Pastoral Ponderings . . .
With the coming of Memorial Day weekend in America it sure looks to me like, for some, the party’s just getting started. Victory over Covid has been declared. We’ve all seen the pictures and video of the Ozark pool party, the crowded beaches on both coasts; even here in Sugarhouse Park last weekend. Many are celebrating victory over the virus. Enough is enough, they say.
You’ve probably heard how the Mayor of Kayesville wanted to be known as the first to sponsor an open-air concert in the country over the weekend and the City Council said no: we’re going to keep following public health guidelines because this virus hasn’t gone anywhere. So the party was moved to an even bigger venue in Toole County, that can hold 100,000 people. And now it’s been postponed again for a couple weeks.
The organizers, along with Kayesville Mayor Katie Witt, are calling their mass gathering efforts an “act of faith.” “We believe that we’re kind of at a tipping point in America right now, especially in Utah,” said Eric Moutsos one of the principal organizers. “And we’re moving forward in faith.” Mayor Witt was even more clear. She said this is all about “Freedom vs Fear.”
I believe that exercising our individual freedom as Americans by practicing self-sacrifice and delayed gratification for the sake of the most vulnerable in our nationis not an act of fear. I believe it is an act of courage, faithfulness, and the highest moral good. And it is unconscionable to me how those like Moutsos and Witt are using faith in God today as a wedge, to divide Americans even more than we already are, in the face of a national crisis.
As followers of Christ today in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA, we are guided toward our neighbor’s well being, first and foremost as people of faith, by what we identify as the ethics of Christ who said “as you have done unto the least of these (the most vulnerable among us) you have done so unto me.”And even more clearly still, when Christ says that the greatest of all commandments, by which all people will know we are his followers, is to “love God heart, soul, strength, and mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.”
Never before to me, in 32 years of ministry, has the call to “Walk the Talk; Walk the Faith we confess” been so clear to me. We know exactly who the most vulnerable are, in this public health crisis. And we know exactly the best way, short of a vaccine, to protect each other: a united public effort to stop the spread of this virus through physical distancing, the wearing of masks, and frequent hand-washing.
The focus of Christ’s ethical teachings, as I understand them, is always on our neighbor’s well-being. Christ promises enough, for eternity, for everyone, so that everyone can practice the greatest self-sacrific and self-denial for the common good. That’s not a fear-based ethic, as Mayor Witt would tell us. That’s an ethic based in gratitude to God, and love for our neighbor.
Ultimately, one of the great lessons this virus is teaching us, I think, is that our neighbor’s health and well-being is fundamentally tied to our own. If our most vulnerable neighbors are not cared for, all of us suffer, whether we want to or not. Our neighbors who even before this virus, were barely making ends meet; who were food insecure, and under-employed, working 3 jobs to put food on the family table, and one catastrophic illness away from living on the street. We see now how their daily struggle transformed into 40 million unemployed workers in just under 3 months. And our economy is reeling for all of us.
The virus teaches us that none of us lives in isolation. We are all dependent upon each other and on the institutions we help create and maintain, to create prosperity for all. And that there can be no lasting prosperity, without global public health. We have to all pull together, to make national and global public health happen. As the bumper sticker says, we need to “Think globally, and act locally.” A tiny, microscopic virus has made that clear, like nothing has before.
So for us in the ELCA, who declare our faith and trust in Christ, loving our neighbor as ourselves in this pandemic doesn’t look like someone afraid of losing their freedom. Someone who says“I don’t care if I get the virus, cuz Jesus is my vaccine. And I’m going to exercise my freedom to party and gather in mass groups of people like I’ve always done.”
People of great learning, in science and medicine, in fact some of the best minds of the 21st century, are trying their best to help us understand how to respond as individuals, and societies, to a common threat. We invest in their knowledge, and the furthering of their research, because we believe that a society has a moral obligation to the well-being of all. That sense of moral obligation resonates with our faith in Christ.
At Mount Tabor, we understand that. And we give thanks to God, for the on-going revelations of science, for our well-being as stewards of God’s creation. But I’m sensing that so much of putting this 21st c. science into practice now depends on our willingness to practice self-sacrifice, and delayed gratification. That’s the ethic we as the followers of Christ in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA are trying to live into our daily practice of faith. We are God’s Church, founded in the diversity of Pentecost, based in the ethic of love of our most vulnerable neighbors, for the common good. And that to me isn’t fear. It’s the noblest calling in the world.