This morning it is very fortunate that our Psalm is the familiar 23rd Psalm. It is also not so fortunate that our Psalm is the familiar 23rd Psalm. Both ways of looking at it speak to our challenge with the Covid 19 strain of the Coronavirus. I’ll get to both. But first let me start with why we are fortunate to be reading this particular Psalm on this particular Sunday.
This is the first Sunday in my 40+ years of ministry that worship has been closed down due to a worldwide pandemic. It is also the very first time that I have participated in a live-streamed service. It is not only strange not to be together, but it is also discomforting. Being together, hearing the word, receiving the sacraments, praising God with song is comforting. So being absent from that is not only uncomfortable but, if we are honest with ourselves, it is unnerving.
So, we need a word of comfort from scripture. We need to hear that we have a protector, a shepherd. We need to have our souls restored and be guided along right paths. We are comforted by the Lord’s rod and staff in the face of evil. If Coronavirus is an enemy, we are consoled to know that, in the midst of all this, we sit at a table prepared by the Lord at which he, himself, is the host. We remember our blessings and are reminded that our cup overflows. We express the hope that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and we express the core of our faith – that, no matter what happens, we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
But there is another way in which the beautiful and familiar 23rd Psalm does not work so well for us this morning. And what I mean is this: That Psalm is in the passive voice. The listener is on the receiving end. We are made to lie down in green pastures. We are led. We are comforted. We have a table prepared for us. We are anointed. We are followed. We are but dwellers in the house of the Lord.
If taken out of context,… if heard exclusively… if not listened to with the other ear on our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount,… if taken by itself… it might seem to say that, when danger is near, we really don’t have to do much. God will do it all. We just have to sit by the fields and steams or rock on God’s front porch. It’s like that hollow motto, “Let go and let God” which seems to place all the responsibility for our predicament at God’s feet.
Now, I hear what you are thinking. That’s not the way we really hear the 23rd Psalm. And I hope and pray that you will always cling to the first way I described it. But the point I’ve been taking too long to get to is this: As the Covid 19 strain of the Coronavirus becomes the “darkest valley” for us (or as the King James translates it, “the valley of the shadow of death”) we cannot be passive. We are called upon to be active -- proactive. We are called upon to put into place those things the Center for Disease Control says. Wash hands. Avoid crowds. Sneeze into your sleeve. Don’t touch. Etc, etc.
We can’t sit around and wait for God to take care of it. So, when Jesus says that we should put the other person above ourselves it means that we take safety measures not so much that we remain safe and healthy, but so that we don’t give the virus to other people. One commentator said that this is not like America in WWII when people had to ration and plant victory gardens. It is more like we are Europe in WWII when the entire populace was in danger from the bombs and gas and invasions. Yes, it is a dark valley. We should pray and pray that it subsides and we should pray and pray for the other person and we should pray and pray for ourselves and our own families. But remember what Pope Francis said about prayer as it applies to hunger. “First you pray. And then you feed people. That’s how prayer works.” It applies to these times as well. First we pray. Yes! Then we practice good hygiene and obey the directives. That’s how prayer works.
But there is something else we can do pro-actively. Bishop Eaton has asked us all to not use the term “social distancing,” but to use the term “physical distancing.” We can stand six feet apart from each other, but we do not need to be distant socially. Our church is still community and there are ways we can practice social togetherness in this time of physical apartness.
As we begin our ministry-on-the fly we have devoted this past week to making it possible for us to worship together by live stream and by getting the Word out via other methods. We can start being pro-active now.
We are working on a phone tree so that each of our members can be in touch with other members. Watch for more information, but you don’t need to wait to check on each other. Call. Text. E-mail. Send cards. Is there someone who is sick? Needs groceries? Needs medication? What can you do. Do YOU need these things? Let someone know. Let ME know. Physical distancing. Not social distancing.
I understand that a table has been set up in front of the Embry Rucker Shelter (right beside the Reston Library). They are asking for cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products, and gift cards to such places as Target, Safeway, etc. Go directly to their website and find out what they need. Physical distancing. Not social distancing.
Fellowship House needs our attention. We had to cancel our last lunch, but there are other ways we can put food into the hands of their elderly residents who may not be able to go out to the grocery store. We’ll get more information to you going forward. But in the meantime, you can visit their website. Physical distancing. Not social distancing.
I am told that, with school closings, community agencies are trying to address the free lunch program which has put hot daily meals into children who might not otherwise get them. In the recent Servant’s Voice you received via e-mail there is a link to click on. It puts you in touch with all the needs in-and-around Reston for which you can respond. The link is provided by Cornerstones. Please click on it.
One of the best pieces of advice I have heard recently is: Focus on what you can control and not what you can’t. This sermon was written at the privacy of the home office in our loft. Yet, I strangely felt overloaded by all the things the church needs to respond to in this time of crisis. Here at CTS we, too, will focus on those things we can control.
Isolating ourselves at home may give us the feeling that we are passive, just reacting to the things happening about us. But this is a time to be active. Celebrate. Think. And, especially, SERVE! But do so remembering that the Lord IS our shepherd!