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March 20, 2020

A Pastoral Word. . .

By Rev. Mark Adams
March 20, 2020
As I write this, the COVID-19 virus is spreading throughout the world. It’s now an official “pandemic.”  As I contemplated the news of the day, God brought to my mind a pastor who lived during a similar situation. I’m referring to John Donne, who was dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for ten years. During his tenure in the first part of the 17th century, the Black Plague swept through London three times, killing tens of thousands with each recurrence. Donne was familiar with what we are going through four hundred years later.

In 1623 Donne fell seriously ill and believed he was dying of the plague. Unable to read, but able to write, he penned his famous Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. In it, he records hearing church bells tolling a declaration of death, which he mistook to be an announcement of his own demise. When he realized they were for another, he penned one of literature’s most famous lines: “No man is an island, entire of himself; therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Eight years later, the bell did toll for Donne, who died of stomach cancer when he was 59.

I may be overly optimistic but I don’t think we face a new “Black Plague.” In fact, I think the scariest thing about COVID-19 is not the virus itself, but rather people’s panic-filled response to it.  That’s where Donne can help us, for he wisely concluded that life will always involve circumstances that incite fear: if not illness, then financial hardship, if not poverty, then rejection, if not loneliness then failure. In such a world, Donne realized that we have a clear choice: to fear God or to fear everything else, to trust God or to trust nothing. God helped Donne to realize that it only makes sense to trust in God---for God is BIGGER than any crisis we face---even death itself.

This inspired him to write these familiar words:
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so. One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

I do not know how many will die from this virus, but we need not fear death, for our Lord has defeated it---or to reflect Donne’s words, He has “killed” death.

So, the only fear we should cultivate is a fear of our death-killing Lord, for that fear can supplant all others. Here’s how Donne puts it in one of his prayers: “As Thou hast given me a repentance not to be repented of, so give me, O Lord, a fear of which I may not be afraid.”

As you watch the newscasts that come at us from everywhere, ask yourself, “What do I fear more?  Whose power do I respect more: the power of our Loving God or the power of this crisis?”

Remember, “The Lord is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

Let’s all ask ourselves, “Am I responding to the inevitable trials of life based on my feelings of fear or on what the Bible says we can KNOW about God?” “Am I standing on His promises or am I floundering on my feelings?” “Am I responding to the trustworthiness of God by placing my trust in Him?”

“What am I showing more in this COVID-19 crisis---my fear---or my faith?”


Lord, help it be the latter for all of us!

Keep the SON in your eyes!
Mark
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