Back on March 19th when we learned that we would have to go to a complete online format I made the decision that instead of continuing our study of the 10 Commandments, that it would be helpful for us to explore Biblical stories and texts that would help us trust God while dealing with these anxious times. 7 weeks ago when I was picking out the stories and texts that I wanted us to focus on, I had originally written down the 23rd Psalm. It just made sense for us to go to this psalm during this time of uncertainty.
Plus all of the other preachers I knew had the 23rd Psalm on their teaching list. We tend to gravitate to David’s words because it’s a very comforting text. That’s why you often hear it being read at funerals and times of despair. We all need to be reminded that God says, I will take care of all your needs if you'll just trust Me.
But I had no idea that our Sabbath would last as long as it has. I thought we would be strictly online for 4 weeks, so I began to narrow down my teaching texts and the first text I scratched was the 23rd Psalm. In my mind we would be back together around the tables, talking about the 10 Commandments by the first Sunday in May. I was also a little concerned that maybe we have gotten so familiar with the psalm, that we have read it so many times, that the Psalm had lost it’s power.
When I was little the first passage I ever memorized was … well Jesus wept from John 11:35, then John 3:16, But the third passage I memorized as a child was the 23rd Psalm.
This Psalm has a foothold in our culture. It is the topic of countless songs, books, papers, and sermons. So at first I had decided to go somewhere else, to not preach on the Psalm. Maybe it’s because this series has gone on a lot longer that I had originally planed for or hoped or maybe I need the comfort and peace that comes from this psalm, but I found myself stuck in the 23rd Psalm this week. And while there are a lot of great translations of this passage, I was drawn back to the one that I first memorized.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
As I was mediating on the Psalm this week, my eyes continued to go back to verse 4 where David writes: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Because in the midst of all of this change and anxiety I need to be reminded that even though this virus has changed our lives, we know that it will not last. It's a valley that we are walking through, and we're going to walk through it together.
From thousands of years of history, we know that epidemics grow and decline like bell curves. They start and they spike rapidly, but they inevitably peak and decline. The Corona virus will pass, just like the Ebola scare, N1H1, the Bird Flu, and the Spanish flu over 100 years ago. The Corona Virus didn't come to stay; it's not going to last.
This is a valley that we are walking through, and we have the opportunity to walk through it together. We not only have the opportunity to walk through this valley with God, we have been given a church family that walks through this valley with us; you're not going to be alone.
There are several passages in the Bible that remind us that as long as we live as broken people on this broken planet, that we will face trial and adversities. We read in 1 Peter 4:12, Dear friends, don't be surprised or shocked when you go through painful trials and fiery tests in life. In the world, you will have tribulation. So don't be surprised, don't be shocked, because everything on this planet is broken, the weather is broken, the economy is broken, your plans are broken, nothing works perfectly in your life. Sin broke everything on earth. And while we are going through painful trials, we need to remember that we are going through them, we are not stuck in them.
But I am also reminded that once we get to the other side we will not be the same. Walking through these valleys with God always changes us. While the intent is for us to grow closer to God, the sad truth is that some of us will feel farther away. Instead of drawing closer to God, we will allow this to be a time when we grow farther apart from Him.
Do you remember in Genesis 22 when God instructs Abraham, Take your son, your only son Isaac whom I know you love deeply, and go to the land of Moriah. When you get there, I want you to offer Isaac to Me as a burnt offering on one of the mountains. That was a valley for both Abraham and Isaac, but unfortunately they both came out of the other side different people. Abraham seemed to be bolstered in his faith, while Isaac struggled with God the rest of his life. It’s not that Isaac didn’t love God, it’s just that he wanted to love Him from a safe distance.
In the same way, when we get to the other side fo this valley, some of us will have a stronger faith, while others will want to keep God at a safe distance. Some of you are longing to get back to be a part of the crowd, to worship with our family. And others will find a way to reinvest your time. You will trade Sundays with your church family, for time on the lake or just staying around the house.
One of the greatest struggles that our leadership is facing right now is how do we come back on the other side of this valley as a family. How do make sure that we come out of this valley bolstered in our faith. I know that we have endured a lot of changes in the past 5 months, but what if God is giving us the time during this epidemic to really invest in being an Acts 2 church? What if God is allowing us to walk together through this valley so that we will invest in being a place where every member feels loved, supported, needed, and encouraged?
What if we have been given this valley to walk through, not as a punishment, but as a blessing? What if it has given us the chance to be faithfully devoted to following the teachings of the apostles. What if this is our chance to have our hearts mutually linked to one another, sharing communion and coming together regularly for prayer. What if this time will allow A deep sense of holy awe to sweep over everyone, and … All the believers live life in fellowship as one body, as we shared with one another whatever we have. What if when they open the state back up we find ourselves meeting Daily together in one another’s homes to celebrate communion, to shared meals together with joyful hearts and tender humility. What if we get on the other side of this valley and we are continually filled with praises to God, enjoying the favor of all the people.
Historically, Christians have always moved into the pain when everybody else moved out. Thousands of years ago, the Acts 2 church walked through a valley when the Black Plague ran through the Roman Empire and nobody knew the cause of it. They certainly didn't know about viruses, they didn't know about bacteria, they didn't know about infections. They didn't have any of the scientific tools we have today, and millions of people were dying in the cities.
All of the people began to flee the cities thinking that maybe the cities were causing the plague. What did the Christians do? They actually moved into the cities to take care of the sick, and that's how the Roman Empire was converted. They looked at them and they said, "See how they love one another." The Acts 2 church reached out and loved their community, because they believed that Jesus gave us a preaching, and teaching, and healing faith. They believed that Jesus cares about the mind, the body and the soul.
When everyone was running away, the early Church walked towards the pain and sickness of the Black Plague that was decimating the Roman Empire. They didn’t have any of the advantages, none of the scientific knowledge, that we have today. Yet, they were living out Pauls words that to live is Christ and die is gain. The Acts 2 church was willing to risk their lives for the sake of the gospel.
Now, please understand that I am not suggesting that God is calling us to do something foolish or rash. But I wonder if this epidemic is a gift to the Church so that we can respond in love and to care for people, and to care for the most vulnerable.
I was thinking this week about all the changes that have happened in my life because of a calamity. I was thinking about how the world changed during Katrina, the changes that happened after 9/11, or when tornadoes rip through cities, or floods destroy homes. I was thinking about how christians would walk into these calamities and bring the gift of peace and compassion. I was thinking how it was the Christians who invented hospitals, hospice centers, and homeless shelters. I was thinking how it was Christians, not governments, not non profit agencies, but Christians who are willing to walk through these valleys with fellow pilgrims and strugglers.
And I began to think that maybe we are not only being invited to walk through this valley with God, but maybe we are being given the chance to invite our neighbors, friends, and family to join us on this journey. To continue to become more like the Acts 2 church, a church that was invested in spreading the love of God to the community, and making sure there was a place for everyone at the table.
You see it is at the table that we come to remember Who walks with us and allows us to remain steadfast during times of uncertainty. It is at the table that we get to sit with and celebrate our Savior who gave His life so that we can walk through the valley.
It’s so easy to focus on all of the changes that have happened and those that continue to happen in our lives, that we lose sight of the One who is unchanging. But when we gather here at the table we are being invited to sit with our God who is unchanging. The Hebrew writer says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. … Your strength comes from God’s grace.
As our community continues to deal with all of these changes and struggles, let’s use this time as a reminder that there is one thing that will never change, and that is Jesus Christ.
I understand that we desire to get back to normal, that some of us are fighting against change. But maybe God wants us to get to a better normal, one where we get back to being an Acts 2 church and go into our community, with all of it’s fear and uncertainty and Model the Love of our Savior who is unchanging.
As we gather at the table this morning, I want us to spend a little time focusing on Christ, and allow Him to be the anchor that holds us stay as we walk through this valley together. As we take the bread and cup this morning, let us:
Focus on the fact that God sees everything we are going through.
Focus on the fact that God cares about everything we are going through.
Focus on the fact that God has the power to change what we are going through.
And focus on the fact that God always acts out of His love for us.