Archive for March, 2020

Meditation – Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 11:1-6

“1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

One can almost hear the headlines: “Savior Leaves Friend to Die,” “Lazarus – Delayed to Death,” “Jesus Ignores Friend in Grave Condition,” “Lazarus of Bethany Botch Job.”

In the middle of the coronavirus chaos and hysteria, the press-driven panic-circus, it seems that people are wondering if perhaps all this all might signal the “end times.” Scripture talks about all manner of signs in nature which will herald the end of the world as we know it, and “plagues” is one of those “signs.” As these signs come and go, generation after generation is often tempted to think that “our time” may or perhaps must be the “end time.” If one reviews history, however, those convinced that their time was the end, ended up being wrong. St. Paul was convinced that Christ’s return was immanent. Luther too believed that humanity and society could not get much worse. Without fail, however, humanity succeeds time and again in its ability to go from bad to worse. Perhaps we think that ours is the “end time” because we cannot contemplate time without us.

After weeks of derogatory headlines and news reports about politicians’ various failings dealing with the coronavirus, this week the Washington politicians managed to pass a “stimulus package” worth $2 trillion ($2,000,000,000,000.00), and the media was quick to speculate how much YOU might be eligible to receive. If one translates the real value of the forthcoming checks into something really valuable, like rolls of toilet paper, then we have hit the jackpot, or was that crackpot. In the middle of a global crisis, the media wants us to focus on ourselves. Actually, the media wants us to focus on the media and their sponsors, which may be why they want to tell us how much money we are going to get.

Jesus should have been focusing on his friend, Lazarus, who was very ill. Jesus apparently misread the situation, did not listen to the voices “in the know,” and stuck with his own agenda. His dilly-dally response could endanger a life, and it did. Lazarus died, and Jesus thinks that this will be a great evangelism opportunity. How much worse could he get?

How many times has each one of us prayed to God for help in a moment of concern or crisis or panic or heartache or heartbreak, or greed or self-interest or personal gain or … When we are praying for help, how often do we qualify our prayers with “Thy will be done”? When our prayers are not answered the way in which we want them answered, how often do we react adversely, thinking perhaps that God does not care or that there is no God or …?

Well, this is all well and good for Lazarus. He got raised from the dead. That does not really help us much, does it? What about my situation, we ask? What about my friend, relative, illness, financial situation, sports team, and lottery ticket numbers? We sinners do not want just a miracle. We want continual miracles, to be saved from our lives of sin, to live forever, which in reality is what God has actually done for us in Christ.

When Jesus raised Lazarus, Lazarus died again. In contrast, when God the Father raised God the Son from the grave, none of those who believe in Jesus Christ will ever die again. God does not delay or dilly dally. God has already acted. God has delivered on his word centuries before our time of greatest need. God accomplished our salvation in Jesus Chris before we were born. God has given most of us the promise and gift of eternal life in Christ in baptism long before we knew that we had been baptized. Why does that not make the headlines? Through his word of promise in Christ, however, God has made you a headline speaking his life giving love and faith. Share the word. Live the headline. Amen.

Car Crashes and the Coronavirus “Panic-demic”

To put the so-called coronavirus pandemic into perspective, compare current speculation in the media about its “devastating” effect with the statistics below from the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT). Obviously, we care about all with injuries, illness, and loss of life, but in light of the statistics in the excerpt below, why are international, federal, state, and local politicians not issuing “drive in place” directives to protect the global population from the more devastating effects of road crashes each year?

“Annual Global Road Crash Statistics

View the WHO’s infographics on road safety facts.

• Nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day.
• An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled.
• More than half of all road traffic deaths occur among young adults ages 15-44.
• Road traffic crashes rank as the 9th leading cause of death and account for 2.2% of all deaths globally.
• Road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29, and the second leading cause of death worldwide among young people ages 5-14.
• Each year nearly 400,000 people under 25 die on the world’s roads, on average over 1,000 a day.
• Over 90% of all road fatalities occur in low and middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world’s vehicles.
• Road crashes cost USD $518 billion globally, costing individual countries from 1-2% of their annual GDP.
• Road crashes cost low and middle-income countries USD $65 billion annually, exceeding the total amount received in developmental assistance.
• Unless action is taken, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030.

Annual United States Road Crash Statistics

• Over 37,000 people die in road crashes each year
• An additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled
• Over 1,600 children under 15 years of age die each year
• Nearly 8,000 people are killed in crashes involving drivers ages 16-20
• Road crashes cost the U.S. $230.6 billion per year, or an average of $820 per person
• Road crashes are the single greatest annual cause of death of healthy U.S. citizens traveling abroad”

Road Safety Facts

So, in light of the above and in order to protect yourself from car crashes and the coronavirus, you should “logically” be advised to park your car in the garage and then to lock yourself and your family in your car until the politicians give you the “green light.”

Alternatively, you could carry on with life as normally as possible and use some of your extra time delving deeper into scripture. Remember that the coronavirus “panic-demic” is the global reaction of a world without faith, either in God or even in the existence of God; a faithless world suddenly and collectively confronted with its finitude, its mortality. People are rightly scared.

Christians, however, know that people turning away from Jesus Christ, even his followers, is nothing new. In relation to Jesus teaching about unbelief, St. John records that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:66-69 – ESV).

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and thereafter in scripture, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and teaching and preaching, God in Christ has given all of us mortal sinners the words of eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 – ESV). As those ordained into the priesthood of all believes through baptism, let us share these eternal life giving words with others as Christ has given them to us.

The Coronavirus Apocalypse

The last book of the Bible is the Revelation of John. The first word in the book of Revelation transliterated from the Greek is apokalypsis. It means “revelation” or “revelatory unveiling.” The Revelation of John and other similar writings often portray end times events with all manner of symbolism and are often filled with great battles between forces of good and evil. Because of these characteristics, the word “apocalypse” in popular culture is often used to describe surreal stories of humanity’s self-destruction. In recent days, the coronavirus, a small bit of genetic material in a capsid (a protein shell), has given rise to a “great battle,” or more accurately, to a global, panic-filled, media, governmental, and corporate explosion. This unprecedented response to the “novel” corona virus dwarves humanity’s previous reactions to MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), and Ebola, which are much more dangerous. In the blink of an eye, the world has gone coronavirus crazy.

Contributing to or perhaps even driving the hysteria and panic surrounding this novel coronavirus are the media, as the following contrasts detail. As of 16 March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA estimates “that so far this season there have been at least 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu.” Meanwhile, the novel coronavirus, called COVID-19, has only 3,487 total cases with 68 deaths. So, why were the media not going hysterical for most of the flu season? Where was the panic shopping and hoarding when the general population was faced with the flu? While the flu was spreading, why were schools, bars, and nearly all other social activities and gatherings not closed or curtailed? When thousands were dying of the flu, where were the politicians with their draconian declarations and partisan in-fighting? Plainly, a lethal flu cannot compete with the 2020 political primaries.

Speculation says that COVID-19 may have a three percent (3%) mortality rate. According to the CDC figures above, that rate is only 2.0% at the moment. So, the recovery rate for contracting COVID-19 is over 97%. If you were guaranteed to receive over 97% on every exam which you would ever take in life, would you panic and quite school? If you knew that 97% of all your lottery tickets were “winners,” would you go to work any longer? Despite having an estimated 97% recovery rate, it seems as if the coronavirus has caused 97% of the world to shut down.

Instead of remaining reasonable and rational, the media, ever in search of another sensational story to sell, has gone mad. Furthermore, politicians, needing to attend to their political aspirations, want to be seen to be “doing something.” So, the rest of the population is now discouraged from doing anything. Caught between the media’s madness and the politicians’ politicking, the defenseless, general populace has resorted to panic shopping. Furthermore, to restrict people from congregating, schools are closed. Colleges have moved classes online. Bars are barred from opening, and restaurants are running on zero occupancy. Nonetheless, thousands of fearful customers can still overrun retail outlets unrestricted in search of any- and everything available on the shelves whether such things are actually needed or not.

So, what are people hoarding? Think about this for a moment. Some stores are completely sold out of just about everything, including items like mustard. How often do you use mustard? Take a moment to check any or all the mustard containers in your refrigerator. Is your mustard even in date? Whatever the case, what is the likelihood that your mustard consumption will increase so dramatically over the next few weeks that you will need to hoard it? While people are hoarding mustard, are they also hoarding corresponding amounts of hotdogs and hamburgers? Think about it for a moment; somebody, please!

Seeking to rival the media’s madness, retailers have overwhelmed customers with email, especially online retailers, informing customers about their extra efforts at increased sanitation to assure their customers of their concern for their customers’ health and well-being. I am glad to hear that retailers are wiping their various surfaces more diligently, but why are online retailers telling me about such efforts when I only deal with them electronically? Meanwhile, not a single oil company nor a single petrol station has informed me that their employees are wiping clean any of the handles on their fuel pumps. Maybe, under the guise of reduced demand, the oil companies are sublimely fueling the spread of the coronavirus, although no one is quite sure if even they have a handle on the situation.

Perhaps the most baffling of all the hoarded commodities is toilet paper (TP). For completely unknown and irrational reasons, it seems that toilet paper was one of the first items to tantalize the eye of panic shoppers, like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. People started queuing for hours, overcrowding themselves into shops, exposing themselves and their families to coronaviral infection to buy more TP than one family could use for a month of food poisoning; never mind that COVID-19 causes a respiratory condition. What has caused this compelling need to stock up on TP? Whatever the reason, it is nigh on impossible to square it with plain reason.

So, what is happening to humanity? What are we really witnessing? Through a confluence of epidemiological, social, commercial, and interpersonal dynamics, a single virus has brought humanity’s vulnerability, fragility, and mortality clearly and globally into focus. Although death could come for any of us at any moment, through the coronavirus we are witnessing the global reaction of a world without God, a world with no promise of eternal life, desperately clinging to things like hoarded toilet paper, in hope of being “saved.”

This reaction is compounded by the fact that almost all the societal distractions which we use to distract ourselves from our human fragility and mortality are now being closed or shut down by powerless politicians and corporate concerns about a potential pandemic of post-coronaviral litigation. As a result, we sit and wait in anxious apprehension for the coronavirus apocalypse to unfold. Wretched human beings that we are, who will save us from these bodies of death (see Romans 7:24).

St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:3-11 – ESV).

Through baptism, Christians have already died and are already raised from the dead. Through the promises of God given to us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. We are promised the gift of eternal life. Through baptism, we lead a diametrically opposed, new, dual existence. Whereas our mortal bodies are vulnerable and fragile, we live each day not only in newness of life but also boldly in defiance of death! In that spirit, we love in when faced with fear. We give when surrounded by hoarding. We open our hearts when all else is closing. We pray and give thanks to God when our world is overwhelmed with uncertainty and despair.

Most importantly, we love and pray for non-believers. To whom or to what does their heart cling to save them from the ever present reality of death, whenever and however it comes? We pray that one day and forever it will be Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Christ, the son of the living God.

Mark Menacher PhD. Pastor

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