Sermon for Sunday, 24 May 2020
By Revd George Mwaura
Responding to the COVID-19 crisis: Psalm 46 and Luke 21:5–11
Let us pray together:
God of time and space, may your guiding spirit speak to us your reassuring words in these anxious times for our hearts are desperate for your consolation.
Now having been quarantined at home against our wishes has given us ample opportunity to study nature at our leisure. This is evidenced by the many posts from so many of you, especially Katherine Wheldon on the WhatsApp platform. (Thank you, Katherine.) We have watched with fascination and delight as the environment around us came to life. From a death-like slumber early this year, to shoots of green and now, leafy shrubs and trees spewing pollen and a riot of beauty as the plants flower in a manner only English gardens can display! See, we have mature trees in our back garden, and I have watched keenly the birds work as they gather material for their nests oblivious of the human struggles and anxieties all around them. Watching the natural rhythm of God’s world, you would not suspect that the world is thrashing and screaming as it struggles to come to grips with the most devastating pandemic for almost a hundred years.
As I prepare this sermon over 5 million people worldwide have been infected with Covid-19 and there has been over 400,000 deaths. Economies, including those of leading global powers like China and America have been severely impacted and the relationship between those in power and those governed will never be the same again. The capitalist supply chain has been exposed as fraud as we noted its inadequacy and failure to keep up with the supply of PPEs and ventilators. Everywhere you listen these days people are asking the same question: When is the lockdown going to end? When can we go back to the normal life we knew? But the question I want to ask you this morning is this? What was so normal in the days before Covid-19? And perhaps a secondary question: do we genuinely want to go back to that normal? Let us explore that for a minute, shall we? The normal in the days before the pandemic was a world where the rich got richer everyday by exploiting the poor and those on the margins. The normal we knew was a world ruled by technology giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook and mega supermarket chains driving the corner shop and small traders to extinction. The normal we knew were millions dying in third-world countries from malaria, AIDS, Ebola and other preventable and curable diseases and epidemics.
The normal we knew were horrible pictures of hungry, malnourished, and sick children on our television screens in Africa and Middle East. The normal we knew, were refugees crowding the borders of Turkey and Greece as they tried to enter Western Europe to find a better a life. The normal we knew were a million Rohingya Muslim refugees starving in a squalid camp in Bangladesh after being kicked out from their own country by their own government. The normal we knew was the earth groaning from toxic emissions, humans and birds choking from polluted air, marine life dying from eating plastics, and beautiful coral reefs dying from a rise in sea temperatures. The normal we knew was spending countless hours on traffic jams on our roads and thus reducing productivity. The normal we knew were divided churches, where people were more interested with power than discipleship. So, I ask again, is that the normal we want to go back to? Allow me to say: no way, nyet, apana, asha, Lord forbid ! And so, we must learn something from this pandemic; for if the truth be told, this is not the last pandemic we are going to see, and we certainly do not want to go back to that normal!
Granted, diseases and death are not new and have indelibly marked our experience since creation. In the beginning, there were no diseases, harmful germs, or pandemics. According to the book of Genesis, everything God created was exceptionally good. But things took a turn for the worse when sin came into the equation of our existence and through sin, along came death to us and creation became subject to futility. We read in our gospel lesson that nearing the end of his time on earth, Jesus referred to a period of increased pandemics together with other upheavals as a prelude to his second coming. And in the current corona atmosphere, some theological cowboys and some believers wonder if this is the time Christ spoke of. Now while natural catastrophes have always been a part of our narrative, I do not believe the time referred to by Jesus is now. But don’t take my word for it; just read Revelation 6 and you will see that many of the conditions cited by John have not been fulfilled.
The prophecies contained in the scriptures are emphatic that certain events must happen before that point is reached and so while the current global Corona pandemic sounds like one of the warnings Jesus was referring to, leading to a time of fear, trials and tribulations, this is most likely a warning shot. It is highly likely there is time before His return. That however should not give us a sense false hope; oh, no, no, no; it simply allows us a window of opportunity to prepare! No doubt, the virus will burn itself out or by God’s grace scientists will create a vaccine and we will come out of the spell the pandemic has had on our collective ways of lives. There will come a day and not so far in the distant future when we can resume work, go to church and fellowship together, take the children and grandchildren to school and other activities, and yes, even visit our favourite pub. There will come a day when we will get back to that new normal; but let us be crystal clear: this will not be an end to pandemics or suffering in our world.
So, what should our response be? What can we learn from this experience? In the gospel of Mark, Jesus freely gives us some advice on what we should be doing in these dark moments as we take stock of our close encounter with Covid-19. He said: Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time will come. Now, you and I or indeed anyone else out there, with an exception of the Revd Jim Jones, James Manson and other nutters, no one knows when Christ will return. But the command from Jesus is to watch and pray! But pray for what, one might ask? Here, Christ is referring to the prophet Ezekiel, who was told by God that he was like a watchman who stood on the walls of the city and warned the people of an approaching danger. He was to warn the people to get ready for an imminent siege and attack by the enemy as this could result in starvation and diseases to those under siege.
They were to take precautions and prepare in order to survive the calamity which would befall them. Jesus uses the same words to warn us to be attentive to the prevailing conditions of our times and to understand where we are in our relationship with God in his plans for our world. As we recover and take stock of the aftermaths of the Covid-19, we too need to desperately understand the signs of the time. If we read them correctly, they might prompt us to lead a more compassionate and considerate life: a life which is in tune with God’s mission for this world; a life that will make it possible to straighten the crooked roads of our society; a life that will reduce the inequality between the rich and the poor, to reduce the economic gap between the West and the global south. To lead responsible lives like good custodians of God’s creation and not like the hired hand who does not care if a sheep or two are eaten by the wolves. To lead a life that makes it possible for us to see the biotic creatures which God lovingly put on this earth to share with us protected, and not exploited for our short-time gratification. Above everything else, we will and must be provoked to fall and remain on our knees in prayers, searching God’s heart like King David so that we can re-establish that spiritual connection which we have lost:-a connection of love with our creator and his creation. Globally, millions stare at a future without security in employment or health. This by itself is enough to cause panic and thereby open the doors to fear, worry and selfishness. But as we re-learn how to trust God in this crisis, he will provide us the building blocks we urgently need to manage our spiritual and emotional wellbeing. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Kairos moment for the Church and the world at large. The creator is throwing humanity a lifeline and Christ is firing a warning shot: Wake up, watch, and wait! Friends, let us seek God while we still can.