So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. [John 13:34-35 (NLT)]

Last week, I saw a video of a prayer service in the streets of a major American city. “Give a shout!” called the pastor and the crowd shouted back before raising their voices in song. In another time, I’d have been thrilled to see so many people gathered to praise Jesus, but these are not normal times. This was in a state where COVID-19 cases are on the increase and even those considered low risk have been asked to wear face coverings and refrain from gathering in groups greater than ten. Nevertheless, the crowd of several hundred stood tightly together and few wore face masks.

Franklin Roosevelt was wrong when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” There’s much we should fear; after all, Scripture tells us to fear God. Along with fearing God, the fear of both spiritual and physical danger can keep us safe. The minute David put his eyes on the naked Bathsheba, he was in spiritual danger but, instead of turning around in fear, he walked straight into the enemy’s trap. The good fear of physical danger is what gets us in the basement during a tornado warning or puts up shutters before a hurricane. It’s the fear that seeks shelter from lightning, looks both ways even after the light turns green, gets vaccinated, wears seat belts, and puts life jackets on toddlers when they wade in the ocean. It’s when we allow our fear of spiritual or physical danger to turn into preoccupation or obsession, when we lose perspective or faith, or when we become anxious, neurotic, hopeless, incompetent or incapacitated, that good fear goes bad.

Our bodies are not our own; like everything else we have, they belong to God. As His stewards, we are expected to take good care of them; a certain amount of fear helps us do that by assessing risks. There may be times we are called to risk our lives, as are firemen when entering a burning building. Needlessly risking health and safety, however, is not God’s intention for us. “You’re afraid!” is not an insult when it comes to COVID-19; we all should have a healthy fear of this virus. As Christians, we live by faith not fear, but that doesn’t mean we live foolishly or inconsiderately!

It’s not just the elderly or those with secondary conditions who are at risk. One of the mysteries of this disease is that relatively healthy young people, including small children and teens, can become critically ill or die. Everyone should have a healthy fear of this virus and respect it the same way we would a bear on the back deck: by keeping our distance! Moreover, our reckless actions have ramifications and can cause collateral damage. Every attendee at that prayer rally later interacted with family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers; their carelessness might cost someone else their health or even their life! Christians are called to love and that love should respect, honor, and value the lives of others as much as their own.

Ignoring scientific data, our state, like many others, is re-opening and some churches have followed suit. After all, empty pews often mean empty collection baskets. While our church, like many, wants to resume services, we readily admit to being afraid. We take the numbers and threat seriously and needlessly bringing ourselves or our church family into a risky situation is irresponsible. “Let the vulnerable stay home!” say some while other churches tell those over 65 they can’t attend. I don’t think the Lord who spoke of leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who was lost, would agree. Every single life mattered to Him and it is the most vulnerable God has called us to serve!  Believing that the church should be a place of sanctuary not infection, our church is not yet meeting in person. It’s not a popular choice, but Jesus was never about being popular. He was about love—about doing the right thing—about caring for the health and safety of others.

Face masks and social distancing aren’t about politics; they’re about love! When Bishop Michael Curry was on the Today show last week, he spoke of choosing to live in the way of love which, he explained, is seeking the good of others as well as of self. After placing his two hands in the shape of a heart, he said there was a new symbol of love: a face mask! “I wear it to protect you and you wear it to protect me,” explained the Bishop. Me doing all I can to protect you from harm and you doing all you can to protect me exemplify Christian love! Right now, for many of us, along with wearing a face mask, that means continuing to worship together from a distance!

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. … We love each other because he loved us first. [1 John 4:10-11,19 (NLT)]

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