We are still in Romans, which has been such a gift for us in this stage of covid life. We shared communion today and are getting ready for our first Drive-Thru Communion (I will let you know how it works!). It feels good to be doing and planning right now – while I do believe that we will get to the other side of this, it’s nice to find ways to do church in the meantime.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 6, 2020
How We Are Responding
A few months ago was I was in my office sitting at my desk and for some reason I started thinking about September 11th. I began to wonder how I would have responded if I had been pastoring at the time. Not to exploit my age or anything, but I was in high school when the planes hit the towers; beyond the fact that I lived relatively close to New York City and had friends whose parents commuted into the city to work, those attacks did not affect my day-to-day very much; I did not have to respond.
So there I was, sitting in my office, thinking about that day and the weeks and months that followed and I began to wonder what I would have said; how I would have led my church through a national crisis. At the time – a few months ago – I had preached following mass shootings and natural disasters, but I had never pastored through anything that would fill chapters of history books.
How quickly things change.
I guess now, for better or for worse, I have the opportunity to find out how I will respond to a national crisis.
I was thinking about this as I was reflecting on this morning’s scripture throughout the week, particularly Paul’s words in verse 11:
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.
How it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
It is now the moment.
In so many ways, I do believe that now is the moment; now is the moment for me, as a pastor, to practice what I preach, to lean into the Gospel and to be innovative, yet grassroots in my ministry. Now is the moment for us, as a church, to not be defined by buildings, but by people; to not be confined to buildings, but deployed out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, just like the earliest followers of Christ did. Now is the moment for us, as a community, to care for one another and to think creatively about how to do the things we need to do. Now is the moment for all of us to rise up, to believe in the promises of our faith and to overcome the crisis we are facing together.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans; we have been hanging out in this letter for the past couple of weeks. We know that, while Paul did not found this particular church, that he was familiar with it; that, in this letter, he was responding to reports of division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, two very different groups of people who were, together, following this new faith. This particular section first addresses love and then it talks about specific behavioral problems, such as sexual promiscuity, alcohol use and conflicts and jealousy between different groups of people.
Let’s start with the first section on love. In these verses, Paul is referencing Jesus’ words when he talks about the Greatest Commandment, which is kind of an RCC favorite, so let’s recap that first. In the Gospel, when asked, out of all of the commandments, what is the greatest, Jesus responds by saying we should love the Lord, our God, with all of our heart, our mind and our soul and we should love our neighbor as ourselves.
In other words: Love God. Love people.
Paul reiterates Jesus’ message in his words here. He talks about the ten commandments, almost reminding the Romans that there are rules that they need to live by, but that they can be summed up in love; that love is the fulfillment of these laws.
These words are super relevant right now, because the words needs love. The world needs to be reminded that behind every divisive issue, scary circumstance and impossible scenario are people who can, like our church sign has said since March, love one another through this.
And we can.
And we will.
It is funny that I was so drawn to verse 11 and Paul’s words, “how it is now the moment,” because Paul was not actually talking about how to live through and pastor through a pandemic; he was talking about societal behavioral problems, including sexual promiscuity, alcohol use and conflicts and jealousy, which are not really the same thing.
HOWEVER – I do actually see some strange parallels to one another. What Paul is saying here is that we should live for Christ and not for our own flesh. Verse 14 – the last verse in this passage – says:
Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
In other words, the things that our bodies are naturally drawn to, the traps that we cannot quite help but fall into – which Paul names as reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarrelling and jealousy – are the things we have to fight like heck to push aside so that we can live into Christ.
So that we can, as Paul writes, “put on the armor of light.” So we can share the Good News and help others to know God. So we can respond to the trials and tribulations that life often throws at us and lean into our faith instead of running away from it. So we can journey through a global pandemic – a national crisis unlike any we have ever seen before in our lifetime – and one day look back and be proud of how we responded.
Proud of the ways we stepped up to help the least of these.
Proud of the ways we complied with recommendations even when we did not want to.
Proud of the ways we made the best of bad situations and tried to help others do the same.
Proud of the ways we remembered and clung to the promises of scripture; to the hope that we were created for a moment just like this.
Paul’s words here, in this section, are also super relevant right now, because I think people are pretty much ready to snap. And I do think that, with the mounting frustration and fear and fatigue comes the tendency to fall into certain traps; to scroll more than we should, to pick fights with other people (particularly in online forums), to rely on unhealthy vices or to make choices that just are not great.
But here Paul reminds us – he encourages us – to resist these traps and to live into Christ.
And I cannot think of a better message for us to hear as we transition into yet another season within this season of covid.
When Paul says that, “it is now the moment,” he is saying this because there was a sense of urgency. They believe the second coming is imminent and that there is not a lot of time to get it together before it happens. We, Christians living in this generation, have never really understood this sense of urgency, but I think we do now.
And while I am not saying that this is the end of the world (guys, we will get through this, I promise, science is working as fast as it can on a vaccine – this is not forever, this is just for now, we just do not know how long now is), I am saying that I think over the past six months our perspective has changed. We do have a sense of urgency – just for different reasons. But they are real. And they are challenging us and pushing us right now.
Because we understand suffering and frustration and helplessness on a completely different level.
But here is the question I think we need to ask ourselves – when we come out on the other side of this – whenever that is and whatever it looks like, what do we want people to remember about how we responded? Do we want people to remember that we fell into the traps of our own humanness and picked fights and relied on unhealthy vices? Or do we want people to remember that we responded with love?
Friends, it is now the moment.
It is now the moment to show the community who we are.
It is now the moment to declare to the world that, despite these crazy times we are living in, love still wins.
It is now the moment to lean into our faith and the hope that is promised to us in scripture.
It is now the moment to help others; to care for the least of these and to put the Gospel into action.
It is now the moment to find commonalities that bring us together so that we can be united and remembered for the ways we put positivity and hope and light into the world during a very scary moment.
So friends, it is now the moment. I invite you to put on the armor of light, to be honorable to live into Christ; to love one another in a way that will bring the dawn of a new day.
And one day may future generations look back at this time – at our church, our community, our family – and see that when we responded, we proclaimed the Good News.
And that we changed the world for the better.
Thanks be to God!