Pentecost 12B: Masks, Vaccines, and Neighbor-Love

The Readings for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost are:

Old Testament      Proverbs 9:1–6

Psalm                    Psalm 34:9–14

New Testament     Ephesians 5:15–20

Gospel                   John 6:51–58

Again, this week, I want to focus on the Ephesians lessons, which reads as follows:

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the long-time sicknesses in the Christian faith is the thought that “how you live” is not important because “how you believe” is everything. I can testify how an entire Christian denomination was corrupted by the belief that its members were God’s only hope in protecting precious, all important pure doctrine, even when it required rampant injustice and disrespect of human beings. The birth of the modern Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod required many counts of injustice for the sake of its own purity as it demanded that foreign missionaries stop cooperating and praying with members of other Christian denominations, people be censured and dismissed from teaching posts, and a certain college and seminary be decimated no matter the muss and fuss with people’s lives. I asked one such “true believer” if he could love his colleagues whom he accused of false teaching and he frankly answered, “No. I can love a Baptist, but I don’t have to deal with a Baptist.”

And so, today, there are churches which, whenever their comfortable beliefs or political leanings are questioned, fall back on the inwardness and spirituality of faith.

A recent opinion column in the New York Times is a clarion call to the comfort of the ancient Latin Mass. In it the conservative Catholic warns that the reformed Mass of Vatican II “represents a new religion, one dedicated to the unity of man on earth rather than the love of Christ.” According to Michael Brandon Dougherty, because faith is inwardness alone, we can love Christ but forget about the people Christ died for. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/12/opinion/pope-francis-latin-mass.html?searchResultPosition=1

Throughout its history Christians have had to beware of this false doctrine, and strive to keep faith and love linked as Jesus linked them. Neighbor-love is the fruit of faith; and like fruit to a tree, it perpetuates.

The other evening a tornado ripped a path through trees, barns, and homes less than a hundred yards from my farm. Since then there has been a second dramatic scene as dozens of neighbors joined hands to help the victims of the storm get through the crisis.

The better angels—the heroes that make good neighbors—rose to the occasion.

Today is the day we must rise to the occasion. Today is the right time for all our inner angelic heroes to come forward to get us through yet another deadly surge of Covid-19. We have more than one side to our personalities. The side we need now is not the one that shouts, “Don’t tread on me,” and insists every decision is a matter of personal liberty. We need more neighbor-love and less self-defense. We need people to think not of self, but of others, and to act on the indisputable fact that masks and vaccines stop contagion—in schools, in sports, in restaurants, in churches…everywhere. Mask wearing and vaccination are by far the best tools we have right now to be good neighbors and heroic citizens.

We also need civic minded heroes to understand that long ago we gave governing bodies the right and responsibility to protect public safety and health. It is not up to individuals to decide whether to drive drunk, or whether their young child can handle liquor. It is the place of school boards, health departments, governors, presidents and legislators to both give guidance and apply all the pressure necessary to get us through crises that affect us all.

My own daughter is fraught with worry over the fate of her pre-school daughter who has respiratory problems. My daughter is a conscientious nurse and would have my granddaughter vaccinated if she could—but that is not an option now. So, to keep her own job, and keep the family going, my daughter must send her daughter to pre-school, and then pray that heroes in the community do the right thing. So far voluntary vaccination and mask wearing have proven far too feeble to stop the virus. People in charge need to do something to protect the health of the vulnerable.

I know we each have better angels inside us. So I pray that many more Christians will recommit themselves to faith active in love, and that they will let their heroic side come through. I pray that, working together, we will stop the senseless deaths from Covid.

Perhaps then my granddaughter too, and thousands like her, will have the chance to grow up to be a heroic neighbor-loving and Christ-loving people themselves.  

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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