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Hope in a time of COVID-19

 My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
No merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace;
in ev’ry high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less    ELW 597

We’re not good at sitting in uncertainty.  We get extremely uncomfortable when we don’t understand, when we don’t have answers.  We get frustrated and we seek answers and understanding in the wrong places, using flawed logic and setting aside those things we’ve experienced to be true.  And when everyone else is just as uncertain and confused as we are, misinformation spreads like wildfire as we attempt to grasp at straws.  It’s usually at this point that we ask the question we’ve been afraid to speak out loud: Where is God in all of this? 

When we ask this question, we assume one or more of the following: (1) God caused this to happen to teach a lesson of some sort; (2) if we don’t think God caused it to happen, we assume God let it happen; or if either of those two options don’t fit with our beliefs about God and God’s character we assume (3) God isn’t present at all, that we’ve been abandoned.

In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, when we’re struggling to understand why it happened, how it happened, and what the future holds, we seek comfort and hope in our faith, which means at some point we’ll be forced to ask ourselves: Where is God in all of this?  Did God cause this?  Did God let this happen?  And if God did not cause or let this happen, is God even here?  And into our state of uncertainty comes more uncertainty as we wrestle with God’s role (or lack thereof) in either causing this pandemic or stopping it from happening.  Where is God?

Beloved family in Christ, I don’t bring this up to cause you any more anxiety than this situation already has.  I bring this up because I’ve heard these questions being asked and I’ve heard untruths be spoken or posted about our God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  I’ve heard people say that God caused this pandemic because of the decline in global Christianity, but this is simply not true.  It’s not true because for many, many reasons, but most importantly, it’s not true because God.  Is.  Love.  Period.  We profess to believe in a God who became incarnate, lived a human life, died a painful and humiliating human death, was resurrected, and in doing all this offers us grace and forgiveness — not because God had to do this, but because God so loved the world… the whole world.

God did not cause this to happen.  God did not stand by and let it happen.  God did not abandon us or any of creation.  So, where is God in all of this?  God is taking this horrible situation that God did not cause (I cannot stress that enough) and is bringing about new life, as God has done since the very beginning.  God is working through and with all those in the medical field, giving them strength and wisdom to care for their neighbors, our neighbors.  God is with retail workers and manufacturers, giving them the energy and drive to stock shelves and to start producing necessary items for their neighbors, our neighbors.  God is with us in our homes, sitting with us in our discomfort and uncertainty, wrapping arms of comfort and peace around us as we care for one another and our neighbors.  God is with those who are sick in bed, recovering in hospitals, or grieving the recent loss of a loved one.  Remember: Jesus wept.  God is not void of emotion or feeling.  God sits with us, in our discomfort, in our pain, in our grief.  Do we have the eyes to see it?  Where is God in all of this?

It’s hard to reason through or reconcile what’s happening in the world right now with the profession we make about a loving God, but know that they are not mutually exclusive.  God is omnipresent, present always and everywhere, even if we can’t easily identify how. 

Growing up, I had this retro, lacquered wall hanging in my room: Footprints in the Sand.

One night I had a dream.  I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord..

Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me, and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand.  I noticed that many times along the path of my life there was only one set of footprints.  I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life.

This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it: “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I need you most you would leave me.”

The Lord replied: “My precious child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

In this is hope: that God will never leave, abandon, nor forsake us (even when we leave, abandon, and forsake God).  God will carry us through this difficult time and the next difficult time, just as God always has.  This doesn’t mean things will always be easy or that we will never feel the sting of pain or loss, but it does mean that we will not go through these times alone.  God sits with us in our pain, God weeps with us in our loss, God carries us when we can’t carry on.  God is here, right here and right now. 

Beloved family of faith, know that God did not cause this pandemic, that God does not harbor ill will toward creation, and that God will never withdraw God’s presence from creation.  Where is God in all this?  God is in the world: in the hospitals, in the grocery stores, in our homes, in our families… God is in you.  This is our hope, a hope built on Jesus Christ and the abounding, steadfast love of an omnipresent God.

On Christ the solid rock, we stand; all other ground is sinking sand.