I invite you to begin this month’s pastor’s letter with a simple prayer. Please pray with me, “Jesus, our protector, like your first disciples, we can become burdened by the worries of this world. Embrace us with your peaceful spirit and set our troubled hearts at rest. Amen”
I find this prayer particularly helpful as we seek to make the best decisions for the future of our life together as a church. Decisions that are being made that will undoubtedly alter the course of our mission together, not only during this age of pandemic, but beyond. Among other issues there is the question of when to gather, the mechanics of worship, how to care for those who are absent, how to stay safe, what new technologies will help enhance and enable worship, and on and on. What used to be routine matters have become quite complicated. It is our role to figure out how best to carry out the mission of the church when much before us has changed from what was. The saying, “We have never done it that way before,” is most certainly true!
The “new normal” has been unsettling to all of us, and each one of us has reacted differently to so much change Some have accepted the disruption with a calm resignation. Others have become frustrated to the point of anger, which has manifested itself in many and various ways. We yearn to go back to the way things were. Some question the seriousness of the virus. Others are fearful to return until there is a vaccine. And it all can create more anxiety. The reality is, we all long for some sense of normalcy in our life.
In the midst of the decisions and the anxiety, I am mindful of the words shared in the Gospel of John 14:27. Jesus spoke to his disciples as he shared his last meal with them. He just promised his followers that he would send his Holy Spirit to guide them. At the end of the meal, Jesus was arrested, tried, and put to death. Jesus shares, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The disciples were afraid. Jesus knew their fear would grow in the coming days, which is why he shared the only real antidote to fear: God’s peace.
Jesus knew that fear and anxiety contributes to our unwillingness to approach, address, and engage certain elements of life that are important to our faith journey. Fear beckons people away from constructive risk, necessary conversation, and imminent action. Fear often perpetuates destructive behaviors, limiting potential for individual or relational growth.
Yes, there is reason to have a sense of fear. Marvin A. McMickle, Ph.D shares there is reason to fear because COVID-19 is a “novel virus” meaning we have never seen this illness before and still do not yet know how to treat it. Nearly six million people in this country have been infected by this virus. Over 180,000 Americans have already died because of COVID-19 related infections. In the last six months COVID-19 is responsible for three times more fatalities than the 58,000 Americans that died in the 14-years of the Vietnam War. This September we will remember the 19th Anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers, in which 2,000 people were killed. The effects are still felt, and flight travel has been changed forever. COVID-19 has caused over sixteen million people to file for unemployment insurance and has shaken our economy. The ways in which we interact has been changed, perhaps forever. We have a reason to be afraid. The question is whether we will let fear have the last word?
This is precisely why Jesus addresses our fears. Jesus’ assertation was that fear drives people to do things that are not constructive for their lives. In fact, the phrase “do not fear,” or “do not be afraid”, was used regularly by Jesus, angels, and God to open doors of conversation by reducing anxiety present in the hearts of those gathered. In fact, that phrase, “Fear not!” or a variation of it appears 365 times throughout scripture, one for every day of the year! The anxiety Jesus addressed pertained to earthy things, monetary worth, and daily needs. Again, the question is whether we will let fear have the last word?
I believe the answer to that question is a resounding NO! While we cannot avoid feeling fear, we should not give into fear. Remember President Roosevelt’s famous speech? In March of 1933, facing the Great Depression, he shared, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself...nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Roosevelt knew that he had to inject hope and the promise of a better day to come when he addressed a troubled and frightened nation. As Dr. McMickle shares, “Everyday God’s sun rises in the east. Every day, God’s rain falls and God’s wind blows, and God’s birds sing, and God’s flowers sprout, and God’s moon and stars twinkle in the sky. Every day, God still hears and answer prayers...new life keeps coming into the world, and older lives are still being sustained and healed. COVID-19 is not the end of the world. God is still on the throne. There are undoubtedly people reading this that have been in some deadly and dangerous situations before, but God brought them out.”
With hope in our hearts, our goal is to move indoors for worship beginning September 20. We will have four worship offerings to begin. Traditional services at 8 and 11 a.m. Gathering services at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Children’s Sunday School will become a Children’s Church with
home resources to help families grow in faith together. Confirmation will move to Sunday afternoons with the pastors and small group guides. We will have new digital hymn boards in our sanctuary space, which will help us in our safe practices for worship, provide the avenue for simulcast services, for educational opportunities, and (hopefully soon) concerts. (See computer rendering of the Digital Hymn Board below.) We will utilize the suggested guidelines from the CDC, ELCA, NEOS, and our Planning Forward Task Force. These suggestions are so that we can worship our Lord with the hope that God alone can give. The measures we embody are not suggested in fear, but in faith. We trust God to be with us. We trust you to be with us, whether in person or on-line. We trust you will embody these safe practices so that we can love our neighbor as ourselves, helping all to experience the gift of God’s hope.
The best antidote for the fear is the faith that reminds us that God is the author and the master of life and death. This is the ultimate mark of a Christian whose life is facing some imminent danger; we trust God whether the answer comes in this life or the next.
May God’s peace guide us and sustain us.
In God’s Peace,