Grace in the Age of Pandemics
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble… Phil. 4:14
We all have different sets of troubles. Could be doubts, fears, or anxieties. Could be health issues or infirmities from surgery or aging. Could be any number of things. But kindness calls us to bear one another’s burdens and troubles.
As one who is for the fourth time teaching a teenager to drive, I have a certain kind of first-hand experience with this. For one thing, while I do not think the danger is great (or I wouldn’t let my kid behind the wheel or get in the car myself) I have to admit that the danger to other people is greater than it otherwise would be. We are in one respect at least, an imposition to other drivers and pedestrians, and to some degree a danger. That danger can’t be avoided if we are to teach people to drive, but it is nevertheless real. I can assure you that I’m following safety procedures in teaching my children to drive, but I cannot 100% guarantee that we aren’t going to break a traffic law or cause an accident. I can only promise to try.
A learning driver also drives slowly and takes longer to find a “window” when turning into traffic. Being behind a student driver can be a test of patience. Most people are kind about it, but every now and then in my many hours riding shotgun with a new driver we’ll come across someone who clips pretty close trying to pass on the highway or who rides up on the bumper trying to get us to speed up.
So on one hand there are people with legitimate fears who are so concerned for safety that being the road with a learning driver is tough to contemplate. On the other hand, there are people whose concern isn’t for safety at all but simply to get where they are going more quickly. You deal with both extremes. And it is tough to judge—some people’s experiences give them reason to be more cautious. Some people do not feel unsafe driving over the speed limit or passing on the highway, so they do things regularly and casually that many others consider unsafe.
In church, we have to hold extremes together, and in kindness we have to share each other’s troubles. The policies we have in place for safety during the pandemic make many people feel like they’re on the road with a bunch of student drivers. For some that means feeling unsafe. For others that just means feeling annoyed. With Christmas coming up, we have to figure out how best to serve as many people as possible.
We need to recommit to the policies and procedures we have in place. People who are venturing out to church need to have the assurance, for example, that everyone will wear a mask throughout the service in the mask section, and that everyone in the other sections will wear one when moving in the aisles or narthex. Some people have told me that hasn’t always been happening. We have to recommit. By the same token, we are not in a position to offer guarantees. Neither I nor anyone else can 100% guarantee that everyone who comes to church on Christmas will have washed their hands, keep their mask on, etc. We do our best to put good policies in place and make it easy as possible for people to adhere to them.
All of us can be kind in sharing each other’s troubles. For some, the trouble will be having to stay home and participate in Christmas Eve worship remotely for the sake of safety. For some that means accommodating policies they find irksome. We can’t please everyone, but we ought to try to serve everyone as we’re able and put aside our own preferences for the sake of allowing as many people as possible to celebrate and worship this Christmas.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
July 2: Minding your business
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs… I Thes. 4:10-11
Sometimes it seems like the world conspires to make it impossible to mind your own business. That’s why St. Paul called living quietly an aspirational thing. In some translations of the verse it says, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life…” We can often be tempted to think that it is our job to save to the world and get swept up in causes that end up merely distracting us from the actual tasks of our vocation. We devote ourselves to grand things God hasn’t called us to do in order to avoid doing the ho-hum things He has called us to do.
On the other hand, we are all called to do our part. It’s just that we should know the extent of our part. We can’t just ignore the larger world or pretend that problems don’t exist. What we can do is understand that we don’t make the world better when we abandon our daily vocations to fix the world. We make the world better by seeking to make sure whatever tiny part of it God has given us stewardship of operates according to His will.
When we’re stuck at home and the normal goings-on of life are on hold, we can be tempted to live according to the news. This crazy thing took place there, these people did that, can you believe what happened over there… That isn’t real life; that is like watching a soap opera as a distraction from real life. Real life comes from the Table of Duties in the catechism. Your membership in the church, your job description at work, your relationships at home, your neighborhood and citizenship—those are what God has entrusted to you.
Yesterday I did my first in-home communion visit in months. Pastor Stock has been doing the few that have come up, but I don’t think I’d done an in-home visit since early in March. Normally that would be part of the regular job description of being a pastor. It felt good to do it. It felt normal. And it reminded me how important those normal things are. Maybe a year ago had I been going through the normal routine of a typical day, week, or month of my pastoral responsibilities I would not have been struck so much by how crucial and amazing the things on my regular to-do list really were. But it is the same for everyone following a Godly vocation. Feeding the baby, paying the bills, praying for loved ones, working as for the Lord—every day is filled with such opportunities.
Today as you go about doing whatever it is God has given you to do, be it what you were aspiring toward or making it your ambition to do or something less exciting, do it all to the glory of the Lord. His faithfulness endures through all generations.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
June 12: Today
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Heb. 3:13
Most photo albums feature standard pictures of important events familiar to everyone. Birthday parties, vacations, proms and graduations, Christmas and Easter family photos, weddings and baby showers, and so forth. Same stuff, different faces, fashions, and years.
A photo album of the first half of 2020, by contrast, would feature a bunch of unique things unlike any other year. Just in my own experience locally here I’ve seen some crazy, memorable things this year. Grocery aisles completely emptied of bread and paper products. The camera in an empty church on Easter Sunday. Downtown Chicago completely deserted and quiet. The parking lot at Beverly Shores collapsed into Lake Michigan. Closing chapel with just the teachers holding screen shots of their students. Kids playing thigh deep in floodwater on Briar Lane. Lines of masked people weaving through a shopping cart maze waiting to get into Jewel-Osco. A massive concrete barrier built across Calumet Avenue. You get the idea.
Still, as a Christian community we exhort one another regardless of whether it is a routine day or a special celebration, a predictable event or a completely bizarre event. The main thing about every day is the common or particular temptations it brings and the common or particular opportunities it brings I terms of living the Christian life.
Daily contrition and repentance, daily taking hold of Christ by faith, daily thanksgiving for daily bread, daily prayers for daily concerns—these are not things that can wait “until things get back to normal” or that we do “when things settle down.” Whether today is your triple bypass surgery or just another day of sitting on your front porch, your first day in a new job or your retirement party, your wedding day with photos your grandchildren will look at or just some day with no photos of anything in particular—it is still called “today.” You are still tempted away from the baptismal life of a Christian today. And you are still exhorted by your Christian community to remember who you are, Who your Lord is, and what really matters today. You also have a chance to exhort others in your Christian community to do the same.
Don’t get distracted by swirling events in your own life or in the news. Every day is God’s. Live today as an eternal son or daughter of an eternal King.
April 30: Anxious for Nothing
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matt. 6:34
April showers bring May flowers. On the other hand, “Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.” After yesterday was such a surprise nice day to be outside, I have to admit it was a bit depressing to wake up to gray skies and rain that looks to be settling in to stay all day. It is amazing how much the weather can affect moods, especially when there is really no place to go. If we had a choice about the weather, we’d have to weigh the benefits of May flowers tomorrow against having a nice day today.
Balancing the need to live for today while planning for tomorrow has always been a mysterious task. Just because we aren’t supposed to anxious about tomorrow doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to take tomorrow into account at all. Planning for tomorrow is part of today’s to-do list. The difference is that St. James tells us all our plans should contain the tacit caveat “God willing,” since we don’t know for sure what will happen. And Jesus says not to let tomorrow gnaw at you with worries and fears, but to plan for it, wait for it, and takes whatever it brings in full confidence that somehow it will be full of God’s grace. We who sow seeds do so in view of the harvest down the road. Today we focus on today’s work of plowing and planting.
Those of us in charge of planning the near future at St. Paul’s have been frustrated by our inability to know what the laws and health recommendations will be tomorrow. Indiana’s stay at home order expires tomorrow, but there has been no indication yet as to whether it will be extended, modified, eased, or cancelled. Obviously, such a situation makes it hard to answer any questions. Our Board of Deacons has been meeting weekly to consider the situation. We’re looking at how and when to being the process of opening things back up at St. Paul’s. When we do that, we will do it with all the proper safeguards in place to ensure that we’re being good neighbors to our members and our community while putting first things first in our earthly lives.
We’re all getting antsy to ease back into normal life. For now, though, answers to specific questions will have to wait for the May flowers. I do not know, for example, whether Confirmation will be able to happen on May 31, but I do know families need more than a moment’s notice to prepare for it the way they’d like. I’m not sure yet when we will be able to have a communion service in the sanctuary. Today we will continue receive God’ gifts with thanksgiving. Those gifts include the rain that waters the earth and makes it fruitful, the time we have to work, read, and pray, the church family we have at St. Paul’s, with whom we remain one in heart even as we inhabits different homes, and especially the Word, which bids us not to worry. Tomorrow will worry about itself.
March 27, 2020
This is the day the Lord has made!
First thing most mornings I use a little prayer book by John Baillie called A Diary of Private Prayer, which has a prayer for every morning and every evening the month. I’d like to share a portion of the prayer for the 27th day of the month (slightly edited, since Baillie uses archaic, King James language). After giving thanks for the work of Christ, the prayer continues as follows by giving thanks for what we have received from all those who have gone before us and asking God to incorporate us into that ongoing, glorious history:
For the power of His cross in the history of the world since He came; For all who have taken up their own crosses and followed Him; For the noble army of martyrs and for all who are willing to die that others may live; For all the suffering freely chosen for noble ends, for pain bravely endured, for temporal sorrows that have been used for the building up of eternal joys; I praise and bless You holy Name.
O Lord my God, You dwell in pure and blessed serenity beyond the reach of mortal pain, yet look down in unspeakable love and tenderness upon the sorrows of the earth. Give me grace, I beg you, to understand the meaning of such afflictions and disappointments as I myself am called upon to endure. Deliver me from fretfulness. Let me be wise to draw from every dispensation of Your providence the lesson You would have me learn. Give me a stout heart to bear my own burdens. Give me a willing heart to bear the burdens of others. Give me a believing heart to cast all my burdens on You.
During this very strangest of spring breaks, one of the blessings I’ve experienced is God forcing me to adapt, which I’m not naturally inclined to do. But I think St. Paul’s will be a better congregation next year and year after because of some of the ways we’re adapting now. We’ll be more focused on what is important, and more able to communicate and serve people in different circumstances.
Spring break ends this weekend and school starts again Monday via remote learning. Our teachers have been hustling and scrambling to learn new technology, prepare different lessons, and make it possible to keep teaching despite the circumstances. I’m going to do the same thing (lest those energetic darn teachers make me look bad!) with various Bible studies starting next week. You’ll need either Zoom or Facebook Live to participate in real time. Not ideal, but better than nothing. And I think even after this craziness ends, we’re still benefit from some of the changes we’re being forced to make today.
Keep an eye on your email Monday for instructions on how to participate in Bible study next week.
This weekend’s church service will be matins from LSB, and should be available for viewing by Saturday evening. We hope to begin live-streaming services next week.
Peace be with you!
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana