Job 17:15-16 15 where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? 16 Will it go down to the grave? Shall we descend together into the dust?”
As an interim pastor, I have had many difficult churches. The hardest was one which had members so upset with each other they could scarcely form a committee to work for the common good. A group of the 5 biggest givers decided to form a committee, though, which told the church what to do with their money or they would leave. The members of that congregation also found fault after fault with what I said and did. Job faces a similar situation with his “friends.” He claims innocence, and yet Job’s “friends” believe, wrongly, that Job is at fault and deserves the pain he is suffering. At the point of the story verses above, Job is in absolute despair. The Corona Virus causes many to despair and we do not deserve its suffering. The old and the sick fear the virus might hurt or kill them. The middle-aged despair as they see their retirement savings diminish as the stock market descends. The young despair because they have lost jobs and have no saving to fall back on. The youngest despair because they may not have been through a crisis before, and this is certainly a crisis. Where is hope? Hope comes best through remembering God leading us and protecting us in the past. Older folks have such experience to share with the younger folks. Younger folks have to trust the experience of older folks. All of us have to hope for God’s protection because this is new: America has not seen a pandemic in over a century.
Almighty God, Our hope rests in you. Bring to our minds your mighty works in the past so we might rest in your peace. Amen.
Corinthians 4:16-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
It is easy to lose heart during these unsettling days. We, by ourselves, seem powerless. Most of us are mostly confined to our houses and waiting for something unseen to run through the country, and waiting for who knows how long. Some of us are working frantically to prepare our hospitals, businesses and cities for the seemingly inevitable onslaught of COVID-19.
But it is good to take a step back from our worries. Has our human condition really changed? Only to a degree. As Paul says, our bodies are always wasting away, always growing older, always headed toward death. Is COVID-19 worse than many diseases we have in America already? Cancer will kill about 600,000 Americans this year. Many of these deaths are much more painful than COVID-19. About 650,000 Americans will die from heart disease this year. Deaths from each of these illnesses are more than projected Corona Virus deaths. Many of these deaths are more sudden than COVID-19.
So what is it about COVID-19 that is so unsettling? Perhaps it is simply the unknown. We don’t know how many people will be affected. We don’t know whether we and or loved ones will be affected. Unlike cancer and heart disease we can catch COVID-19, making us afraid to have contact with others, denying us much support during this difficult time.
These few verses from Corinthians above are often used in funerals, and rightly so. Paul reminds us any affliction in this world is temporary. Learning faith at a time like this will prepare us for eternal life in heaven. In this epidemic, God remains the same. Nothing has changed with respect to God. God is our rock. God simply IS. Our prayers can be the same, our relationship with Jesus can be the same. If we fix our attention on that, God will calm our hearts and prepare us for heaven, so we can grow spiritually, despite these troubling times.
Jesus Christ, wrap us in your everlasting arms so we may grow calmer, and grow closer to you. Amen.
Matthew 15:21-22 21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
This story of a Canaanite woman (a non-Jew) is about Jesus reaching out to all peoples. But imbedded in the story are questions about demons. Do they exist? Do they cause illness? The ancients answered yes to both questions. But how do we reconcile this belief in demons with modern science? Science and religion operate in two different but overlapping areas. Even if you prove the existence of illness using science (scans, x-rays etc.), there is no way to prove demons couldn’t have caused the illness. Could demons cause the cancers we face, or even the Corona Virus? Yes, if you believe in demons. Demons as depicted in Scripture are pretty powerful. You can’t prove that demons don’t cause illness, either. Someone who believes in demons can simply say “demons left” if medicine seems to cure an illness. So what are we Christians left with? We simply don’t know for certain how the spiritual world (God, the devil, demons and angels) interact with the natural world (humans, nature, viruses, bacteria). So we modern Christians must trust both science and medicine. Some sick people are healed by prayer with no medical explanation, and some quite wicked people are cured by science without any increased faith in God. We are left with faith that God is in charge of it all, and God understands.
Jesus Christ, we don’t understand the unseen spiritual world, but you do. Protect us from spiritual harm, and bless the work of doctors who seek to cure us of our illnesses. Amen.
Matthew 19:21-22 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
America is one of the richest countries in the world. We have more wealth than 90% of the people alive today, and 99% of all the people who have ever lived. If Jesus were living his ministry on earth today, undoubtedly he would be preaching to many Americans like this young man in today’s gospel. The CoronaVirus has shaken our American sense of wealth. We may be recovering for many months economically. More importantly, from many I’ve spoken with, it has shaken our sense of wealth’s place in our lives (a good thing). We all have hardships. Many people are sick and even dying. Wealth doesn’t seem important after that. And we are learning to get along without things. People are making food from scratch, playing cards and putting together jigsaw puzzles (sales are up dramatically). Turns out we don’t need wealth to live. Tales of generosity abound. We have learned a lesson the rich young man did not, at least while he was talking to Jesus. I wish we could gather as a church to share what really matters: other people and God. But in time we will. And until then, reach out by text, talk or prayer. Talk to Jesus about the place of wealth in your lives. This Lent and this sheltering could give us a new permanent perspective on wealth that will enrich our lives.
Jesus, Help us to understand the true place of wealth in our lives. Help us use it for your glory and to focus on others. Amen.
38 Now Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people, 2 Thus says the LORD, Those who stay in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but those who go out to the Chaldeans shall live; they shall have their lives as a prize of war, and live. 3 Thus says the LORD, This city shall surely be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon and be taken. 4 Then the officials said to the king, “This man ought to be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” 5 King Zedekiah said, “Here he is; he is in your hands; for the king is powerless against you.” 6 So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.
America has reached somewhat of a crossroads. Things are not the way they were 50-60 years ago, for good or for bad. Now it is right to have nostalgia for the good things in life such as family values that appear to be lost, harmless and fun TV shows (Father Knows Best, Petticoat Junction etc.) , but it’s important to remember that the 60s was also the era of race riots, Cold War, and assassinations (of the two Kennedys). Yet who would want to go back to a time where nuclear war also threatened us all, where air conditioning was rare and joints were impossible to replace? We may have problems now but no era is perfect. It seems we just get one area of human endeavor right and another one gets messed up. Imperfect people make an imperfect society. Jeremiah learned what happens to dissenters in his society, even though that dissent was the voice of God. At times, it feels like this society is going the same way, where people who have a voice of truth get thrown down a well. That truth exists on both left and right, in varying degrees and perspectives. God encourages us to speak the truth in love, and be almost infinitely patient in forgiving others’ faults (not 7 times forgiving but 7x70=490 times). 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” 22 “No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven. (Matt 18) (continued below) We need to remember that no one person or group has a perfect handle on the truth.
Lord, help us to remember that we are fallible. Help us to see the truth in others without throwing them down a well. Amen
Some of you may know that every year I write devotions for Augsburg Press, and have for a number of years. Since devotions are fairly easy for me, I though I would write a few for Zion during this difficult period of waiting.
Whoever goes to the LORD for safety, whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty, 2 can say to him, “You are my defender and protector. You are my God; in you I trust.” 3 He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases. 4 He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you. 5 You need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day 6 or the plagues that strike in the dark or the evils that kill in daylight. Psalm 91:1-6 Good News Version
I used to live in Madison, Wisconsin and I went home a few times a year. In a hurry, I would take Interstate 90 then US Hy 14 home to Owatonna. If I was more relaxed, I would take Hy 14 all the way home. Highway 14 winds through picturesque towns in the rolling hills of SW Wisconsin. It took more time, but it was a lot more fun. One little town had a posted limit of 30 mph. One trip, I was cruising through town at 25 mph when I heard a voice telling me in no uncertain terms, “Slow down!” I’d just slowed down when a young cyclist darted from behind a building and across the road. I stopped, and still he had to swerve to avoid me. There’d been no way to see him until he was in the road. if I’d been going faster, I’d surely have hit him. I thanked God for that voice telling me to slow down! I pondered the incident, and God’s providence, all the way home. The other day, Jen VanderPlaats reminded me of Psalm 91. I love Psalm 91 and I have heard many stories like mine of God’s protection from people through the years. Paul in Acts 28 was likewise protected. I wish Christians were always protected from harm like Paul and I were. The martyrdom of thousands of saints throughout history show that’s not always the case. But I am convinced that if we stay connected to God, we are saved from more harm than we even can realize.
Dear God, You protect us in ways beyond our comprehension. Be with us now through the uncertainty of the days and weeks ahead. Amen.