BY PASTOR RON GARNER
Karl Barth, the famous Swiss theologian once said “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” Perhaps if Barth was with us today, he might replace “paper” with “app.” But, his point is well taken. We don’t do Christianity in a bubble. It is not a “private” religion, but one to be lived out in a community (the church) in the midst of a larger community (the world). And, we are called to look at the issues of our day through the lens of Scripture and avoid the temptation of letting our newspapers interpret the Bible. With that in mind, I invite you to join me monthly and wrestle with what it means to journey with Jesus in the world in which live.
So, what does it look like to be a Christian during the COVID crisis? Should Christians act, think or be any different than anyone else during this time? Peter, one of Jesus’ closest confidants wrote to the churches scattered throughout the ancient world to “be holy in all you do.” Holy means to be “set apart.” Paul was exhorting them to be different than the non-Christians who surrounded them. To act in accordance with the character of God. One recent author says this might come across at times as “weird.” Like if you find yourself caught up in a neighborhood gossip jam and refuse to engage in badmouthing a neighbor. You might be considered different, odd or yes, even weird, but weird in the best of ways.
So, how might we act “weird” when it comes to our current situation? Since a core teaching of Jesus is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:31) how might we “do” the pandemic differently than a person who hasn’t committed to Christian living? I think in part we ask the question “what act or set of behaviors (love) benefit those around me (neighbors) most? Simple, right? Maybe to understand but hard to live out. Biblical love always takes sacrifice.
Sacrificing our desires, our needs, our wants for the good of another person/people. Let me offer a silly example. If you told me that you have podophobia (the fear of feet), and you were coming to my house for dinner, the most loving action would be for me to forgo wearing my Keens. I love my Keens. In my will, I am going to ask to be buried in them. Sure, perhaps they are no longer fashionable but they are comfortable and keep my feet cool. But, what act benefits you most? For me to sacrifice my “right” to expose my tootsies, so I don’t inflame your foot fear. My love and concern for you should outweigh my desire to wear whatever I want to in the privacy of my home. Well, I think you already know where I am going. Yes, the mask debate.
I have some Christian friends who are making this issue about “rights” and “freedom.” As wonderful as those ideas are particularly for us Americans, these concepts, at least in how we understand them today, are foreign to the biblical writers. For example, when Paul talks about freedom in his letter to the Galatians, he means that a Christian is no longer bound to dietary laws or to rituals such as circumcision in order to be right with God. Jesus settled this at the cross. But, we shouldn’t use our newfound freedom from such obligations to indulge our desires but rather to “serve each other humbly in love.”
Honestly, I hate wearing a mask. It’s hot. It’s uncomfortable. But, I give up my “rights” of comfort to protect others from illness, particularly the most vulnerable. It’s not heroic, but it is a sacrifice. A small but significant way we can love our neighbor. To strongly encourage others to do the same might come across in some segments of our society as plain weird. But, weird in the best of ways. I believe this is in part what journeying with Jesus looks like during a pandemic.