Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The more this pandemic goes on – the more it reveals both the madness and the weakness of humanity. I came across this extraordinary quote from Michael Mosley – son of a C of E bishop – and a British documentary maker and science journalist. When asked if what he had seen had shaken his faith in anything at all, he responded by dissing politicians and then adding this”
“I do have faith that science will deliver, that we will have a vaccine, and that we’ll be able to get back to normal. Because if that isn’t true, then it’s going to be horrendous. It’s reinforced my faith in the power of science to respond to crisis. I believe science will come to our rescue ultimately”.
It’s ironic that a science journalist makes a statement which is so unscientific. I believe in science. Science has to deliver. Because otherwise we are stuffed! Talk about a blind faith. It’s also somewhat short-sighted to want to return to a ‘normal’ which was so wrong for so many people in so many ways.
Speaking of which – I am really missing normal preaching. I’ve had my share of zoom – both speaking and listening. This past Sunday I had the joy of being at Sassoon New Life Presbyterian Church – it is a large Korean church as you can tell by the building.
You turn up and there are yellow jacketed stewards in the massive car park – you enter a cavernous building, by pass the men in suits and head past the main sanctuary (where the main Korean service was being held) and into a side room that is the size of many churches. There was a presider, three sound and vision people, a greeter and a praise band for the English service. The congregation was online, so I have no idea how many were ‘in attendance’. Nor do I know whether they were all Korean, young or how they responded to my preaching on a very difficult passage (for today’s culture) – Romans 1. I enjoyed the people I met and largely preaching to the worship band! But I hate preaching to camera. For so many reasons – not least that preaching is interactive – or as we might put it in the theological jargon – incarnational.
There is nothing to beat the preaching of the Word, in the flesh, by the Spirit! It’s great to have reading and other means of communication, but incarnational preaching is the primary means the Lord uses, both too convert and to build up. It is by the foolishness of preaching that people are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21).
I am however thankful that preachers, being dead, can yet still speak! Richard Sibbes has in a sense been my pastor for the past months. This morning I read this in his sermon on 2 Corinthians 1:15
“Personal presence has more efficacy than writing (the Internet). For there the holy things that are delivered, they are, as it were, acted to the life. Men are wondrously affected when they see gracious things delivered with life and feeling: It has a wonderous lively working…….it is wonderous good praying for others, and writing to others; but presence, when the minister is the mouth of God with them and to them, their mouth to God, to pray together with them, and God’s mouth, to speak to them, this presence is of a wonderous efficacy.”
I heard a preacher telling other preachers that because of the Internet what they preached just now, or what they did in Bible study, online – was going to be around in 100 years. He compared it to Martin Luther. I understand his point but if you stop to think about it – it’s not really true. Yes – in theory people may be able to access our words in 100 years – but in reality, most of us are preaching into a cyberspace ocean which will quickly forget everything we have said. Preachers who think that on Zoom they are preaching to thousands throughout the world will soon discover that they are fortunate if more than half their congregation, plus their great Auntie Bethel in Canada are listening to them. And very few, if any – will listen to Sunday’s sermon in the following week – never mind the following years. I think its much better to preach to real people in the here and now – and to preach to them for eternity.
None of this is too decry the wonders of modern technology, but just to reemphasise that cyber church is not church, because it is not incarnational. Speaking of incarnational preaching have a look at this sermon from a couple of Sundays ago.
I have been listening to and very much enjoying Andrew preaching from Charleston in Dundee. This was the first time they have ‘live’ church – complete with people, masks, social distancing etc. The contrast with previous ‘non-live’ preaching is stark. Both were the Word of God. Both had clear application of what God says. But one was a sermon preached to people through a camera – the other was preached to people present and filmed through a camera. The first was good. The latter was brilliant. Why? Because there was interaction with the people. This is what I miss, and this is what we need to get back to.
Imagine if a year ago you had been told that within one year, on government orders, you would be told that you could not meet in public worship, how would you have responded? Leaving aside the arguments about whether that was necessary or not (and I tend to think that on balance it was – at least for a short time), we have now gone far beyond that. We have government dictating how we should worship – no singing, wear masks, keep 2m (or 1.5, or 1 depending on which ‘science’ politicians have faith in) – and for me, worst of all, no communion. Does no one question why a government will pay people to go out to a public place to eat and drink but ban Christians from having the bread and wine of the Lords Supper?! Worse still are the churches who ban themselves!
A church without preaching, without praise, without communion is to all intents and purposes, a dead church. A bit like this bird that I found out walking yesterday. The birds are driving us crazy – for some reason they seem to be wired to start singing, not at the crack of dawn, when normal birds start – but at 3am! It’s now 7am and they are silent. Although I joked about wanting to shoot them, it still saddened me to see this dead one. Beautiful plumage which will fade as the carcass rots. I cannot but see it as parabolic. (see the Python video below!) We need Resurrection!
I leave you with this beautiful singing – it is about the Trinity but mostly gathered from the psalms. This is my ‘chill’ music at the moment. Perhaps if we are not permitted congregational praise, we should all move to Gregorian chant!
See you next week,
Letter from Australia 57 – Fear Not…
Letter from Australia 33- Preaching and the Plague.
Owen on Preaching, Sinclair on Children and Christ
PS. Given the dead parrot I had to post this classic….