Newsletter Article for the June edition of “The Hillside Messenger”
“Reflections on our Mission”
Trinity Sunday is the Festival of the Liturgical Year which celebrates the doctrine of the Holy Trinity of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The seasons of Lent, Eastertide, Ascensiontide and Pentecost have reminded us of the life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose return to the presence and glory of God the Father led to the gift and outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church.
As the Lord Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to redeem a sinful world and to proclaim the everlasting Gospel, so each one of us has been sent by God on a mission to this world, as the Lord Jesus himself told the Apostles, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21, KJV). To indicate to the Apostles that they needed the Holy Spirit to empower them and help them for this mission, the Lord breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22b). We can fulfill this mission only by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, whom the Father and the Son have given to each of the faithful as his everlasting Helper, or Advocate.
Yet someone may ask how effective we can be as witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ and bearers of the everlasting Gospel when a Shelter in Place order restricts physical contact with others. The question we should ask before this, though, is why God has allowed us to be brought to this point of extended sheltering in place. What does the Lord want to teach us in all this? These questions may have various answers. In the United States, and in all the world, there is enough rebellion against God and his moral law to merit the complete destruction of mankind. But God is merciful, and plagues and pandemics come as warnings to all people to turn back to God before it is too late. One can view such pandemics purely from a scientific and medical perspective, and investigate their causes. On the other hand, because we have been given the Bible as God’s revelation of Himself, His love, His law, and His Gospel, we must learn from the redemptive history it presents.
One of the truths we should learn, I believe, is that plagues may well arise because of people’s refusal to obey God. For example, though ancient Egypt suffered plague after plague because Pharaoh refused to let the people of Israel leave Egypt to go to Mt. Horeb (Exodus 7-10), yet the people of Israel themselves suffered plagues when, for example, they complained about food (Numbers 11:33), or when the spies sent to explore the Promised Land brought back a bad report, all the spies except Joshua and Caleb died of a plague (Numbers 14:36-38). Now it might be argued that as Christians we live, not under law, but under grace, since in John 1:17 we read that the law indeed was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Despite this, though, in the New Testament we are warned not to rebel against God or to refuse Him who speaks. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 10, St. Paul tells his readers that those of Israel who were struck down in the wilderness, were struck down because they rebelled against God and desired evil things, and their fate must serve as a warning to Christians not to disobey God and desire evil things. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also admonishes his readers to see to it that none of them has “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12, KJV). We have a responsibility, then, to follow the example of Christ’s holy life and to practice his teachings and obey God’s commandments, as individuals, and as the Church. But are we doing so?
Let us reflect on this for a moment. There was not one church of which the State of California or the County of Santa Clara could say, “This congregation has so much of God’s life and healing power that it may continue its services on site, since everyone who attends there will stay free of infection by the Covid-19 virus.” In fact, a few pastors in other parts of the country who did continue with services on location, found that many of their congregants became infected. Do we conclude from this that Covid-19 is from Satan and the Church has no power to overcome it? What we should rather conclude in humility is that Covid-19 may be a means God is using to discipline the churches and nations of the world. If we think that God doesn’t send plagues any more, we should read the Book of Revelation, Chapter 15, which records that seven angels came out of the heavenly temple, and they were given the seven golden vials full of God’s wrath. We have to discard the theological immaturity which maintains that God does not punish persistent sins in this present life. He does, and he will, punish individuals, churches and nations that persist in their sins. Yet God forgives all who truly repent, and he abounds in mercy toward those who come to him in penitence.
All of us need to use this time of extended Shelter in Place profitably and wisely. Amongst other things we should reflect on how better we could please God as individual Christians, how better we could bear witness to Christ as a church, and how we could pray for our President, government and nation to fulfill God’s will in all their actions. In particular, I would like us to think of how we of St. Luke’s Chapel can be a more welcoming congregation to newcomers of all backgrounds, cultures and ages, and how we could reach out to them more effectively when they visit us in the future. Together with this must go a greater commitment to the knowledge of our Christian faith. For example, what if a newcomer were to come to a coffee hour at St. Luke’s in the future, and were to say to himself afterwards, “It’s great that they know so much about history, politics, science, technology, traffic and the neighborhood, but what do they know about their own Christian faith? Can they even tell me why they are Christians, or Anglican Christians, in the first place?” In view of this possibility, let us pay attention to the words of St. Peter the Apostle in 1 Peter 3:15 (KJV):
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.