As summer begins to wane and we feel the need to get our lives back to normal, we are continually reminded that life isn’t normal during a pandemic. Schools aren’t getting back to normal, churches aren’t getting back to normal, restaurants and retail aren’t getting back to normal, even Selectmen and Selectwomen are having to make adjustments in how we gather. We’re all beginning to see that our lives just aren’t going to get back to normal anytime soon. It’s no one’s fault, it’s a global pandemic.
It’s long been known that during plagues and pandemics, people get really grumpy. Revolutions and innovation always happen during times of crisis whenever two or more gather. Whenever we are confronted with profound societal changes, we are confronted with our own loss of control. So, we find ways to try and get in control, even if it kills us or our neighbors. We want to insist that there is only one way to do things and it’s our way, based on our beliefs and experiences. We have a primal mindset that the strong-willed people shall prevail, it’s in our DNA. It’s not Jesus’ mindset, by the way, but it is our human practice for all millennia.
In this season, we’re fighting about the craziest things… Should one wear a mask? or not. Should we gather in groups? or not. Should we take Vitamin D? or not. Should we keep doing what we’ve always done, even if nearly 200,000 people have died in eight months in this nation? or not. As your friend and priest, I can assure you, I’m hearing all sides of every decision that we make as a worshiping congregation @ St.C’s. Know that I am listening and praying, I know you are praying too.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul was contending with the same mindsets and power struggles in his ministry. People judged each other about nearly everything, claiming that God was on their side and their side alone. Paul is great about reminding everyone that Jesus changes everything. Knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our hearts transforms all believers. Believers are free to live in obedience to God and love everybody. As Paul says in Romans 13:10, “love (ἀγάπη) worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of law.”
In our times, our primary mission is always to love God, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and stop the spread of COVID-19. We are called by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to lovingly shield our vulnerable neighbors of all ages, family, friends, and ourselves from a devastating virus that randomly kills people like a tragic game of COVID Roulette. No church should engage in anything that risks people’s lives when they gather, not ever. Our good neighbors in Newcastle, Bob and Carolyn Hatch have a loving message for us all.
For good or for ill, our mission and loving witness to our community right here and right now is to keep everyone alive and well through this time of the pandemic. This is our love in action. Though we are not gathering in church, we are gathering in our own mission fields, on the phone, and online. We’re all in this together, in Christ and gifted by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are learning to pray in new ways, ways that preserve our life-giving relationships and lovingly shield the vulnerable. We are set apart in solidarity. We know that the pandemic won’t last forever, so we wait patiently with each other for this time to pass.
God forbid that anyone would die this year, or be bankrupted by a lingering illness because we were too impatient to “get back to normal.” The Millinocket Wedding Outbreak is still rippling out to over 180 people now across the state. Schools have had to close because of this outbreak that began on August 7 at a church.
This virus too will pass. We’ll find our new normal in loving communion with each other, but we can’t bring back the dead… today it is 193,000 souls who have died from complications of COVID-19 in seven months. May they rest in peace eternal. May God forgive us all when our nation’s collective actions hasten the deaths of over 1000 people a day from this killing virus and legions more are bereaved and bankrupted by loss and lingering illness. Lord, have mercy upon us.
Please God, give us the strength to worketh no ill to our neighbors, let our Love in Christ be our guiding light in a darkened world. Let us be tender with each other in our afflictions and our convictions. Indeed, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said to Mainers last summer, “Love is the lighthouse that can show us the way to safe harbor.”