May 28, 2020
Romans 5:1-11 New Living Translation (NLT)
5 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
In this time of sheltering in place, dealing with a virus that none of us, not scientists, doctors, politicians or you or me can fully understand, not knowing when or how things will get back to “normal” can make us feel worried, anxious, and nervous. We have never dealt with anything like this before.
We, as human beings, like to feel that we are in control of our lives. We like making our own decisions even if they may be the wrong ones sometimes. When aspects of our lives feel out of our control, we respond. Sometimes we feel anger – life isn’t fair! Other times we may be more philosophical – this too will pass. But most often as we keep our emotions in check, we internalize our feelings, negative feelings like resentment, rage, helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, fear and so many more. This only fuels our sense that things are out of control and we need to do something about it.
In a recent email, Bill Worley, the conference minister of our Pennsylvania Southeast Conference, suggested that we as Christians have an important job to do. That job is to be a non-anxious presence during this difficult time, a time filled with so many negative feelings, especially those feelings that come from not knowing what is coming next.
This brought back to me memories of the summer between my second and third years of seminary training. During the summer we were required to take eleven weeks of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This was a requirement for us and all of our Moravian fellow students who were pursuing a Master of Divinity (M.Div.). Moravian Seminary, along with many other seminaries, required this experience as part of our education as pastors so that we could be more knowledgeable and skilled for ministering to our congregation members in the hospital or nursing home. Each of us chose where we wanted to complete this part of our education. Pastor Doug chose Phoebe Home in Allentown, and I chose St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem.
I was a member of a group of seven other M.Div. students from other seminaries. We were interns while other students who were seeking additional training in CPE were classed as residents. We were supervised three certified chaplains. We interns were shepherded through our CPE training by these dedicated chaplains and residents. While the residents were assigned to the more serious or chronic units, like the NICU and infusion units, we all spent time in the emergency room and the shock trauma bays.
The training was rigorous with morning meetings to catch up on happenings during the night followed by class time. After lunch we were to visit those floors and units that had been assigned to each of us. Each afternoon we had to document who we saw and what our visit was like. Before we left for home at the end of the day, we again met together to discuss what had happened during the day. Sometimes we were assigned additional hours (3:00-7:00) on some evenings and overnight duty (7:00pm-7:00am) several times as well. During the overnights, the intern assigned was the only chaplain available, a time that always brought me some feelings of worry and concern. No one knew what the night might bring.
Although this experience was one of the most effective and affecting times in my seminary training, I remember one class most vividly. It was one of our first classes where we were being given rules and regulations for being a chaplain in a hospital. We were asked, “If you get an emergency call on your pager, do you run to where the emergency is happening?” Scenes from TV medical shows passed through my mind – doctors, nurses, and other staff running to the emergency room or patient room. Time was of the essence. Get there fast.
So, the obvious answer was, “Yes.” The chaplain needed to be there to assist in whatever way was needed as soon as possible. Right? Wrong! Our instructor reminded us that we had a unique role to play in the hospital environment. We needed to be a non-anxious presence in crisis situations. And if people saw a chaplain running down the hallway, that was a sure sign that things were out of control – a true emergency. This behavior would only add to the anxiety and concern felt by those around us. In such times especially when I was the sole chaplain overnight, I was called to the trauma bays or the emergency rooms, or even to a patient’s room during a crisis. I never forgot this good instruction – Walk, don’t run. Be a non-anxious presence.
I think Rev. Worley’s reminder that we as Christians need to be a non-anxious presence is an equally good teaching. The words of Paul in today’s scripture gives us the reasons we can fully embrace this behavior. Verses 3-5 tell us: 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
We can know, without doubt, that God dearly loves us because God has gifted us with the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with God’s love. Even though Paul knew he was loved by God in this way, he did not feel that adversity should weaken or undermine faith. Instead he looked at such “problems and trials” as an opportunity to develop good qualities, things like endurance, strength of character, confident hope of salvation, and no disappointment. Paul’s words also show us that these excellent character traits do not happen all at once; they develop over time; one good quality builds on the previous one. Such qualities can lead us to be a non-anxious presence in such difficult times as these. No one knows what the next day, week, or month may bring.
More of Paul’s words bring comfort: Verse 2: 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. And verse 11: 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
I am in no way saying this is easy. We all succumb to feelings that things are out of our control, out of everyone’s control. In such times it is natural for us to worry, fret, and become anxious and frightened. We hear of others who are taking matters into their own hands – not wearing masks, congregating in large groups, demonstrating in front of state capitols wearing body armor and carrying assault weapons. These are all behaviors of people who do not know what to do as this crisis continues on and so many people are sick or have died, so many plans have been interrupted or cancelled, so many families have lost income, so many children are experiencing inadequate instruction via computer. So many things that are foreign to our ways of living just a few months ago. So many changes, without an end in sight. So many unknowns.
Just as we were instructed in our first days of CPE training – be a non-anxious presence – let us now as believers in Christ and Christ’s love for all of us also be a non-anxious witness to those around us. For we can know without doubt that God has provided for all of our spiritual and emotional needs by gifting us with the Holy Spirit. Let us walk, not run, as we endure this current medical, social, and economic crisis. Let us rely on God’s love for us. Let us walk and not run. Let us be a non-anxious presence.
-Pastor Joyce Donigian