Like you, I am in new waters. None of us has experienced quite what we are going through, but humanity has gone through such times on many other occasions; we are better prepared now than we have ever been to weather this storm. We are people of the Book. When we are faced with a challenge, we look to scripture first. The book of Joshua begins directly after the death of Moses. The people of God are on one side of the Jordan, and they are about to enter the Promised Land, an unknown land, a land with dangers, and they are to do so without their leader. Joshua is put in charge and the opening lines of his book are words of commandment and assurance. God declares that:
No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.
The truth of these words is soon made clear by the actions of the Israelites. When they follow the law, they prosper; when they don’t, they falter. How will we fare as we cross this Jordan? The law of Moses is ultimately very simple. And can be distilled into two brief sentences: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. If we follow these laws, we will prosper. We are commanded to “tend the garden.” I know that in the days to come, we will be a light to each other, our community, and the world.
Weathering troubles without fear
This is a time that invites worry and anxiety, but we do not have to accept that invitation. At the last supper, Jesus tells his companions: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Just after teaching us The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reminds us: “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Notice nowhere does Jesus say that we will be trouble-free, only that we may weather troubles without fear. The fear we must abandon, but the care we must take. The trouble we now face requires prudence as well as a calm heart.
Starting with gratitude and opening up for change
Now that the country is in like mind as to the seriousness of COVID-19, we may better be able to be of service, even if that service is no more than temporary social distancing and hand washing. Let us take a moment to thank God for all of the professionals: doctors, nurses, public officials, researchers, first responders and others who are working to keep us safe. May we heed the sound advice of those whose mandate it is to protect us. To that end, I direct your attention to the Townsend MA website (https://www.townsend.ma.us/) where you will find COVID-19 updates. When you click on the update you will be brought to two links: the first is the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 summary, and the second leads to Massachusetts Governor Baker’s details on the current state of emergency. Currently, we are advised not to gather in groups and so for this week, and perhaps some weeks to come, we must prudently refrain from meeting together for Sunday service. This does not mean we cannot worship together, but it does mean we will need to be creative and open to alternative forms of fellowship. This time will pass, and we may come out with a better and more connected society than we have been. This is a time of opportunity.
Seeking opportunities for growth
I was reading today Lyman Stone’s article Christianity Has Been Handling Epidemics for 2000 Years. Stone notes that “During plague periods in the Roman Empire, Christians made a name for themselves. Historians have suggested that the terrible Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, which might have killed off a quarter of the Roman Empire, led to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for the sick and offered a spiritual model whereby plagues were not the work of angry and capricious deities but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God.” Christians through time have served fearlessly in times of widespread illness. In Wittenberg, the city that gave birth to Protestantism, plague broke out in 1527. In response to those who begged him to flee the city, Martin Luther wrote a letter to a fellow pastor that has come to be called Whether Christians Should Flee the Plague. Amid the stark reality of the Bubonic plague, Luther wrote:
It is not forbidden but rather commanded that by the sweat of our brow we should seek our daily food, clothing, and all we need and avoid destruction and disaster whenever we can, as long as we do so without detracting from our love and duty toward our neighbor. How much more appropriate it is, therefore, to seek to preserve life and avoid death if this can be done without harm to our neighbor.
Inviting you to pray with me
In our contemporary context, I take this to mean that part of tending the garden is taking care of ourselves, but thinking of and acting on behalf of our brothers and sisters as we are able. I ask all of us at New Beginnings to stay safe but remain mindful that we are all connected and that we are charged to be of service. Jesus reminds us that as we do for the smallest of our neighbors so do we do for him. “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” As we move forward in these days, we need to look for ways to be of service. Let us begin to be of service through prayer. In another article on the subject, I found these opportunities for prayer. I invite you to focus on one of these or one of your own and spend fifteen minutes in prayer daily, seeking the will of God:
- Pray that God would calm fears and that His people would be reminded we have a different identity—one of boldness, not of fear. Pray that the church would be a calming presence and radiant light in the face of so much confusion and darkness.
- Pray that we would be people of compassion who intentionally reach out to others in our neighborhoods and our family around the world.
- Pray for world leaders as they work with healthcare organizations and the medical community to develop the next steps. Pray that all would be united for the common good.
- Pray with researchers and biologists as they work to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Pray for wisdom and insight.
- Pray with first-responders around the world who are tasked with triaging, testing, and treating increasing numbers of people. Ask God to give them patience, wisdom and a gentle spirit as they work to navigate fears and offer effective treatment. Hospitals are seeing unprecedented numbers of patients with symptoms of flu.
- Pray with church leaders as they offer insight and wisdom to their congregations and communities. Ask God to give them opportunities to be voices of reason, clarity, and grace.
- Pray with the families of the who have died and for those undergoing treatment. Ask God to comfort the broken-hearted and to strengthen those who are suffering physically and emotionally.
- Pray for those whose jobs or hours have been cut due to the economic downturn.
- Pray for parents who are struggling to work and care for their children.
- Pray that churches would look for ways to reach out to families in their communities to provide for them and show them the love of Christ.
- Pray that God’s people would be unified as one Church and that we would look to the lives and faith of our persecuted brothers and sisters as we navigate fear and the unknown … that we would look to them for guidance and for hope.
- Pray that we as God’s people would be reminded of our hope in Christ and the truth that our Savior who died and rose for us has already overcome the world. Pray that we would be people who read His Word and take both His call and His promises to head and heart.
Yours in Christ,
For more on the COVID-19 impact on our church and community, please see recent posts below: