A few weeks ago, when we were still gathering for in person worship, someone asked a somewhat unusual prayer request. Bonnie Belak, who works in customer service at local supermarket, requested prayers for patience. While this is a familiar petition, as people routinely experience anxiety from Illness, grief, family issues, work related stress, and many other challenges – her primary concern had to do with the elevated patterns of anxious behavior that she was witnessing as people interacted with folks in the service industry and also with other customers. Bonnie lifted this up in prayer almost two weeks ago, at a time when the panic surrounding the Coronavirus was only beginning. Since then, the situation has escalated to epic proportions, as entire states have issued shelter-in-place warnings. Locally, businesses have shuttered, schools are closed and a large number of our friends and neighbors are filing unemployment claims. Terms like “social distancing” and self-quarantine are now part of our new lexicon, and new patterns of daily life are beginning to emerge. Parents are quickly becoming their child’s school teacher, take out windows are the new norm, and drive thru testing sites are being created across the nation. Even the church has changed, as congregations scramble in an overnight attempt to become tech savvy. Online worship, bible studies and giving, things that most of us thought impossible to figure out for years have become a lifeline for people in need. We still struggle to make these offerings easily accessible and user friendly to our members, friends and communities, as we discover that most folks are not familiar with the platforms that we might use or are technologically illiterate themselves. I know that as a church – a religious community seeking to be faithful to our calling to Jesus Christ to tend to the needs of others, we are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety trying to meet these challenges. And – we’re fortunate. Almost all of the people we deal with are Christian. That’s not meant to be judgmental to those that are not. It merely serves as a reminder that they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ. And part of that commitment is to love one another as He has loved us. They live by the Words of the Scripture. The Scripture that not only instructs us to love, but defines what love is.
Today’s Scripture is from 1 Corinthians 13. It is one that is often used at wedding ceremonies because it makes it clear what love truly is. It is not merely a warm feeling or a passing fancy. Love is the single most important element of our being. Even things like faith, or even hope, are not as essential as love. Love is the one enduring quality that transcends all things.
Right now, we are all experiencing frustration and despair. As we watch the news, with its moment by moment screen crawls and graphics tabulating increases on COVID-19 cases and fatalities like a total board at a telethon, we can’t help but be frightened. The situation appears hopeless. But we do have hope. Our help and our hope is in the name of the Lord. But what do we do when our hope and our faith don’ t seem to be enough? When our fear overwhelms us because the challenge seems too great? Remember friends, “Faith, Hope and Love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love?
During this season of lent, we recall the suffering of Jesus. His pain and despair. How it began to overwhelm Him in the garden. The agony of the cross. His crying out in anguish to the Lord God Almighty, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Things can become so difficult that nothing can help us cope. Not even a strong faith. Not even our great hope. At that moment, all we are left with is – Love. For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. That whoever lives and believes in Him should have ever lasting life.
Remember friends, in the midst of a crisis, God loves you. In the midst of a pandemic, God loves you. In the midst of your loneliness and isolation, God loves you. In the midst of it all, God loves you. And God’s love never fails.
So friends, Love one another. Now more than ever. And be reminded how to love. The words of the apostle Paul have never been more relevant. Love is patient. Please remember that. Be patient in your dealings with each other. That person stocking the shelves, taking your order, or delivering your groceries is just as frightened as you are. Be patient with them, as you would want them to be patient with you. Be kind! It seems kindness is always in short supply anymore and this crisis has only elevated the meanness level. Be kind to each other. To the person on the other end of the phone who is trying to resolve your problem. That government worker is putting in long hours dealing with incomplete information and unknown solutions. It’s their first pandemic too. And be supportive of your leaders. They are working very hard in an unprecedented circumstance. Instead of complaining about their responses to the crisis, be thankful that they are responding. They may not have a perfect solution. They may not always say the perfect thing or have the perfect words. But they are trying. Support them. And certainly pray for them. Pray for a unity in spirit and a clear vision of purpose. Let us love one another, with patience and kindness. For love never ends!
Peace to you
Rev. Edward R. Gray