I would like to start with the ending of last Sunday’s message. The conclusion went something like this: “Since we are living by the grace and power of God in Christ, we can boldly say, ‘Go ahead world and keep changing, for I will not fear because I have faith.’”
To sum up that Sunday’s message, “Things are Always Changing,” I tried to show how the world and our lives have always experienced all kinds of changes. As we are facing this pandemic now, we can also know that this is not the world’s first time, even in modern days, that it has experienced a virus that has swept the globe.
Somehow in my history classes, I had missed the pandemic of 1918 that has recently come up in the news as a way to compare to what is happening now. To catch up on it, I’ve googled it, and I saw how crushing it was to lives with one-third of the population of the world getting the virus and over 50 million deaths.
Just in the past one hundred years, we have had world wars, severe depression, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. When I was a pastor in Louisville, I was also teaching a dual credit college course at a high school in a nearby farming town. A tornado had whipped through that town and leveled that high school. Fortunately, no students were harmed, and after a few weeks, we were able to continue the class in a warehouse that a local company donated to the school. I remember the resilience of that small community and how they worked to get their lives back to “normal” as quickly as they could.
Reading through history books and recalling the memories of our lives, we know that life has times of celebrations and times of sorrow. The ups can get pretty high as life does have some awesome times, but we also have losses that can cause much sadness. With the highs and lows, I think we can say that our days mostly run routinely, or to say, life is basically “normal.”
As I look back at last week’s message about the pandemic, I remember stating that I did not want to minimize the harm that this virus is having on us. Looking at how this time is straining us, we can also see that we have been through difficult times before, so it stands to reason that we can get through this one.
I have always had trouble with the statement that someone might say when he or she sees someone else who is going through a problem. “You know, there are people in the world who are far worse off than you. So stop your complaining.” Well, it is true that problems can be worse, but if I stub my toe in the middle of the night to get a drink of water, my throbbing toe can keep me up for the rest of the night. I know there are people who have deeper problems than my sore toe, but whatever we are dealing with at a certain time is what captures our attention.
All these new changes with some that are becoming tough challenges are what concern us right now. It may seem that we have a cause for complaining. No doubt that we have a lot of red flags that are raising. But if we get stuck on a path of our grievances, they usually make way for pointing to blame, and just finding fault with others will not lead us to any good solutions. In saying that about our concerns and how we approach them, I do want to be sure that we do not dismiss our concerns, worries, and fears.
It’s natural to have concerns about this hard time that is going over all the world. We are needing to leave our “regular” lives. My planner was filled with all kinds of activities, and it made me sad to cross off all those things that I was looking forward to. With no doubt, we are feeling stress and have anxious thoughts as we do not know what the future holds for us in the coming days, weeks, and maybe even months. This uncertainty about when a turning point will happen is unsettling.
But it’s at this same time of heavy concerns for our health and financial situations that we do move forward trying to stay safe and also keep the “business” of our lives going. We have a dilemma approaching us as we face the time to go out of our homes again to our jobs and schools and also having to know that we need to be aware of protecting our health for the sake of ourselves and others.
I want this to be over and done with, and I am sure I can say that we all want this to end. At this time, I do feel a turning point is due. We want an honest answer to the big question, “When is this going to be over?” But we have to admit that the honest answer is, “No one really knows.” A bell will not be ringing that sounds for an “all clear” for us to go back to our old schedules. Uncertainty is not a good feeling. We want answers, but the answer that we get, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,” is far from the specific answer that we are looking for.
This answer does not bring too much comfort, but it is a real answer. At any time in our world and lives, even in good times, we never really know what the next moment is bringing to us. Although when it comes to the uncertainties of the coming times, we do not want to be “Debbie Downers” and keep talking about how bad things are and how everything can get potentially worse.
In a way, I do spend some time thinking about how bad things can get. Preparing for the worst is a good strategy, so we are making plans with a “heads-up” attitude. Looking at all that can go wrong is not fatalistic thinking. When we project what the best to worst outcomes can be, we are possibly preparing for all to turn out well on the first try.
Life has many turning points. We graduate from school and start a job. At the birth of a baby, we look forward to becoming a parent and starting a new family. And there are losses like when loved ones die, and we find ourselves missing them deeply. Knowing that life is always changing in so many ways, we can also believe that we can keep moving forward despite what comes our way.
Although life has many turning points, we do not have any breaking points. In so many ways, we are hurt, but we can always be strong if we live by faith in God’s promises. In all that God has for us, we can know that we are well and all will be well.
St Paul says in 2 Corinthians, chapter four, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”
St Paul goes on to say, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
The apostle knew suffering like when he survived a shipwreck and went through persecution with beatings and imprisonment, so in comparison as a person who knew the danger in many ways, he might call this time of a pandemic a “light momentary affliction.” I have a little bit of a problem with calling these days a “light momentary affliction.” I am more with David, a king with enemies on all sides of him when he says that he was “walking in the valley of the shadow of death.”
St. Paul is seeing this temporary earthly life from the big picture of all eternity. All the suffering that we have experienced in this life is close to nothing. From St. Paul’s perspective, he knew that an eternal heavenly home of complete peace and joy was waiting for him. David looked around him and saw a lot of danger, but he also said he would “fear no evil.”
The prophet Ezekiel lived in a time when God’s people were exiled, and they longed to return to their own land. To give them hope, God gave Ezekiel a vision of a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel witnessed how God brought these bones to life. Not to miss all that God has for us in Ezekiel’s vision, but for us today in our valley of dry bones, God is giving us great hope in His promise of new life.
Bones that have been left to rot in the sun are deader than dead if that is possible. The last thing we think about when looking at these dried up bones is hope for them to return to life. But giving life to these bones is what God does. God raises these bones and puts muscle, tendons, and flesh on these bones, but most importantly, God breathes into these bodies. This breath is not just oxygen to give life to a functional human being, but He breathes His breath that gives life to spiritual life.
This spiritual life gives a life in the grace and power of God the Father. At creation, everything was made by the breath of God’s mouth. When God made the first human out of the dust, He breathed His breath into the man. God breathed out His Spirit at Pentecost that gave faith to thousands of new believers. In our baptism, God breathed His Spirit into us when the water was poured on us with the words, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And all of Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for all things, especially now, as it is time more than ever to read and turn the pages of our Bible to get us through this time.
God wants to give His breathe of life to you as only He can do. I am not sure that I am at the point of feeling the despair of dry bones that have no chance of coming back to life. As I sit in the safety of my home, I am doing okay. Of course, I do know that the threats of this virus are having a big effect on the world. My prayer is that people will know that God is still breathing His breath on the world as He did when the world was first created.
God is breathing His breath in us that gave life to Jesus as he walked out of the grave. On the cross where Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world, he gave up his last breath. But we know that Jesus did not stay dead. Jesus came alive with a new breath of life, a breath that gives life now and forever.
To the people in Ezekiel’s day, this vision was to give hope as God made dry bones live again. By a sort of spiritual reasoning, they could know that if God can give life to old dry bones, He can give new life to anything, even as they sat in exile and the thought of returning to their own land was hopeless.
We sit in our situations in life and may think things are hopeless. But we literally have God’s breath of life that brought Jesus back from the dead. When Jesus went to the cross, he went to fight sin, Satan, and eternal death. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and he breathed his last breath. A person might think that Jesus lost the battle against all that wants to harm us, but Jesus did not stay dead. He rose on the third day with a new breath that gives life now and forever in all that his victory has for us.
During Jesus’ ministry when the disciples were learning about Jesus as the Son of God, they did not do so well at times at understanding just what Jesus could do. When they were on the lake and a storm came up, they panicked and woke up Jesus to calm the storm. Jesus did calm the storm but only because of their little faith. Peter wanted to walk on water, and he did have a good start, but when he saw the winds and waves, he started to sink, and Jesus had to pick him up. Looking out at the crowd that was following him, Jesus had compassion on them and wanted to feed them. The disciples thought they did not have any food to feed such a crowd, but Jesus took over and more than enough food was available to feed the people.
After Jesus’ death, the disciple hid out in the upper room in fear of the Jews. Jesus came to them and said, “Do not be afraid.” He showed them his scarred hands and feet where the nails held him to the cross. Their fears calmed down, and they believed that their Lord and Savior was indeed standing before them.
The world needs help now in this pandemic. On our own, the truth is that we cannot do all that is needed. In this truth, we need first to admit that we are helpless against this virus. What a sad truth it is that we might think that we can overcome this virus on our own.
From a Lenten perspective, we go to the cross with Jesus and see him die for us, and then, we also go to an empty tomb and see Jesus alive and well. God raised Jesus from the dead with His breath of life, and God is raising us today with this same very breath of the resurrection. This truth is how we move now and every moment of our lives in all situations.
The storm is around us, but we know that whether the water is calming or if it rages for some time, we can get through it. At this time when we see shortages of things that we need, we give our needs to Jesus, and he will take care of them as sees as we need them. As we saw how the disciples had fear and doubt cloud their faith, we see how Jesus came to them and had them see that they can believe. After Jesus’ ascension. they did see clearly as they went out in the world to start the early church among threats of persecution.
We can see clearly now as we go out into this world at the time of this pandemic. In Psalm 26, the psalmist wants a genuine faith, and in order to know if he has real faith, he knows it must be tested. The psalmist says, “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.” Imagine asking God the maker of heaven and earth who can send down hail the size of softballs down on us at any moment to test us.
This psalmist knew that his faith in God made him resilient. He knew that on his own that he had nothing, but by the faith that God had given him, he knew he could fight every fight by faith. The key to resilience is knowing that you cannot go through something alone.
This psalmist knows that his faith is given and supported by God. People of faith are like first responders. The people on the front lines are called to go and do dangerous work. But they go into danger well-trained and equipped with all they need to do their work. Although Christians leave themselves open to help others, like Jesus did when he walked in crowds and healed people of all kinds of diseases, we also know that we go and do what is needed by the same care that God gave Jesus as he walked this earth.
With so many uncertainties that give way to many questions, we can ask ourselves these
questions, “Can we be so bold to face these days with resilience?” We can answer, “Yes, indeed we can!” Our answer is bold because we have God’s breath of life breathed into us, and Jesus’ willingness to give us all that he won for us by his death and resurrection.
We face this time and any time that comes our way by the grace and power of God that leads, guides, and protects us from all harm and danger. Let us breathe in deeply now of what God has for us in Christ, so we keep moving forward without any fear and by just believing.