From the Minister’s Desk

This week, that feels like such a momentous, historical week, when the world we know seems to be turned on its head. I received the following devotional titled, “Fearful Empathy” by UCC Minister, the Reverend Mary Luti and dated March 14, 2020. 

Psalm 91: 5-6 reads thus:
Do not fear the terror of night,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at noonday.
       – Psalm 91: 5-6

The Bible is always telling us not to be afraid. There are over 40 passages of Scripture that speak to us: “Do not be afraid.”
And that’s because there’s so much real stuff to be afraid of.
Eskom; the Rand; the economy; your bank account; cost of living; this year’s Winter Flu; and now the Corona virus…
This has led to the panicked emptying of shelves in stores, stock markets tanked, leaders dithered and squirmed through the week, and the elderly appear to die day in and day out.
Life is scary enough in ordinary times. It’s so much scarier now.
Again the Bible exhorts us again, “Don’t be afraid!” 

And yet people are. Even Bible-believing people. Some are downright terrified, hoarding enough toilet paper to last till 2029.
Maybe you’re heeding both the Bible and good scientific information. Maybe you’re feeling reassured and calm. Maybe you are also feeling panicky, too. But here’s the thing: Fear is fear, and human beings are what we are. All of us by nature are vulnerable and exposed.
So admit it — aren’t you also just a little bit afraid?
No matter how much you know, or how often you wash your hands, don’t you also feel foreboding? I know I do. – Rev. Mary Luti, UCC.
A drastic spike in the infection rate could find us all at home quarantined and without work, too.
That would put our jobs at risk. Don’t under-estimate the impact!
A friend, Anglican priest, Father Michael Worsnip, penned the following excellent piece on his Facebook wall, and he has expressly granted me permission to re-post it for you. So here it is in unexpurgated form: 

Fr. Michael Worsnip:
THE BOAT AND THE SEA
I’m afraid I can’t help it. Try as I may not to, given a crisis, my default is to go into theological mode. (It is, after all, the only thing I’m actually trained to do!) So bear with me if you will, or page on.
I’m not at all surprised that the churches have reacted, primarily, through the soft lens of their own institutions, as their high priority in the unfolding of the Corona Virus crisis. (Maybe there is something, somewhere that I am unaware of and I’d be more than delighted to be proved wrong).
But what I have seen – besides, of course the usual lunatics saying Corona is caused by homosexuality – is churches failing to consider, as the priority, the impact of the virus outside of their doors. And, although, in my opinion unforgivable, this is not unexpected. Because the Church remains, almost before everything else, an institution.
So what I read is the Church issuing pastoral letters and instructions about not shaking hands during the Peace; about the care priests need to take when delivering the wafer during the communion into the hands of the recipient, rather than on the tongue; and if, for some reason, the wafer must be delivered on the tongue, then for the priest to take extra care not to be in contact with saliva;
Furthermore, blessings need to be given in a non-tactile way; The Pope has bemoaned the fact that he feels caged. (Where does he live again? Oh yes, he lives in the Vatican!) 

It’s all, of course, complete hogwash. Because it doesn’t deal with the blatantly obvious fact, that congregants should actually be advised to stay at home until the crisis is over and be helped to deal with the impending crisis practically.
One of my favourite New Testament stories is the one where Jesus walks on the water. (I love those stories, which are so obviously just that – stories!)
The story is found in Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; and John 6::16-21. Luke leaves the story out completely, but Matthew, Mark and John all record it, directly after the (equally memorable) story about the loaves and the fishes.
The story of the walking on the water is based on a very firm textual tradition, because the exact order of events is retained in all of the Gospels which record it. (It’s also interesting to note that exactly the same words are used by John later on in his Gospel (Jn 21:1), where it is clear from the context, that Jesus is walking on the seashore, not on the sea itself).
The long and the short of it is, in the way in which the story is told, Jesus was trying to escape the crowds. He wanted him and his disciples to go to “a lonely place, by themselves” (Mk 6:32). But the crowds spotted where they were headed and ran on foot to get ahead of them.
Then, as crowds are wont, they needed feeding. And after they got fed, Jesus tried another escape tactic and sent his disciples by boat to meet him on the other side of the lake.
According to Mark and Matthew, he went up a mountain, on his own, to pray. (And maybe one needs to make careful note here, of how he wanted an escape even from his disciples. Mass gatherings; eager and adoring crowds; sycophantic followers – these are often considered by Jesus to be profound hindrances to communion with God).
Well, things didn’t go as planned for the disciples. Their boat was caught in “a contrary wind” and they were battling to make any headway at all. And this is when they see Jesus prancing about in the sea.
So, if you take this story out of any kind of historical context (because quite obviously it isn’t historical!) and you read it as a post-resurrection story – then suddenly, rather than some kind of conjurer’s trick, it suddenly gains import and meaning.
The boat is the early Church. The disciples are in the Church. The Church has the strong wind of persecution blowing against it and they are battling to make any headway at all. They feel as though they have been completely abandoned by Jesus. He is nowhere to be seen.
And then, suddenly. Suddenly, they see him, in an entirely unexpected place. The sight terrifies them. They think they are seeing a ghost.
He calms them down. And then, in Matthew’s Gospel, he calls Peter out of the boat, into the sea.
Suddenly the point of the story becomes clear. The sea is the world. The safety of the boat should not be where the church should want to remain.
So Corona, and dealing with it, should not be about putting lips to chalices or shaking hands during the peace. It should be assisting the state, in every possible way, for the inevitable disaster which is going to come.
When I left the Church, my first job outside of it, was working in the pre-stages of the HIV pandemic, in KwaZulu-Natal. I met a Bishop, (who really does not deserve naming), in a supermarket fairly soon after my departure. He exchanged pleasantries. “Where are you now?” he asked, without any real interest.
I told him I was working in the field of HIV and Aids. He did a funny little feigned running and hiding routine, on hearing my news – and somehow expected me to play along with his joke.
I didn’t. I told him he was a fool and he would soon be made to realize how much of a fool he was. Because the pandemic hadn’t yet decimated his diocese and he was too stupid to see that it would.
This is no time for the Church to carry on riding in a boat. The Church needs to jump into the storm.”
– Michael Worsnip 

This is no time for the Church to carry on riding in a boat. It needs to jump into the storm.
This pandemic has the potential to decimate the church – and we should not be too stupid to see that it could.
Let’s be unafraid. Because this is what faith enables in us. “Do not be afraid!” Don’t be foolish or reckless either.
It would be great if we were all at our rational best right now. But we’re not. We’d be okay if we all rose brilliantly to this occasion… 

But we won’t.
So the next best thing is to dismount our high horses, summon some empathy from that quavering place inside us where we too feel afraid, cut each other some slack, and just be kind.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, let’s just be kind.
Be kind to neighbours down the street; to colleagues in the office; the petrol attendant; the cashier at Spar; the person on the bus who cannot restrain the urge to cough; to loved ones within our circle; to workers and managers; to the elderly and to children. Be. Kind. Be neighbourly. Love. Do not be afraid. 

This is what faith compels of us. 

Prayer
If you can’t make us unafraid, O God, at least make our fears a bridge to others, an empathetic tie that binds us to each other, in love and in solidarity. And help us to be agents of healing in your world. Amen.

END 




REV. CRAIG G. MORRISON 

ST. COLUMBA’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

327 HILDA ST, HATFIELD, PRETORIA

012 430 2719 

Published by St. Columba's Presbyterian Church Hatfield

St Columba's Presbyterian Church in Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa is a Christian Church. Our vision is to be a Christ-centred, bible-believing church that calls all to come and experience the love of Christ, in a welcoming and caring body of believers.

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