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Last week I preached on “safetyism”. As I’ve been doing in this series, I spent some time at the outset examining our present cultural reality, especially as revealed in the pandemic, before spending (more) time exploring a biblical perspective on these issues. I said that there was a lot of fear being stoked and an idolatry of physical safety that seemed to be driving our society, and that a Biblical approach should account for loving the whole person (including physical safety) as well as a personal courage that comes from the hope of resurrection life.
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I received a fair amount of feedback about this sermon- a mix of positive and negative, though much more positive than I anticipated. However, one person raised a question that I thought would be good to speak to for everyone. The question was along the lines of, why are you talking about this? We hear about COVID everywhere we go, why are we hearing about it in sermons too? And maybe I could push the question even one step further: why should we talk about current issues like this that are uncomfortable, especially because they have the potential of dividing people?
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Here are a few reasons why (in my opinion):
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The incarnation. John 1:14: “The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” Philippians 2:6-7: “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” At the centre of our faith resides this truth: our Creator God did not deem the world’s needs as “beneath” Him. Instead, He got down into the muck and mire of our existence. Jesus lived, slept, ate, experienced all the normal bodily functions, he interacted with prostitutes and people with infectious diseases, he bled and was bruised. That tells me something. It tells me that God, and speech about God, does not reside in typical “sacred” spaces alone. He is not a God only of timeless principles and abstract truths. He is a God who comes right down to us, in our humanity, in all of our mess, and He bears it with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
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The teaching of Jesus. I already mentioned the kinds of people and situations that Jesus refused to shy away from. But think about his teaching too. Often, it was drawn from images that were extremely relevant to his listeners. A shepherd with a flock of sheep. A farmer sowing seed in his fields. A catch of fish. A woman seeking for a lost coin. Tenants looking after a vineyard. Other times, it was in response to current events, as in Luke 13:15. And other times, it was speaking into some kind of controversial, potentially divisive matter. Should we pay taxes or not? (Mark 12:13-17) What are the legitimate grounds for divorce? (Mark 10:1-12) What’s permissible to do on Sabbath? (Mark 2:22-28)
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Other parts of Scripture. I’m reading through Jeremiah right now in my own Scripture reading, and it strikes me how the prophets speak into their current cultural situation, naming particular issues and ways of thinking and living that are inconsistent with God’s will. (And yes, they get in trouble for it!) God tells Ezekiel, another prophet, to observe what the people are doing, to observe their way of conduct, which will be the basis for Ezekiel’s proclamation (Ezekiel 8). And then I think about the New Testament letters, many of which are “occasional”. Occasional, meaning that they have been prompted by a particular occasion in the life of their readers. In the fall and winter, some of us went through 1 Corinthians together. The Corinthians had a whole bunch of questions for Paul, including issues like whether to get married or not, given some kind of crisis taking place in Corinth (1 Corinthians 7). These letters, written in a particular cultural context addressing particular views, are our Spirit-inspired Scriptures.
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The nature of discipleship. When Jesus calls us to follow him, how far does that calling extend? Only to Sunday morning (or, you know, whenever you watch the live-stream service during the week)? Only in the times you set aside for prayer? Or does it extend to every area of your life- your work, your relationships, your thoughts about current events, including COVID? Does the Gospel have any bearing on how you live through this present difficulty? My reading of Jesus’ call to discipleship- die to yourself, pick up your cross daily, and follow him- is that it’s pretty total. It’s pretty all-encompassing. 2 Corinthians 10:5 has Paul proclaiming that “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Every thought. Every pretension. Which means our thoughts and pretensions as they concern the COVID pandemic, which, let’s admit: we have a lot of them.
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To sum it up, I’m convinced in every way that the Gospel, and the Scriptures as a whole, are meant to be applied to life. All of life. It is meant to speak into the issues of our day, and in fact gives us many examples of doing exactly that. As your pastor, I want to help you think biblically about these things. You are being bombarded with messages at all times, many of which would lead you in ways of thinking and living inconsistent with the Kingdom of God. (And when I say “you”, I really mean “we”- I’m just as vulnerable and need to be reminded of the truth just as often). I won’t get everything right, but I promise that my goal is always to point you to Jesus and the redemption and hope that come through him.