1 MAY 2020

Normal? What gives?

Tomorrow will mark fifty days since schools in Pennsylvania were first closed. It would be three days later, on March 16th, that Governor Wolf would order close all non-essential businesses. On March 23rd, Pennsylvania would see our first stay-at-home orders for the counties around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. As of today, Pennsylvania has seen its cases rise to an astounding 48,000 known cases and over 2,500 deaths. The United States has crossed the million-case mark and will likely see our death toll cross 65,000 today. These numbers are staggering to us and are a painful reminder of how fragile life can be. COVID-19 has been a challenge of historic proportions all around the world. The virus has dictated how we live our lives, what our futures hold, and what our present moments allow for. The significance of a season of life such as this will not be known for possibly years to come, but we do know that it will forever change the lives we have lived. On a promising note, the challenges we have faced open humanity up to the possibilities of adaptation that we can embrace. Humanity is capable of some truly incredible things, and we have shown that when push comes to shove, we can make quick decisions and dramatically alter our lives for the greater good.

One of the most important traits for any follower of God is adaptability. We need to be able to change to an ever changing world, knowing that God expects us to grow in knowledge and love of him. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

When God sent Jesus into the world, to convict and nurture the hearts of the believers, he did so by pushing them to think more deeply about faith. Jesus challenged the disciples way of thinking because they were missing the point. They had become so sure of what they knew, because the teachers and preachers had taught them so, but Jesus flipped them completely on their heads. Jesus even told his disciple Phillip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) All teachings and lessons they had learned were only so good as how they fit with what Jesus was bringing into the disciples lives.

The teachings of Christ that we find in scripture bring us back to a time when the world was changing forever. The ministry of Christ was changing the world and therefore changing the people. But what does that really mean for me? For us? We want to get life back to normal. We have already endured enough “change” for today. The time has come to just get back to life. The question then is, what is normal? What is right, or good, or just? Where does Jesus command us to go from here?

When Moses stood before the burning bush and God told him to go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites, God told Moses that they would be taken to a “land flowing with milk and honey.” This powerful image of a fertile land where the people of God would have the ability to live out their lives in peace was long since promised to the people of Israel going all the way back to the time of Abraham. The Israelites would face a large number of challenges before they would reach this promised land. They would endure hardships that are difficult to fathom, but in those hardships God would provide for them through means of grace, such as manna. God promises to take the people into paradise. The same is true when Jesus comes on the scene. Jesus offers love that will draw humanity towards paradise, but also help humanity establish this on Earth. Jesus shared this when he teaches his disciples to repeat these words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Scripture records for us what the authors heard God saying in their context. It is not just a testimony of their time, but is a reflection of the kingdom that Jesus was teachings his disciples to build. Humanity has gone through many hardships since the time of Jesus, and we will face others in the future. The one benefit of any hardship is that we are able to reflect on our way of life and how we can be better in the future ahead. This is what Moses taught to the people in the wilderness, to have faith in the midst of uncertainty, on your way to paradise. Jesus takes this further, teaching his disciples to call paradise into existence here and now. We are to bring about the kingdom that is to come on earth as it is in heaven.

How can we be better individually and societally after this time has come to an end? How can we improve systems to be more effective at helping those who need help the most? Where can we improve our focus to bring about the beauty of that land of milk and honey? The work of the Christian is to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives. We are to be peace makers, earth shakers, and compassion minded people who take their faith seriously. Christians are meant to look out for everyone but themselves. That is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t believe me? Open your bible and you will see the truth of Jesus’s love that conquers all things that would stand in the way. Discover the grace that never ceases and seeks to push the people to be more than Sunday worshipers, but examples of the perfect one who came before us. You must live the life that is worthy of your calling.

Remember that Jesus was one who ran counter to the “norm.” He did not follow the rules that were unjust and rejected the customs that were not befitting of the good news of God’s grace. When we come out of this time with COVID-19, if you notice that you are falling back into old habits, take the time to evaluate how that behavior is effecting others in our world. Every action we take has some kind of cause and effect all around us. It is necessary that we evaluate our way of being to see if it is befitting of our faith. We all see problems in our lives and communities, and we know that not everything is well suited for the paradise that is to come. So, let’s come out of this time with open hearts to how God is calling us to be different and not just say we will change but actually do so. The norm never worked for Jesus; it certainly should not be good enough for us.