Dear Partners in Mission:
“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24
The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has created a “generational” moment. These are moments—like 9/11, the Challenger explosion, Kent State, the Kennedy assassination—that can be simply referred to in a word or short phrase but evoke vivid memories and emotions.
What is somewhat unique about this moment is that it is being fully shared worldwide. No part of our global community is untouched, either by this disease or its economic and social ramifications. This moment is also unique in that it isn’t an instant event, that then creates reaction; instead, it is unfolding over days, weeks, and months. While along the way there are multiple points of significance, we are going to be living this “generational” moment for quite some time.
This duration is important. This moment is going to be more like a marathon than a sprint.
We honestly prefer the sprint. It is intense, difficult … but over relatively quickly. While both require intense training and discipline, completing the marathon requires the athlete to combine physical and mental strength to have patience, adapt, and learn along the course as conditions and their own body changes.
What does this analogy mean for us as members of the body of Christ in this moment? I offer these three things today (understanding these will undoubtedly change):
1) Kindness to self and others is essential: When we met via Zoom on Tuesday, March 17, one of the key messages I wanted our leaders to hear was the need to be kind and patient with each other and with themselves. No one has ever led the church through this very moment. We have to be honest that we don’t know all the answers. For that reason alone, we need to live into Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment and speak well of each other and explain our neighbor’s actions graciously.
2) Move with patience and prayerful discernment: A rush to action feels good. We all want to “do something,” especially when we feel out of control. Church leaders, physically isolated from their people, want to reach out and connect. This is good and an opportunity for us to re-imagine older practices for setting up phone trees, care communities, assigning members the task of checking in with one another, and communicating needs to leaders and the pastoral office.
This is what I am asking of our synod leadership and deans. In meetings with conferences and deans this week, we will be discussing how each conference can learn how to care for one another in this unique time. Strategies will change as this moment progresses. We don’t act for the sake of action alone. As we run this marathon together, we listen and learn, sharing insights and wisdom along the path.
3) We have a word for this time: The Christian story, and our Lutheran understanding of this story, has a word for this time. We have things to say about the value of this creation spoken into being by God and the value of our human community that God’s Word died to redeem. For our pastors and authorized leaders, it is vital that we remember our word has authority because it comes from God’s Word.
The Word of God has power. It can change reality. On Thursday, March 19, meeting for our first weekly check-in/prayer time, we participated together in the corporate confession of sin and absolution. At the end, I spoke the words, “In the name of +Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven” and it was so because I speak with authority from the powerful name of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God.
It is important that we as leaders, lay and ordained, remember our words have the power to communicate God’s Word to change people’s lives. We must then be careful with our words in this time: they can bring great hope, but also greater despair. We have an opportunity to remind ourselves, our communities, and our civic, national, and global leadership of the power of God’s Word to bring life into being.
The text referenced at the beginning of this note is a regular feature of motivational posters. This along with Philippians 4:13 are favorites in the athletic community. However, if you read the context of 1 Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul is speaking about the many and various ways he had to learn, adapt, grow, and release privilege to proclaim the gospel. To share with the world the powerful Word of God that can bring life into the darkest circumstances.
The gospel for us today is that, as we run this marathon, we know that we have already won the prize. The gift of baptism, as a means of grace, has given us the crown of life and the name “child of God, inheritor of eternal life.” In this time of global challenge, we have the assurance that winning this race does not depend on our efforts alone. In that assurance, we are freed to pace ourselves, observe Sabbath, serve our neighbor, look out for the interests of the vulnerable and lost, and conserve strength for the whole race. Confident we are counted as witnesses to the world-shaping power of God’s Word.
In all this know you are in my prayers daily, and that I covet your prayers as well. As we continue to run this race, we do so…
Quicklink Useful Resources
NT-NL COVID-19 Resource Page: https://www.ntnl.org/resources/covid-19/
Guias para ofrecer Las Misas durante el COVID -19: https://www.ntnl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Guias-para-ofrecer-Las-Misas-durante-el-COVID.pdf
ELCA Public Health Resources: https://elca.org/publichealth
Lutheran Men in Mission: https://www.facebook.com/LutheranMen/ Includes information about Men’s Bible Study beginning March 26 at 7pm.
ELCA Young Adults: https://www.facebook.com/ELCAYoungAdults/ Small group registration begins Monday, March 23.