The first reflection in a series, “Hope to See Us Through,” by the Rev. Terry Elsberry.
I’d already decided what to give up for Lent this year. It wasn’t some favorite food. One year I gave up muffins, which as anyone who knows me well, comprise one of my favorite food groups. Call me the Muffin Man. I happened to mention during the announcement one Sunday that my discipline that Lent was no muffins. Not a big deal for some people; major for me. That Easter Sunday, as I was running from the St. Matthew’s Rectory to church for the second service, I was stopped by my Senior Warden’s wife. She was coming across the lawn with a tray of still warm from the oven blueberry muffins. Never ate better muffins in my life; and I’m a connoisseur. Not sure I got a spiritual reward that Lent, but I sure had a physical one.
Actually, those muffins tasted so good, I began thinking of other food treats I might give up in future years and just casually let drop at announcement time to see what that lady or some other loving parishioner might bake for me. Then I stopped myself short. Lenten disciplines aren’t meant to be self-serving. They’re meant to strengthen and deepen our relationship with the Lord not with our stomach. Those muffins sure were good, though.
With that in mind, I went back to more spiritually oriented disciplines. This year, I determined to give up anxiety. We all know anxiety comes in all degrees from wondering if we’ll get everything crossed off our daily list to concern for a loved one who’s battling a major disease.
I had just given up anxiety for Lent when what happened? The virus hit.
I don’t know what your reaction has been. Among my friends I’ve seen the spectrum from over reaction to what seems to me underreaction. But wherever we find ourselves on the anxiety spectrum, we have to admit this is major. It’s hugely disruptive and, frankly, scary.
Travel plans cancelled, the economy traumatized, new cases cropping up daily, people tragically dying. Where does all this leave us as Christians? As Christians what should our response to the Corona virus be, anyway?
I was asking the Lord that question last week when, for me at least, the answer came. I’m here to share it with you this morning.
What came to me in response to the prayer was the thought: “Read Psalm 91.”
Psalm 91 is a favorite of mine and has been for a long time. Many years ago, I was in a place of indecision. Between jobs. Not sure what I should do, where I should look, what options to consider. Then the word came to me, 30-plus years ago, just as they did last week: “Read Psalm 91.”
So let’s look at Psalm 91. The Lord’s word to me the other day may not just be for me. It may apply to all of us here today. It may actually apply to all Christians in the face of this growing disaster.
From the first verse, the psalmist is very clear about what we should do in the time of trouble.
He says we should dwell in the shelter of the Most High, we ought to abide, never leave, the shadow of the Almighty. The shadow of the Lord.
What’s this mean? In common parlance it means: Stick close to God. In times of trouble, cling to Him. To abide means we’re day-by-day, hour-by-hour Christians not sometimes, when it’s convenient or when we can fit it in Christians. The psalmist is comparing our ideal relationship with the Lord to the relationship with the person we spend the most time with, the person we love the most, trust the most. You have to be close to someone for their shadow to fall on you. So we need to live close to the Lord. In good times and bad, close to Him is always our safest, happiest place to be. It’s our shelter
Now we’re given more guidance. Once we put ourselves in that beautiful sheltered place we’re told what to say to the Lord. We should say, “Lord, you’re my refuge. You’re my stronghold. You’re my God. I put my trust in you.”
Try it. Sometime when you’re alone and praying, say it out loud. Remind him, remind yourself that He’s your safe place. That you trust Him, no matter what.
What happens when we do that? He protects us. Consider the list of bad things He keeps at bay. Even the plague. And why are we kept safe from these multiple disasters?
There are two lines here that begin with the word “because.”
Find them both in verse 14. Here it’s the Lord talking. He’s explaining why He protects the psalmist, why He protects others of His children.
“Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my Name.”
What the Lord is saying here is that you don’t have to have any special merits, be particularly bright or talented or good-looking or successful (although you may be all these things), because they don’t ensure closeness, that safe place with the Lord. What we DO need to do is show the Lord we love Him. “Because he/she is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; I will protect him because he knows my Name.”
How do you show the Lord you love Him? How do you show another person you love him or her?
We know how to show love, don’t we?
Show the Lord you love Him. Tell Him you love Him. Trust in His love, in His protection, in the hope and peace you can have even in times of crisis. And He will not—He will never—leave you. He’s your refuge and your stronghold.
Because whatever happens, whatever difficulties may come our way, He’s our safe place.