Posts Tagged ‘what love means during a pandemic’

We are in a time when love means keeping our distance in order to help protect people from getting sick.  This sermon imagines how someone like the writer of Acts might summarize life in the church during the pandemic. The focus is not on asserting our rights but on caring for the wellbeing of others.

The Wellbeing of OthersIMG_0244

A Sermon on John 15:1-17, Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37

The song “Blest Be the Tie” would not be written for another 1700 years, but had they known it, the early church would have loved it.  The people of the Way, as the early church was called, cherished their life together.  They were glad to join together for learning, fellowship, prayer, breaking bread together around their dining tables and around the Lord’s table. 

In describing their blessed ties, one thing the writer of Acts makes clear is that the people of Jesus were motivated by a profound concern for the wellbeing of others.  They understood that their resources were not just for their own benefit, but meant to be a blessing for all.  Sharing was a core community value.  Those who had assets such as real estate that they could liquidate did it, and brought the proceeds to be used to address the needs of others.

The people of the Way were trying to embody the way of Jesus, following his commands, and doing what he himself did.  “You are my friends,” he had said.  “You live as my friends by loving just as I have loved you.  Love means laying down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This is just what Jesus did.  He put himself on the line for them, even though it meant laying down his life on a cross.

The profound love of the people of the Way made quite an impression on the world around them in those early years as they sought and cared for the wellbeing of neighbors beyond the bounds of their own fellowship.  One Roman Emperor, Julian, who was otherwise hostile to Christians, remarked, they “feed not only their poor, but ours also.” (http://www.thenagain.info/Classes/Sources/Julian.html.) 

Embodying this way of love is always challenging, and now the COVID-19 pandemic is posing challenges that none of us has ever experienced before.  Just like the church in Acts we cherish our time together, that until now meant much time literally spent physically together in worship and prayer, learning and fellowship, breaking bread at the table and at the Lord’s table.  But right now as Jennifer Copeland of the North Carolina Council of Churches put it, “We love our neighbors best by keeping our distance from them.” (https://www.wral.com/lawsuit-filed-to-block-n-c-governor-order-on-churches/19098285/)

This is because we have learned that the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads most easily when people are together in an enclosed place breathing the same air over a sustained period of time, like an hour of worship or choir practice.  We also know that a person can become infected with this virus and spread it around without ever experiencing any symptoms.  That’s because the virus is projected into the air with every breath, not just through coughing and sneezing.  Talking and singing and preaching project even more virus particles into the air.  Activities where people congregate and stay grouped together for a sustained length of time are tailor made for virus transmission.  Yet these gatherings are among those we cherish the most.

But as we heard Paul say earlier in 1 Corinthians 13, love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  Gathering together physically is not the only way in which love can be lived out.  Love is hopeful.  It finds ways to make itself known in changing and challenging circumstances.

Imagine how someone like the writer of the Book of Acts might describe life in the church during this pandemic when love means keeping a distance.  Imagine if someone wrote a summary like the ones we read in Acts 2 and 4.  It might read something like this:

In those days, the believers were one in heart, and mind, and soul.  But though their arms ached to embrace one another, though their laps felt empty, missing dear children, and though they grieved because they could not go in person to comfort their frail folk in facilities, their love endured.  They missed one another’s faces, and they missed singing together, but they did not insist on their rights to gather as they pleased.   They trusted God, and they found other ways to live out their concern for the wellbeing for each other and the community around them.  They humbly welcomed the guidance of scientists and public health experts, grateful for their work, and especially grateful for the efforts of medical personnel putting themselves on the line for others.  Therefore, the believers put aside their own comfort and preferences, and did all they could to protect others.  They found new means to praise God, to nurture their faith, to care for and support one another, no building required.  Because they were willing to let go of what they wanted and liked best, lives were saved.

The believers found ways to address the pain and economic devastation caused by the pandemic.  Those who had resources did not consider them as their own only.  With generous hearts they constantly looked for ways to share, addressing needs whenever they could.  People who did not need all of their economic stimulus checks shared with others who had greater need. 

They prayed constantly, joining the longings of their hearts together with the longings of God’s heart.  Their lives testified to the living Christ.  Onlookers saw their witness, their love so creatively and selflessly lived out in this trying time, and they thought, “Love is real.  Jesus is real.”

Signs and wonders occurred among them, and great grace was upon them all.

Dear friends of Jesus, thank you for being so profoundly concerned about the wellbeing of each other and of neighbors all around us, near and far.  We are the people of Jesus’ Way, and we can continue practicing his Way in this and all circumstances.

We will do it in the name of the God who did not withhold his only Son, but gave him up for us all.

We will do it in the name of the One who calls us friends, Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for us all.

We will do it in the name of the Holy Spirit, the powerful healing breath of God, everywhere at work—in and through and among us all, and all around us—seeking the wellbeing of everyone.  Always.  AMEN.

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