Time of Epidemic
Isaiah 41:9-10, 14
March 22, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is from Isaiah 41, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”
Often times when someone is going to have to do something that frightens them, they’re told they need to face their fears. Afraid of heights? Lean way out of the edge and you’ll see it’s not that bad. Afraid of public speaking? Just get up on stage and confront your fears head on. How often do you think that advice works? I’m afraid of sharks, so if I get in shark cage that’s being lowered into the water, I’m going to be scared. The boat captain telling me, “Don’t be afraid!” isn’t going to help. I’m thinking, “Don’t be afraid? Yeah, right!”
So here we are, gathered as the Church, but not together in the church, and why is that? We’re afraid! We’re afraid of spreading or getting the virus that started in China but has now infected a large part of our world and the United States. Now, I know some of you aren’t overly concerned about the virus and the ongoing situation. You’re not convinced the virus is that big of deal and that people are overreacting. Or maybe your firm faith in God is keeping you on an even keel. God’s bless you! I’m proud of you and I’m sure not going to condemn you. Hopefully, you’re right and your confidence will rub off on the rest of us.
On Tuesday I was at a Sam’s club and someone said that Walmart had toilet paper. You should’ve seen all the ears perk up! Are people really afraid of running out of toilet paper? I suppose some people are, especially those who need it and couldn’t get it because of those hoarding it. But I think it goes deeper than that. For many of you though, the fear is unmistakable. Can you feel it? Restlessness. Powerlessness. People are afraid, but they don’t know what to do, so when one person buys up a bunch of toilet paper, people follow suit. Does having a two-year supply of Charmin really help with the fear? Not at all.
Nothing in this world is going to help with the fear that comes from being laid off from work and not having any income. Nor will it help with the fear that the job won’t be there when the virus has finally moves on. Toilet paper isn’t going to help my retirement account that’s taking a beating because of the stock market crash. It’s not going to help you when you’re worried about your parents and grandparents, or yes, about yourself as well.
This is such a hard time for everyone. People need comforting, they need hugs and we’re told to practice social distancing and stay six feet away from others. There’s nothing social about it. And our members who can’t get out, those who are hiding in their homes are cut off from the interaction they need. This isn’t the first time that churches have been closed, it happened in the Flu Epidemic of 1918. But I can’t lie. I’m worried about the future of Emmanuel, and the other Christian churches out there. And the future brings up a different set of fears, doesn’t it?
In the text from Isaiah, God calls His people “worms”. That’s not very comforting, is it? It sounds kind of harsh. Then again, it accurately describes your helplessness in the face of this epidemic and the ongoing consequences of it. You have no power of anything. You can social distance, you can avoid the stores, you can close the schools and the churches, but there’s no guarantee you won’t get sick. Only the Lord knows the extent of this epidemic, one the Lord knows the future, and that’s why He tells us to not be afraid.
Jesus says, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” He’s right! If you’re afraid, it’s not going to help, and worrying doesn’t change a thing! When you’re afraid, the thing to do isn’t to face your fears, it’s to turn your face towards the Lord. Listen to what God says, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off.” Did you hear that? God chose you to be His child before the world was created. He claimed you as His own, you belong to Him; you don’t belong to fear. Nothing, absolutely nothing, that happens in this world or in your life can change that. What can separate you from the love of Christ? Covid-19? Influenza A? Distress? Danger? Unemployment? Fear? Worry? No! None of these things, nor anything else, will ever separate you from God’s love and compassion. And if nothing can separate you from God, what do you need to be afraid of? Nothing!
The Lord declares to you, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.” You don’t need to be afraid because the almighty, the all-powerful, the all-knowing God, who gave His life for you, hasn’t abandoned you! He walks with you wherever this time of adversity leads you. It will be horrible if you lose your job or take a serious financial hit and yet Christ is with you and He doesn’t just walk through the hard times with you, He leads you through them. If, after obeying all the rules, you get sick, you can turn to Christ who is the great physician, who has power over all illnesses. And if this illness takes your life, it’s not because Jesus is weak, it means you’re enjoying eternal life in God’s presence.
If you read my Pastoral Letter from this past week you saw I quoted Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” This is what it means when Isaiah says that the Lord upholds us with His righteous right arm. He is your Rock, your Fortress, and not only that God fights for you. You’re worms, you can’t fight for yourselves, you need help, and God gives you that help. This is why Jesus came to earth in the first place, to fight for you!
Jesus, with His death and resurrection, with His love and compassion, is the proof that God will help you. Jesus came to earth to conquer Covid-19. He came to defeat Influenza A, cancer, unemployment, fear, worry. And He did too! As Jesus hung on the cross, He took everything bad and sinful into Himself. He did for your sins, including the sins of worry and doubt. He died so that we would know that we would never have to be afraid. And then, to show it even more vividly, Jesus rose from the dead and He proved that nothing has power over Him, not even death. And if nothing has power over Him, nothing has power over you!
So I’m not going to tell you to face your fears, I’m encouraging you to trust in the Lord. Yes, I know, it’s easy to say, not always so easy to do. I get that. You’re going to have times of confidence and fear. It’s not easy to trust when you don’t know what the future holds, but God knows, and that’s what really matters. You are His people, you are forgiven. There’s nothing that can happen to you that God won’t use for your benefit. He isn’t going to leave you to face your fears alone and He’ll never cast you away.
Instead, He speaks words of peace to you. He hears your prayers. He’s your only hope when all seems hopeless. He’s your only help when you feel helpless. He is your only fortress when you’re afraid. And when you’re falling, when you’re struggling, He’s the one who holds you up with His righteous right arm. So when God tells you not to be afraid, you don’t answer, “Yeah, right”. You can say, “Yeah, right! How can I be afraid, when God Himself is my helper?”
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen