Let me share a story with you. It was October 1987 and a major Christian Rally was being held in a large tent in a Victorian town. Saturday had been planned for many months as an all day Youth Rally with bands all day and a combined churches gathering on Saturday under the big tent.
During every event a ‘Prayer Caravan’ parked close by had people covering the whole time in prayer. Saturday was a perfect sunny day and the evening promised to be a great event. As the evening progressed the prayer warriors in the caravan heard a strong wind blow up that buffeted the small caravan. They began to pray more earnestly that a sudden thunderstorm would not disrupt the rally. The wind became even stronger and the ladies involved peeked outside to check on what damage may have been inflicted on the grounds. To their amazement the evening was as good as the day had been. Not a breath of wind outside and no one outside that caravan had noticed even a zephyr of a breeze. The night was an answer to prayer and rounded off a great week.
Crazy story! I would hardly believe it, except that the person who organised the event and was on site for every moment of the week was me; and one of the people in that caravan was my lovely wife, Veronica. What was really going on that night, I guess we will never know.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all togther in the one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Acts 2:1, 2
Christian history is full of wild stuff and probably explains why I spend a deal of my time struggling to understand why so much of ‘church’ today is anything but?
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:37-39
This reading for Pentecost Sunday always takes me back to the vision given to Ezekiel:
“Wherever the river goes every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” Ezekiel 47:9-12
Ezekiel is given a vision of waters flowing out of the temple of God into the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47:1-12) and the water there becomes fresh and gives life to every living creature. Everything will live where the water goes!
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16
Do you not know?
As I continue to have computer problems this week (she came home for less than an hour and then had to return for further care, and the prognosis is not promising), I hand over the rest of this week’s Newsletter to our Deputy Chair, and all round good fellow, Stephen Nicholson to give you some news, particularly in regard to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
We are in the middle of Reconciliation Week [Link 1 below], which is book-ended by anniversaries of:
Despite these significant steps, there are still significant multi-generational psychological and cultural trauma and disadvantage among Australia’s First Peoples. As the people of God engaged in His work of reconciliation and care for the marginalised, this is an area for us to show our ongoing support. As a starting point, we can show our respect by listening to their stories and learning from them. When it is safe to do so, get to share in their public events, sitting alongside as students.
We read in the Hebrew Scriptures of recurring disasters (epidemics, droughts, famines, etc) being understood as a call from God for repentance and turning again to Him.
How do we interpret this COVID-19 pandemic? What is God saying to us, and what does He call us to do and say within His creation? No one person has the full answers to those questions, but I will provide some reflections on this later. But first, how can we return to physically meeting as the body of Christ in this time?
Risk can be viewed from two angles – the severity of the consequences, and the likelihood of the risk happening. Risk management ideally seeks to reduce both the severity and likelihood.
At a community level the social isolation actions by governments in Australia appear to have reduced the severity - the rate of community transmission has fallen significantly, giving time to build up hospital treatment and medical supplies capacities.
But at an individual level, many of us within the Presbytery congregations are in vulnerable groups for whom the personal consequences are likely to be severe, and potentially fatal. It is hard to reduce the severity of the consequences at this level.
So, how do we reduce the likelihood? One strategy is the development and administration of a vaccine. This is an area of a large amount of research, with the ideal vaccine protecting against infection, preventing its spread, and at the same time doing so safely. There are no guarantees of quick success (Why we might not get a coronavirus vaccine), be wary of media reports. The fastest vaccine ever developed was for mumps, and this took four years. For a vaccine to be effective, there has to be widespread usage – ideally all those attending church meetings (worship, Bible Studies, social and Op Shop etc) ought to be vaccinated once the vaccine is available.
How can we reduce the likelihood until there are widespread levels of immunisation? In simple terms we need to stop any airborne or surface transmission. This becomes complicated when we examine this closely.
Airborne transmission can be through:
Proper usage of face masks by everyone present can reduce the likelihood of airborne transmission but singing while wearing a mask is problematic.
Surface transmission can occur through:
Returning to meeting together again?
I am not sure which of stages 1, 2 or 3 we are at right now. At any one moment it seems to be an amalgam of all three. The question being asked by our members is when we can go back to our regular Sunday worship gatherings? This is exacerbated by news that some other churches may already be rushing back, while some are taking a more staged approach. Some illustrations:
Reality is that we are not at this time wanting to go back due to the constraints laid upon such gatherings. It is not simply a matter of maintaining social distancing. As above, all points of contact will need to be wiped down regularly. Social distance has to be maintained and a register taken of people attending. A toilet regime will entail a thorough cleaning after every visit to the toilet, and the list goes on.
There is wisdom in
Do not change your behaviour to avoid being infected.
Assume you are infected and change your behaviour to avoid transmitting.
While for most of the time our precautions will not actually be needed, we need to be consistent in practising them – just in case.
It is tricky – as the number of new infections declines, we can become complacent about the precautions against infection. Yet there will be further waves of infection, in unexpected places.
We need to be cautious about returning to meet. We are grateful for people at our Synod who are examining these issues in detail. While we may not be keen on their recommendations to defer meeting together, they continue to do us great service by giving guidance that protects us from the risk of harming ourselves or others. It is anticipated that Synod will release specific guidance soon relating to returning to meeting together again.
I do not have a gardening story like John Thornton. Instead, six months ago I went rafting on the King River, near Queenstown in Tasmania. I had booked and paid in advance, including paying for photographs. On the morning we were required to sign waivers for responsibility by the operators – is that meant to inspire trust and confidence?
Anyway, I had a wonderful time, but despite several requests, I had not received the photographs. A couple of weeks ago I tried again, and received them, and it was great in this time of social isolation to be reminded of the joy I had rafting. In the photograph below I am on the right.
God’s People in a time of Pandemic – Part 2
Being in isolation has parallels with being in the wilderness, and the Bible has many stories of people in the wilderness or a journey wrestling with deep issues that can be ignored in everyday life. Some examples:
This time of physical isolation provides us with more opportunities of quietness to sense God’s presence. Of meditating on our personal experience of His awesome loving mercy. Written for another time, the words of Matt Redman’s song The Heart of Worship seem apt:
When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come;
longing just to bring something that's of worth that will bless Your heart.
I'll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within through the way things appear;
You're looking into my heart.
I'm coming back to the heart of worship,
and it's all about You, it's all about You, Jesus.
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it, when it's all about You,
it's all about You, Jesus.
King of endless worth, no one could express how much You deserve.
Though I'm weak and poor, all I have is Yours, ev'ry single breath.
We are the Body of Christ – the physical presence of God on Earth. We read in the Bible that at times God acted in miraculous ways, and at other times through His servants. Today in Christ we serve Him in prayer and action. In a time of physical distancing, how do we share God’s loving mercy with others in His world? Who needs us to be God’s presence with them? The answers will be different for each of us.
This Sunday we remember the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered the first disciples. We too find the guidance and power we need in God’s Spirit today.
This and other recent Presbytery Newsletters can be found on
Mid North Coast Presbytery – Latest News webpage