Are pandemics new territory for the Christian? Pastor looks at moments in church history, very similar to our own, to glean wisdom for us today. Let’s take a moment out of the chaos and the noise to remember that Christ has a mission for the Church despite hardships and uncertainty.
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Transcript: Welcome to “5 Minutes with Pastor Lutzer.” I’m so glad that you joined us today as we begin a series on the topic of “Pandemics, Plagues and Natural Disasters: What is God saying to us?” Now, I’ve spoken about some of these ideas before, but we’re going to look at this topic in much more detail. We’re going to be answering questions like what is God’s relationship to the pandemic and also is this a judgement of God? How should we interpret what is happening around us? Those are the kinds of questions we are going to investigate but today because we begin, I want to remind you that the Church of Jesus Christ has been here before.
We think to ourselves that COVID is very new. Here, you have a pandemic, but let’s go back to ancient Rome. There were cart-loads of dead bodies that were carted away because people died in the plague, and by the way, Christians helped the pagans, even as they suffered. Come with me to North Africa; the year is 251. Cyprian, a Christian leader, speaks about the plague, and he says, in effect, it was good that it came. Wow, imagine that—“because,” Cyprian says, “were it not for the plagues. Christianity would have never spread throughout North Africa.” Because the Christians died differently than the pagans and the pagans said, “Where is all this hope coming from?” And the Pagans said, “they carry their dead as if in triumph.” By the way, Cyprian also said that the plagues enabled people to no longer fear death and he said, “why should we grieve over those who are in the presence of Christ?” Let me skip to the reformation. As many of you know, I have a great deal of interest in Martin Luther—the year is 1537. A plague comes to Wittenberg. The elector, Frederick, says to Luther, “flee Wittenberg,” because after all, Luther was already famous. Luther writes an essay on whether or not you should flee the plague. In effect, he says this, “if you have no responsibilities”—he says “you can flee. But if you’re a pastor or if you’re a magistrate, you have to stay and minister to your people”, Luther said.
We have an obligation and there are two ideas that I want to leave with you, that Luther talked about. Number one, was this, he says, “If I die while I am serving other people, I will have died a good death.” After all, greater love has no man than this, but that a man lay down his life for his friends—for his relatives. Luther and Katie actually took sick people into their own home and cared for them. Something else Luther said and I love the blunt way with which he spoke. I have the quote here, but I’ll simply paraphrase it, he says in effect, “If God wants to kill us He can do that no matter how many precautions we take.” Now, I believe it’s very important for us to take precautions, as our health professionals tell us social distancing, wearing masks, and so forth, but it is true that you can do all that and if it’s your time to die, all of the precautions that you take will not help.
Next time I’m going to be giving you some information that will really build your faith about God’s relationship to the plague. But I want to leave you with this idea, what can you do to help somebody else? What can you do, that is a reasonable risk, where you say “I can minister to people”? Of course, we can do that through technology, but maybe even directly. Rebecca and I just attended a funeral, not so very long ago. Of course, there was some social distancing, but you know it’s so difficult in a situation like that to make sure that you follow all of the protocols. What do you say to a widow who’s grieving, who wants to give you a hug, who wants to weep on your shoulder? We can become so fearful of COVID that we lack the heart to minister to the broken and that’s the challenge I want to leave with you today is this: what can you do to disadvantage yourself, that will be of great help to someone else? Because Christians accept these difficulties and tragedies. They accept them very differently because, after all, as we’re going to be experiencing, as this series continues, we have a hope beyond this life and it’s the kind of hope we can hang on to even if we don’t experience answers to prayer, even if everything doesn’t turn out right—in the end for believers it will. So you just stay tuned during this series. But as for today, just go with God.