April 17, 2020by Reverend Dan on April 17, 2020
“Jesus said, ‘It is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Everyone who knows me at all knows I’m a history buff, so I’ve been thinking about what the history books might say when they look back at this time we’re living in now.
There was a global pandemic caused by a virus. The number of people infected grew exponentially by the day. Officials recommended frequent handwashing and quarantining of the sick. Then it was recommended that people without the virus quarantine themselves. Cities began to ban public gathering, including worship. In the end, the pandemic killed 50 million people, including 675,000 Americans.
Oops, wait a minute. That isn’t about the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. It’s from an article about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
Chris Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University, recently wrote about how churches and church leaders responded to that 1918 pandemic, as reported by local newspapers.
-Some pastors were creative and lead outdoor services, encouraged home worship and even published sermons in newspapers.
-An interim pastor in San Francisco preached that many Christians had caused the pandemic as a result of being "cowardly" and "worldly" and only repentance of these sins would stop the spread of the virus.
-At the other end of the spectrum, a Methodist leader wrote that "… the pandemic should convince “Intelligent Christians” to trust science rather than seeking to “tempt God to perform a miracle in the preservation of our health ..."
-Some pastors refused to close their doors, held services in protest, and in at least one city a pastor was arrested for refusing to cancel services.
-The Daily Telegram, of Worchester, Massachusetts, reported on how Christians were responding. Women from three local churches were taking care of “epidemic orphans.” They not only gave food and clothing but found a way to continue their schooling.
Any of that sound familiar? Same goals, different methods. It’s easier to worship “corporately” from home now because of social media, but it’s still worshipping at home. Instead of posting sermons on websites or Facebook they were in newspapers, but they were still available. Some preachers described “a vengeful God” who was punishing the world, and some still held services against ordinances established by the government. We’ve seen and heard that. Calmer heads, listening to the experts, warned that tempting God by gathering was not going to prove anything so just stay at home. Same this time. And churches reached out – then and now - in the name of Jesus to do what they could amid the suffering. It looks like time and methods change, but human nature does not.
As we face the current pandemic, I pray we remember that this is not the first time that churches have faced a major disruption of regular activities. And just as their history is judged in retrospect, how we respond to our current crisis not only gives witness to our faith but will also be remembered and evaluated by future generations.
How do we want our Christian response to be remembered?
“Father, Help us to learn from history, and honor you with our actions. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”