30 April 2020 – Obstacles or Opportunities?

In life our temperaments do play a significant part in shaping how we view the world. Some of us are natural optimists who look for the best in others and see opportunities opening up in front of them. By contrast, some other people are at the opposite end of the scale and are naturally pessimists and from their perspective there are an alarming number of problems and difficulties lying ahead of us and they struggle to see a way through.

In popular speech in Scotland there is a simple form of words we use to describe these two broad categories of people with reference to a partly-filled glass of water. There are those who see a glass ‘half-full’ and others who see it ‘half-empty’. There is no dispute about the quantity of water in the glass only the significance of it.

At the current time it is mostly likely that the Covid-19 virus crisis may be the biggest challenge to humanity worldwide since World War Two. Therefore, if this statement is correct, the choices we make now as the Christian Church in its local as well as global expression may have a huge bearing on the effectiveness of our collective witness over the coming decades and possibly even longer.

We cannot deny that we may face some even bigger challenges ahead than we are even anticipating at the present time. Yet at the same time there may be some unprecedented opportunities to show the importance and relevance of our faith to a world of people whose ideological foundations have been shaken by all that has taken place.  

The Bible passage for today is very brief, covering an unscripted and completely unplanned ministry opportunity for Jesus and His disciples in Luke 18:15-17. What do we see?

(1)An unsought opportunity (Luke 18:15a) People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have Him touch them. I have no idea what Jesus had planned that day for Him and the group of disciples that were accompanying Him.

What we see here clearly is that choices had to be made.  How would Jesus respond to the situation before Him? In that cultural context it was not uncommon for rabbis, the Jewish religious leaders, to be asked to perform a blessing on a child around its first birthday. Jesus’ could have said ‘no’ He was too busy to stop and spend time with them.

Churches around the world in locations with good access to the internet have had new opportunities to bear witness to Jesus Christ. How many had prior to this crisis hosted meetings or services on a zoom platform? How many had livestreamed services or activities or even thought seriously about doing it prior to March 2020? How many Christians had considered sharing gospel messages to groups on whatsapp or other people via email or shared something of their faith by more traditional methods of actual conversations in person, by phone or some other means of communication.

I am delighted to hear good examples of some of you taking opportunities to share your faith in recent weeks. Personally, I have had many more opportunities to speak to others about aspects of the Christian faith in the last month than I could ever have anticipated. I want to encourage you to join me in praying to the Lord for spiritual sight to ‘see’ the opportunities that God is providing for us.      

(2) An unwanted opportunity (Luke 18:15b When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them… These sincere people had a schedule for the day that had to be followed and so the presence of these parents and young children was a problem to be got rid of not an opportunity for engagement.

Is this our natural response when difficulties come? Or might there be a better way to react? For example, by praying: ‘Lord, I don’t like the situation before me’; Can you please open my eyes to view it from your perspective of looking for new opportunities for witness or service?’ It is not the details of what happened here that matters as we live in a very different cultural context, instead our focus in this Covid-19 crisis is to ask God how we might live effectively for Him in our communities at this time of enormous changes.

(3) A God-given opportunity (Luke 18:16-17) 16But Jesus called the children to Him and said, Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Jesus’ choice is an active one. He called the children to Him…   to model God’s kingdom values to the adults present. Children typically have a sense of wonder about the world and an expectancy of God at work within it.

Do we need to recover even in a time like this a sense of the opportunities God is presenting to us? For prayer, witness and compassion ministries;

Children have a depth of trust in God and in the adults in their lives. In our difficulties will we demonstrate our confidence in God by the choices we make for our future? Children are also willing to play ‘Follow my leader’ games.

How willing are we to follow Jesus in simple trust that He will lead us in the right way in these difficult times? Children are also marked by their amazing ability to forgive when apologies are offered and to offer them when they are at fault. How much we adults have to learn from them! Thank God Jesus took this God-given opportunity to live out His faith amongst people who might not otherwise have seen Him or heard Him preach. Or calling is to follow in His footsteps.  

Our song to help us in our reflections today is ‘When we walk with the Lord’

Brian Talbot