God's Words of Comfort During a Pandemic
Sermon preached at my congregation on March 15, 2020 for the Third Sunday in Lent. It was preached on Exodus 17:1-7 with John 4:5-26 also heavily used. This Sunday was arguably the first Americans had for worship during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you, Amen.
God’s Word is always full of perfect timing. Our lives this past week have been changed and altered in profound ways. You have the feeling we have been quickly thrust into uncharted waters and we don’t yet know where this wayward ship is headed. Its frustrating when you don’t really know exactly what to think, or what sources to trust. We’re not sure if the world is going to end in the next 7 days or if we’re going to find out everything is a-okay, nothing further to worry about. Tomorrow remains a big unknown.
Yet not entirely. God’s Word speaks about Christian living in difficult times. In days of uncertainty and days in which we feel like we are surrounded by unknowns and uncharted waters God’s Word speaks of hope. God is the most perfect of certainties in our lives. He is known. He is in charge. He makes tomorrow a matter of hope and promise because it is in His hands.
There is a temptation in difficult times such as these to think we need to take matters into our own hands. That we have to be in charge of figuring it all out. This might lead us into decisions that can end up harming others, even ourselves. There is a temptation to fall into a “circle the wagons” mentality. That I have to do what it takes to care of myself, everything else be forgotten. This leads us to hoard resources. This leads us to cut others off from our lives, others who may be in just as dire need of help as ourselves. When Sarah and I were at meijer on Friday afternoon to get some food since we have three hungry mouths to feed for the next three weeks during the day with no school, I got talking to the cashier as we checked out. I asked her how things had been the last 48 hours with the swell of shoppers. She said some people have been quite nice. She said others came up front to cuss her out for there being no toilet paper. She shrugged, and said not much I as a cashier can do about that. I hope and pray that she and all people serving the public needs at this time can receive the lion’s share of brotherly love.
This morning we’re going to see that God has the answers for us. That we don’t have to be in charge of taking care of it all. That He is, and always has been, the source of life and will continue to be so.
To illustrate that fact I want you to consider the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel back in the days of the Book of Exodus. We heard read from chapter 17 this morning but we’re going to get to that in a minute. There is a pattern that forms regarding the relationship of Israel with the one true God throughout their wanderings. It is a pattern that will shed light on our present day and plight and relationship with God.
In Exodus 14 the children of Israel are in a hopeless situation. They’ve fled Egypt and find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. The impassable Red Sea sits to their east while the army of pharaoh has them pinned in from the other direction. What are they to do, it seemed all was lost. And then God provided He parted the Red Sea for them to pass through into freedom and a new life.
Some time passes in the wilderness and then the people begin to fret and lose faith once more. They’re hungry. There is no food to be had. Again, all seems hopeless what are they to do. And again God provides. He rains down manna from heaven and provides quail for them to eat meat.
Do you see the pattern forming? We see it once more in today’s passage in chapter 17. The people quarrel with Moses and demand he give them water to drink. They gripe that it would have been better to remained in Egypt as slaves. Once more they seem utterly faithless. And once more time, continuing the pattern, God provides water from a rock.
We could continue all throughout the Old Testament and beyond to find this pattern between people and God. Life gives us a gut punch and we run around like the sky is falling thinking God has left us. And then God reminds us He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will provide all in His time according to His plan out of His abundant love for us. History shows, there is no doubt to this. God is present. God is love. God will provide.
St. Paul has an amazing commentary on Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness and He also opens our eyes up to one more delightful detail that speaks to us still today. I read to you from 1 Corinthians 10 “1b ...our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
St. Paul points us to Christ, the true spiritual Rock. Christ the provider of all good things. Christ who watched over Israel in days of old during their wilderness wanderings. Christ who watches over, and is with us still today in our wilderness wanderings of life. Christ who promised the woman at the well “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Yes, give me this water please.
In Christ we have the fountain of life. We partake of Him we live forever. It’s that simple. He’s the well that keeps on giving, He’s the river that flows unto eternity.
Some of you, if you peruse the internet or the social media may have seen a quote from Martin Luther being passed around in the last week or so. It was Martin Luther’s thoughts on how to handle the spreading of the black plague when it hit Wittenberg, Germany. He offers a Christian example of how to handle such a scary moment when your life and your life’s family are threatened.
Here is Luther’s Quote:
“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 inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash no foolhardy and does not tempt God."
Luther's Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter "Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague" written to Rev. Dr. John Hess”
A couple of things he notes that are incredibly useful for us today and the uncertain days we have ahead of us. First and foremost he is right to suggest that we pray. We pray for God’s mercy, for God’s protection, for God’s love and comfort. Quite practically, he wrote of how we should take precautions. To be wise and wash hands and avoid contact is not a sign of a lacking faith, its the sign of a God-given brain using common sense. Even Luther knew this 500 years ago.
Another bit of common sense was Luther saying essentially I won’t go where I am not needed. I’m not needed at the movie theater or in the middle of big crowds at a basketball game at this time, so I will avoid it. But note the final point Luther makes, perhap His most poignant for the Christian: “If my neighbor needs me I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above.” In other words, during times like these our God-given calling to love our neighbor does not cease. We’re here for one another and we continue to care and love because God continues to care and love us.
Luther’s words are full of wisdom, common sense, and right Christian thought. We continue living in most proper ways while still exercising caution and concern. We certainly are not called to huddle in the corner in fear while neglecting our callings and losing faith in our gracious God.
I’ll give you one more quote, this time from my favorite English author C.S. Lewis. During WWII in Britain Lewis wrote regarding the fears of an atomic bomb being dropped on London. He said this: “The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes to find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”
Dear brothers and sisters. Our hope yesterday, today, and tomorrow will always be in Christ Jesus our Lord. He has proven over and over He will not forsake us. And with Him we know tomorrow will come and it will be a glorious new day. The sun will still rise. The birds will still sing. Christ will still be crucified for our sins. And death will still be the vanquished foe left behind at the empty tomb.
To God be the glory, Amen.