‘Safe as houses’ was the theme last Sunday; that rather than promising us the relative physical security of a house, Jesus, in John chapter 14, promises we will always find a home, a dwelling place, with him, a place of shelter to which we are called to invite and welcome others.
It was the message Jesus gave his disciples in uncertain times and it continues to both a comfort and a challenge to us in uncertain times.
And the uncertain times we are living in are changing again, this week and next, with the government announcing measures to ease Covid 19 restrictions. Thanks to last Friday’s changes which allow for religious ceremonies of up to 10 people, plus those conducting the service, we will have a few more singers and musicians in the church this Sunday. (Our preacher, Rev John Lewis from Baptist World Aid, will be joining us by Zoom from Newcastle.) When restrictions ease further this Friday, we will be looking at how we can safely (i.e. while ensuring good hygiene, social distancing and 4 square metres per person indoors) resume some of our other church activities face to face.
All of this uncertainty and change can be difficult. Some of us may struggle with reverse culture shock – like my initial reaction when Cecelia mentioned, a few weeks ago, all of us being back in the office soon. “What!” Going back to the office! I’ve just adjusted to working from home!” Or we may find that with dis-use over the past weeks, skills we had have grown rusty or normal activities now fill us with anxiety – like a friend’s mother who is hesitant now to drive her car to the shops. Or we may be reveling in our rediscovered freedom – like a daughter of mine (you can guess which) planning ten person gatherings for every night of the week!
In situations like this, we need to remember that God is our dwelling place, or, as Jesus puts it in John 14:23, we are God’s dwelling place! God has come to make a home with us! And that – even when the way forward is unclear and uncertain and frightening – knowing God is with us we can ‘do the next right thing’.
I have been reflecting on that this week as the deacons have been finalising the Review of Conflict Management and have invited Martin and myself to read it and comment. (It will be available for everyone to read from Sunday 24th May, two weeks before our 7th June church meeting.) This has been an extremely long and an extremely difficult journey, and over the past two years and reflecting now on some of the comments in the report, I have wondered if there is a way forward for my ministry here. However, all I can do is, with God’s help, is keep going with as much integrity and courage and vulnerability as I can and ‘do the next right thing’.
A much more significant challenge which has affected my family in the last three weeks, however, is the discovery that my father has throat cancer, that it is inoperable and that chemo and radiation (which both start on Monday) will be reduced in dosage owing to his age (81 years). My mother and I have spoken several times about how well he currently is and how starting treatment that will make him so unwell seems crazy and yet, going on what the oncologist and other specialists have told them, this is ‘the next right thing’.
And regarding Covid 19, while we here in Australia have managed to ‘flatten the curve’, so many around our world are still facing huge changes and being overwhelmed by the number of infections and the number of the dead. This Sunday Rev John Lewis will give us an update on what is happening in the places where Baptist World Aid is working, especially in Bangladesh where population density is slightly over 1,000 people per square kilometre (it is 3.2 people per square kilometre here). In our response to this great need, the fears of our partners in that country for their communities, all we can do is ‘do the next right thing’ as we consider our May Thank Offering and pray for them.
I would love to tell you that ‘do the next right thing’ is an hymn lyric, but those under 15 in the congregation, or parents or grandparents of such, will have recognised it as Elsa’s song from Frozen 2!
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing…
But perhaps you’ll excuse me a little Disney inspiration considering its proximity to these beautiful words.
Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see,
the distant scene: one step enough for me.
May we dwell with God and God dwell with us as we continue on this road together doing the ‘the next right thing’.