We live in confusing times*. There is so much to celebrate at the moment, especially if you are English. Our national football team is doing rather better than expected in the World Cup leading to a growing national hysteria and expectation that “football’s coming home.” I think we’d better make sure we leave a key under the mat if it does come home because I suspect the country will be out celebrating.
In 2018 we are celebrating centenaries: 100 years since the first women were given the right to vote; 100 years since the end of World War 1; 100 years since the RAF was founded (I’ve just watched the amazing fly-past on TV); and for Baptist Christians it’s 100 years since the first woman Minister was called to a church (Edith Gates).
And right as I type the news has come out that the 12 Thai boys and their football coach have all been successfully rescued from the cave complex in which they were trapped (while poignantly remembering the diver who died in the process).
And at the same time there is so much to lament at the moment: Over 140 people have been killed in Japan by severe flooding and we’re entering Hurricane season in the Caribbean with the threat of damage and loss of life there; refugees and migrants are dying and being turned away and ignored; there seems to be a lot of political turmoil across the world and whatever you think of it the word ‘Brexit’ seems to be associated with growing uncertainty about the future for the UK.
What are we supposed to do in confusing times like this? One moment we are cheering and rejoicing and the next we are lamenting and crying. Can we switch from one to the other with integrity? It’s not easy. Yet to carry on with one when the other is happening seems to lack emotional integrity and empathy – laughing and cheering while some are weeping seems heartless.
Writing to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul encouraged them to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) Taken out of context that suggests to me that we are being told to react how those around us are reacting and take our cue from them. But the phrase is part of a wider section of the letter where Paul is teaching about how we should be in relationship with one another. It’s a passage that encourages humility, self-sacrifice, an honest appraisal and use of the gifts we have to bless others, and loving one another.
This is not an emotional, mushy love. Nor is it a lustful, erotic love. It’s a practical love that sees others how God sees them, values everyone for who they are and supporting and helping one another way beyond the superficial ways in which we relate to one another today. When we do that (allowing God’s Spirit to grow that sort of approach within us) we will find that we rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn because we know them so well. It’s natural.
Of course that doesn’t work for national and international events really does it? In those circumstances I hope that I am sufficiently alert to God’s Spirit within me that God’s reaction resonates within me and I respond empathetically and prayerfully to what is happening. The closer we are to God and the more responsive we are to his Spirit in us, the more we will be able to do this. In circumstances where I am unsure, we are told that God’s Spirit interprets our inner groans and translates them into prayers for us.
So don’t be afraid to allow yourself to celebrate with others who are celebrating or to weep with those who are weeping, even if you don’t share their excitement or sorrow about the events to which they are responding. By doing so you are not being shallow. In fact I think you are showing God-style love to them and deepening your relationship with them.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*For those of you who didn’t get this, ‘smite’ is an anagram of ‘times’ – ie ‘confusing times’