Pastoral Letter 8 14th June

PASTORAL LETTER 8

1 Peter 5: “Be watchful, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil roams about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”

What a verse with which to begin the Pastoral Letter! Surely, we’re under enough threat as it is from Coronavirus without being told we’re about to be eaten by a roaring lion! You know I always try to make these letters encouraging and uplifting and I promise you that this is but please bear with me for a while.

The government watchword at the moment is “be aware” and this is one of the reasons for choosing this verse because here St Peter is telling us to “be watchful and vigilant”: in other words, “be aware.” I don’t know about you but, when I first heard this instruction several weeks ago, I wasn’t really sure of what Boris Johnson or Matt Handcock meant. What am I supposed to be aware of? It seems to me that I can be as aware as possible and yet I’m still not immune from catching the virus. When I’m stood in a que waiting to go into Aldi what am I to be aware of? Perhaps they simply mean don’t take unnecessary risks and don’t get too close to the people in front! 

St Peter, on the other hand, is very clear and very specific about what, or rather whom, we are to be aware of. He says that the devil is our enemy (adversary) and that his intention is to destroy us like a roaring lion devouring its prey. The devil, of course, doesn’t always roar but often whispers in our ears like the serpent in the Garden of Eden whispered to Eve. The devil is a beguiler and unfortunately, he often creeps up to us from behind and we don’t hear him coming until it’s too late. His words are soothing, reassuring, and sadly they often appear to make common sense. How can there be a loving God when He allows all this suffering? If God really loved the human race then He would have prevented the virus developing. Why is it that the innocent and vulnerable suffer most? And then the beguiling words: “you know that you’ve earned it and so why don’t you join me?” “Why try doing the right thing when it doesn’t get you anywhere?” “God only helps those who help themselves and so why not help yourself to more?” These, and a thousand other beguiling questions, subtle and not so subtle, that are meant to render you hopeless and helpless and to take away all meaning from your life. You might be asking yourself at this point “how come Peter (me, not the Saint) knows so much about the devil?” The answer, of course, is that I’m very familiar with his voice because he’s spoken to me as often, if not more often, than God! Sometimes, because of our pain, we make darkness our friend when he’s no real friend at all. Yes, I am quite familiar with the devil’s voice and, if you’re honest, so are you. Just like the coronavirus, being aware does not make you immune. 

BUT THANK GOD WE HAVE A SAVIOUR WHO KNOWS AND UNDERSTANDS OUR WEAKNESSES AND YET LOVES US JUST AS WE ARE. 

God knows our pain and He feels our weaknesses. He hears our unanswerable questions and the unutterable conversations that we have with our adversary: the thoughts, words and deeds of which we are ashamed. He knows that we’re lost in our trespasses and our sins and yet He goes right on loving us: in fact the greater the sin the greater His capacity, His longing, to embrace and forgive us. When Jesus hung on that Cross 2,000 years ago He took everything that the world and the devil could dish out and He rose victorious because no amount of sin and lies can ever separate us from His forgiving love. The devil can even take our life but he cannot take our soul because our soul is held within God’s loving hand. As St Paul wrote “it is when I am weak that I become strong” because it is when we are weak that we have that greater dependency on God’s forgiving love. If we are to be aware of anything in our life and in this strange time in which we are currently living then let it be the supremacy of God’s amazing, never ending, love. No virus has the capacity of destroying the love that God has for you and that love is there twenty-four hours of each and every day.

But there’s only one requirement and that is to own your weakness and your failure: not publicly but in the quiet recesses of your own heart. To know that you really are the sinner for whom Jesus died. This, too, is how you become aware because to be vigilant is to acknowledge your need of God. 

It sounds simple doesn’t it? And yet true contrition is one of the greatest challenges to any human being. You know, at one stage in my twenties I toyed with the idea of becoming a politician. I’m very pleased to say that the phase didn’t last long because I’d have been hopeless! Organisation, reading lengthy documents, towing the party line, are all alien to me but the biggest obstacle of all is never being able to say sorry for your mistakes. Our government has undoubtedly made mistakes during this epidemic, but have you ever heard anyone say sorry or even hinted that they might have been mistaken? It’s a kind of unwritten rule in politics that everyone is wrong except you and you never admit weakness or misjudgement. The irony is that they earn a lot more respect if they did because everyone makes mistakes especially in a totally unprecedented situation such as this. 

There’s a lot of witch-hunting going on at the moment following the tragic death of George Floyd in America. His death was wicked and totally unnecessary if he’d have been given the respect that all human beings deserve. It has led to mass gatherings and demonstrations in America, here in Britain and throughout the world. We have been reminded of the truth that “Black lives matter” and that any form of racism is wrong and totally against God’s will for this world. Statues of former slave traders and racists have been toppled from their plinths and it seems that no monument is safe from vandalism not even The Cenotaph. Certain TV programmes have been taken off air because of their national or racist bias and have been judged politically incorrect! Where will it all end? I suppose it’ll be Dad’s Army next! I’m glad I’ve got the box set! 

But there is no end because each and every one of us has serious faults and failings including those who are protesting the loudest. Racism is evil but let’s not pretend that those of us who oppose it are pure and spotless because we’re manifestly not. Yes, remove statues and speak the truth about our history but let’s take an equally painful look at our own personal sins and wickedness. In blaming others let’s not forget the part that we play each and every day. This is the challenge of Christianity….to be honest to God and before God for it is when we are weak that we become strong. This world will not be changed simply by destroying statues, however appropriate this may be, but by admitting our own sins and wickedness, amending our own lives and by receiving forgiveness from a Heavenly Father who is more than ready to grant it. 

Yes, the devil is a roaring lion but his teeth were pulled and his roar silenced 2,000 years ago on a hill called Calvary and all through the power of sacrificial love and an honest heart willing to receive it.

Amen

I do hope and pray that you’re all well and keeping yourselves safe and sound. Things are beginning to slowly change and get back to reasonable normality. The one thing that never changes is God’s love for you which is as strong today as it has ever been. Let’s hold on to this truth and know God’s constant indwelling in our hearts and in our lives.

I’m here if you need me: please just ring and leave a message,

With love and blessings from Peter.  

 


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