Church to the Father’s glory
We might be forgiven for thinking that the only show in town, if not the world, is Covid19 – a name that seems to be losing traction just as quickly as it emerged as a WHO-designated-no-blame description of the coronavirus that was first recognised in China when it emerged from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan in 2019. Covid19 has now been renamed “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)”, which seems even more slippery a term than Covid19.
Perhaps you remember SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) (not given the number 1 because we didn’t know there would be a number 2) which was identified in 2003. We called it “SARS”. SARS-CoV is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain animal reservoir, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals (civet cats) and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002. The route for SARS-CoV-2 which has close genetic similarity to bat coronaviruses, suggests it too emerged from a bat-borne virus. An intermediate animal reservoir such as a pangolin is also thought to be involved in its introduction to humans. Complexity aside, the general public has slipped back into the original media term “coronavirus” which includes most viruses that cause cold and flu symptoms. (Data source: WHO website).
When the source of an epidemic is identified, the WHO is clear in not identifying the source with the name of the location from which it emerged. This is precisely because the WHO is an organisation with 194 countries as members and only Liechtenstein, the Cook Islands and Niue as non-members and needs to remain entirely nonpartisan. The reason for doing this can be seen on the streets of the world already as blame ensues between “us and them”. The recent G7 video summit failed to deliver a joint statement because the US representatives continued to refer to the “Wuhan virus” when discussing SARS-CoV-2.
The problem recognised by the WHO arises because people like to identify themselves with a preferred group. In Baptist parlance we have “church members” to whom voting “rights” attach and “others” who may be attenders of our fellowship, but who prefer to remain outside the sphere of direct responsibility for church decisions. This can be viewed, often unconsciously as insiders and outsiders. The risk, rightly recognised by the WHO, is that group identity can become tribal, with my “tribe” being somehow better than or more deserving than your “tribe”. “Women and children first” was the cry when the Titanic was sinking as if they were somehow more important than men. At its basest level, this Titanic cry is about the survival of the species, but it could be construed as something else. The same is true of any group of people group whose future is at risk: what is necessary for survival at multiple levels?
Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV) If we latch onto this verse as an identity statement, we could perceive ourselves as somehow privileged by God. Indeed we are, but not because we deserve it, but rather that by being in this privileged position, part of God’s “tribe”, we are dedicated to fulfilling His agenda. In this week’s sermon I explore some of the history of coronavirus pandemics in the light of what it means to be grafted into the divine vine. Like the NHS workers who are suffering – as muggers attempt to steal their work badges to gain access to supermarkets or who are being verbally abused as propagators of “coronavirus” – simply because they are exposed to patients with the disease daily, those who are grafted into the divine vine have a special responsibility at times of global crisis to be even more focused on remaining in Christ and serving His purposes as we engage with an enemy against whom the whole human race is helpless.
Rev Mark Macaulay
Pastor at Oakridge Baptist Church