This is a hard and confusing time. We are living through a pandemic that none of us have ever experienced before and seems to be the stuff of Hollywood imaginations. Yet, here we are, recording worship, so that those who are most at risk are protected, and so that we can do our part to slow and hopefully stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This situation makes clear that we are one humanity, that our world is intricately connected, that what affects one community, easily affects all communities, and that our economies, health, and well-being as a global population rise and fall together.
We are witnessing all kinds of responses to this pandemic and we feel them within ourselves to varying degrees. At one extreme we see fear and panic, leading people to stockpile resources, wear face masks even when they are not ill nor working in healthcare, posting worst-case scenarios on social media, and proclaiming the end of the world as we know it.
At the other end of the extreme, I have seen flagrant disregard of reason and facts, leading some to scoff at warnings, mock those taking precautions, disregard social distancing, hand-washing and other health advice, and act as if they are somehow detached from the world of which we are intimately a part. Sometimes I feel both of these extremes inside in the span of an afternoon, even as I seek not to verbalize or act on either one.
Paul’s letter to the Romans invites us into a different way of living and a new response to a situation of uncertainty and suffering. Paul was addressing Christians who were persecuted for their faith, but his words apply to us in this unprecedented moment of a global pandemic that is affecting all of our lives. How do we navigate this new world as followers of Jesus?
Paul, who intimately knew hardship and suffering, immediately pulls us back to the center—the center of our faith, the center of our life, our heart, our mind, our soul—which is our relationship with God in Jesus Christ who defines our hope and our way forward.
Paul proclaims that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us… for if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”
In this time of pandemic and in every time, our life has already been saved by Jesus, who has reconciled us to God! The good news is we do not have to do this ourselves! Out of love for us, God has already saved us. Jesus has conquered the power of death in whatever form it comes at whatever time and joined us to the life of Christ. Our life is secure, and no one, nothing, not even death, not even COVID-19 can take away our life in Christ. We are free! Freed from worry or anxiety about illness or death or any of it. We are joined to Christ and that’s a fact, so whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.
This is our promise: “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
God has not left us to our own devices, but through the resurrection of Christ, God fills us with love—making our “Spirits come alive” with love for the world. So, in this challenging time, God pulls us in from extremes to our heart center, filling us with the Spirit to live and to act with love—love for each other, love for our neighbor, love for our community, and love for the world God made and sent Christ to save. God’s love poured into us helps us focus on how God calls us to love our neighbor, our fellow church members, our co-workers, and others during this time.
NBA player Zion Williamson has given us a great example of love, as a 19-year old, who was one of the first players offering to pay the salary of hourly workers who will lose income from canceled games. What might receiving this blessed assurance of love, and extending the reconciling power of Christ look like in your arena? It may look like doing grocery shopping for your neighbors, making phone calls to our homebound, or setting up an elderly neighbor on Facebook to see worship on-line.
Paul promises us that no matter the suffering this current crisis may cause us, God is working through us to bring spiritual blessings to us and our whole community. In fact we can “also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Lent calls us to deepen these gifts of the Holy Spirit in us and we now have a global situation where we can put our faith to work like never before.
We close today, where Paul begins, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” Paul doesn’t command us to have peace or give us a wishy-washy maybe that we might get it. It’s already done. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” You have peace, you are peace, so we can live Christ’s peace and be at peace. We live as loving ambassadors of peace for others, trusting the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our life now and to the end of the age.
Image: Dan, Leah and I saw this double rainbow on a walk earlier this week