I’m just a Pastor. I’m not an Epidemiologist or Infectious/Pandemic Disease professional! And, let me just remind us all that TV News anchors aren’t either and Social Media doesn’t represent the CDC!
As COVID-19 (AKA the Coronavirus) spreads here in the USA, as we hear news of hospitals in Italy being completely overwhelmed with not enough beds, medical staff, or supplies to care for the sick, and as day by day we hear of Universities canceling classes, the NCAA basketball finals going fan-less, the NBA canceling their season, and now all flights cancelled to Europe, it can be overwhelming.
The “discussion” on Social Media this past week has been, “Are we over-reacting or under-reacting?” However, things have been changing. It is clearer now – as we see hospitals in Europe overwhelmed and unable to provide basic medical care – that the issue with COVID-19 isn’t simply comparing “fatality percentages” with other viruses. COVID-19 is so infectious and spreading so fast that it’s overwhelming the medical capacity we normally rely on to provide basic and necessary care for those who get sick.
Here at Church of the Redeemer, we continue to follow the guidance and recommendations of our State Officials and Health Departments. Currently the State’s COVID-19 guidelines for us are the same as they were last week. So currently our plan at Church of the Redeemer is the same as it was last week (see Pastor Bob’s email from last week). Also, please know we have been actively planning! We have numerous plans in place and in process for our church life and family in anticipation of how things might change. We trust in God and, yes, we will listen to and follow the guidelines of our State Health Professionals. We will update you if and when things change with regard to how we are going to worship, serve, and live together as a church family come what may.
For now, I want to speak to you as your pastor, share with you the wisdom of other pastors, resource you with lessons from history, and help you find our God.
First of all, here is a link to a chapter from “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark on the Early Church and Epidemics. It is well worth reading. Yes, our Pandemic situation is different, but at times like this we need to look back at how Christians have served Christ faithfully in difficult circumstances. History is there for us to learn from.
I also want to share with you some insights a friend shared with me in a tract Martin Luther wrote when a plague broke out in Germany. It is courageous, nuanced, and very Luther:
In an open letter to Johann Hess, who was a church leader of the Reformation in Silesia, Luther declared to Hess that the Christian pastor, like a good shepherd and not a hireling, is commanded by Christ to stay despite danger of death because he is needed by his flock for comfort and strength in the hour of sickness and death. Similarly, he says that city officials and all who are bound by responsibilities to their neighbors are not free to flee. Luther also has a word for those who are horrified at having to nurse the sick, explaining that this feeling is a weapon of the devil and that many who nurse the sick with love and devotion are protected against the plague. But if they should succumb, God himself would be their nurse and physician. On the other hand, he warns against the over-bold who scorn ordinary precautions against contagion, thus tempting God, who has created medicine and given us the intelligence to care for our bodily health. Furthermore, such recklessness endangers others with whom one comes in contact. Use medicine, take what helps you, fumigate house, yard, and streets, avoid unnecessary contact with the sick and their houses, Luther exhorts. He urges that the pastor be called promptly in case of sickness and not when it is too late and the ill person is unconscious. Furthermore, daily services should be conducted with the ministry of the Word, as Luther did in Wittenberg. While enlarging on his opinion, Luther was careful not to take from his friends the personal responsibility of making their own decisions in light of their accountability to God.
Following Luther’s exhortations, I want to encourage you and, as your priest, help you find God.
First, we must not respond out of fear or panic, but be driven by care and commitment to the safety and well-being of our church, neighbors, and community. As Christians, our hope is in our Lord – and for this reason – we can in faith take care of our bodies, serve one another, and love our neighbors. Remember your faith! God holds us in the palm of our hand. He knows when a sparrow falls from the sky. He cares for us. And, we were made for eternity. This world is not the end. Death is not the end. As God’s word often tells us, “Don’t live (or worry) like the pagans do.” In Christ, we have reason to hope – always!
Second, we must pray. Remember – “Cast your anxieties on the Lord” means throw them to him – and leave them with him. Don’t cling to them! Give them to him!
Pray for your own heart, whether you are anxious or dismissive. Our collective anxiety arises out of our hearts when we put our trust in the wrong place: in the economy, medicine, technology, cleanliness, and so on. Jesus somewhat told us that we will hear of “disease and rumors of disease” (Matt 24:6). COVID-19 affects us all by revealing our hearts.
Pray for others. Prayer is action. Pray with faith in Christ, your saving King. Jesus told us that faith moves mountains and heals diseases! Pray to the Lord that he would guide our officials, equip our medical professionals, comfort the sick, shield the healthy, and arrest this virus from causing more harm. Try this ancient prayer: “Almighty God, You know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Third, as long as we are healthy, I, Pastor Bob, and Pastor Alex will be available to serve as your pastors in the ministry of Word, sacrament, prayer, and pastoral visitation, alongside our wonderful elders. Currently we are planning to gather for Worship (and School of Discipleship) this Sunday. We will leave it to you if you can come or not. (Please see Pastor Bob’s email from last week about precautions.)
Last, historically, Christians have always been known as people of love in time of disease and illness. When smallpox came to Rome, pagans fled to the countryside while Christians remained in the city. When measles hit Rome, people evicted their own infected loved ones. But Christians took them in to care for them. Let me encourage you to courageously and wisely love others. As C.S. Lewis wrote:
“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”
Yours in Christ and in prayer