As I write this one of our church members is dying of COVID-19. Most likely by the time you read this, they will have passed. The thought of this both saddens and exhausts me because it reminds me of the selfishness and brokenness of humanity.
This is not a political issue at all. This is a condition of the heart.
One of the things I committed to at my ordination… one of the bedrock truths of my ministry comes from the lips of Jesus himself. “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39 This is known as “The Great Commandment.”
This is not theoretical to me nor is it an unattainable lofty platitude. This is something I work at every day. They are also inseparable. To love God is to love your neighbor and to love your neighbor is to love God. Why is that true? Because the letter called 1John tells me so.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1John 3:16
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother or sister, they are a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And God has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister. 1John 4:19-21
In this moment, right now, I am seeing a distinct lack of love for God by the lack of love and concern for one’s neighbor in our country. Like I wrote previously, this is about the condition of our hearts.
Specifically, the lack of wearing masks and social distancing and the mocking and derision that accompanies this topic.
Oh I get it. I have heard it all on social media, “Masks do nothing and we need herd immunity.” Is that what I should preach at a member’s funeral who dies of COVID-19? Or should I say, “they had underlying health conditions and this was to be expected.”
As I mentioned in my previous article https://benbergren.com/article-rehoboams-folly/ , I will take my cues from mainstream medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control. They tell me the exact opposite of what I am seeing on social media and what I am experiencing when I go to the grocery store. Not only that, but the way consumers are treating employees and food servers within some stores and now restaurants is disheartening.
Martin Luther puts it this way,
“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” On Christian Liberty
It is a paradoxical statement, but it contains spiritual truth. On one hand we are free in Christ from our sin and the judgments of others. Yet, if we take “The Great Commandment” (see above) seriously, we are subject to all. Unlike Cain, we are our brother’s keeper.
I show my love of my neighbor and my dutiful service to all by washing my hands regularly, socially distancing and wearing a mask.
And yet, I hear the shouts, “Masks don’t do any good!”
Let me be as plain as a I can about wearing a mask for the good of others in public places: If I am wrong, I look silly and have been mildly inconvenienced. If those who are against masks are wrong, they may inadvertently infect others, potentially leading to a greater loss of life.
Saint Paul addresses this type of back and forth in his letter to the church of Rome. This is where he comes down on how to act in situations like these, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother and sister’s way.” Romans 14:1&13
Maybe my faith is weaker and this is a stumbling block for me. Yet, I am trying to follow the recommendations of the CDC and mainstream medical professionals.
However, I am a sad when I see people are looking out only for themselves. It began with cleaning products, toilet paper and food hoarding and now we are on to “You can’t make me wear a mask because it infringes upon my personal freedom.”
I keep asking myself what I can I do to keep others safe and healthy? What I can I do to be a responsible Christian to minimize infecting others if I happen to be asymptotic? The answer is: wear a mask in public because every little bit helps. I will also do my best to stay 6’ apart from people and not spend a lot of time in public places. I will also continue to wash my hands more than I ever have in my life.
I am all for reopening businesses as long as we do our part to keep employees safe. I am all for people going back to work as long as we care about keeping their work environment healthy as they serve the community.
Yet some have argued for the opening of businesses because they have been inconvenienced by their lack of being able to be a consumer…I want a haircut… I want to go out to eat… I want, I want, I want. For some the argument is less about putting people back to work as it is a selfish desire to not have their lives disrupted any longer.
The response to going out and resuming life without any safety protocols by a few have been, “Fine, stay home if you want to—that’s your right! But I want to go out and I don’t want to wear a mask. And it’s my right to do so.” But isn’t it everyone’s right to live their lives freely, with a modicum of safety and to have their essential needs met? Even the medically fragile need to eat and get groceries. Even the medically fragile—and especially the medically fragile—need to visit their doctor and obtain their prescriptions and other essential items. Why are the needs of our neighbors less important than the wants of others? I think about my 80-year-old father with asthma who recently lost his wife of 55 years and has not been out of the house in weeks.
Once again, Saint Paul gives us instruction on this as a Christian family, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” Philippians 2:4-5
I have been asked time and time again when are we going to worship together again? All of us at Community Lutheran Church want that. BUT… the reaction of some in the general public reminds me we are not ready to open without tremendous health risks to our congregation.
Every church member matters to me. Let me say that again: Every church member matters to me. The member dying of COVID-19 is not a statistic to me. I can’t say, “Well look how many survived at CLC, this isn’t so bad.” I grieve the loss (as some of you do) of friends and family whom this virus has cruelly touched.
Careless language, self-centered language, cruel actions break my heart.
To quote John Coffey from The Green Mile, “I’m tired, Boss… Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.”
If we aren’t in this together, then we can’t be together. We are being called to love our neighbor as ourselves… every single day of our lives.
This isn’t a political issue, it is an issue of the heart.
God bless you,