws of physics to adjust to my own incompetence! I have since, mostly unsuccessfully, tried not to be so pathetic.
As we come out of COVID we will need to be attentive to our responses to one another. We need a self-awareness of the strain we have been under and its likely effects on our mood and reactions. I wondered whether recent articles in the Spectator and the Times speculating on secret plans to close churches or abolish the parish system, centralising and abolishing clergy posts had something of that about it. The articles were wild extrapolations from some known facts about clergy numbers in other dioceses. Speculation was filling in the gaps. There is no secret national plan for any of these things. But, applying my own principles, I wondered whether there was something more beneath this. The person who wrote one of the articles was clearly passionate about the church of England. I question whether some of the anger expressed reflected a deep sadness shared by many Christians. We believe we have been entrusted with profound truths about God. We have laboured long and hard in the Lord’s vineyard, building community, caring for our buildings as icons of God, and sought to serve those in need. We believe that people’s lives would be so much more fulfilled and – yes- happy, if they were to discover Gods love for them in Christ and respond to it. We see young people struggling with finding a sense of identity, meaning, and purpose, something the
gospel offers in all its fullness to those who follow Jesus. We believe these things, and yet we see a growing indifference to Christian faith in our culture, and wonder how we’ve failed to be effective in sharing it. Unacknowledged grief of all sorts can express itself as anger, or if continually bottled up, in depression and despair.
Fortunately, the scriptures are rich with the language of lament. The psalm writers had no compunction in spilling out their deepest feelings to God, often graphically. You will struggle to find any evidence of a stiff upper lip! But this honesty always happens in the context of profound hope. Whether in joy or sorrow, disappointment or delight, they knew, as we do, that we are part of God’s unfolding story that’s headed for a good conclusion. Appearances can be deceptive. As Psalm 126 says, “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying their sheaves with them.”