By Thomas Lambrecht
In this time of pandemic and "lockdown," we are all dealing with new realities that we have never experienced before. As I work from home, I can look out the front window of my house. Half the traffic during the day on our street is delivery trucks (Amazon, FedEx, UPS). Delivery people are our lifeline to the rest of the world!
As many of us isolate ourselves in our homes, we can also isolate ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We can get focused on our own needs and those of our family, which rightly should come first. We need to do what it takes to stay safe and avoid passing the virus to others, especially those who are vulnerable.
But in our self-quarantine, we need to continue to broaden our focus beyond ourselves and particularly to those who are weak and vulnerable in this time. In that vein, I was struck by several verses of Psalm 41 that I read earlier this week.
"Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.
The Lord protects and preserves them -
they are counted among the blessed in the land -
he does not give them over to the desire of their foes.
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed
and restores them from their bed of illness."
This psalm, along with many other passages in Scripture, links our concern for the weak and vulnerable with God's blessing. Particularly relevant today are the promises here that God will "deliver us in times of trouble," that he will "protect and preserve us," and that he will "sustain us on our sickbed and restore us from our bed of illness."
These are precisely the blessings that we need right now and are praying for on behalf of not only ourselves, but all whom we know. And these blessings are in some sense conditioned on our care and concern for the weak among us.
I do not read these promises as some kind of contract that God makes with us, that if we do X, then he will automatically do Y. There are plenty of godly and righteous people who are not healed of their sickness or freed from their trouble. (Of course, with an eternal perspective in mind, sometimes death itself is a healing, as the person is released from suffering and from having to deal with sickness and pain. In heaven there is no sickness, nor will there be in our new bodies in the new heaven and new earth that we read about in Revelation 21-22.)
Rather, I think God is saying that care and concern for the weak will not go unnoticed or unrewarded by God. Sometimes that reward comes in the form of earthly blessing. Other times, that reward is something we experience only in eternity.
In addition, when we care for the weak, we are doing what our heavenly Father does. We serve a God who cares for the birds of the air and flowers of the field (Matthew 6:25-34). He sends his sun and rain on good and evil people (Matthew 5:43-48). He accepts religion as pure and faultless to "look after orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27). When we have regard for the weak, we are doing what Christians do, being true to our character as children of our heavenly Father.
I am encouraged by the many stories I read and hear about people who are caring for the vulnerable during this crisis. I heard from one of our Good News board members about a parishioner in her church. The parishioner is an 84-year-old woman who refused to be placed on the list of people needing extra attention during the pandemic. Instead, she insists on being one of their church's "porch angels," who is willing to go to the homes of elderly or vulnerable people to deliver supplies or other needed items. Instead of focusing on her own vulnerability, she is reaching out to others in need!
One of the most effective evangelism tools of the early church was their willingness to put their lives on the line to care for their sick neighbors. When plagues came to Rome or other cities, the wealthy fled the city to find safety, sometimes even leaving their own family members. Many Christians stayed to care for the people who were left behind. When people saw how Christians loved in practical and sacrificial ways even strangers who were poor or sick, they were attracted to their God.
As we are able, may we lift our eyes of concern beyond ourselves in these days. Some of us may be able to give practical care for a friend, a neighbor, a homeless person, or someone in our church. Some of us may be blessed with financial resources to keep supporting our church's ministry, missionaries, and ministries like Good News and others who depend upon us to keep going, especially when others have lost their jobs and can no longer offer that support. All of us can hold up in prayer the weak, the vulnerable, the elderly, and those who are serving others at risk of their own health. Churches are coming up with many creative ways to help those in need. All we need to do is join in.
We remember the encouraging words of Paul, "Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God's family ... Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more"(I Thessalonians 4:9-10).
Keep doing it!
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.
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