“I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.”
(Revelation 2:13 NIVUK)
In the last few months our church community has lost three people who have, in many ways, been pillars of our church. Val Cottee, Mo Davies and then most recently Michael Ross-Watson have all passed away, and it has left people feeling not only a deep sense of sadness that they are no longer with us, but also a sense that their passing has created a large void in the life of our church. Val brought to our church a huge pastoral heart, being a spiritual mum to so many different people in our community, along with a deep love for the Bible and an ability to communicate it to others. Mo had an enduring love for some of the most hurting people in our society, those with special needs, those dying of cancer, those not know where their next meal was coming from, as well as a deeply rooted but quietly expressed faith and confidence in God. And Michael had such an enormous father heart, a willingness to do sometimes outrageous things in support of those in need, and a unique ability to communicate God's heart through his preaching. Each one represents a huge loss to our community.
So how do we respond? With sadness undoubtedly. But beyond that is it time for us to be worried, to be anxious, to be fearful, or is God asking for a different response from us?
Well as we've been going through Jesus letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, I've been struck in particular about one encouragement from Jesus to the church in a place called Pergamum. It relates to a guy called Antipas who has been martyred there for his faith, and the way the church has responded. We don't know too much about Antipas, although one church tradition holds that he was the bishop of Pergamum and was burnt alive in a bull shaped altar for casting demons out of people! What we do know is that Jesus commends the church for the way they have responded to his death.
As I've prayed and reflected on this it's reminded me that we don't get to choose what happens to us in life, but we do get to choose how we respond. It makes me think of God telling Joshua not to be terrified or discouraged, but to choose to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9). Joshua had to make a choice as to how he was going to respond to the challenges he faced, as did the church in Pergamum as they faced up to the death of Antipas. The same is true of us as we respond to the loss of these three. As I've prayed I've felt a couple of ways God has been encouraging us to respond.
The first is that along with our sadness and grief, God would want us carry an even greater sense of thankfulness and gratitude that we ever got to know Val, Mo and Michael. It is quite possible to imagine a world where we never got to meet any of them. Let's make time to stop and thank God that we did get to meet them, to recognise the impact they had on us, and the legacy that they've left in our lives. God commands us to "give thanks in all circumstances" so let's do that. Val, Mo and Michael were an incredible gift to so many of us. Let's be thankful for the life God breathed into each of them, for the time and energy they invested in many of us, for the love and the gifts God gave them, for their generosity, their courage and whatever else God brings to mind as you think about them.
Secondly God would encourage each one of us to begin to step into the void which Val, Mo and Michael have left. Somebody wrote to me this week to say what a father figure Michael had been to him. I wrote back encouraging him to take that legacy, and rather than mourning the loss of that input into his life begin to think about how he can now begin to be a father to those around him. The natural progression of life is that sons and daughters grow up to become fathers and mothers. That's what God wants from those of us who have benefitted from Val, Mo and Michael being spiritual mothers and fathers to us. We now need to be those who step into the gap they have left. We'll each do that in our own unique way based on who we are and how God has gifted us. God isn't looking from clones of Val, Mo or Michael but for people willing to be who God has created them to be. As we do that the church will flourish and grow into the next generation.
And for those of you who didn't know any of these three, there will be people in your world who have been spiritual mothers and fathers to you too. Please take time to thank God for them, and to think about how God wants you to be to others what they have been to you.
I hope that's helped somebody.