Social distance hurts

People everywhere are grieving. That’s the right word, grieving. Even if you haven’t lost someone you love, you’re grieving over other things you’ve lost. It’s OK to feel that way. Your grief is real; it’s legitimate.

One of the things that’s been hurt most is relationships. The distancing that we need to keep us safe physically is taking a toll on us emotionally, spiritually.

The truth is we’ve been suffering from the effects of social distancing for a long time. Robert Putnam published his bestselling book Bowling Alone, on the breakdown of community, in the year 2000. 

We talk about this in our church all the time. Society is more connected in some ways than ever before, yet we feel more isolated than ever.

The way we understand community has been changing. For example, after World War II, millions of folks moved to the suburbs. We started building houses with back decks instead of front porches. 

And the distance between us increased.

Why is this a problem?

Because we were made for each other. In Genesis 1:25, God said, “Let us make man in our image.” Did you notice the plural language? “Us” and “our.” 

We were created in the image of a God who is relational, Father, Son, and Spirit, who existed in community for all time. We were created by this relational God for God and each other.     

At the fall, we were banished from God’s presence and our relationships have been hurting ever since.

And the greatest distance of all was between God and us. 

This is why social distancing hurts so much. We weren’t created for this. In ways too many to count, we need each other.

But there’s good news.

God closed the distance between God and us. He sent his son Jesus Christ all the way from heaven to earth. 

But there’s more.  At the end of his life, he was rejected. Jesus experienced the ultimate distancing, cut off from the God he had known from all eternity. 

But isolation didn’t get the final word. God raised him to life and raised to him heaven where joined humanity to God.

When we believe, God sends his Spirit so that we will never be truly alone again. 

The Father knows

I was in high school when I realized that my common sense went to sleep the moment my head hit the pillow at night. The rest of my brain went on working just fine, leaving the rest of me wide awake. Back then, I was skinny and pale, and I thought my head was too big for my body. I mostly worried about what kids thought of me.

I like to think I don’t worry as much now, but the truth is, I still worry more than I should. (The fear of being too skinny passed a long time ago.)

Jesus told us over and over not to worry. In a famous section of the Sermon on the Mount, beginning at Matthew 6:25, he told us not to worry about what we eat, drink, and wear. Amidst a global pandemic, we want to ask, “OK, Jesus, but how?”

Remember, Jesus’ commands come with the grace to carry them out, and there in verse 32 is the grace: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

Jesus wasn’t commanding us not to worry because eating, drinking, and clothing weren’t important. He was commanding us not to worry because God knows they are.

Didn’t Jesus himself enjoy a good meal with his friends?

Didn’t his first miracle keep the party going when the wine had run out?

Didn’t the soldiers at his crucifixion gamble for his cloak? It must have been nice.

Jesus is concerned about us. He knows our needs because he had them too. He cares that people are hurt when restaurants, bars, and businesses close, limiting what we can eat, drink, and wear.

Amidst the crisis, grace: Your heavenly Father knows.

Not to be taken lightly

I’ve never forgotten the advice of the instructor on my first day of flying training at the Air Force Academy. “What’s the first thing you do in an aircraft emergency?” he asked.

“Wind your watch.”

In other words, “Take stock of the situation. Don’t panic.”

(Yes, those were the days when watches were powered by springs which required winding.)

And the second thing?

“Fly the aircraft.”

Don’t get so distracted trying to fix what’s wrong that you forget the basics.

Today we’re in the early stages of a global health crisis brought on by COVID-19. As Americans, we expect to be safe and comfortable. We expect to overcome problems and move on. This crisis may be very different.

What does it mean to be a faithful church in a time like this? Some thoughts:

Ours is an incarnational faith. God came to earth as a human being, subject to all the hazards of the first century world, like famine, wars, and disease. He hung out with the sick, the possessed, and people who wanted to kill him. Jesus knows what we’re going through.

Jesus commanded us not to worry, five times in the Sermon on the Mount alone. Dutch writer Corrie ten Boom said, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength.”

We must care for the hurting. Jesus said it over and over in Matthew 25; we’ll be judged on whether we cared for those who were hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and more. Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook when caring is hard. One of the reasons the early church grew was its willingness to care for the sick, including non-believers, regardless of the danger.

Going where God leads takes courage. Read 1 Corinthians 11:23 and the verses that follow. The Apostle Paul said that he was “exposed to death again and again.” Paul was shipwrecked and beaten, hungry, naked, and sleep deprived. For much of church history, and in many places today, being a Christian was not “safe.”

It’s wise to be careful. Proverbs 22:3 says, “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” (NLT). We need to see science and medicine as the gifts they are, and we need to find and act on the best possible information. I recommend this podcast with Dr Michael Osterholm, You can also Google “Michael Osterholm.”

Remember our hope. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded of our mortality. But we should also remember that when Mary Magdalene met the Risen Jesus on the first Easter morning, she mistook him for the gardener. It was the right mistake to make. Jesus was sowing seeds where there had been only death. We have no idea when the end will come for us, but when we believe, we can know without any doubt that God’s got us, and we belong to him forever.

Pray! Pray for those with the illness, health care workers, leaders, and anyone impacted by this disease and its effects. Pray for the church as we seek to be faithful in this challenging time.

Note: We will continue to evaluate the situation and respond as needed. We will make changes to the way we conduct worship to limit potential exposure. We are continuing to clean surfaces throughout the church. We’re also evaluating the way Tuesday night meals are served. Please check the church email or call the church if you have questions. Of course, if you are experiencing symptoms, please seek medical help, avoid contact with others, and let us know so we can care for you.