Rejoice! Rejoice, in the midst of suffering! That was the theme of the Sunday Jubilate.
To find suffering at the moment, we do not have to look very far. Our district, Amajuba/Newcastle, has seemingly – thank God – been spared from too many Corona (COVID-19) infections.
But the effects of the measures we have taken to stop these infections, have taken their toll. People are losing their already scarce jobs and business, the amount of beggars at the robots and those ringing at our gates is increasing weekly, more and more families have no food on their table, a spirit of fear and distrust has entered our social interaction, we as God’s people have not been able to gather around His table to receive His gifts for months.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
What do we make of this? At the beginning of the week, my six-year-old daughter asked me, “Where does sickness come from?” After trying to find out why she was asking such a question, she opened up, “Did God make Corona (COVID-19)?” The Prophet Amos reminds God’s people – Israel – and us: Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? (Amos 3:6b). God sends disaster. He promises it: Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament… (John 16:20) Jesus promises His disciples shortly before His crucifixion – introducing His promise with two “Amens” for emphasis – this is most certainly, certainly true. And His Word is effective. They suffer. We suffer. God promises, and it happens. Are the Chinese/the Illuminati/the Government … (fill this space according to the theory you adhere to) behind this? Maybe. But ultimately, we have to realize that it all comes from God. There is no getting around it – God is holy, we are not. We are sinners and we have to suffer and die for that. The wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23). Jesus says, You will be sorrowful…
…but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16:20). Jesus says these words while being driven to the ultimate disaster – being forsaken by His friends and Father, wrongly accused, cruelly punished and killed on the cross. But the story does not end there. Easter follows on Good Friday. The second part of Jesus’ promise to His disciples and us is even more effective. Where there was sorrow, there He brings joy. Where there was weakness, He strengthens. Where there was separation, He unites. Where there was Sin, He forgives. Where the was despair, He gives hope. Where there was sickness, He brings healing. Where there was hunger, He satisfies. Where there was death, He brings life. Hallelujah!
That is what He does, thank God. And what do we do? What do we do in these trying times? I am neither a medical, nor political, nor economics expert. The short and anecdotal list I submit here is a humble opinion based on the experiences and observations of a small-town pastor:
i.) Be a good citizen. Try to understand and keep to the measures and directives those who have been put into authority over us by God are trying to implement. Give them your prayers and support, especially your taxes (See Jesus in Matthew 17). Also make Your voice heard where they do not fulfil the responsibilities they have been given, where they misunderstand or overextend their powers. The recent letter our Bishop penned with input from members of our church to our President is an example of this. He was assured of the prayers and support of our church, but also reminded that the gathering of the saints and the celebration of Holy Communion cannot be regarded and treated as non-essential. To respect and to honour someone also means to hold them accountable, to expect good from them. If they should repeatedly fail at delivering this, we as the citizens of a democracy have the freedom, yes, even the responsibility to vote them out of power at the next elections.
- Remember the vulnerable, especially the old. They are affected in multiple ways by this crisis. Most obviously their health might be affected. The whole purpose of measures like the lockdown is to keep them from getting infected. We have to be careful of sentiments like “being healthy is everything” (it is not), but still, we take our bodies and health seriously (remember the 5th commandment). Secondly, for many of them who live of the proceeds of money invested during their working days, this crisis has decimated their savings. Thirdly, there is loneliness. This is something that is a problem for many elderly in the best of times. The enforced social distancing can only have aggravated it. Remember them. Biblically speaking, remembering is not something passive. God remembers us by sending His Son to save us. Do something for the vulnerable. Provide for them, call them, where possible, visit them – even if only through platforms like a WhatsApp video call.
iii. Go digital. God has used this crisis to drag His church – in my case kicking and screaming – online. By way of devices like smartphones, tablets, smart TV’s and other computers, on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, TikTok, etc. Large portions of our time and energy are spent on the internet, even more so under social distancing. In many ways, the church is present there now: through regular, multilingual recording of devotions on WhatsApp, through live-streamed and videos of services, etc. Make use of these opportunities. Saturate this area of our lives with His word.
- Grow food, create jobs. While the social distancing is keeping us apart, it is bringing us closer to another aspect of God’s creation – food and the soil from which we have been taken and are to return. Many people now have time to cook and bake and grow food. Others think a lot about food, because they do not have enough of it. In my reading and conversations, I am also picking up a new appreciation for those who grow most of our food, farmers. Historically, our church comes from a farming context and many of us are still heavily invested in agriculture. This is an important aspect of our economy in this time where God is bringing us back to basics. Genesis 1 and 2 kind of stuff. It can create meaningful work (it is one of the few sectors of our economy that has grown in the last ten years) and provides us with some of our most basic needs – an essential service.
v. Finally – for this list – stay calm and rejoice, you are baptized! Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun – This is what the preacher in Ecclesiastes (Eccles. 9) teaches (although for many of us the wine he speaks about earlier in the chapter has run out). Enjoy the time with your family and animals. Fear God, and rejoice in Him.
Pastor Thomas Beneke, Newcastle