Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
No Greater Love
Summer is fading. Like a sunset slipping below the horizon, some of you might be like me, still focusing my attention on the last little bits of summer before it is fully gone. Next is Fall. Fall is often a fun, amazing time. Sure the pools close, but the schools and colleges normally open. Sports normally return. Shows and concerts normally ramp back up. This Fall will not be back to normal, though. Fall is often a re-opening for churches and congregations too. New worship series normally begin. New classes and groups normally launch. Children and youth normally return to regular gatherings with one another. The Fall will not be back to normal for churches, either. When everything changed under COVID-19 in March, there were many imagining we might be "back to normal" by late Summer or Fall. No one was positive what needed to be done, but experts agreed on the basic protocols to minimize COVID's harm on our fellow citizens, ourselves, and our way of life.
Shut everything down for a few weeks to stop the spread and take the pressure off hospitals.
Wash hands and sanitize surfaces often.
Greatly increase the number, frequency, and speed of testing.
Track those we come into contact with, so we can contact trace and quarantine any possible people who might have been exposed if a positive case is found.
Don't gather in groups inside too often or for too long.
Wear a mask whenever around others beyond your home.
Some countries were radically obedient to this advice. Iceland, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Thailand saw huge spikes in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths back in March and April, just like the rest of the world. Today, they are entering Fall cautiously, but with most restrictions reduced. Some countries have a majority of their people in line with these rules, by choice or by force. Either way, they are getting closer. China, Norway, Irealnd, and Italy also saw huge spikes. Yet today, they are entering Fall tired but able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Other countries like Brazil, India, Mexico, and the United States seem unable or unwilling to cooperate or sacrifice. The measures that would guarantee a faster journey to the new normal are being ignored, dismissed, forgotten, or judged as too restrictive or invasive. August was way worse than April, and September is looking to be way worse than May. In the U.S., some states are doing okay compared to others, and some counties or communities are doing okay compared to others. But too many are forgetting how connected we all are to those beyond us, just across invisible human-defined borders. People are coming and going back and forth across the community, county, and state borders. Therefore, we all must stay diligent and careful in our daily practices. This Fall, the church where I serve will worship in person, but only with masks and without singing, and we will send the worship service out live to those not ready or able to attend in person. We will have some small groups gather, but only with masks in large spaces or on Zoom. We won't have any church meals, events, or parties, and no coffee hour or fellowship time yet, but our Session and Diaconate will continue meeting to plan and prepare for the new normal that is surely coming... eventually. We will continue supporting our mission partners who are still in need, but we will be careful and wise how we respond. This Fall could and should have been more normal than it will be. I am angry, frustrated, and sad that leaders were not shining examples into our community of the protocols that reduce infections and save lives. Now, as Christians, we must wear our masks, avoid direct contact, and increase our social distance when with others. We must not cut corners. We must be extra careful. We should stay home if we feel anything odd or weird in our body that could be a symptom of COVID. I don't want the world to see Americans or Christians as science deniers, or as selfish protectors of our own freedoms and privileges as the risk of doing harm to others. Whatever space we are in, I beg all believers to willingly bend ourselves for the benefit of others. I want the world to know American Christians are willing and happy to be inconvenienced or even to sacrifice in order to keep our community and country safe and to help the new normal get here faster. And if you're more interested in getting your own life back to normal, even if it might risk the health and welfare of others around you, remember what your Lord said...
"No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s own life for one’s friends."
Blessing, Laughter, and Loving be yours! Rev. Joel L. Tolbert, Pastor