I was sent a post on my Facebook feed a couple of days ago that made me smile and think at the same time. It featured a photo of former United States President, Jimmy Carter. He was using a hand drill, working on some timber frames. He was dressed in working clothes with a baseball hat, his jeans, a padded shirt and jacket. Beneath the baseball hat you could see he was sporting a black eye and a plaster covered a cut above his eye.
The post read as follows:
This is Jimmy.
Jimmy is 95 years old.
Jimmy had brain cancer in 2015. Jimmy broke a hip in May 2019. Jimmy fell at home on Sunday requiring 19 stitches.
Jimmy showed up on Monday to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
Jimmy is a bad ass!
Without wishing to cause offence with the language in the post, it pointed out some of the important qualities of character that are part of President Carter’s approach to life. Whatever we might think of his policies or his presidency, it’s interesting to see that in retirement, he has dedicated his time to working with Habitat for Humanity, building houses and accommodation for families on low incomes who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
Jimmy Carter is a man whose Christian faith has always informed his approach to life and, indeed, he left the denomination of his upbringing because of their position on not allowing women into leadership positions in the church. He believed it was a violation of human rights and so, despite being a member for over 85 years, he made the decision to sever his ties with the denomination about 5 years ago.
As we journey into another lockdown and our church building is closed once more for public worship, there are a couple of things I think President Carter can show us that are important. The first is a willingness to serve. At the age of 95 he might well expect to take things a bit easier but, instead, as long as he has the skills and the energy, he wants to dedicate his life to helping those less fortunate than himself. He could pursue more lucrative and high profile positions. There would be possibilities, one might imagine, in serving on the board of corporations or delivering lectures or writing books, but he has chosen to live in relative anonymity helping out on these housing projects with Habitat for Humanity as a volunteer.
The second is the importance of character and principle. It can’t have been an easy decision to leave the denomination he had been part of all his life but, when they took decisions he believed to be contrary to the way of Jesus, he was prepared to sever his connection. I love the character of someone who, having overcome brain cancer and a broken hip in old age, was not prepared to let a fall and stitches prevent him from showing up to do more work on a Monday morning when undoubtedly his body must have been sore and stiff, but he could see the value of the work and how it might make a difference.
Last week, I reflected on the words in my own sermon, in particular some of the ideas of that renowned church reformer Martin Luther. He spoke of the priesthood of all believers and argued that our baptism was essentially the occasion of our ordination. It was the point when we were set apart to do God’s work in the world. What that meant in practice for Luther, was doing whatever we normally do, with one difference. We no longer do it for ourselves or our employer, but we do it for God. He described our hands as being God’s hands, whether those hands are operating a computer, making a meal, changing a nappy or tending the land. Whether we are running a company or trying to home school our family or keep people safe during a global pandemic. He spoke about people who pray and intercede for others. I think about these things in a time of a global pandemic. How can I lead the church more effectively during a time of lockdown? Is it about setting people free to see what they can do for God? Is it about inviting more people who may now have more time through the circumstances we are in to pray for others, to care for others through phone calls or cards?
Is it about providing tools and training to build up confidence to do whatever it is you do each day in God’s name and for God’s glory?
We have so many amazing volunteers in our church who have been doing incredible work over this past year, but it takes the whole congregation to catch the vision and widen the impact of Christ’s love on the world around us.
If I were spared to the age of 95, wouldn’t it be something to have something of the character of Jimmy Carter, to be willing to use whatever skills I might have in the service of others?. Wouldn’t it be something to have the courage of my convictions and speak up and act wherever I believe there to be injustice? Wouldn’t it be powerful to simply keep showing up and doing the little I could for God and for His glory?
This month sees the beginning of the season of Lent and, while we are not sure how our Lenten services will look just yet, we do have some important plans. In the first instance, in the light of so many people in our community being unwell with COVID-19 and other illnesses, would you be willing to pray confidentially for people who need our prayers at the present time? Would you be willing to pray for public figures like our Government and our scientific and medical advisers? Would you be willing to commit time to praying for our NHS workers, retail workers and delivery drivers who are providing essential services alongside those working in education, those trying to police the present lockdown and the many hidden unknown people who are continuing to shield and isolate and live in fear in the current pandemic? Could you commit to praying for our economy, for those who are furloughed or who have lost employment and are suffering financially? Can you pray and be part of a team from this place who might bless the local community through our prayers even if that very act is hidden from everyone else? If there are volunteers who get in touch I will endeavour to provide some simple principles and videos to help us do this important work together as we journey forward in faith together.
I also want to reassure everyone that we will endeavour to continue to provide services online and a dial-in service by phoning 028 9344 7225. We will continue to write blogs and publish our magazine with resources to encourage and help you in these difficult days.
Thank you for all your prayers and encouragement. We take heart from Jimmy Carter today and his simple faith-filled approach as we look forward in the coming months to the rolling out of the vaccine.
With very best wishes to everyone.
Jonathan Pierce (Rector)
Telephone 028 9079 3822