The week in focus
Connecting to the world right now
Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues
Look wide; look deep; ask, ‘Could we do better?’ (Luke 3.7-18)
I’m beginning to feel sorry for our politicians. Faced with a new and vicious Covid variant, after a miserable eighteen months, and just before Christmas, what do you do?
Time to do better? Should we be more public-spirited, shift the focus outward? If so, how?
- Find independence? John the Baptist withdrew into the wilderness. Tony Blair, a retired politician, has his own platform to promote his message. Speaking from the self-assurance of wealth he is different from John the Baptist enjoying the strange freedom of total poverty. Does this matter, if it’s a way to shake off dependence on popularity?
- Look to science? Scientists seem more humble, cautious and downbeat than politicians. Do we, both politicians and public, need to stop pretending that we are in control and, like John’s frightened hearers, admit we have gone wrong?
- Change attitudes? All over the world, some of the best scientific minds and the finest scientific and medical facilities, have studied the virus, and produced beneficial drugs and amazing vaccines. How is it that the response to their identification of Omicron has raised so much resentment among South Africans? Do the same specious claims to racial superiority as led John the Baptist to deride his listeners’ claim to be ‘children of Abraham’ flourish in Europe and America?
- Be more generous? John demands sharing. But the pledges of rich nations to share vaccines have been broken. And we, their populations, benefit.
- Hold others to account? John demanded honesty from officials and leadership in upholding the law from soldiers. How honest and law abiding are those currently exercising power and influence among us?
- And yet…are present media glee and politicians’ fury any more than a welcome distraction from contemplating our common human imperfection and its sad consequences?
Closer to home, decisions may decide our plausibility as a sign of the ‘good news’! Here’s a fictionalised version of the dilemma faced by a church I know. It has relaxed its Covid precautions:
Most of its congregation is well over sixty and fully vaccinated. One younger member, a nurse, is delighted to be able to sing again, and to be free of PPE in church as she cannot be at work. But some elderly members have never shed their masks. One is asking to re-instate more Covid precautions before Christmas. Prioritising the security of the vulnerable will require a sacrifice of freedom in worship. Will the spontaneous joy of Christmas also be lost? Though we may try, with everyone affected, impartiality is impossible. Will the solution be clearer when we look through the lens, not of John’s human anger, but of the divine love, shown in his successor, the Christ Child?
- Are we guilty of ‘othering’ the young, foreigners, or politicians, in order to shift blame to them?
- Should we regret accepting those boosters which might otherwise have gone abroad?
Brenda Vance is a retired university teacher and URC elder living in Sussex.
Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people
The crowds who came to see John at the riverbank seemed to think they were alright. They had nothing to worry about. They were descendants of Abraham and so no harm would come to them.
John warned them that action was required. The primary purpose of the acts of kindness which John suggested was their own well being. Sharing what they had would improve their own relationship with God but it would also have an even greater effect: improve the lives of those with whom they were sharing. Greater even than that, by more people sharing and the levelling up of people’s possessions etc the whole of community life would be improved.
In the context of the omicron variant this teaching has a challenging relevance. Kindness and sharing are always important and, particularly as we approach Christmas when people may not have as much to share as they usually have, there is a need for kindness and generosity. However many people seem to be responding to the omicron variant in a way similar to the crowds. For whatever reason they feel that they will be ok and so do not concern themselves with the health of others and the community. Mask wearing is considered unnecessary and distancing over the top and yet seeing the needs for these and other public health guidelines is a contemporary version of Luke 3 10-17. It protects the mask wearer; it protects those with whom he or she comes into contact and it protects the community and leads to a stronger sense of well being.
What do you think John the Baptist would say to “a brood of vipers” facing the omicron variant?
How have you responded to the news of the variant spreading?
Stuart Wild is a Methodist minister in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire
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