Rev. Richard McSherry | Speaking of religion: A future and a hope
The author of 2 Chronicles 7:14 said "if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
Chronicles reminds us that even in difficult times the Lord is with the people. It is the Lord who calls the people into a special relationship. As with any such bond there are times when that relationship is strained, distant, and broken. But throughout Sacred Scriptures it is the Lord who seeks again and again to bring the people back into loving relationship with himself.
We live in a time of great challenge, fear, and uncertainty. For the first time in the our lives we are facing what may prove to be the worst pandemic in modern times. As with any pandemic this one is not a "respecter of persons." Although there are certain groups more vulnerable to its effect, this has struck many.
The question is how do we respond to this crisis on a day-to-day basis? What is our response to our neighbor in need? Sadly, there have already been some negative responses in this predicament.
There have been incidences of conflicts in department stores that have run out of essential supplies. Store employees report of being mistreated by customers. Are we to surrender to the very worst that is in us? The challenge for all of us in times of uncertainty is to respond to the very best that is within us. That may be very difficult in a time of fear.
In times such as these we may want to simply retreat within ourselves and let everyone and everything pass us by. Then we tell ourselves: I will be safe. It is in times of challenge that we are called to reach out beyond ourselves, not to play it safe but to express loving care where and when we can.
As Dag Hammarskjold has said, "It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity." This is not a time of retreat but of advance. It is not a time of withdrawal but of concerted, caring action. Two millennia ago the venerable Rabbi Hillel The Elder once addressed this: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?"
During any unsettling time, we have a choice to respond in fear or faith. Fear freezes us into inaction. It can keep us from moving in any helpful direction. Faith, on the other hand, propels us forward. Perhaps the greatest contagion in times of a pandemic is fear. And make no mistake, fear is very often contagious. Just remember the riots in the aisles of the department stores. We can move from this crisis or the next wringing our hands, pacing the floors, and tossing and turning all night long. That is an option and we can do that. On the other hand, we can adopt the attitude of the late basketball great Kobe Bryant: "Everything negative-pressure, challenges- is all an opportunity to me to rise." We can echo that sentiment collectively as well.
This pandemic, like other crises, can be an opportunity to rise to the "better angels of our nature" as Abraham Lincoln once said. As we are assured by the prophet Isaiah [41:10] "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
As people of faith we have a living hope. Even in crisis the Lord is there, and the Lord "has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind," as we learned in 2 Timothy 1:7.
So, take heart, God is amid the people. God has called us to respond in faith and not in fear. A faith that liberates rather than a fear that paralyzes. A faith that expresses itself in action, rather than a fear that gives way to inaction. Even in times of necessary isolation and quarantine we can respond. We can pray for one another, call one another in with words encouragement, support those faith-based agencies which do the most good. We are a people of hope!
The prophet Jeremiah [29:11] says: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Yes indeed, we most assuredly have a future. And you and I have a hope not paralyzed in this present momentary crisis. The challenge for each one of us is just how we will respond. Will we respond in fear or in faith? We are not alone, as Zephaniah [3:17] reminds us
"The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing."
Grace and peace to you all
The Rev. Richard McSherry is pastor of Shaftsbury United Methodist Church.
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