Consumed With Peace

As we gather this morning I want us to start by acknowledging that many of us and those in our communities are constantly dealing with this underlying fear in our lives because of the uncertainty about what the future may hold. Back in January the biggest fear I had was the transitions we were making with the Lords Supper and our efforts to be more proactive in discipleship. Two weeks ago I heard teachers talking about how rough it was going to be when you realized that we would Spring forward, have a full moon and Friday the 13th right before Spring Break.

If you would have asked me back then, I could have never predicted that the world would be caught up in a deadly new strand of coronavirus. I would have never thought that we would be worshiping through live stream, that city leaders would force small business owners to change the way they do business, that our culture would be in a full panic as folks are stocking up enough toilet paper, and hand sanitizer to last for years.

I have told you before that I struggle with the 24 hour news cycle that often causes fear and concern. Yet, I would have never imagined the way that our media is constantly showing and dissecting the latest coronavirus statistics. I know that people usually pass along some shady information on social media like Facebook and Twitter, but being able to distinguish the truth from the things that just sound like truth is getting more and more difficult. THere are too many people passing along false rumors and questionable advice they received from someone who knows someone who has been to a doctor once in their lives. Who would have ever imagined 5 weeks ago that there was something more irritating that a political commercial for Michael Bloomberg.

This is not the first time that mankind has faced an epidemic. We have endured the Spanish flu, the The Black Plague, the Swine Flu, and Small Pox. Yet here we are again in this uncertain time. We have no idea how many people will be infected? Or how many will die? Even though every year the regular flu takes tens of thousands of lives, somehow this Coronavirus is scarier because we don’t fully understand it.

I will readily admit that I am not the smartest person in any room, even in this room all by myself. But I am not scared of Coronavirus. I am under 50 and in relatively good health. All of the research and data says that I even if I contract the disease I should be fine. But I am concerned about people whom I love who are elderly and in frail health. I am concerned about those who are displaced or disenfranchised who stand to suffer most. I am concerned for their physical health as well as their emotional and spiritual health. Being isolated from your family, from your church, from your friends has devastating consequences on our emotional health and well being. But that’s not what frightens me most during this crisis.

My fear is that we as a society have seem to have lost our ability to reason and we have given into fear that has us teetering on the edge of panic. My fear is that we will delve into selfishness and a look out for myself attitude that severs the bonds of our community. I fear that we are teaching our children that when you are faced with a threat you need to take care of yourself and forget about everyone else. I am afraid that we who are called to love and serve our neighbor will not live up to our calling.

Our world is facing a virus; a pandemic. But it seems to me that the actual pandemic we are facing is not Coronavirus. There is a much greater threat looming and all of the hand washing and social distancing in the world is not going to help us.

As I sat in my office this week I began to wonder if you were in my position this morning what would you say? If you had the opportunity and burden to share from the word of God this morning, where would you turn? I believe that the word of God is powerful and speaks to our current situation. What words would you offer that would point people to the real antidote in the midst of this crisis?

I want to point you to a text from John’s gospel. Jesus is in the upper room with Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the rest of the apostles. He has instructed them on their need to serve one another and showed them what that means as He washed their feet. He pointed them to His love for them as He took the bread and the cup and transformed the beauty of the passover from remembering how God saved the Children of Israel to explaining how God would offer salvation to all mankind.  Yet, the Apostles still didn’t understand what Jesus was going to do, they didn’t realize that His death was the purpose of His coming.

Jesus was a few hours away from being arrested, tortured, and crucified. He knew exactly what was going to happen to Him. In a few minutes, He was going to be sweating drops of blood. Right now He is sitting with the 11 disciples, Judas has already left to betray Him. Yet in the midst of incredible fear, Jesus refuses to give into His human nature. Jesus looked at His apostles with love and makes them this promise, I leave you peace; my peace I give you. I do not give it to you as the world does. So don't let your hearts be troubled or afraid (John 14:27). 

I am drawn to these words, especially when our community is overwhelmed with fear. Our fear began with the closing of major public events, our colleges and universities, schools, and restaurants. And every day we spend in isolation watching the News and getting advice on Facebook our fear grows. We were accustomed to safety, protection, and dependability. There are very few of us alive today that have ever experienced this kind of uncertainty in our lifetime.

But, right now we are fearfully unsettled. We are being reminded that we are not in control. Empty grocery store shelves remind us that our ability to make money and purchase what we want isn’t dependable. We are learning that our government isn’t capable of protecting us from illness or providing us everything we need. We are vulnerable and insecure, and we are realizing that human life is really frail.  

And it is in the midst of our current climate of fear that Jesus, softly whispers to us I leave the gift of peace with you—my peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but my perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts—instead, be courageous!

It is in moments like this, as well as those that have come before and those that have yet to come, that I am reminded to turn away from all of the false security offered in this world and humbly turn to God. A.W. Tozer wrote years ago, “A frightened world needs a fearless church.” Our children and neighbors don’t need to see us panic; they need to see us living in a peace that passes all understanding. 

Let me say here that it is not anti biblical to be afraid. When God created man He gave us a myriad of emotions before He said we were very good. Our emotions are not sinful. It is not sinful to be afraid, in the same way that it is not sinful to be happy, sad, mad, or glad. We were given the ability to be afraid as a catalyst to become more aware of our surroundings. When we are afraid we slow down and make sure we make wise decisions, we become more vigilant.

So being afraid is not because we lack faith or we refuse to trust God. As my friend John Mark Hicks so eloquently reminded me: I trust God and I still wear my seatbelt. I trust God and I still take my prescribed medicines. I trust God and I still put smoke detectors in my home. I trust God and still lock my doors at night. Trusting God and being prudent are not mutually exclusive.

But let me caution you to not allow being afraid grow into living a life of fear. When we allow fear to overcome and control our lives, we become fixated on being afraid and we lose sight of what God is calling us to be. Have you allowed yourself to become consumed about the pandemic? Is it all you think about, read about, and talk about? While there is a lot of fear in our world right now, we cannot become so blinded in our present trouble that we lose sight of God.

Jesus tells us very plainly that, In this world, you will face danger. I am not advocating that we ignore what is happening, God created us with the ability to be concerned. I just want to be careful that I don’t forget that God is still alive and well. I don’t want to forget that I serve a God of glory, wisdom, goodness, power, and grace. I need to remember that regardless of what happens here, God continues to sit on the throne of His universe. And Paul reminds us that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing INCLUDING the Coronavirus—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

During this current crisis many in our community are living in fear. Especially in this moment we must remember that we still serve our God who did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control. While our community lives in fear let me encourage you to look to the peace and power of God and be a living example of the hope found in His name.

During the next coming weeks I want to encourage you to be a living example of the peace of God in your neighborhood and community. We must remember that this current crisis is impacting more than just our physical health and well-being. It also affects our emotional and spiritual well being. While more and more events and activities are being cancelled, let’s take the opportunity to check in on one another. Make a phone call, send a text, or like I saw in my neighborhood this week, go stand in your front yard and talk to your neighbor who is standing across the street in their yard.

We have several older and immune deficient members of our congregation who need you to stay in contact with them and encourage them. Maybe call them and share a passage you read, or let them know you were praying for them. Or actually call them and pray over the phone.

You have people in your neighborhood who are living in fear. Reach out to them and check on them. You might be meeting them for the first time. If you are in a healthy situation you might want to offer to run to the store and pick up the items they need. You might see if there is a need around their homes that you can meet. Or they might just need you to be a voice of calm and kindness.   

In the midst of all of this fear and uncertainty, we have a tremendous opportunity to model love in the model city by being the salt and light of the world. If we are willing to love our community, only God understands what will happen to our little church family over the next few months. How can you personally go about pouring out God’s compassion and community during this trying season. Can you imagine the impact we could make and what a light we could be to our community living in these uncertain times. Many of your neighbors are beginning to discover that they are not god and this idea of being in control is nothing more than a lie, a mirage.

Let’s combat fear by going to God in prayer and praying for those who are struggling with Coronavirus  and the other sicknesses that are making their way through our community. Pray for the medical workers who are on the front lines of this epidemic. Pray for those people working to find a cure for this disease. Pray for the folks working in the pharmacies and grocery stores who are being yelled at 100 times a day over things they have no control over. Pray for those small business owners who are feeling a huge impact and might lose their dreams, and businesses. Pray for the wisdom of those in leadership roles, and that they will seek God and His wisdom. Pray for our community to experience the love and peace of God who promises to give us a greater peace than anything the world can offer.

I am reminded that every crisis in our world is an opportunity for the church to rise up and be the hands and feet of Christ. While many people are living in fear, we have a different voice. We can speak words of calm and peace as we remember and remind our city that God is in control. Let us take up this opportunity to be a light in the darkness and show what it is to move from fear to peace.

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