March 19, 2020
Rev. Matt Larson, Assistant to the Bishop
Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. -Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV)
These are the first verses of the epistle reading for the Sunday when most of us had to start making tough decisions about how we conduct life together in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Paul’s confidence in the peace we have with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and his hope which is activated by the Holy Spirit both shine through very clearly.
Those of us on the Lutheran branch of the Christian family tree know how important Romans was to Brother Martin and the Reformers. That same confidence that Paul wrote of shines through in much of their work, especially in the following:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God. (Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess)
Notice where that confident faith turns Luther: towards his neighbor. Small surprise there; Christianity (especially as Lutherans practice it) is always turning us outside ourselves and towards our neighbors. Our confidence in the Gospel is rock solid. We have faith that sets us free from only being concerned about ourselves (which is obviously appropriate up to a point), and which instead turns us loose for service to those around us. We know that God’s Kingdom comes and God’s will is done independent of our actions, we only seek to be a part of how those things happen by loving and serving our neighbors.
In the current period of concern over COVID-19, this is particularly significant. I’ll leave it to your local pastor to proclaim the promises to you. I’ll leave it to your local health care professionals to guide you in prudently caring for yourself and your household. What I hope to do here is spark some ideas for you in caring for your neighbors. Many of these are suggestions others have made. This will be nothing like a comprehensive list. The hope is that it will get you thinking, the Holy Spirit stirring, and you as part of the Body of Christ moving.
Physical but not social distancing
It’s vitally important that we take common sense precautions to slow the spread of the pandemic. The CDC and numerous other authorities have published guidelines for this, the two biggest being washing of hands and keeping of distance. It is, nevertheless, hardly less vital that we do everything we can to hold one another close socially, even if we can’t physically.
- Phone chain – break your directory up into manageable chunks, and cycle through as frequently as is helpful. Weekly is often best. This is especially nice as a low-tech way to connect with folks apart from social media, etc. “I see 3” is another way to approach this with even less organization – encourage everybody to call 3 people daily to check in, random distribution hopefully gets everybody covered.
- Video worship – loads of helpful how-to resources available, particularly on this Synod website.
- Nursing home and homebound folks may be particularly lonely and anxious right now, and it’s almost impossible to visit them in person without putting them and others at unacceptable risk. Do everything you can to connect to these folks, especially phone calls and cards. This is a great way to put younger folks who are home from school to work in their church family – adopt a senior, and connect every way you can think of. They may have some surprising wisdom to share about other pandemics (i.e. polio) that they’ve seen and lived through.
Direct aid and support
- It has been overwhelming to see all the beautiful efforts folks are making to be the hands, voice, and servant Body of Christ in this time. Be creative, but don’t reinvent the wheel. Glean and adapt some of the multitudes of great ideas out there.
- Most communities have some kind of effort going to organize help. Many communities have started response efforts. Most counties have disaster response networks. Plug your congregation into those efforts! This is a tremendous opportunity for witness; we aren’t witnessing to convert, but our selfless service will show the world what the love of God in Christ does in the lives of believers. This is who we are. This is what the church does.
- The other day we had a container of soup show up on our porch. Ham and bean. It was lovely. It wasn’t so much the calories or nutrition that were significant, it was the gift of not having to plan and prep one meal for our cabin-fever kiddos while both parents are trying to work from home. This is a great time to show generosity.
- As in all things, make sure that precautions are taken to avoid spreading the virus. CDC guidance should be followed.
- See this for considerations around responding to hunger: https://blogs.elca.org/worldhunger/tips-for-responding-to-hunger-in-a-pandemic/
- This is a helpful collection of resources, especially centered around mental health. It was not produced by the SEMN Synod, and any opinions expressed therein are those of the author and not necessarily the SEMN Synod. Take it for what it’s worth: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GKVvUOq7LXV3rww4ndgHyWFuUugE-w_MnTlalhUqgAw/edit?fbclid=IwAR3SkLAkCJXxQoSPwPzygvsuMTxeTDSP7Cfkco8WnBn5ANFOsDSKhFfopgs
- Keep yourself well so that you can serve your neighbors. Tend to your whole self. https://www.porticobenefits.org/CallToLiveWell/FaithBasedWellBeing/TheWholenessWheel
- Please, please, please share any great ideas you have or come across here!