Editor’s Note: Here we get a taste of what this former minister would have preached about the pandemic at two different stages of his Christian beliefs: first as a conservative and then as a liberal Christian minister,who was struggling to believe. Then he offers us some truly useful advice from a secular point of view. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By David Mercer
What kind of sermon would I have preached about the current pandemic?
My old sermons come back to me quickly and I’m embarrassed, not only because they were stupid, but also because they caused people pain.
When I was borderline Pentecostal, I would have said:
“Today’s pandemic is a punishment from God.
“The Old Testament is full of accounts where God punished his people with natural disaster, oppression from neighboring nations, and mass illness. Things only became better when they repented of their sins and turned back to worshiping the one true God.
“Today, our world is as full of sin as ever and we all need to repent. (Lots of people would be nodding). Sexual immorality is at the top of the list, including porn and anything outside of vanilla sex in a marriage between a man and a woman (except back then, I didn’t know the term, ‘vanilla sex’).
“Additionally, we have problems with witchcraft, devil worship, disobedience to parents, gossip, and cheating on our taxes—it’s all sinful.
“This pandemic is a call for us to lead the way to national repentance. It’s our job not only to stay pure but to encourage the world to come back to righteousness.”
Note: as I was reading this to my wife, she said she faded out. She grew up hearing these things and I think she was bored.
Anyway, then I would switch directions and speak of supernatural healing:
“In James 5, it says that the prayer of a righteous man can make the sick person well, so in addition to being good, we need to pray more than ever.
“This is a time of faith! The Bible says if we asked for anything in HIS name, it will be given to us (John 14:14). But even Jesus could not heal when the people did not believe in him (Mark 6:5), so we should renew our faith in God and set aside any doubts we might have.”
I was often complimented on these types of sermons by two different groups of people. The first would say, “A lot of people needed to hear this message, pastor,” as they looked pointedly about the room. The second would wring my hand with tears in their eyes, thanking me and promising they would do better.
Later, as a liberal Christian struggling with my faith, I would skip all the faith and condemnation crap, and go with this:
“Sometimes we need to find someone to blame, and so we’ll blame ourselves. Other times, we’ll blame God. I don’t know that either is productive.
“I think the power of God lies in his people’s willingness to serve so we should continue our efforts to fight poverty and sickness in the world.”
I don’t preach anymore–atheists have so few opportunities to do so. Moreover, I try to avoid telling people what to feel, think, and do, but if I had an audience, this is what I might say:
“It’s frightening to have an invisible enemy where our only defense is sheltering in place, covering our faces, and hoping the government will aid scientists to find medication and a vaccine.
“We still want to blame someone, so stupid conspiracy theories abound, and we complain bitterly, with justification, about the bungling of government administration.
“Additionally, we watch the news and read posts and articles that feed our anxiety.
“As I said, I won’t tell others what to do. But I’ll share what I do:
“Every day, I ask, ‘What kind of person am I going to be?’
“Here’s what I answer:
“I’ll take precautions but I’ll shrug off my fear, pitch as few fits as I can, and try to be calm, kind, and brave. I’ll do my work, stay in touch with my loved ones, and try not to be a selfish prick.
“Finally, I will wash my hands, wear a mask, and vote in the fall.”
Bio, David Mercer aka “Stan Bennett,” was the “Stan” who was featured in the CNN documentary, Atheists: Inside the World of Non-believers and the Canadian documentary, Losing Our Religion. David was a pastor for thirty-five years in Texas and Oklahoma until he quit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he met and married his wife, Sylvia. David is now fully out of the closet as an agnostic. He is a life coach, a teacher, and a storyteller. He is the author of the blog Deep Calls. You can also find him on his Author Page on Facebook.
>>>>>>>>Photo Credits: “<a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Devils-from-Rila-monastery.jpg#/media/File:Devils-from-Rila-monastery.jpg” ; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_The_Consolator.jpg#/media/File:Christ_The_Consolator.jpg ; https://www.niaid.nih.gov/news-events/novel-coronavirus-sarscov2-images, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87089605