Every headline screams for attention, but still Monday’s headline from the NY Times caused me to do a double take: “Bars, Strip Clubs and Churches: U.S. Virus Outbreaks Enter Unwieldy Phase”
“Ah,” I thought, “look at the company churches are keeping these days,” since people don’t usually group bars, strip clubs and churches together. It brought to mind the old Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” The coronavirus certainly makes for strange bedfellows.
The next thought that came was the once-famous “WWJD” as in “What Would Jesus Do?” Fortunately, we know what Jesus would do because the gospels tell us: Jesus was slandered as a drunkard and glutton, Jesus hung out with low-life tax collectors and sinners of all types, and allowed women of ill-repute to come too close.
Criticism rained down. Accusations flew of being in league with the devil. But that didn’t keep our Savior from proclaiming "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).
Question: Is it the presence of sinners that links these three places together: sinners all standing in need of the grace of God, some who know it and some who don’t, the kind you sing about when you sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found”?
In each of the three places, people are thirsty. It’s just that some have yet to figure out who it is who will truly quench their thirst, heal their soul, and bring them peace unlike any this world can offer: Jesus.
Please pray today for someone you know whose thirst can only be quenched by the Savior. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
It was totally unsolicited, the voice kind if insistent: “I’m calling you, Pastor Tom, because I’ve got one for you. Your next email needs to be on Romans 12:21, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
Overwhelmed by recent news and worried about family who have battled COVID-19, this verse had been her book of daily devotions. And it stuck with her. “This is what we need to hear and remember: ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
Details followed as the conversation continued. A niece and nephew-in-law, health care workers, had both been struck by the coronavirus and had only lately recovered. “I hear people say that we’re in a bubble here in Brunswick, but we’re not. People are getting sick and the news reported that one of the nursing homes had over 70 cases of the virus.
“And a couple of weeks ago George Floyd was choked to death, 9 minutes long or almost, and all of it on a cell phone. It just feels like everything is coming apart. And that is when I remembered ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Evil can’t get rid of evil, only good can do that.’”
She paused to take a breath. In that pause I remembered that someone once said the same thing about hate, love, darkness and light: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“So, Pastor Tom, will you do the next email on Romans 12:21?”
“No need,” I said. “I’ve been typing the whole time you’ve been talking. Do you want me to include your name?”
“Only if you’re hungry for a knuckle sandwich, which would totally undo the whole point of Romans 12:21 that tells us we need fewer knuckle sandwiches and more good. So be good and leave my name off of it.”
May we all join in her prayer this day to overcome evil with good.
Recently I was talking with one of our not-anywhere-near-ninety church members who told me that the times today “put me in mind of the war when everything was rationed.
“We needed a ration stamp for sugar and a ration stamp for meat. Then when the stores would get these things, there would be long lines and the people would just keep pushing me back because I was small. We even had to have rations stamps to get a pair of shoes, which we got only once a year on account of the war.
“And we were quarantined too because they were afraid that we would get bombed. I lived in a coal mine town, and the whistle would blow, and then we had to put blankets over the windows.
“Main thing is you got to hang in there and do what they tell you, they are trying to save your life! All these things happening today put me in mind of that.
“When my mom couldn’t take us to church, then her brother always took us. The preacher was from out of town and he would eat with us. My father eventually joined the church and even became a pastor too, though he still worked in the coal mines. So don’t take it wrong if people don’t invite you to eat, Pastor Tom. They’re just afraid it could happen to them too.”
It most certainly could! But whether or not it does, let your joy and hope be in the Lord. Offer your strength and encouragement to bolster each other in these hard times.
Remember to laugh and to smile, and to not take yourself so seriously all the time, for our risen Lord is “standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).
May God’s comfort and joy be with you today.
Last night I snuck outside for a walk. Cloud cover was minimal, stars could be seen in abundance, and the moon was nearly full. (In case you’re wondering, the “Full Strawberry Moon” will be here on June 5.) Even the westerly wind was in my favor: I could feel its gentle breeze and hear the frogs rather than the humming of cars buzzing by on I -71.
As I looked up at the moon, the opening words of “How Great Thou Art” came to mind: “O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made …” All I was looking at was one moon, yet what a springboard it was to imagine all the worlds God has made and marvel at God’s power through the universe displayed.
Quiet moments are good balm for the soul – don’t cheat yourself of them! Ten minutes here or five minutes there will give you a break from the concerns and worries of the day. And no need to worry about them while you’re on break – they’ll still be there when you come back since they don’t usually go away on their own.
A moment of quiet will help you get your bearings back. A time to ponder anew what the Almighty can do will do wonders for you too, and also give you a chance to let your soul sing “How great thou art!” (Best part is, your soul doesn’t even have to put a mask on to sing.) “Then sings my soul, may Savior God to thee, how great thou art: how great Thou art!”
These are difficult times that compel us to keep our focus on the Savior, and to rely God’s amazing grace and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives: “He has shown you what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). God Bless and Be with you today,
United Methodist Pastor, Child of God, Follower of Jesus Christ.