God [in Christ] is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should changePsalm 46.1-2a, NRSV
As news of covid19 continues to morph every day and we get bombarded with an increasing stream of bad news, do you (still) believe the passage above? In the face of all the bad news we hear, it is natural for us to become afraid. Our fear is exacerbated by our social isolation, a medical necessity, but with the capacity to have disastrous social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual side-effects on us. Our isolation has the tendency to make us even more afraid. And so I want to offer you another word of encouragement today. I will try to do so every week.
The eminent Anglican theologian, Professor Tom Wright, tells us the most common phrase in the Bible is “don’t be afraid.” This suggests there is plenty in our world to make us afraid and all of us understand that by now, if we didn’t before.
So what to do? I again quote above (slightly modified) from Psalm 46. But what should we do to prevent passages like this from becoming mere platitudes? The answer is as straightforward as it is complex. Our ability to trust in the Lord depends on whether we truly trust in God’s goodness, mercy, and power. If we believe God is a liar or is hostile to us or is against us, or is powerless to act, of course we will read passages like the one above as platitudinal. And if we really believe these things about God, then unfortunately we probably don’t have a real relationship with God.
But of course God is NOT a liar. It is impossible for God to lie as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us (Heb. 6.18). So what to do? Scriptures don’t have a lot to say as to why God allows things like this pandemic to happen. What the Bible tells us to do is to REMEMBER. The Jews were to remember the Exodus. The NT tells us we are to remember our own Exodus, Christ’s death and resurrection. We are also to remember the many times God has acted on our behalf in the living of our days.
If you read or listened to my sermon from Sunday you know that in God’s eyes you are to die for, and that is exactly what God’s Son did for us so that we can live and not have to worry about suffering God’s condemnation and permanent death. If we don’t believe in the truth and reality of Christ’s death and resurrection it will frankly be impossible for us to believe that God in Christ is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, we are all screwed. But Jesus is raised from the dead and so we are reminded that come what may from this crisis, death does not have the final word. We are people who have died and are raised with Christ by virtue of our baptism (Romans 6.3-5), and so life and new creation are our hope and future, not death and destruction. The virus may kill us, but even if it does, we know we are to die for in God’s loving eyes and tender mercy, and so we are not to be afraid because we know that like Christ, we will be raised to new life in God’s new world where there will be no such thing as pandemics or sickness, sorrow, or death.
Let us therefore encourage one another in our resurrection faith. Let us make sure that none of our faith community families is huddled at home, living in fear and isolation. Let us reach out and check on each other, and encourage each other. Pick 5 people from your faith community each week to call, comfort, and encourage. Check in on your neighbors and encourage them as well. Demonstrate you are a person of power who defies your natural inclination to be afraid. Don’t be foolish, but don’t be timid.
And let us all be prayer warriors. Hear the ancient Christian theologian, Tertullian (d. 225 AD), speak on the power of prayer:
“Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecution [and plagues?], comforts the faint-hearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers [a huge problem in Tertullian’s day], feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, [and] sustains those who stand firm,” Tertullian, On Prayer, 28-29.
We are all in need of courage, hope, comfort, strength, and perseverance during these days, my beloved, and we all need to be ardent and faithful prayer warriors. Let every single one of us resolve to ramp up our praying for the duration. Pray for God’s mercy, God’s healing, God’s protection, God’s strength, God’s perseverance, and God’s comfort during these desperate days. Remember God answers prayer more often than not through human agency. Resolve therefore to allow God to use you to embody his goodness, mercy, kindness, and strength.
May the Lord bless, protect, and defend you and yours during these desperate days. May you know the peace of Christ and experience his strength, love, and power in the living of your days.