Pastor Sherry’s Message for March 29, 2020
Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:5-11; John 11:1-45
Wow! The fears that are being expressed across our nation, during the current threat of the Chinese Coronavirus, are just about overwhelming, aren’t they? If you watch the news for any length of time—or check into social media–you will find your heartbeat accelerating, your sense of dread rising, and your desire to begin to hoard supplies snowballing. Along with this is a growing tendency of many to lose hope. I spoke this week with a relative who lives in Seattle. This person does not appear open to believing in God, but trusts in science and in the government to keep her safe. She feels that neither has done so; thus, as a result, she is very angry and very frightened. But for those of us who trust in God’s love and His power (rather than exclusively in science or in the efforts of humankind), we realize that our God is the God of all hope—and, as a result, we do not need to lose heart or hope, even in these perilous times.
Our Scripture lessons appointed for today all stress this truth: We can believe that our God can do something about every situation about which we feel powerless. Take a look at the Ezekiel passage. (You may want to read it now.) The prophet Ezekiel is foretelling the restoration of the nation of Israel. At the time of his writing, the Israelites had been taken captive by the Babylonians and had been exiled away from the Promised Land. God is saying through His mouthpiece that He intends to revive them spiritually and to bring them home. In a sense, they are dry, desiccated bones lying about in a disconnected disarray. But God has the prophet speak life into them, and miraculously they reassemble in stages, from scattered fragments, to cadavers (reunited bodies, but without life), to a restored and living army or assembly. Notice, it is God who gives them life. He works through commands He gives to the prophet to relay, but the work of reviving life is His. Our God has the power over life. Should we really worry about a virus taking us out? No! And even if it does, we have eternal life and will simply cross over into an existence so much better than what we experience now.
As Paul relates in his letter to the Romans (chapter 5, verse 6), The mind of sinful man [and woman] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. In other words,we are unable—without divine assistance—to overcome sin in our lives. Or, as Peterson writes in his modern paraphrase, Those who think they can do it on their own [overcome sin by their own efforts] end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open into a spacious, free life. Again, God can do in our lives—when we trust Him—immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us….(Ephesians 3:29). So, we want to be smart. We want to follow the recommendations that have come down to us from our President and our Governor about how to minimize our risk of infection now. But, we do not want to lose heart! We do not want to panic! Those of us who know and love Jesus have… the peace of God which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7). This peace is not centered on what is going around in the world or in our country, but upon our relationship with the Rock, who is Christ Jesus. He is our peace and He longs to give us His peace.
Our psalm (130) encourages us to bring our fears to the One who can do something about them. In verses 1-2, he says, Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. As you read or recite this, don’t you get the sense that the writer knows that our Lord hears his cry? It is true that He knows and hears our pleas for safety and health in this current crisis. We can convey those to Him with faith. Like us, the Psalmist recognizes he is a sinner who has been forgiven through God’s grace. He trusts that God hears, attends, and will answer and protect him. In verses 5-6, he describes waiting on the Lord’s answer, not in an anxious, worried way, but with hopeful expectation. I believe we can similarly await effective treatments for this dangerous virus, and may already have found several. We can pray for a hedge of God’s protection around our healthcare workers as they contend with ameliorating symptoms and attempting to save lives. Like Israel, we are to put our hope in the Lord (v.7),…for with the LORD is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption….
Finally, our Gospel lesson gives us an example of a person (one of three mentioned in the New Testament: Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, and now Lazarus, Jesus’ friend) who had died and was raised from the dead by Jesus. A number of Christian scholars point out that these folks were not truly “resurrected” because when that happens the body is actually transformed or transfigured into something immortal in preparation for entering into eternity. These three—and there may have been more not cited in the Gospels—were brought back to life, in this world, in their normal, everyday, mortal bodies. And, sadly for them, they faced death again, at a later time, because those bodies came with expiration dates. In verse 4, Jesus tells His disciples regarding Lazarus’ demise, This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it. In other words, the Father meant for Jesus to demonstrate to the large group of Jerusalem Jews grieving with Mary and Martha that Jesus had the same power over life and death that the Father has. What this strongly suggests to us is that nothing—not even the Chinese Coronavirus—comes into our lives without God’s permission; and, if God permits it, it is somehow going to be for His glory. I believe God is already at work, inspiring talented doctors and scientists to develop treatment protocols and medications to control and defeat Covid-19. Further I believe that when this is said and done, we will be able to look back and see God’s hand at work in ways we might not have anticipated. Already, commentators are projecting that the pandemic will permanently alter the way we deliver college education; bring back “supply chains” of important resources to America from abroad; and draw families into closer, face-to-face communication. With so many manufacturing concerns voluntarily retooling from their usual products to those required by hospitals and clinics now, there may be a resurgence of American patriotism and a renewed sense of togetherness despite our differences. No one wants anyone to die, but I do believe there will be God-ordained benefits to be derived from this that will serve the greater good.
Jesus tells Martha (verses 25-26), I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die…. If we have Jesus, we have life! The great author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, learned this firsthand and it permanently changed his life. As an educated young man from a wealthy family, he flirted with communist and revolutionary thought in czarist Russia. Czar Nicholas 1st learned of his leanings and had him arrested, tried, and sentenced to death by a firing squad. Dostoevsky was blind-folded, dressed in burial clothes, bound, and led into a public square where he was tied to a post. The young writer next heard the rifles being cocked. The order was given, “Ready, aim,” but just at that moment—when the command “fire” was expected–a message arrived from the czar to commute the death penalty to 4 years of hard labor. Dostoevsky later wrote that he never totally recovered from this experience. On the train to prison in Siberia, an unnamed Christian gave him a copy of the New Testament, which he devoured. He then turned his life over to Christ. Despite witnessing great evil among some of his cellmates, he developed the belief that humans are only capable of loving if they believe they are loved. His greatest works are all novels which treat the issues of sin and repentance, grace, and forgiveness. In other words, coming so close to death radically altered his sense of what is important in life. How would you change your thinking or your life style if you knew you only had a moment or days to live? Dostoevsky has left us a record of how he changed. Wouldn’t you love to know how Lazarus was impacted by a second chance at life?
Our God intends for us to live each day as persons who do not fear death or viruses. We are to live as persons who know that God’s love is more important and more powerful that anything this world can throw at us. Our faith in God is our antidote to fear. Can we try to live this week and beyond—despite news reports and what others may say or write—as if we truly believe this? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Copyright Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams 2020