Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1; 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
Like many people in this unexpected new world we have, I have found that seemingly unimportant events happen which have had a greater impact than I expect. One early morning in the glorious sunshine of April, a sudden flash of gold held me mesmerised. A pair of goldfinches (I think) were settling on the topmost branch of a bush in the garden. Glowing and illuminated by the sun, they started to sing their hearts out. Wonderful.
Another mesmerising event was to come across the Self-isolating Choir singing the Halleluia Chorus. Another is that a pleasant person whom I have not seen for over a decade, delivered an order to my door. Another is being able to attend worship services all over the world. The list could go on and on.
Today’s readings from the Old and New Testaments reflect a brave new world for the characters in them. Abraham welcomed his visitors, not knowing who they were and his brave new world started then following from when God changed his name from Abram to Abraham many years previously. In Hebrew the name Abram had the meaning “noble father” and Abraham that of “father of one great nation”. He was to be the ancestor of Jesus as Matthew emphasised at beginning of his gospel and so his nation was not to be a local but a global one – the nation of those whose belief is that Jesus is the Son of God.
Sarah’s name too had been changed from “princess” to “Princess” – and her brave new world meant that she gave birth (hard enough at any time, but worse the older a person is) and because of that meeting under the trees at Mamre Abraham became the ancestor of Jesus, and the father of a nation of believers. St Paul wrote to the Galatian believers, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). Great changes indeed for Abraham and Sarah.
The Gospel reading tells of great changes and brave new worlds for the many who were healed from “every disease and sickness” by Jesus and for the disciples who were given authority to “drive out impure spirits and heal every disease and sickness”. Social, possibly psychological, changes for the sick who could then go about a normal life of work, such as, attending the synagogue, being a member of a family, meeting their friends. For the disciples too, no longer pupils but recipients of the gifts of healing, of exorcism, of raising the dead. A brave new world for them, socially, psychologically and emotionally, and they would need to be brave to use those precious gifts.
But one of the by-products of change can be loss. For many in our new world, the greatest loss is the loss of freedom, the loss of the familiarity of what was before the pandemic. The things taken for granted, popping out to the shops, visiting neighbours and other small events, or the big things such as moving house, visiting people who mean a lot in our lives, attending funerals, getting married.
In its wake, change can bring grief to a greater or less extent. Christians express their grief at not being able to attend church to worship and pray in the company of fellow believers. Virtual services are a change and are inspiring, but they can emphasise what we have lost, not just a building, but the body of believers together and the loss of that togetherness may have psychological and emotional effects.
The excerpt from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, headed “Peace and Hope” in my Bible, gives a message for this time in our history when he sums up our belief in his description of the faith which we have. His letter talks of the faith which Christians have, that Jesus died so that everyone can approach God knowing that they are loved by Him, each and every one, in this new world of ours, and that the Spirit has been given to encourage and complete this knowledge.
To hold on and increase our faith in this time is a challenge which has been given this year by the changes in society and life-style. May we all accept this challenge and help others to do so.
In his second letter to the Thessalonians (3:3) Paul reminded them that “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” Something for us all to remember.
Above all, remember that God does not change. Amen.