You say, “I am allowed to do anything”– but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” — but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
When COVID-19 quickly found us, pastor Jen rooted us in the scripture above as a guiding light, to discern along the way what is best, and beneficial in our care for one another. Love of neighbor, as we keep being reminded of, is at the heart of our Christian life. Most recently, we have not been able to gather in the sanctuary for our blessed worship as we had hoped to beginning in November. The surge of the virus left us once again plotting the question, “What does it mean right now to be concerned for the good of each other?” And it is true that the mitigation restrictions are not technically binding on religious services, leaving open the door for churches to decide for themselves. In this case, we have discerned that for now what is good, best, beneficial in our care for each other is not to gather together. It hurts. It’s hard. And increasingly an increasing number of us wonder why, when we could choose to gather.
In 1517 Martin Luther’s famed 95 theses helped spark the protestant reformation after they were distributed far and wide with the help of the printing press, which was the 16th century’s version of social media. Less famous are his words written ten years later, when the Bubonic Plague was passing around Europe again. Back then these seasons like we’re in now were much more common, and what those who had the means would do was flee their cities for the countryside. In this case, in Wittenberg, The Elector of of Saxony and John the Steadfast on their way out of town ordered the famous professor and pastor to follow them down the road. Luther refused, and he along with his pregnant wife Katharina, turned their own house into a field hospital for the sick.
“We pray and we act” is what he wrote: “Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. … See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Martin and his wife cared for the sick and dying out of a deep sense of love for neighbor, and at great risk to themselves, while at the same time seeking to follow the given protocol of the time for the safety of their neighbors. This was their focus. They recognized their own need to do without aspects of normal life (routines, rhythms, activities) as an act of caring, of love for others.
And this is what we are seeking to do these days. We are able to continue our gatherings virtually, though this is not what we would choose. Our worship of the Lord will never cease, though for a time we won’t be together in the sanctuary. These are sacrifices we embrace when we are less concerned about ourselves and more concerned about others. This in itself is a witness to our faith in Jesus, and in the presence of Holy Spirit, which join us together even though we are apart.
There is hope on the horizon. Planes carrying shipments of medicine are moving everywhere. God be praised! In the meantime, we physical distance, we stay home, and we wear masks — these all acts of concern and care for each other’s well-being.