Adrian McCartney


20 May

The present is a gift.


Ignoring ideas of theatre and TV,

to act means to do something,

to react means to respond in a particular way OR to undergo a chemical or physical change

(now that is an interesting idea – a reaction that means a change in me, rather than a response from me)

There is a very curious moment in John chapter 11 when Jesus appears to not react, or maybe does react but not in the way we would imagine he should.  The moment is when he hears from Mary and Martha, two of his dearest friends, that their brother Lazarus is very ill. 

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Can you imagine having that depth of peace and certainty about the purposes of God?  The risk involved in waiting.  Jesus really is the best.

Back to you and me.  Do you remember when the rumour of pandemic was interpreted as a worldwide shortage of toilet paper?  Reaction.  I have never met anyone who rushed to Tesco, but mysteriously every shelf except the birthday cards was emptied.  Even the couscous went.  Are people plastering their walls with it?  Best thing for it, in my humble opinion, but I digress.  Last Sunday on the news there was a beach with thousands of people on it and one interviewee said how disappointed they were that so many people were here.  We don’t seem able to include ourselves in the herd–thinking.  It is like we are doing the right thing and everyone else is the herd.  Yesterday there were people who had never been in a garden centre before queued up outside garden centres to get in, just because we had been told we could.  Or what about taking a flask of tea and a picnic and sitting outside a recycling centre for a day out?

It makes you think that this is why the government spokespeople are so reluctant to tell us what we can do at every 0.1 movement of the mysterious R, because we will react immediately (or even sooner) to every hint of possibility to rush back to where we were before.

So, what is it with Jesus and his ability to wait?  I think it may have had something to do with his lockdown in the wilderness.  He had conquered his fears and weaknesses.  Remember those “temptations”?  One of them was to take shortcuts, to rush to success, to clutch at the next thing.  But he had it licked and was now driven by patience.  Now there is a cute idea, driven by patience…waiting intentionally for God’s purposes to unfold.

Back to you and me again.  The government has helpfully told us we can do drive–in church.  I am not sure when the government suddenly became all spiritual and worship–centred?  I believe they have and should have total control of restrictions and the lifting of those restrictions for the sake of public health.  They are completely within what we expect of them to tell us about use of our buildings, but style of worship????  They can tell fishing people the limits on space while fishing, but they can’t tell them what bait to use.  That is the skill of a fisher–person, not a public health official statement.  I am not talking revolution here, just common sense, and a wariness of setting the herd into a stampede (remember Lion King). 

Like Jesus I think the church needs to be learning more about itself in the present situation and its role in the herd.  We follow Jesus, which means that at times we have to stand out from the herd, promoting grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, healing, generosity, and spiritual reality.  We must not be swerved from our call.  Living or organising right to the limits of the restrictions is herd–mentality, not the prayerful shalom–filled seeking after God.  I know this sounds ridiculous, but within the restrictions we could meet along riverbanks at two–metre intervals, or, if we could get a load of Lairds rowing boats, we could have an open–air service in Bangor Marina.  I wonder where we could get the boats…. Let us once again settle ourselves to seek after God in these precious moments of pain and struggle.  There is yet more to learn about our future.  The present is a gift.

Could I make a comment about R?  R is a mathematical value that measures the rate at which we infect one another.  If it goes up we infect each other faster, more people get ill, more people have to wait for other procedures, more people have to worry about their jobs and businesses, more people have to work in dangerous situations and more people die.  R is the rate at which we infect one another – infect one another.  Covid19 does not have feet or wings – it requires us to infect one another.  The herd wants to turn R into the green light for how much fun we can now have.  R could become a measure of how shallow we have become, both society and church.

Let’s turn our hearts again to the possibility of

·       a renewed Adrian (feel free to enter your own name) rather than a patched–up old one.

·       a renewed herd rather than a patched–up old one.

·       a renewed church rather than a lifted–restriction–driven one.

God of the prayerful, shalom–filled reaction, please give us your patience to wait for those now moments rather than grasp for the most immediate.

Lazarus could have been healed if Jesus had rushed.  He was raised from the dead because Jesus waited.   True freedom is not found doing what we want, it is found doing what we ought.