As we move into this second period of ‘lockdown’ the challenges that we face are changing. From the initial ‘where will I get food?’ and ‘how will this affect my life and work?’ we’re now in a place where we are asking, ‘what can I do to support those frontline staff who are looking after us?’ and ‘how can I ensure my own long term wellbeing?’. The answer to the first question is partly to answer the second question, ie, that if we can keep ourselves well and not in need of additional NHS support, then that will itself be a tremendous help to stretched resources of the NHS and others. So simply following the government’s guidance on social distancing is a good start.
In my introduction to the service on Sunday, I made a parallel between our situation today and the people of Israel after they escaped from Egypt. After their initial struggles of escaping from Pharaoh’s army through the Red Sea, their first need was for food and water. God knew this, and so he provided them for his people – you probably remember the manna from heaven that came to them each morning and the quails that came for food at night (Ex 16). It must have been like Crunchy nut Cornflakes for breakfast every morning (they had plenty of goats’ milk!) and fried chicken at night! Wherever they went in the desert, God provided water for them (eg Ex 15 and 17). God also protected them from marauding warriors – the Amalekites – giving them victory over them in battle (Ex 17 again). So that was food, water and safety for the people of, Israel – their immediate, basic needs met.
I get the feeling from reading Exodus, that God wanted to get these practical things out of the way so that he could get down to the real business! Once these immediate needs were dealt with, what was God’s plan for his people? How did he want them to live, to be, to relate to one another and to him? Well, he told them all to get ready to hear from him, to wash and consecrate themselves and come to the mountain to await the unveiling of his plans. What did they include? A way for them to live in harmony with God and with one another. A set of guiding rules or principles that would allow them to live together with him in an honouring and a right way that would bring peace and wellbeing (‘Shalom’ in the Old Testament) to the whole community. That was what he gave them.
These included what we now call the ‘Ten Commandments’ (Ex 20) – still recognised as the greatest basis for human living ever written. They included turning away from false gods (Ex 20 v22-26) – our God is a jealous God! He doesn’t want us to be distracted or stolen away to false gods. They included sections about how to treat servants fairly (Ex 21); about justice, protection of property (Ex22), social responsibility (Ex22 v16ff) and about giving to God (Ex 22v30ff). About justice and mercy (Ex23) and the Sabbath rest (Ex 23v10ff). He then told them to have regular celebratory festivals three times a year (Ex23 v14ff), and to follow his guidance (Ex23v20ff). After a solemn ceremony (Ex24) God then gave detailed instructions about how regular worship should be rightly ordered (Ex25 to 31).
These show us God’s priorities after his people’s initial needs were dealt with, and perhaps many of these same priorities should hold true for us in this present time, when for many our basic initial needs are now being met. We should look for ways to relate well and kindly to other people, and finds way to do that, through whatever means we have – phones, internet, letters, chatting across the garden fence. We can look for ways to listen to God’s guidance and to worship him, through the TV or radio, through our online service, through reading his word. And we should try and find something to look forward to – a special celebration or something later in the year that we can start to plan. All of these will help us maintain our own wellbeing and that of our society too. What was good for the people of Israel then is good for us today too! Our heavenly Father knew that!
Rev Chris Stebbing