The possible impossible
Sitting in my study is a modern icon, a picture of the Reverend Florence Li Tim Oi. You may have heard of her, but probably not.
As a priest she served a congregation in Japanese-occupied Macau, near Hong Kong, during the second world war. She served faithfully, despite being in constant danger of being arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the invading Japanese. A remarkable woman.
But that’s not the only reason she’s remarkable, and not why she’s remembered in the Anglican cycle of prayer. Or why an icon was painted of her. Or why I have a copy of the icon in my study. Li Tim Oi was the first ordained woman priest in the Anglican Communion – she was ordained in January 1944 by my grandfather, Bishop RO Hall, Bishop of Hong Kong.
His ordaining her was hugely controversial, and the ramifications, after the war, were significant. But he did it so that Christian worshipping communities in Macau would not be deprived of the sacraments during wartime.
I don’t know whether I’m more inspired by my grandfather’s courageous action in ordaining Li Tim Oi, knowing how much trouble it would get him into back in the UK, or by Li Tim Oi’s courage in serving as a brand-new priest in near-impossible war-torn circumstances.
What I do know is that when I read in my grandfather’s biography about each of them, tears are never far from my eyes. Where did they each get their courage from? Where do we get our courage from?
At the start of the book of Joshua – we find Moses’ successor facing the near-impossible task of stepping into Moses’ shoes, and leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land – and we read of him hearing God’s words to him – three times over
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
These words spoken to Joshua remind us that God doesn’t give us impossible tasks so that he can stand by and watch us fail. Rather, those humanly impossible tasks mean we have no choice but to rely on him, and so the glory goes to him, and not to us.
They also remind us that no task is impossible for God, and he will give us all we need so that with him working in and through us, the task becomes possible. Which is something we all need to remember more than ever, as church leaders and disciples, here in 2020.
How on earth are we to be church in these impossible Covid times? How on earth are we to turn our shrinking Sunday congregations into thriving refreshed worshipping communities? How on earth are we to plant many fresh worship communities so that many new disciples of Jesus are made, and we see our neighbourhoods and communities transformed by the love of Jesus?
It’s impossible surely. But not for God.
Li Tim Oi no doubt frequently felt that her situation was impossible. My grandfather no doubt asked himself daily how on earth the church could survive the Japanese occupation. Maybe they both turned to these first verses of Joshua, to be reminded that nothing is impossible with God.
What impossibilities are you facing? Who are you praying for who is finding life impossible?
Hear God’s words to Joshua today…
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
(North East Hub)