Devotional for Tuesday, March 17
Matthew 7:12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
In my nearly 18 years of pastoral ministry, I have sat and prayed with families making life-and-death decisions, the kind of decisions for which there are no clear answers. Often, they have turned to me for guidance.
Should we remove the ventilator or the feeding tube? Should we have the doctors start the ventilator or feeding tube? How far should we go in treating our grandfather’s cancer when he already has dementia?
I’ve boiled my answer down as much as possible. In these gray areas, whatever decision you make in love for that person is the right decision. There’s no doubt Jesus established the Golden Rule with love as its context. He rooted this maxim in “the law and the prophets,” and then later, in Matthew 22:34-40, he used the same phrase in this conversation:
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
As I’ve watched (on social media) and listened to debates about whether churches should be closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has struck me that we should be applying Golden Rule principles to this decision-making process.
Reading Bishop Virginia Taylor’s recent letter, there is no doubt in my mind that she made her initial decision to mandate temporary church building closures out of love for people she has, for the most part, never met.
I should also note that before our bishop made it clear she was mandating and not simply recommending closure, the leadership of Luminary UMC decided we should close our building. I know these good people were acting in love, too. During my nearly six-year tenure, I have seen love is their primary motivation in most everything they do.
Confusion and even hostility around the subject of church closure have arisen because the current situation forces us to be counterintuitive. In our normal world, Christians best express love in person, in a handshake and a hug, in kind words closely spoken, and in the fellowship of worship.
COVID-19 weirdly inverts what we call normal. Right now, there’s even a possibility the virus is spread by people who show no symptoms, meaning it is very difficult for people at risk to tell which people in their vicinity might be a danger. Out of love, a lot of us have decided that in addition to prayer, it is a good idea to practice social distancing to parry this particular weapon of the devil.
I’ll not criticize those who lovingly decide to gather in person for worship. To close or not to close is a complicated decision. Simultaneously, I expect Christian courtesy and respect to be shown to those who shut down their facilities for a while.
I will repeat a point I’ve been making already: Church is more than a building where people meet at a particular time on a particular day. Properly understood, a church is a holy force in the community. I already see the people of Luminary rallying to serve the at-risk in our community without endangering them.
They are loving their neighbors as they would hope to be loved if the situation were reversed. And I am quite proud of them.
Lord, may we pause throughout the day and pray, “Are my decisions motivated by love?”