These are extraordinary times. We are being asked to do extraordinary things. Public meetings of more than 100 have been banned. Now we discover that from today, the 20th of March, every public meeting inside a building has to allow 4 sqm of seating space and occupational space per person. In our church we don’t know yet how large the seating space is. We are waiting on figures. But let’s take an estimate. If it is 300 sqm, it can, and does, allow for 300 people to sit comfortably. In normal times. But these are not normal times.
In terms of the latest restrictions announced by the Prime Minister today, holding the number of people to those restrictions, would mean that the maximum number of people we can have in our building at any one time has been radically reduced to around 70 – 75. That includes adults and children.
Now, like many churches, we are planning to live stream our service one way or another from this Sunday (22nd March). That live service will be produced on Sunday morning at 11:00 am and streamed instantly to all our people who have Facebook and Wi-Fi. We are doing this so that people can stay home and still share in the service, with their families and friends, and yet still be part of an Australian wide plan to defeat COVID-19.
We have made it clear that people who don’t have FB and Wi-Fi are still welcome to come to the church at 11:00 am to be part of the “Production Service” as we have called it. There will be others there who are worship leaders, worship team members, musicians and pastors, many of whom will be part of the production. The choir may also be there. We will have to be careful that we don’t have too many people in that one room and be in danger of exceeding the PM’s limitations. Remember we need to include adults and children.
“But” you might protest, “Why do we have to do it at all. Why don’t we just go ahead and hold the service despite what the government says?”
The government has shown us that if infection rates remain as they do, and if we don’t do anything about it, then these infection rates will rise above the level where our hospitals in this country can cope. This would mean that many thousands of people would not be able to be treated, and thousands of them would die.
Italy is one country that ignored the issue for too long. Now they are in trouble. Let me share a couple of excerpts from the New York Times about the terrible situation in that country:

“Hospital morgues there are inundated. Bergamo’s mayor, Giorgio Gori, issued an ordinance that closed the local cemetery this week for the first time since World War II, though he guaranteed that its mortuary would still accept coffins. Many of them had been sent to the Church of All Saints in Bergamo, located in the closed cemetery, where scores of waxed wooden coffins form a macabre line for cremations. Unfortunately, we don’t know where to put them,’ said Brother Marco Bergamelli, one of the priests at the church. He said that with hundreds dying each day, and with each body taking more than an hour to cremate, there was an awful backlog. ‘It takes time and the dead are many.’”

This is what happens when the coronavirus is not checked in time. This is what we could be facing in Australia if we don’t do something about it. I would not like myself or my wife or my children or my nation to face such a terrible overwhelming situation.

We have to slow the rate of infection down to allow medical science time to catch up.  That’s why we are closing public spaces like churches, and sporting events.  We have to slow down the rate of infection so that not anyone gets sick at once, and this scourge is spread out until it is defeated.

It’s not just about us you see, it about everyone else.  Even those people whom you don’t normally associate with.  To answer the question “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.  This Samaritan man was hated by the Jews – a victim of racial prejudice.  Yet he was the one who stopped to help the battered Jew.  He inconvenienced himself so that the Jew could be treated, and not die.  Jesus showed that the Samaritan was the true neighbour. The one who shows mercy to those around regardless of creed or colour – he/she is the true neighbor to the suffering one.

It may inconvenience us to close a service and concentrate instead on streaming.  It might inconvenience ourselves to do this to slow the rate of infection and so save millions of lives. But if we really loved our neighbor, wouldn’t we be running to do that?

Go and do likewise,” says Jesus.   Amen! Let’s do it gladly. Let’s suffer inconvenience gladly so that others might live.  Amen.  Go and do likewise.  Love your neighbor in this time of COVID-19.