There is a famous line from the movie “Usual Suspects” that goes like this: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” To not see the Devil, to not believe in him, to disregard the warnings and the cautions concerning his work, is to give him free reign to work his chaos and destruction. Without the Devil we forget the true opposition to our faith. We forget there is indeed a battle going on, that evil is real and working to divide and destroy the children of God. The other day I was talking with my good friend and colleague, Tim Barkett, about everything going on in our country these past few months. He said that out of all of Satan’s attacks, all his manifestations, this is perhaps his most elegant one.
They call it the Great Commission. It is the sending out of the Church of God with a purpose, a mission that gives it its definition. This is not a one-time or temporary thing the Church is to do, like a checkmark on a long list of other priorities. No, this is its very identity. It is what we are to fill our days with as we await the end of all things and the return of our Lord. On a mountaintop in Galilee Jesus meets His disciples. There they worship their resurrected Lord and He says to them, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
If there was any doubt of the fallen nature of humanity, I think these days that façade is finally falling. Though we want to look to the best side of people, and we want to believe that everyone is basically good, we are bombarded with reminders that this isn’t the case. Sin is on display everywhere we look. Good intentions turn bad as mankind continues to tear itself apart.
The 17th chapter of John’s Gospel has been given the unofficial title of the High Priestly Prayer. The whole chapter contains the words of an intimate prayer between the Son of God and our Heavenly Father. A prayer that happens on the night in which he was betrayed, the very night he knows that his disciples will all abandon him, they will be scattered and afraid as he begins the horrible trials of suffering and betrayal that culminate in his crucifixion on that fateful Friday afternoon.
Bureaucracies in all forms, shapes and sizes have one thing in common, they try and control variables. I don’t think it matters if you are speaking about the federal government or your local city council or, for that matter, your congregational governance, if there is a bureaucracy it has a set of parameters and objectives which give it purpose. They have a specific goal in mind for the organization and a big part of what they must do is control all the variables that might impinge upon that goal.
When the Church cannot meet as it is in the habit of doing, when we resort to prerecorded messages and electronic means of staying connected, when the very house of worship built by the faithful is emptied out, it causes us to think beyond the effects of a virus and the desire to protect the vulnerable.
In the church we are used to speaking about the ramifications of the law and its impact in our lives. We speak about how God uses the law to show us our sin, to punish our sinfulness and to be a guide as we make decisions and chart a course forward. The law, in this way is all around us, our lives are saturated in it. Sometimes it hits us more deliberately than others, but it is always there.
We all look with a wary yet hopeful eye toward the future. We hear about the phased plan for reopening our state, for starting the great engine of our nation’s economy again. Every scheduled press conference gives us the promise of some sort of resolution, a way forward. Now these conferences do not seem to usually play out that way. They are often filled with extremely vague and elusive statements and the way forward, the way out of this crisis, the way back to some sort of normalcy is not very clear. We all want it. We all would be doing a lot better if there was a real plan with real dates with predictable results, but we just cannot seem to get there.
We have all seen them. Perhaps you are one of them, one of those peculiar individuals we see driving down the road in their own car all by themselves wearing a facemask to combat the Coronavirus. Of course, we know the benefits of wearing a face mask in public. In some places it is not only suggested but required, not only for employees of essential businesses but those who choose to use those businesses as well. But alone in the car seems to be a bizarre and unreflective take on things.
One of the things this current pandemic has done is highlight the disjointed nature of the individual Christian. We are of this world, we have responsibilities amongst our neighbors, a duty to serve, protect and care for others. Yet, we are a peculiar people who have their eyes on the horizon, looking off to something beyond this age. Our hope is not rooted in the outcomes of the here and now but in the promises of Christ. These are promises which have us long for something that has not yet been revealed to us. So, as we want to love our neighbor and protect them from this virus, or to help them keep their business during the lockdown, we also stand with an unmovable spirit before the specter of fear and death knowing this age is temporary and will fade as the withering grass.