The chosen hymns for this week, Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God and Make Me a Channel of Your Peace can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
It’s usually around the end of the year that the Collins English Dictionary takes a look back and comes up with its ‘word of the year,’ a new word that’s become used so much and become so familiar that it eventually ends up in the dictionary. Maybe you’ll remember some of the previous ones? In 2019 it was ‘climate strike’ – yeah, I know, that’s two words, but it’s in the dictionary now. The one the year before was based around the environment too, it was ‘single-use.’ Like, water bottles or plastic straws. In 2017, the word (or words) of the year was ‘fake news’ and in 2016 it was “Brexit.’ Were we really talking about Brexit four years ago? I guess we must have been.
I’ve been wondering what the word, or words, of the year for 2020 will be? What do you think? Coronavirus, maybe? Social distancing? Self-isolation? Maybe it’ll be R-rate. Actually, it won’t be, as that’s a term that’s been used for infectious diseases for a long time now.
But it’s new to most of us, and we hear it all the time now, don’t we? R-rate. And I’m sure I don’t need to explain what it means – R for reproduction, the lower it is, the better. If it’s below one, the virus won’t spread, above one and it will. Get the R-rate to zero, and the virus is gone completely. That’s the ultimate aim, an R-rate of zero.
And the reason I’m talking about it is that I can see a sort of R-rate in our Bible passage today. Actually, let’s call it a D-rate. D for disciple. This D-rate starts off at eleven. Jesus gave his message, his instructions, to the eleven disciples. If each of them had done nothing with it, if they hadn’t shared it, the D-rate would have dropped to zero. But they did do something with it. They went away from that hill in Galilee and told people all that Jesus had done for them, they shared his Good News, and those people told other people, and they told even more. The D-rate, well, it grew and it grew and it grew.
And where it’s in our interests to keep the coronavirus R-rate down, the lower the better, it’s also in our best interests to keep the D-rate up, the higher the better. But just as it’s up to all of us to control the R-rate by doing as we’re supposed to, by keeping our distance, washing our hands, wearing a mask in shops, by not driving 60 miles just to test our eyesight, it’s also up to all of us to keep the D-rate up, by talking about our faith, by sharing the Good News, by being good disciples.
Why is it important to keep the D-rate up, though? Why is it important to talk about our faith, to share, to be a good disciple?
It’s important because if we don’t, the D could equally stand for decline, then for danger, and eventually for death. Death of the church, I mean. It’s an awful thought, isn’t it? But it’s not going to happen. There are reasons to be optimistic – there was a survey last month that said 1 in 4 adults have watched or listened to a religious service during the lockdown and 1 in 5 of them said they’d never attended a church in person. The same survey said that 1 in 20 people have started praying. The number of people watching our services here in Alva over the past couple of months has been a reason to be optimistic too. Actually, you know when we’ve had the most people viewing our services? It’s when they’ve been shared online, when someone watching it on Facebook or wherever has tapped the share button and forwarded it on to one, or more, of their friends. That’s sharing the Good News, that’s being a disciple.
It’s important because by sharing our faith with those around us, by inviting them to join us, we’re giving them the chance to experience what we experience. Everyone gets something different from belonging to the church family, for some it’s the friendship and the camaraderie they find in meeting together, for others it’s the peace that comes from being in a place where they can leave their worries and concerns at the door, maybe it’s the music and the singing, some might even enjoy the odd sermon, but whatever you get from belonging, by inviting someone in to join the family, you give them the chance to get something for themselves. That’s sharing the Good News, that’s being a disciple.
It’s important because it means we can play a part in shaping our society the way we’d like it to be shaped. Discipleship isn’t just about encouraging people to join the church, it’s about encouraging them to join in the values that the church stands for. Values like loving your neighbour, like loving your enemy, like providing for those who don’t have enough, like treating everyone you meet with kindness and compassion, like caring for the young and the old, like comforting the lost. The list goes on, but by sharing these values – I don’t want this to sound too much like an old Coca Cola commercial – we can help make our town, our country, our world, a better, more harmonious place to be. But that’s sharing the Good News, that’s being a disciple.
And it’s important because it gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves, to think a bit deeper into where we fit into things. Because the more observant among you might have noticed, thinking back to our Bible passage, that Jesus didn’t actually say ‘be a disciple,’ he said ‘go to all peoples and make them my disciples.’ And just like, I know it’s not a very nice comparison, just like with the coronavirus we’ve got to have it before we can pass it on to someone else, we’ve got to be disciples before we can make them. So we have the chance to look at ourselves first, at whether we’re offering all the love and compassion we can, at the part we’re playing in church life and in the lives of the people around us. And if we pass muster, well, then we’re ready to do all the sharing we can.
Look, I know things are not easy right now. Some of you’ll still be shielding, all of you, I’m sure, you’ll still be sticking to the rules of the lockdown – although I hope, after things were relaxed a bit last weekend, that you’ve at least been able to see your friends, your relatives, your children or your grandchildren. No, it’s not easy. This time will pass, though, things will get better. The R-rate’s going down, you’re all helping to make it happen. And by watching or listening to this and the other services each week, and by maybe – hopefully - sharing them among the people you know, you’re playing your part in making the D-rate go up. And when we get back together again here in church, maybe - hopefully – you’ll do the same, and keep on sharing. D is for disciple. That’s my word of the year.