Dear Brothers and Sisters of Calvary,
I am Rusty Foerger and I am a member of the Teaching Team at Calvary. We do a lot of things by way of teams at Calvary—because we have a sense that “it takes the whole body to be a whole body”—we want to be the Body of Christ in the world, in kinship with the people He loves.
Let me begin by asking:
What does it mean to live by faith in Jesus in a time of crisis?
In a way, the Psalmists are continually visiting this theme, aren’t they? In another way, we regularly face this in our own spiritual journey too.
It’s just that we are in this unique time—a long time so far, and promising to be longer—where we have yet to explore the farthest reaches of what it means to live by faith in the One who loves us.
Today I want to share perspective drawn from ancient texts and aged sources, for there have been many people of faith who have gone before us who have endured disease and pestilence, and who can give us a vantage point to understand the times we are in.
In the 16th Century there were a number of pandemics that swept through Europe, such as “the English Sweating Sickness” and several waves of the Bubonic Plague. This prompted Martin Luther to post an open letter in November 1527 urging fellow Christians “not to flee in the face of danger.”
“No one may flee from his neighbour unless there is somebody to take his place in waiting upon and nursing the sick. In all such cases the words of Christ are to be feared: ‘I was sick and you visited me not.’
These words of Christ bind each of us to the other. No one may forsake his neighbour when he is in trouble. Everybody is under obligation to help and support his neighbour as he would himself like to be helped.”
What Luther was getting at was the fear of danger that drove people to abandon their towns and their neighbours; they were fleeing for their own lives. It was fear that informed their abandonment, not faith in Christ.
I’m going to suggest that there are many ways to abandon our neighbour that are not always physical. If you’re more introverted like me, I think it’s easy to do; you may just take care of yourself.
Don’t miss-hear me: self care is important, and I’m not suggesting that you learn a new language, renovate your house, or go on some fitness craze.
To the extent you can, please take care of yourself.
But some of you can hardly stand the isolation, or to be separate from family and friends. I naturally tend toward solitude, and recharge in silence, but there are moments when I know I am intentionally keeping my distance for no good reason at all.
I need people too. I need friendship and belonging, like everyone else—for we are made in the image and likeness of the Triune God who lives in relationship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Whatever else we may say about Martin Luther, he had an eternal perspective for the times. He wrote:
“… do not be fearful, afraid, and timid about death, in order that death might not appear to be the worst possible thing – as if despairing for our lives would reveal that we are unwilling and unprepared to die and thus become so enveloped in the dark clouds of fear and worry that we forget and lose sight of Christ, our light and life…”
“After all,” Luther concludes, “you must eventually die; and in such dangerous times as these, amid such hopeless evil… no one ought to desire long life.”
I confess I love getting these historical snippets, especially since pandemics were more prevalent in the past than they are today. These historical glimpses are soaked with the understanding that Christ is the centre and circumference of our life and faith.
But what a thing to say (my paraphrase):
“… don’t be afraid to die – we don’t want death to appear to be the worst possible thing [hold it!… so, Death isn’t the worst possible thing?!].
Despairing for our lives would reveal that we are unwilling and unprepared to die – it shows we have become enveloped in the dark clouds of fear that would cause us to forget and lose sight of Christ, our light and life…”
There it is, the answer to the question I posed earlier: What does it mean to live by faith in Jesus in a time of crisis?
The answer is to not forget and lose sight of Christ, our light and life.
Our Vision Statement is: “At Calvary we want more of Jesus.”
Yes. Even now. Especially now, we want more of Jesus.
We want more of His peace; His presence; His people; His power to change; His perspective on what’s going on with us and around us.
We do not want to forget or lose sight of Christ, our light and life.
In light of this I am reminded of a passage I love to contemplate; Paul writes this to the Philippian Church:
“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection”…
It’s a good phrase, but the thought doesn’t end there.
“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection – and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings becoming like Him in His death.” Philippians 3:10
So here I am, having walked with Jesus for so long, still echoing this desire; yes, I want to know you Jesus. Yes, the power of your resurrection, and yes, the common experience of your suffering; even the suffering of this pandemic, and yes, I want to become just like you in your death.
Show me the mystery and the majesty of what it means to know you Lord.
Show me the mystery and the majesty of your presence in the person of my neighbour.
Let me circle back to the scripture Luther used to guide his advice (Matthew 25).
Jesus tells us this story about when the world comes to an end (and I’m not suggesting this is the end now; I have no inside knowledge of that).
Jesus tells us what the King will say at the end; in essence, He tell us what He will say:
“’Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
We get the sense that the righteous have no idea of their right-relatedness to God; they are almost self-ignorant of this fact, as ignorant as they are about having served Jesus in the person in front of them.
“Lord when did you we see you hungry, thirsty, sick?”
I love how Mother Teresa alludes to this very same passage when she talked about people she cared for as “Jesus in His distressing disguise.”
So let me share with you Mother Teresa’s daily prayer:
Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I recognize you, and say:
‘Jesus my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.’
Lord, give me this seeing faith, then my work will never be monotonous. I will ever find joy in humouring the fancies and gratifying the wishes of all poor sufferers.
O beloved sick, how doubly dear you are to me, when you personify Christ; and what a privilege is mine to be allowed to tend you.
Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience.
And O God, while you are Jesus, my patient, deign also to be to me a patient Jesus, bearing with my faults looking only to my intention, which is to love and serve you in the person of each of your sick. Lord increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore. Amen.
- In what ways might you feel abandoned? Let me encourage us to talk with Jesus about that. This is what we call prayer.
I like how Dallas Willard responded to someone who lamented that it felt as if their prayers only reached no higher than the ceiling.
To this, Dallas Willard said, “If we truly understand how radically present God is in our world, reaching the ceiling is more than enough.”
There has never been a better time than now to seek the presence of God, because indeed as Jesus said, “seek and you will find.”
- When prayerful, who comes to mind as a person who feels abandoned and who is waiting for connection with you? Who is the Lord nudging you to connect with?
- What might you anticipate as you pray, “Lord, show me the mystery and the majesty of what it means to know you, and show me the mystery and the majesty of your presence in the person of my neighbour.”