Editorial: Why I scrapped my sermon
As so often in writing editorials for Reform, I find myself on the other side of big events from you. There have been, as I write, 1,395 cases of coronavirus confirmed in the UK, and I have had to change that number in course of writing this page. With 30% of those cases coming in the last 24 hours, and the level in Italy now at nearly 25,000, our situation is obviously going to get much worse.
The UK is taking a more light-handed approach than other countries, and so far the only instruction to healthy individuals is to keep washing our hands. Organisations though are taking their own precautions. The United Reformed Church Mission Council in March was cancelled, along with synod meetings. Two festivals that I was due to speak at have also been cancelled. Trains and roads in London seem half empty, apparently because everyone is in the supermarkets, queuing out of the door for things like toilet roll and pasta – despite the fact that the only shortage of those things is because they’re buying so much of them.
On Sunday, I had a cracking sermon prepared on the Gospel reading about the woman at the well. Hopefully that can wait till the reading comes around again in three years, because I realised a bit late in the day that my sermon had nothing to say about our present crisis and so turned to the Psalm of the day instead, number 95.
What I found helpful was how it started by turning our attention away from our anxieties towards God and his world – the depths of the earth, the seas and mountains. All these are in his hands; his attention is on everything that he has made. Turning our attention to this much bigger picture is not an escape from our own worries but it puts them in the right context, which can perhaps quieten them a little.
The Psalm also takes us through thanksgiving, which is so important to our wellbeing when we are anxious, to bowing down in humble prayer for ourselves and others, which we are now better prepared for, perhaps, than we were at the beginning. The Psalm reminds us that we are the sheep of God’s pasture – led to still waters, even if it is through the valley of the shadow.
Unexpectedly, the Psalm ends with a history lesson: do not be like the children of Israel that God lost patience with because in the hardships of the wilderness they wanted to turn back to Egypt. I take this as a call to keep on with our Christian lives. Jesus tells us that we don’t make tomorrow better by spending today panicking. We make tomorrow better by spending today thinking of others, helping out those who need it, turning our attention to God, and carrying on.
This article was published in the April 2020 edition of Reform