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Thursday, 26 March 2020

Renewed concern

I cannot help but wonder what the long time effect of Covid19 will be on our society. I recognise that there are some very serious negative consequences to all that is happening, but I want to remain hopeful that good will come of this too. 

In one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament, Joseph (aka Joseph and the Technicoloured Dream Coat) forgives his brothers for the wrong they have done to him. The story ends with this really beautiful moment of reconciliation where Joseph says to his brothers that what they meant for evil, God turned into good. (Genesis 50:20) 

I wonder what good God is working out in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic.

The final section of Paul's letter to the Philippians gives a little snapshot of the relationship between the imprisoned apostle and this little congregation in Philippi. He writes this: "I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it." (Philippians 4:11)

Paul's imprisonment affords the Philippians an opportunity to bless him. Part of Paul's reason for writing the letter is to thank the church for supporting him with his finances whilst he is under house arrest. The Roman prison system did not provide prisoners with meals and prisoners were dependent on family and friends to send them financial gifts otherwise they would go hungry. The Philippian church are responsible for meeting Paul's basic needs when he is unable to do so himself.
The language that Paul uses is that of "concern." Apparently, it's quite a tricky word to translate from the Greek as it is often more about "thinking" rather than "caring", but one really helpful commentary said that it "essentially equates to personal opinion fleshing itself out in action." I love this. I love the idea of the Philippians thinking about Paul being stuck in prison without the things that he needs and, instead of just letting that thought remain a thought in their heads, fleshing it out into a concrete action: the provision of money and food. 

I have seen so much of this in recent weeks. In amongst fear and panic and anxiety and stockpiling there are so many people "fleshing out" their thinking into positive action; there are so many people who are demonstrating love and concern and care for others, even when it is costly for them. 

Just this week, whilst we have been self-isolating with the girls, we have had phone calls, messages, cakes delivered through the window, and craft activities and compost left on the doorstep. Concern for us has been abundant, and we are so very grateful. Grateful, like Paul, that others have not just thought of us but have practically done something to turn that thinking into a reality.

What if part of the good that God is working out in this present moment is in the way that we think of and treat one another? Is in neighbours who have never spoken doing shopping for one another? Is in grandchildren taking the time to paint pictures to send to their elderly relatives? Is in stopping to chat (whilst respecting social distancing!) with the people that we see whilst going about our busy lives instead of ignoring them? In appreciating our National Health Service instead of complaining about how long we had to wait at the doctors?

There is a challenge for us in these words from Paul today, a challenge to "renew" our concern, to get thinking, to get creative, to ask God who it is that needs our help and then to help them. The King James translation of this verse if beautiful: "now at the last your care of me hath flourished again." Here's to being members of a society where the care that we have for each other is flourishing at last.

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