Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
March 29, 2020
“These Are Inspiring Times”
Romans 8: 5-9a – Common English Bible
People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. 6 The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. 7 So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. 8 People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God.
9 But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you.
These are inspiring times. Yes, these are also difficult and exhausting times. Especially for anyone wondering how they will pay their mortgage or rent and utilities and buy food. I don’t mean to dismiss anyone’s anxiety and weeks more of uncertainty. But I will say it again, these are inspiring times.
By now we all know the evidence: Doctors and nurses running into the fire, not from it. Like members of the military, we should greet every one of them: “Thank you for your service.” And respiratory therapists, intake workers, and those who mop the floors and take out the trash, wishing those garbage cans were more full of masks, gowns, gloves and other personal protective equipment. They’re not in it for the glory, and I wish their sacrifice wasn’t necessary, but they prove, these are inspiring times. And think of all the people at home making masks to protect health care workers. Think of all the students and retired medical professionals who have answered the call to sign up for service.
Who knew that working in grocery stores and pharmacies and pot shops and liquor stores would require front-line heroism? Everyone of them deserves to hear thank you. In fact, I said that to a worker at Costco the other day. “Thank you for working for us.” She gave me a curious look, and then nodded her head. She understood what I meant.
Workers at Amazon distribution centers, shipping clerks at FedEx, UPS truck drivers, postal service workers – on the front lines of the war against the coronavirus. They didn’t sign up for this either, they don’t qualify for hazard pay, but the fact that they’re still going to work is a sign. These are inspiring times.
We are witnessing levels of heroism and sacrifice from everyday citizens rarely seen in our lifetimes. And exemplary leadership from mayors and governors of all political persuasions around the country, Republican and Democrat, willing to do what is necessary for public health and safety. These are inspiring times.
I’m grateful for every virologist, disease specialist, lab worker. Scientists are the new rock stars. And at the top, Anthony Fauci. Along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, every American should stand at the ready to offer Anthony Fauci a kidney, a liver transplant, a heart, lung…here, anything you need it, you take it. Anyone willing to stand at the podium after the president and say “No, don’t do that,” when this is over, should be honored with a statue at the center of every city and town in America. With the biggest statue reserved for in the front of the White House with a plaque: “This man saved us from the president.”
One of the readings from the lectionary assigned for today is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It’s surprisingly relevant to our times. It reads: “People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit.”
The contrast between selfish and self-less couldn’t be more stark than it is today, more life threatening or life giving.
Peter Wehner described what we need of leaders during a crisis: “calmness, wisdom, and reassurance; a command of the facts and the ability to communicate them well; the capacity to think and carefully weigh competing options and conflicting needs. We need leaders who can persuade the public to act in ways that are difficult but necessary, who can focus like a laser beam on a problem for a sustained period of time, and who will listen to—and, when necessary, defer to—experts who know far more than she or he does. We need leaders who can draw people together, people whose judgment is not just sound, but exceptional.”
He then added, “There are some 325 million people in America, and it’s hard to think of more than a handful who are more lacking in these qualities” than our president. The good news is that there are nearly 325 million people in America willing to save the lives of their fellow citizens by sheltering at home. Well, almost that many…
Among the unwilling is Jerry Falwell, Jr. Unlike most colleges and universities around the nation, Falwell brought Liberty University students back to campus after spring break. In order to prove that liberals are hysterical, he is willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of students in dorms. Furthermore, he ordered professors who normally teach their online classes from home to come to teach from campus instead. Faculty who question that, like Professor Marybeth Davis Baggett, are immediately terminated.
Trump has said he wants to pack churches on Easter. Why? In order to prove he is winning over the virus. To be the savior of the country. What will happen if his followers do precisely that to protect his ego?
Well, Paul told the Romans exactly what will happen: “The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death.” I don’t normally interpret scripture literally. Rather, I ask about the meaning behind the text? What is the metaphor? As progressive Christians we often say, “We take the Bible seriously, not literally.” But if Trump wants Christians to pack churches on Easter to show that he is smarter than the experts, well, I don’t fear metaphorical death but literal death.
Paul said, “The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death. But the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace.” Like the heroes and every day citizens I mentioned above.
There are numerous lists of the gifts of the Spirit among Paul’s letters. In First Corinthians, he spoke of knowledge and wisdom. To the Romans he spoke of mercy and generosity. First Peter, not written by Paul, includes anyone who offers service and hospitality. Various lists include teachers and pastors.
These are inspiring times as we watch teachers learn overnight how to provide online instruction. But even more so, I got a little teary eyed when I saw a news clip of children and parents standing in front of their homes in Dallas holding homemade signs and pompoms. They waited along the sidewalk like sports fans. But instead of athletes, they were cheering on their favorite teachers. Teachers threw a car parade for their students who were stuck at home. A young boy on his bike yelled, “They’re coming!” as the first car turned the corner. Horns blared while children called out their teachers’ names and held up their signs. The normally quiet street was filled with people — keeping their safe distances, of course — laughing and yelling kind words to each other. The teachers blew kisses and yelled: “I miss you so much!” “Make sure you’re reading!” and “We will get through this together.” Yes, these are inspiring times.
Pastors are creating whole blooper reels of hilarious mishaps and accidents during their attempts to provide worship online. A priest in Italy didn’t realize he had enabled his filters, so as he spoke the words of the mass, googly eyes poked out and long tongues rolled out; at various times he was wearing a helmet and a space suit. A vicar in England leading his first online Bible study sat too close to some candles. As his sweater caught on fire, he calmly exclaimed, “Oh dear, I’m on fire.” If you watched our service last week on Facebook, you probably had a crook in your neck. The picture was sideways. We are all trying to learn as quickly as we can a new method for preaching the old gospel. But one of our viewers wrote, “Don’t worry, I could still hear you.” These are hilarious, and grace-filled, inspiring times.
I said it last week and will say again this week, these are inspiring times because you are willing to shelter at home in order to spare the lives of people we don’t even know. I posted a meme on our church Facebook page this week that I believe sums it all up:
“What we are experiencing is Lent. Giving up everything so that others may live.” It puts the inconvenience of sheltering at home into perspective. And reminds us to be grateful that we have a home in which to shelter.
Just as I was reflecting on this scripture about selfishness, I saw in the news how the Lieutenant Governor of Texas suggested that grandparents should be willing to die in order to save the economy for their grandchildren. Folks like Brett Hume on Fox thought it was a brilliant idea. Glenn Beck agreed, “I would rather die than kill the country” – meaning the economy. To be clear, that is NOT being self-less. And Bonnie Kristian summed up what many of us feel instead: “America without our elders isn’t the America we want to save.”
We talked about this on Thursday when we resumed our Lunch and Lectionary. Instead of Noodles and Company, we now sit in front of our computer screens on Zoom. The Lieutenant Governor’s comments, prompted by Trump’s demand to reopen the country, prompted our group to ask: what is the price of the economy? Are we really asked to pay with human life? Does the economy exist for humanity or humanity for the economy? In many ways, we are learning about core human values during this crisis.
Many people cringed at the sight of spring breakers on the beaches in Florida. We especially cringed at one young man who proclaimed “If I get corona, I get corona. I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” He was condemned on social media by millions. But his response is inspiring:
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of. I can’t apologize enough to the people I’ve offended. I’m not asking for your forgiveness, or pity. I want to use this as motivation to become a better person, a better son, a better friend, and a better citizen. Like many others, I have elderly people in my life who I adore more than anything in the world. Our generation may feel invincible, but we have a responsibility to listen and follow the recommendations. Simply apologizing doesn’t justify my behavior. I’m simply owning up to my mistakes and taking full responsibility for my actions.”
Taking full responsibility!? How about this young man for president? I trust that these times are inspiring young people to consider lives of service to their fellow citizens. Back to JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
These are inspiring times. They’re also difficult and dangerous for many. Yet they remind us of the essence of the life of Jesus who demonstrated why and how to give up everything so that others may live.
I love being the