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Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Linglestown, Pennsylvania, USA

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Lessons for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Unprecedented Times

Let us pray: Gracious God, it is good for us to gather as your beloved in community. We treasure your presence with us in word and meal, song and prayer. Be with us in these days when gathering together as often as we would like is not possible. When we must be apart for reasons of safety, we trust that you surround us with your sheltering wings. Encourage us in connecting as we are able, reaching out to our neighbors in need and being persistent in prayer. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our constant companion. Amen.

These are very trying times that we are living in. In my reading, I saw that one writer stated "that we are living in unprecedented times." We have found ourselves wondering what is going on. Are we safe and how do I know if I have contracted the coronavirus are in the minds of many of us. Some folks have determined that this is not as serious as it is made out to be. Some folks found themselves on the beach with many other beach goers. Some people have heeded the call for social distancing or isolating themselves from others or limit all forms of possible contact in public. As the numbers of those infected increases and as the number of people who have died from the disease increases, our anxiety climbs.

The reality for most of us is that we have not faced anything like this. I remember the stories that my grandparents and parents shared with us about the Great Depression. We have not faced anything like that in our lifetimes. The closest thing I could remember was the gasoline wars in the seventies, I believe, and being limited to only five dollars in gas at a time. That was a disruption at that time and it created anger against the Middle Eastern Countries that most of our oil came from at that time. I also remember as a young person having to go to our local firehouse to get a flu shot, I believe, to try and control a bad strain of the flu that was present that year. These examples are nothing to what we are facing today.

Through the anxiety and fear and not being sure about all of it, it is to this moment that we are called to "live as children of light." This comes to us from the second reading assigned for this Sunday from the letter to the Ephesians. The passage continues with, "for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true." The passage points us to "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." In dark times like these, we are called to be children on the light and to resist the darkness that is all around us. That is not an easy task these days. It may be fueled by our fear of the unknown that seems to be part of this virus.

Many times we read in scripture that we are not to be afraid. Mary heard these words from the Angel Gabriel and the shepherds in the fields are told not to be afraid. Just a few weeks ago it was during the transfiguration lesson that the disciples heard, "Do not be afraid. Easter is coming and this is what the women heard at the tomb when the angel in bright clothing that just rolled the stone away from the entrance of the tomb, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised as he said."

Words may seem empty for some folks. Fear is setting in as the coronavirus cases increase. But as faithful people of God we have the words of our Lord to guide us in times such as these. These may be unprecedented times and this is not the norm for us but what we do have that has lasted the test of time are the words in Holy Scripture that speak to us. I find it really amazing that the Psalm assigned for today is Psalm 23. One of the most read Psalms in all of scripture; it seems to me at least, is Psalm 23. We read it at times of uncertainty and at times of illness and at funerals, to name a few. But it is in those words that we can find our Lord’s call to us to not fear. We are to be the children of light that the writer of Ephesians calls us to mimic. We are the sheep of the Lord our shepherd.

The Psalmist begins by talking about God and then the Psalmist begins to talk to God. It is God who makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. This is all positive that is centered on who the Shepherd really is. Then the Psalmist shifts to talking about God and it is at the point when we read, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me." In the old King James language we have the word "thou" that has now been translated in the NRSV as "you." The Shepherd is now comforting us. The Shepherd is now preparing a table before us in the presence of our enemies. The Shepherd is anointing our heads with oil so that our cup overflows. The Psalm concludes with the goodness and mercy that shall follow us in our lives and finally telling us that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord our whole life long.

In this time of uncertainty and despair for many, is exactly the time to turn to the words of Scripture. It is in these comforting words like Psalm 23 that we can find comfort and hope. Yes for many this is a time of walking through the darkest valley but remember we are told not to fear because it is the Lord who walks with us and comforts us. This is a time for us to pause each day and pray for those affected by the virus in any way. This is the time for us to stop and pray and give thanks for all of the health care workers who are on the front line dealing with this virus. This is the time for us to pray for our elected leaders who are on the front line dealing with this outbreak. We had a great example that I saw on the news the other night where the people of this one Italian City came out on their balconies or on the street in front of their homes and began to applaud the health care workers who were working long hours and putting in so much time to help those suffering.

The letter to the Ephesians tells us to be children of the light and not darkness. The people of Italy were being the children of light under their situation with the coronavirus. We have dedicated people in our country as well working on the front lines as does China, Europe, Canada and wherever this virus has taken hold. There are those who are working to help feed the most vulnerable in our society and I think about the food items etc. that we are collecting for the Ecumenical Food Pantry right now. Our collection goes on but we know it will take a hit due to us not being able to come together to worship. It is in this need that we can still be children of the light by doing the best we can to assist those in need. Gather your food items and save them for when you can return so that we can support those who are hungry. It was suggested that we offer folks to bring their items to the church and drop them off and that is fine as long as someone is in the office we would accept the donations.

Look for those bright spots out there; those children of light, and become one yourself in the midst of this current dilemma we find ourselves part of for now. Remember that the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want. In this time of the dark valley that we are experiencing right now, we can find comfort knowing that the Lord is with us.

This is a time of great anxiety for sure. It is an unprecedented time. It is a time of darkness for many. It is a time of unforeseen outcomes. It is a time for us to take all precautions so that we do not spread the virus. It is a time for us to be mindful for those who will be impacted the most such as the poor and those who have lost their work and income and face so many uncertainties. It is time for us to be the children of light as best that we can to serve those in need. It is time for us to pay attention to the proper information and abide by it to save lives. It is time for us to stop being selfish and only thinking of ourselves and to not hoard things so that those who are struggling can find what they need.

Finally it is in our faith and in the words of scripture that we can find hope. "The Lord is my shepherd." Fear no evil for the Lord is with us. That dark valley exists all around but know that the Lord walks with us. You know I started by saying that these are unprecedented times. These are unusual life happenings but what is also unprecedented is that the Word of God is always relevant to the circumstances that surround us. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long." Amen.


Let us pray: Eternal God, amid all the turmoil and changes of the world your love is steadfast and your strength never fails. In this time of danger and trouble of the Covid-19 virus, be to us a sure guardian and rock of defense. Guide those who are on the front line working with this virus to help heal and comfort those affected. Guide the leaders of our nation and the world with you wisdom, comfort those in distress, and grant us courage and hope to face the future; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Pray the Lord's Prayer:

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

-- Pastor Kerns