Sermon: What to take back from COVID-19?

Due to coronavirus (COVID-19) preventative measures, High Point Church is doing church at home in small worship groups. This blog post is based on the sermon outline. You can watch the sermon here, and get updates from High Point Church regarding COVID-19 here.

As a pastor, I can’t tell you “everything is going to be ok.” I don’t know what you’ll hear when I say that. Already none of us are untouched by this line of events.

I can’t tell you that what you fear will not happen, or that what you hope for will happen. I can only say that it’s impossible that all of your varied fears will happen. And that probably none of your hopes will come about exactly as planned. This is why it is not our duty to predict the future in either anxiety or pride.

It is our work only to look ahead far enough to plan to do our duty and then to exist fully in the present, embracing the full labor of love toward God, ourselves and our neighbors.

Let’s start with a simple realization: COVID-19 is going to take from us.

  • Trivial: The NBA
  • Total: death and loss
  • Tragic: Real hurts, sickness, pain, overwork, massive loss of wealth, lost jobs or closed businesses, students not eating, getting in trouble through addiction or crime because you can’t handle the idleness

But will COVID-19 give anything? Or, can we take anything from it?

Calamity may come for many different and simultaneous reasons. But in Romans 8:28, God claims to “work” even these things for some goods if we look to him in faith (love him and are called to his purposes).

Pain, tragedy and suffering may be the ONLY way most of us will take certain things from the human experience. But this is only true if you are more than a philosophical materialist and a practical consumer. If, in your mind, mammon and math are all that there is in the universe, then disease can only be a catastrophe. But if there are things like love, meaning, souls and God, then catastrophe may be the only way we will see them rightly.

C.S. Lewis talks about pain as God’s megaphone to a deaf world. The word “deaf” does a lot of the work. It only works if we can’t hear in another way.

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

Then what credible thing stops up our ears?

Blaise Pascal teaches that men love diversion (it is our deafness). Diversion is the wax in our ears.

Diversion. Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” –Pascal

Jesus calls the means we use for this diversion “mammon,” and told us we could not serve both God and mammon. That we could not love God and lick the earth.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Therefore, it is only that which endangers or destroys our material diversions that shout over the deafness of our diversions.  

Only a “grounding fear” can rouse our attention in the virtual reality of diversion.

In psychology, we would say we can only accept pain as therapeutic if it rescues us from a greater evil.

An illustration: Being tackled in front of a bus, breaking our collar bone. Your reaction to being tackled and hurt would be different whether you were facing the bus or facing away from it. To feel the pain was worth it:

  • You have to see that something much worse was bearing down on you
  • You’d have to recognize you weren’t paying attention
  • You’ll be grateful for the intervention

But remember, God’s work in us is not as simple as this. We are prone to go RIGHT BACK to the obliviousness of diversion. The breaking of the collar bone might not be an accident, but an intentional reminder for the future so we will not be looking at our phone crossing the street in a month.

This is what happened to Jacob when he wrestled the Angel of the Lord in Genesis. God touched his arm socket and gave Jacob a permanent reminder of what happens when you wrestle with God.

God does not tell us what he is doing in his secret will in affairs like these. We simply don’t know the heavenly significance of COVID-19. God may have 20 billion angles he is working in such a global space that we know nothing about, and could not.

We only know what God has shown us in this revealed will. Every trial is a testing that both reveals our heart and makes our character.

Yet for most of us, this trial has hardly begun. Our task in this moment is to prepare our minds and hearts to think as God has taught us to, and to find his courage in the midst of the anxieties of likely calamity.

So let’s look at a few of these ways we should brace and clear our minds and hearts.

How can we, at God’s leading, TAKE something from this train of events:

The sobriety that nothing has really changed. We were just diverted.

I updated this C.S. Lewis quote to fit our times.

C.S. Lewis On Living in an Atomic Age (1948) “In one way we think a great deal too much of the likely pandemic’s results. ‘How are we to live in an age of global diseases?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of AIDS, an age of paralysis, an age of terrorism, an age of hurricanes, an age of car accidents.’ In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before nature invented this present disease: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because globalism has added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by a global pandemic, let that disease, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about contagions. They may break our bodies (microbes have always done that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

He is saying: If we trade the deafness of diversion for the deafness of terror, then we can take no good from such a situation as this.

We must wake up to see that human life has always been like this: full of terror and death.

And people have lived with love and courage in all these times, as well as some have lived in hatred, selfishness and cowardice. It is not the presence of danger that takes away our humanity, it is our understanding of our identity and purpose that reveals our hearts and forms our character.

Become sensible of the vanity and shallowness of our diversion.

Pascal, p. 141. “Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings.”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées “The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion. And yet it is the greatest of our miseries. For it is these above all which prevents us thinking about ourselves and leads is imperceptibly to destruction..”

If you wake up from a hypnosis, you should consider how not to fall into it again.

We have to learn the spiritual lesson of how given we are to diversion, and how it numbs us and leads us to our spiritual death. And also, how it keeps us from the deep pleasures and joy of life by making us brittle and shallow.

My book Substance explores this more deeply.

The only way to really escape diversion is to pursue purpose, depth, godliness, and discipline by faith.

Receive from Christ his greatest gift.

Hebrews 2:14-18   14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil–  15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

As a human high priest, Jesus:

  • Revealed the resurrection: and pledged an everlasting life
  • Achieved salvation: the atonement and forgiveness we needed for death to not lead to a greater calamity.
  • Present effect: to free us from our fear of death and evil.

Result:

Find the courage to love.

Romans 8:28-39   28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 present realizations:

  • God will work for the eternal good – the “Glorification” of all his own.
  • Nothing can separate us form his love – not even death.
  • Therefore: our identity is that we are conquerors.

Conclusion: That only makes sense if you repent of materialism.

It can only help you, form you and guide you if you believe that what happens inside your heart and soul is more important and more defining than what happens to anything about you in the material world, even whether you live or die.

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