Pentecost 11 C: God Does Not Play Phone Tag with Our Covid

The lessons for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost are:

Old Testament & Psalm, Option I

Old Testament       Jeremiah 1:4–10

Psalm                    Psalm 71:1–6

or

Old Testament & Psalm, Option II

Old Testament       Isaiah 58:9b–14

Psalm                    Psalm 103:1–8

New Testament      Hebrews 12:18–29

Gospel                   Luke 13:10–17

I am attracted to the Option II lessons because of their news of God’s amazing power and

preference for healing.

There has been a gap of a week in our pandemic blog posts, and reflections on Sunday readings, because my wife, Connie, and I paid a heart-renewing visit to our daughter, son-in-law, and two young grandchildren in Florida. The Lord blessed us mightily in a kind-of compressed version of the Exodus wanderings of our ancestors in faith. Many obstacles were put in our way, and it all cut short our time with family, yet all the while the Lord was with us in steadfast love and mercy.

The final time of testing came when Connie started to have cold symptoms, and came up Covid positive on an antigen test, a full day and a half before our planned flight home. We could not return to be with our two month-old grandson, or our granddaughter whom we had planned to accompany to her first day of kindergarten in two days. Also, we didn’t want to risk infecting others on a two-leg plane trip back home, nor to risk holding up our farm-sitter if we missed our connecting flight in Charlotte, which was scheduled less than an hour after landing there. The cancellation of that Charlotte to Gainesville flight had already robbed us of good family time. So, we endured two 11 hour days of driving, including tedious stints through rush hours in Atlanta and Nashville, and countless slowdowns for road construction.

Then, back home and exhausted, I tested positive for Covid as well.

What I have to lift up now is my ridiculous experience of anxious phone tag throughout this little ordeal. For well over two years we had been dreading not only infection from Covid-19 and its numerous variants, but the obvious effects of human sinfulness as well. The pandemic has been e a universal global problem that we could have mitigated so well if we could just cooperate with each other, learn from our mistakes, use all our fabulous technology, and give up some of our advantages to make sure the most vulnerable are also helped to short circuit the virus’ ability to propagate. And, if we could give the health professionals the green light—and even the demand—to act efficiently and quickly, we would have surely saved millions of lives.

So, I had heard that Paxlovid, an anti-viral medicine that can simply be swallowed as a pill, was 90% effective in keeping old codgers like us, from needing hospitalization in case of Covid infection. The trick is, however, that a regimen of Paxlovid must be begun within five days after symptoms appear. The BIG SNAG was that, for months after this blessed protection was available, it was used by precious few because people didn’t know about it, it had to be prescribed by a doctor, the doctor had to be seen in person, many doctors didn’t want to risk seeing Covid patients, and if they did see those patients their offices made them wait for much more than the five days to make an appointment.

Knowing that Connie’s symptoms were already two days old, and looking forward to a two-day drive home, I got on the Internet and the phone. The good news was that our President Biden had started the great “Test and Treat” program. The good news was that thousands of pharmacies and health centers were enlisted to offer this program where, theoretically, people could be tested, see a health professional, and have a prescription filled right there for the wonderful Paxlovid. The bad news has been in the implementation of our President’s designs.

So I called the national hot-line for more information, to be told by the automated voice that I had to wait for several hours for the “hot-line” to get hot.

I called nearby Wallgreens and CVS pharmacies, only to be connected to their national lines, where no one was available to talk.

Fiddling with web sites I discovered that “test and treat” was done through appointments, and when I tried to make an appointment so Connie could start treatment on our way home, I got other run-arounds. I soon discovered that those test and treat sites listed on the Internet often required that a doctor to make a referral.

So, I phoned the Florida Health Department in the county we were visiting for more direction. After a couple of tries, someone answered, didn’t know what to say to me, and promised to get answers and phone back. But they never did.

So, Connie and I decided not to beat this dead horse, but to get packed and on our way for our first day of driving. Meanwhile, we left phone messages with our own primary doctor back home, asking him to phone in a prescription to a pharmacy on the way. I should say we would have been delighted to talk to a doctor—any doctor, but such a move isn’t possible in our world. So we spoke with a person who promised to speak to a nurse who hopefully would then talk to the doctor. And someone would get back to us.

To back up this strategy we also left a message on the MyChart app, hoping that way to reach the omnipotent doctor.

Funnily, near the end of the next day’s driving, we finally got a message through the MyChart app that our doctor’s prescription was waiting for us at the pharmacy back home. So, after several days of symptoms and phone tag, Connie was able to start Paxlovid.

Then it was my turn to go though the whole thing again with our primary care doctor when I tested positive at home. Of course, the nurse asked me about my symptoms, which were mild at first; but I kept leaving messages that the symptoms were building up: scratchy throat, then sore throat, then copious sinus drainage, then chills and shakes, then a night without any sleep. Finally I got my Paxlovid too.

Connie and I are well on the mend now. But as I look at this week’s lessons, I’m struck. There, in a house of prayer, a woman appears who had been harassed by a crippling spirit for eighteen years. How often had she been brushed off? How many ways had she been let down by her community that just didn’t know how to respond to her? How many times have people, like the synagogue leader, hidden behind standard operating procedure and correctness? But Jesus simply and immediately acts. By the Father’s grace he has something to give and he does not hesitate to offer this woman healing.

It is true: God does not hide from our disease by playing phone tag.

And our reading from Isaiah 58 takes us deeper. The syndrome of human sin is a virus, and it is enabled by our pretending. We pretend to do the right thing, but our pretend hides our weakness of will. Isaiah knows that this is endemic in religion. We think that going through the motions of worship will open the channels through which God can bless us. But when things fall apart in our society, because of our hypocrisy and our callousness towards the suffering of others, we assume God let us down. God didn’t play fair.

But Isaiah says, if you stop pretending in the pews and start making your worship of God real through your compassionate actions, then your “light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom be like the noonday.”

The Book of Hebrews is shot through with the good news about God’s promises being the real deal in a world of pretend, second best, and imitation. And today’s lesson hammers it home: we haven’t come to a God who terrorizes and kills, but to a God who has suffered and spilled blood for our healing. This is the real deal God who cares.

And, finally, in spite of our little wilderness wandering through seemingly endless phone tag, Connie and I can surely rejoice with Psalm 103. Yes, we humans have failed the test of Covid. Yes, we have argued and fought rather than cooperated. Yes, we continue to pretend that we are “taking all measures,” to slow the spread, when really we are just pretending the pandemic is over. Yes, we pretend to praise God, while we fail to lay it on the line with the way we show compassion with each other. But God is the real deal. God has not played phone tag with us. God, through the Spirit of Christ, is acting right now to heal us of Covid-19. This is the only good news of these pandemic days.

And so…

1Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

bless his holy name.

2Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and do not forget all his benefits—

3who forgives all your iniquity,

who heals all your diseases,

4who redeems your life from the Pit,

who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5who satisfies you with good as long as you live

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

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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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