Friday, April 3, 2020

What does it mean to be Christian in time of pandemic. . .

Stop reading right now if you expect me to give the definitive answer to that question.  I have no great wisdom to impart and I am not sage who can speak with authority to define what it means to be Christian in time of pandemic.  But it is exactly the kind of thing we ought to be talking about!

Christians in time of pandemic cannot simple be slightly different versions of those who do not know Christ or trust by His death and resurrection or live by His love the hope of live stronger than death.  If Christianity does not seem to be a significant differential from those who do not profess Christ, we are surely in trouble greater than a viral threat.

Emergencies always give birth to exceptions and those exceptions too often become the expectation and rule for the times that follow.  We have already seen that.  Churches are shuttered and worship has moved to live streaming or other digital means.  Some have attempted to find ways to put into place an imagined home church in which fathers are priests and the Word and Sacraments are the domain of the family, not the Church.  Pastors have become video stars who act out what the Church would do if people were actually there.  I have already written with caution that this could easily become the new normal as the time when the greater threat lessens moves to the more distant future.

So does being Christian in time of pandemic simply mean that you do virtually what you once did in person?  If which videos we watch and what social media we follow are the chief marks of Christian faith and life, Christian faith does not count for much.

As Lutherans, we surely should be talking about vocation.  It is not what we watch others do that distinguishes us from the rest of the people but what we do.  What do we do as the people of God and where do we do it?  The first circle of this is the home.  We have a vocational duty to our spouse and children, to our parents and extended family.  Though we have been taught that help comes from Washington, it begins at home.  We take care of one another.

It extends to the household of the faith.  If we cannot take care of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, then the Church is only an imaginary association.  But if we live out our baptismal vocation in relationship to the rest of the baptized, this means caring for those we sit with in the pews.  It means keeping contact and helping with the needs of those within our community of faith but it also mean sharing the hope within us, encouraging those whose faith is weak, and supporting those who are alone with their fears.

It extends to the neighborhood.  Christians should not be hoarders but we should be sharers of the resources in short supply and great need.  Instead of relying upon government or other NGOs we work to be the instruments of God's care to those most alone and afraid.  If faith cannot overcome fear and panic, we have little to say to those around us but if faith can move us in love to transcend fear and panic and enable us to find the ways to fulfill our vocation to our neighbor, we have a message that is profound.

It extends to prayer.  The prayer of a righteous person avails much.  Unpack that.  The righteous person here does not mean a person without sin but the sinner redeemed and restored in Christ Jesus, covered with His righteousness in baptism, and living by faith the new life that is His gift.  It means that prayer is not a idle activity but the daily conversation with God in which our hearts, minds, lives and fears are addressed to the God who has loved us more than life itself.  It means that prayer does change things but, even more importantly, it changes us as we learn to be content with God's will and purpose -- not as a consolation prize for failing to get what we want but with confidence that God's will is good, gracious, and perfect.  Thy will be done, we pray.

It extends to our wallets.  If we allow our panic to withhold tithes and offerings from our churches, we may survive but at the cost of that which is supposed to be one of our greatest treasures.  Thousands of pastors and congregations are in dire financial straits and as our people shelter in place and hunker down for the long haul, the congregations have seen more than the doors close, they have witnessed the giving drop significantly or nearly end entirely.  If the world watches us watch as we abandon our servants for Christ's sake and the places from which the Word goes forth and the sacraments offered, they will draw some conclusions about the value we place on Christ and His gifts.  We have a vocational duty to make sure we continue to support the churches when the services are curtailed or the doors are shut.

It extends to our view of life and life everlasting.  As Christians living in the shadow of death, we believe that we possess already a life that death cannot overcome.  We do not believe that eternal life is a poor substitute for a longer or better life on earth or a reward for good behavior.  We believe that eternal life is beyond our imagination and so great as to make a comparison with today impossible AND that this life is given to us purely by grace, as a gift to the unworthy and undeserving, through Christ, and apprehended by faith.  We affirm gladly with St. Paul -- whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord -- and this is our greatest hope and confidence especially now.

In the end, I invite you to have a real discussion in your family and among your friends about what it means to be Christian in time of pandemic.  It should mean something and Christians should be approaching this differently than those outside the household of the faith.


Janis Williams said...

Excellent. I wonder also if being Christian in time of pandemic will look to the world like we are being reckless. “What? You’re going out to a church service? That’s foolish!” We should be as much as we were as possible, within guidelines, and without breaking laws. This certainly is not our best life now; it is a time when we can focus on eternity, when our ‘best life’ will be forever.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters

Christians in America are operating under a false assumption.

Christians believe that the state closed churches because of a virus. This is incorrect. The state closed churches because the state deemed church services to be 'non-essential'. The state placed church services in the same category as nail salons and billiard parlors. Note that abortion clinics and cannabis dispensaries are deemed to be essential and will remain open.

Christians believe that organized religion is crucial to the functioning of a well-ordered society. Many Christians received a rude awakening when they saw that their city/state/federal governments don't share this belief.

Christians believed that the US Constitution guarantees that they have a legally enforceable right to assemble to worship God. Christians received a rude awakening when they saw that the state can simply shut down organized religion at its whim, and Christians have no legal recourse.

Christians believed that their non-church-going neighbors would support a Christian's right to assemble for worship. Again, Christians received a rude awakening when they saw their non-church-going neighbors applaud the government's closing of churches. Christians see that their non-church-going neighbors feel it is their civic duty to report to the authorities any clandestine gathering of people for a religious service, a wedding, a funeral etc.

We Christians need to read carefully the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew chapter 10, verses 16 thru 22. This is the new reality.

Anonymous said...

That nice couple across the street, you know the one with the "Co-exist" sticker on the rear bumper of their Audi, have appointed themselves the neighborhood watch. They've made it their job to report to the police any instances of unauthorized gatherings, especially religious-type gatherings. They've counted the number of cars that normally appear in the driveway of each home on the block and they sit by the window and peer out from behind closed curtains looking for any extra cars in driveways or parked in front of houses.

If you plan to have friends or family over for Easter lunch or dinner, here's my advice. Tell them to park their cars a block or so away so as not to draw attention of the neighborhood Stasi.