Monday, March 9, 2020


[Excerpt from Epiphany 3 sermon in light of present Christian response to the Coronavirus]

1st Corinthians is pretty straight forward, 
     but the Epistle to the Romans gets misunderstood
     and misused most of the time.
It isn’t the theological treatise people think it is.
Just like Corinthians, 
           it’s an effort to smooth out a church fight.
In Rome the Jewish Christians and the gentile Christians
     were going at it. 
It got so bad the Emperor Claudius threw the whole lot         
     of them out of town kit and caboodle.
Paul wrote Romans to show them that it is better 
    to be kind than to be right.
The Romans may not have gotten it right away.
But the point eventually sank in.

Here’s how we know.
Between 165 and 180, a plague swept through
     the urban centers of the Empire,
     killing one-third to one-half of city populations.
The city of Rome was particularly hard hit.

The disease is named Galen’s plague after Galen, 
the Emperor’s personal physician.
Galen is famous because he figured out 
     that people were catching the plague from each other.
He connected plague with contagion.

So Galen told everyone, who had the wealth and ability,
     to get out of town.
Well, that was fine for the people who had country estates.
But it left the poor, the sick and the dying to their own devices.
It wasn’t pretty. 
Rome was a city of the sick, the dying, 
         and the dead lying in the streets.

And everyone ran away – except the Christians.
The Christians had an odd notion that the love of God,
     that is God’s love living in their own hearts, 
      would protect them.
If it didn’t, then they’d just die in God’s service 
          and go to heaven.
So the Christians stayed and nursed the sick, 
     prayed with the dying and buried the dead.

The pagans looked on in wonder.
They said, See how these Christians love one another.
     They have come to love to even love us.
Christianity remained illegal for another century.
But, in spite of being illegal, 
 by the end of that century, 
fully one third of the Empire
     had converted to Christianity.
It wasn’t because of our aggressive marketing campaign.
It was largely because  of the love Christians displayed
            during Galen’s plague.

Tertullian, the Father of Western theology, 
            came of age during Galen’s plague.
He watched it play out 
         and he watched the Pagan response. 
Tertullian summed up the basic strategy 
      – actually it was the only strategy –
of evangelism in the Early Church. He wrote:
      See how these Christians love one another, 
      'the pagans say,
     for (the pagans) themselves hate one another,
‘and how (Christians) are ready to die for each other,’ 
for the pagans are ready to kill each other.

Have you watched the news recently?
Have you been on social media?
Have you driven in traffic?
This increasingly secular world 
          has some increasingly serious heartburn.
We could follow their way and fit right in.
Or we could show them Jesus’ way 
         and see what they think.

That second option wouldn’t be easy. 
For us human beings, love don’t come easy.
As G. K. Chesterton said,
     Christianity has not been tried and found wanting.
     It has been found difficult and not tried.

Nothing good comes easy. 
What is best may be hardest of all.
But the reward is to live in God and have God living in us.
That might be worth it.