With all the bad news emanating from our TV’s concerning the global Coronavirus outbreak, a glimmer of good news has begun to surface as well. In my area of Indiana, which hasn’t been particularly hard hit – yet – schools have been closed, while the governor has strongly suggested a limit on crowd sizes pertaining to both religious and entertainment venues.
Beneath the groundswell of hoarding and grumbling about High School and college tournament cancellations, as well as the stoppage of professional sports seasons, some signals that not all is lost and that maybe some positives could be realized have indeed begun to be noted. (Not the least of which being the fact that we all will have fewer distractions and more time to contemplate the imperatives of life, both physical and spiritual.)
On the national level, a number of athletes, owners, businesses and entertainers have stepped into the gap created by the restrictions on large gatherings and have covered the financial losses suffered by those doing the less glamorous jobs that service the now-absent fans. On the local level, YMCA’s, churches, schools and a number of restaurants have opted to maintain their efforts, even while closed to the public, to offer free food to children whose schools have been closed for an indeterminate amount of time; assuring those in need of at least one nutritious meal a day.
Businesses with Wi-Fi have opened their doors to families who don’t have it, allowing those students the opportunity to keep up with their classmates through E-learning days while away from school; and a local U-Haul operator is offering free access to its storage facilities for college students suddenly heading home but intending to return to their dorms at a later date. All are representative of people who choose to be a part of the solution to our problems both locally and nationally, who see opportunity to serve in dire circumstances; a movement the church should be at the forefront of.
A friend of mine recently reposted a short observance from “With God Daily” about a Van Gogh painting titled “The Potato Eaters,” depicting a peasant family gathered around a family meal. The painting made a subtle allusion to Christ’s presence in the near-communion setting, the point being that Christ was/is present with the needy and poor even if they weren’t always present – or welcome – in the church of their day. Skye Jethani, the author of the original posting, concludes with, “The small, sacred gathering in a home over a meal looks far more like the way Christians gathered in the first century, and less like the extravagant productions we now expect in the twenty-first. Van Gogh’s vision is becoming increasingly relevant, however, as more disillusioned believers (as well as Christians round the world who are not allowed, either because of a health crisis or government hostility to their actions) are finding faith, fellowship, and purpose outside the confines of institutional churches.” (Whether in informal prayer meetings, small groups or house churches, etc.)
Jethani then concludes with the observation, “With the Covid-19 pandemic threatening to end large gatherings, highly institutional churches in the U.S. and elsewhere may have to rekindle the faith (and practices) of the earliest Christians to see the presence of Christ in small, ordinary things rather than the spectacular.” To which I can only say ‘Amen’, with a bit of reservation. The danger of some small groups being co-opted by strong personalities lacking a genuine understanding of Biblical doctrine can be problematic if not frightening. It is, however, absolutely true that times like these may very well force us out of our pews and comfort zones and into the real world where people, unbelievers and the so-called spiritual but non-religious alike, reside. People who may very well be more responsive to simple gestures offered by sincere Christians as opposed to the slickly produced offerings of some churches today.
In fact, many today – especially the younger set – resent being pigeon-holed and targeted with spike-haired, skinny-jean clad, tattooed, ‘hip’ youth leaders and worship ministers; preferring sincere faith put into practice by compassionate, honest, principled followers of Christ, (Which is not to say all ‘hip’ youth leaders and worship ministers are unappreciated or “bad.”
Where it all starts, according to Paul, is with sincere love. (Romans 12:9) What James described as the “royal law” of scripture. “Lov(ing) your neighbor as yourself,” James 2:8 Jesus ramping up even that ideal by instructing us to love not only our neighbor but our “enemies” as well. (Matthew 5:44) Paul reiterating this goal by exhorting us to be devoted to one another and to honor others before satisfying ourselves. (Romans 12:10) Which is often demonstrated when we share our total selves – not just our money – with others both inside and outside the church. (Romans 12:13) Paul fleshing out his Christian theology with practical, everyday advice on how to do church. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,… Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” (As if we are in any position to make that judgment!) “Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:3 & 16
Beyond that, Paul admonishes us to, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” (Not being fake but accommodating others when and where we can.) “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:17,18 Because for Paul, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14 (A reframing of Jesus’ admonition of, “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12) All of which prompted Paul to declare that, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6 James then bluntly warning, “…judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” James 2:13 The extension of “mercy” often being worthless if not accompanied by practical acts of generosity. (See James 2:15,16) For, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.” James 2:26 James writing with some apparent exasperation, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:18
That may indeed take us out of our comfort zone, but the church being the church outside the church building is what will convince people of our sincerity in demonstrating Christ’s love and encourage in them a response to the gospel that will save their souls and redeem their lives.
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