Loving God, we come confessing that we are afraid. We are hearing different things about this pandemic, and we don’t know who to trust. We cry out, “How long, O Lord?” Forgive us our fear, and strengthen our trust in you. Help us to see you at work around us, that we might know and share the hope you offer. Lift us out of fear, and into the shelter of your love and grace. We pray through Christ, our hope and our salvation. Amen.
God is at work around us
I had an appointment at the vet for my dog and cat on Thursday. On Wednesday I received a reminder call, along with directions. When I arrived, I was to call them and wait in my car. When they had a room ready, they would call me, and we could go in. That made sense. About an hour later, I received a second call. They were cancelling all appointments that weren’t urgent and asked me to reschedule for April.
Things are changing quickly, and it’s hard to keep up. There is very little good news being shared, as we watch the number of people with coronavirus go up, the number of deaths go up, and the stock market fall. We look around and wonder where God is. How can God allow all of this to happen?
Today I focus on the second guiding principle the Session and Deacons wrote for this year: God is at work around us. Once again, I turn to the prophet Isaiah, who wrote to a people deep in despair and feeling totally cut off from God.
16-21 This is what God says,
the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
who carves a path through pounding waves,
The God who summons horses and chariots and armies—
they lie down and then can’t get up;
they’re snuffed out like so many candles:
“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.
Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’
—the coyotes and the buzzards—
Because I provided water in the desert,
rivers through the sun-baked earth,
Drinking water for the people I chose,
the people I made especially for myself,
a people custom-made to praise me.
I have always found this passage intriguing, because it begins with reminding the people that God has powerfully delivered them in the past, rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and providing a dry path through the Red Sea so they could cross. It then tells us to forget about the past and focus on the present. Are we to remember the Red Sea, or forget it? How can we do both?
We need to remember that God has delivered us from impossible situations in the past. God is still at work among us, but God is doing it in new ways. Don’t get so focused on God creating a dry path through the sea that you fail to see the road through the desert that God is creating. This time, instead of dry land in the sea, God is providing water in dry land.
So, what does it mean? What does this have to do with the struggles of social isolation and COVID19 fears? What does it mean that God is doing something so wonderful that the wild animals will say “thank you?” As we look around, where do we see signs of hope, signs of God working in this situation?
Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
- There are medical personnel putting their lives at risk to care for the sick.
- There are people shopping for the elderly and other high-risk individuals.
- A landlord told restaurants, “Don’t worry about the rent, pay your employees.”
- In this politically polarized time, governors are working together across party lines to coordinate their responses.
- Yes, there are people hoarding food (and toilet paper), and there are other people sharing food (and toilet paper).
- There are singers and musicians offering free online concerts.
- There are businesses transforming their production to meet the needs of this crisis.
- Teachers are reading stories online.
- Educational companies are making their material available free online to help parents while the schools are closed.
- A trucker told the story of people who had helped him get restaurant food and even pay for it (you can’t drive a semi through the drive through lanes).
- In a society that had become so “me” oriented, we are beginning to see people thinking of others.
- Closer to home, our Session chose to view this not as a disaster for the church, but as an opportunity to try new ways of worshiping and being the church together.
This willingness to make sacrifices, to change, to think of others, is a welcome change. I see it as a sign of God at work around us. My hope and prayer is that all these good things will continue beyond this current crisis.
Look for signs of God at work around us. Look for opportunities to do God’s work around us. Even if you can’t get out, you can make some phone calls to others who are feeling isolated, write some notes, offer encouragement. You can be a helper, you can be a sign of God at work around us.
After each phrase, pause to name people you know and add your own prayers.
O Lord, who makes a way through the sea and brings water to the desert, open our eyes that we may see you at work around us, and find hope. Open our hearts that we might see opportunities to offer help and hope and be your church in the world.
We give you thanks for those who are doing your work during this difficult time.
We give you thanks for those who are working long hours and putting their lives at risk.
We give you thanks for those who are reaching out and offering hope.
We give you thanks for those who are thinking of those around them and reaching out a helping hand.
We give you thanks for those who are working cooperatively to find the best way forward.
We give you thanks for the opportunity to slow down and focus on you.
We pray for those who are sick and those who are mourning the death of loved ones.
We pray for those who are working long hours to provide us with food and other basic necessities.
We pray for the medical personnel who are putting their own lives at risk to care for the sick and the scared.
We pray for those who are lonely and isolated, living in fear.
We pray for the scientists who are looking for answers.
We pray for those responsible for making hard decisions.
We pray for parents struggling to balance the needs of their children with their own work commitments.
We pray for those who are out of work and wondering how they will pay for life’s necessities.
We pray for those who fail to see the danger and are putting others at risk by their behavior.
We pray for the church, that you would help us to discover new ways of serving you and being your people.
We pray all these things in the name of Christ, who even death couldn’t stop. Amen.