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Topics - Richard Johnson

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Your Turn / Planning for life's end
« on: November 10, 2020, 11:49:30 AM »
Charles suggested this topic, and it would be interesting. No political references permitted. Here's his post:

Since some of us are approaching or experiencing our senior years, and since for some of us the end might be hastened due to the coronavirus, maybe there ought to be a thread on handling those ending of life matters. I won’t start it.
We used to have workshops in churches in New Jersey about things like wills and bequests and medical directives. We thought it was part of pastoral care.
As I said upstream, Beloved Spouse and I have established a trust - rather than a will, for a trust requires no probate - and made the other arrangements that will make things easier for those who survive us. If one survives the other, and should the survivor be in poor health, all major decisions have been made. If we both get trampled by a moose into eternity on the same day, there need be no questions, or argument about “what did mom and dad want.”

Your Turn / Prayer requests
« on: October 18, 2020, 04:48:42 PM »
The previous "Prayer Requests" thread had to be shut down because of people posting inappropriate matters; we'll hope this one fares better.

Bishop Paull Spring, one of the founders of the NALC and its first bishop, has suffered a stroke and has other health complications, and is reportedly near death. Previously a bishop in the ELCA and the LCA, Bp. Spring has played a significant role in North American Lutheranism for many years. Prayers for peace for him and his family are requested.

Forum Blogs / California Dreamin'
« on: September 09, 2020, 09:22:07 PM »
We've just survived our first PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff) of the season--and actually, we had the good fortune to be out of town during the two or three last year, so this was our very first. 20 hours without electricity--and also without internet, a problem apparently caused by the power outage since they both came back at the same time. A few months back we joined an increasing number of neighbors in buying a portable generator, so we actually did have power, at least partial power (most of the essentials, but no air conditioning, laundry, and dishwasher; oh, and hot tub) for the hours that we ran the generator (about 8 a.m. through 9 p.m., with a pause for refueling midday). We were kind of dreading the no air conditioning, with a forecast of triple digit heat, but fortunately that didn't turn out to be the case. i think yesterday it may have hit 90, but today was cooler.

The cooler temps, though, in part because of the thick smoke cover from the various fires burning round about. The closest significant one to us is perhaps 100 miles away, and the smoke has been massive. Fortunately it is mostly high in the sky, so there isn't much of a smell of smoke, and the air quality has generally been rated "unhealthy for sensitive groups"; I'm still willing to take our morning walk at that level, though for a couple of days last week it was into the stronger "unhealthy" category and my wife wouldn't let me walk ("you're older than I and you have asthma," she scolded).

We were mostly able to stay "connected" by using the personal hot spot on our phones (being sure to keep them charged when the power was on), but it was pretty spotty. Tuesday is the day we record our church service, and I went into church (where the power and internet were both on) and sat in the fellowship hall to record; my colleague was in the sanctuary, and our other colleague was at home (where he also had both power and internet). So we made it work.

My wife observes that these are all very much first world and white privilege problems, and of course she's right. We were suffering minor inconveniences for two days. Many others have lost their homes, or are stuck in shelters in the midst of a pandemic.

I've also been reading through voluminous files of correspondence of my late in-laws, a good bit of which is between them while my father-in-law was living away from home either on business or at school. I am astonished at how often he advises his wife which bills to pay and which to let ride for a month. (This would be the late 1940s/early 1950s.) She was managing the household alone with three or four small children. We are so very fortunate.

Even as I write, a plane goes overhead. This time of year, you immediately perk up, wait to see if there's another, and if so, go out and see if you see new smoke. But as my wife says, "At least its something other than Covid to worry about."

Feeling grateful, though, in spite of it all.

Welcome! / MOVED: Prayer Requests (New)
« on: July 20, 2020, 10:12:07 PM »

Your Turn / MOVED: Prayer Requests (New)
« on: July 20, 2020, 10:09:26 PM »
This topic has been moved to [Forum Blogs].

Forum Blogs / Eileen Smith RIP
« on: July 20, 2020, 06:03:57 PM »
So sorry to share this news:

Eileen Smith

Eileen Smith, age 69 of Wayne, dies on July 18, 2020.

It is with great sadness that I inform you that Eileen Smith of Wayne died at home with her sister Racquel by her side on July 18, 2020.  She was born in the Bronx to Eva and Henry Bentz and remained close with some of her best childhood friends. She attended Grace Lutheran parochial school, where she was a classmate of former Kiss guitarist, Paul “Ace” Frehley.  Eileen worked many years in New York City for ING Group, in Banking and Finance.  She earned an Associates in Applied Science degree from New York University, a Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration from Pace University.
In July 1972 she married Joseph Smith and moved to Woodside Queens.  Joe and Eileen honeymooned in Mexico, starting in Mexico City exploring the country on their way to Alcapulco. Joe’s jobs required him to travel frequently and Eileen traveled with him whenever possible living for a short period in Redondo Beach, California, Seattle, Washington and Galveston. After 31 years in Woodside they moved to Wayne to be close to her family in Wayne and closer to Joe’s family in Albany.  Eileen made many wonderful friends in Wayne and loved going out to some of the local eateries like the “OD” (Oakland Diner), Bensi and Little Food Café.
It was always a priority for Eileen to stay in close touch friends and to get together with family whenever possible, especially during the holidays.  If you were part of her church communities, pool group, oatmeal club, neighbor, friend or friend of a friend you would most certainly get a plate of homemade Christmas cookies every year. She was an accomplished cook and loved cooking for her family and friends.  Her holiday dinners which she prepared for her family in Wayne were always delicious, creatively presented with name tags and holiday nik-naks and included some unique dishes like worm soup (Passatelli Dei Nonni).  She also prepared and coordinated an immensely popular holiday party for Joe’s family and relatives in Albany.  A considerable undertaking which she loved to do for Joe and his family.
Eileen was very close to her nephews Eric and Scott and was with them throughout their lives.  Whether it was cheering Eric on in baseball or Scott’s band recital she enjoyed watching them grow up.  She conducted a beautiful wedding ceremony for Eric and Nicole just a couple of years ago which had us all in joyful tears.  She was always there to provide them support and instill in them the valuable life lessons which they will remember forever.
Eileen was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer nearly ten years ago.  She immediately researched and learned everything she could about her disease and treatment.  She soon learned there was only limited treatment and few doctors with experience treating the disease.  She actively advocated for more research, funding and greater awareness to help in the fight against this disease and was even awarded by then NJ Governor Chris Christie for her efforts.
Eileen remained active in the church throughout her life.  As an adult she entered the Lutheran diaconate and was set apart as a deacon by the Metro New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on June 17, 1998.  She served faithfully in the Metro Synod, often planning synod-wide educational and administrative events.  She was a gifted preacher and often substituted for vacationing pastors.
When She moved to New Jersey, Eileen joined St. Timothy Lutheran Church and quickly became a faithful worker and congregational leader.  She served on the Mutual Ministry Committee, chaired the Worship and Outreach Committees, and was a faithful sacristan and liturgical assistant.  Eileen founded St. Timothy’s very successful seniors’ program, Prime Timers, planning monthly luncheons and securing speakers for each gathering.  She preached and led worship several times a year when the senior pastor vacationed.  She served as a mentor for several generations of catechism students and coordinated the mentoring program.  Eileen introduced St. Timothy to “Stew Sunday,” which operates in conjunction with Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, providing nourishing meals for the clients of Eva’s Kitchen in Paterson several times a year.
Eileen was a prolific writer, contributing articles to synodical and parish newsletters, as well as several nationally circulated publications, including The Lutheran Magazine and the Lutheran Forum.  She was the editor of the Metro New York Synod’s monthly newsletter.  She was conversant in Lutheran theology and was an avid reader of theological tomes.
Eileen was a wonderful person, who did so much to make our lives and the world a better place.  It is impossible to mention everyone whose life she touched and how much each person in her life meant to her. Her loss will be felt by many.
She is survived by her sister Racquel White, brother in law Arthur White, her nephews and nieces: Eric (Nicole) White, Scott White, Michael (Mary Jean) Jackson, Thomas (Janice) Jackson, Daniel Jackson, Marybeth (Thomas) Huyck, and great nephews and nieces: Stephanie (Jason) Cosco, Renee Jackson, Marissa (Trey and Chase) Jasenski and Thomas Huyck. She was predeceased by her parents Eva and Henry Bentz, her husband Joseph Smith who passed away in 2020 and her great nephew Christopher Jackson.
Due to the pandemic the family will be holding a private graveside service.  Everyone will be with us in spirit to celebrate Eileen’s life and the many lives she touched in some special way.
Donations can be made to:
NET Research Foundation
31 St. James Avenue, Suite 365
Boston, MA 02116

Forum Blogs / Take a break . . .
« on: July 20, 2020, 04:25:15 PM »
Take a break from arguing about the Trinity, Trump, and Coronavirus and have a giggle at this:

Forum Blogs / Some people are just a little thick
« on: July 06, 2020, 06:01:16 PM »
Yesterday afternoon we got a text from a friend: "We just heard there's a grass fire on your street, are you OK?" This time of year we rush outside anytime we hear an airplane, just to be sure we don't see any smoke nearby. So out we went. No sign of smoke, no smell of smoke, no airplanes or sirens. But just to be sure, we jumped in the car and drive up the street (our street is a loop of perhaps half a mile). Sure enough, up the street a ways (though really quite close to our house as the crow flies), fire trucks and a collection of neighbors on the street. By that time the fire was out, and the homeowner was still out there with a hose. Turns out he had been smoking some meat over the weekend. He let the coals sit overnight, then, thinking they were cool, dumped them on the ground. Several hours later some wind came up (as it does in this spot, oh, virtually every single day), and the wind fanned the coals and the fire started. By some miracle, a bicyclist happened to ride by and saw the flames, and pounded on the door; the man grabbed his hose and his wife called 911. The fire was stopped a few feet short of a large pile of wood chips and a tree that is pretty close to dead. It could easily have been a disaster.

Whatever made this guy think this was an acceptable thing to do? We live in an extremely high fire risk area, and it's the middle of summer. The signs all read "Fire danger: high." It doesn't take much for one person's carelessness or cavalier "well, I'm not worried, doesn't apply to me" to risk the health and safety of an entire community.

Consider it a parable.

Forum Blogs / Easter 3
« on: April 26, 2020, 06:21:02 PM »
I'm sure it is quite a challenge for preachers during this time, both to manage new technology and to bring the gospel of hope to a discouraged and fearful world. I had the joy of preaching this morning (well, for this morning; we actually recorded it a few days ago) on the road to Emmaus text. Here's what I said:

Forum Blogs / This year's Good Friday
« on: April 10, 2020, 07:36:27 PM »
For most of the last 33 years, I've participated in a noon service at my present church, and an evening service at my previous church--both ecumenical services with Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist participants. (Actually since I retired, I've not attended the service at Peace Lutheran . . . social distancing, you know.)

This year we watched what was a combined service--at Peace Lutheran, but sort of a hybrid of the usual noon and evening services (which have always been rather different, though both centered on the St. John gospel). It was not very satisfying; the music was mediocre, the service generally not too inspiring.

But then we watched a YouTube video of a performance of the St. John Passion by the Netherlands Bach Society, and it was stunning. I am deeply moved. If you have a couple of hours, let the 5th Evangelist bless you:

Forum Blogs / How should one understand this?
« on: April 07, 2020, 10:21:36 PM »
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. It is from our bishop, and he offers it "to use as a part of your Easter Sunday online worship." What do you think?  He's also planning to offer a sermon for Easter 2, to give pastors "a well deserved break in the days following Easter Sunday." I appreciate the thought, but um . . .

Forum Blogs / Silver linings
« on: April 02, 2020, 07:53:01 PM »
Maybe it would be salutary to have a thread where we talk about "silver linings" in the current crisis--things we've observed that may have long lasting positive effects. I don't really mean stories of kind and generous acts, though if you want to share those, that's OK. I'm thinking of things that may make a good difference in the long run.

My first thoughts:

At our local food ministry, most of the volunteers are seniors and so at higher risk, and about half of them have wisely decided to stay home. (The other half, like me, have maybe unwisely decided we want to keep helping.) So the ministry put out a plea, and each day there have been scads of new volunteers--Boy Scouts, high school students, furloughed middle-aged people, even some other older folks--showing up and working for one to five hours. I suspect at least some of them will find it so rewarding that they continue to help when this is over.

On a more personal note, we've met several neighbors for the first time as everyone seems to be out walking (and we have a neighborhood where that is possible; little traffic even in normal times, lots of room to stand six feet apart and chat). We've lived on this street for 33 years and hardly known anyone; met a lot more after we retired and were walking the dog during the day instead of the wee hours of the dawn; but now we've met even more.

And in terms of church: I think the end result of this will be that we have significantly upped out game in terms of using digital media to expand the church's ministry.

How about you?

Forum Blogs / Maundy Thursday in isolation
« on: April 02, 2020, 06:37:57 PM »
Working on services ahead of time so they can be videoed a couple of days before and then posted. I'm up for Maundy Thursday. Here's what I will say:

Maundy Thursday 2020
John 13.1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

"Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

My daughter was about four or five years old. She was coming out of our Maundy Thursday service, the church now in darkness after the stripping of the altar. She looked up at me with very big eyes and said, “Pastor, that was incredible!”

And she was right. The Maundy Thursday service is incredible. There is so much going on, in the lessons and the actions. The powerful recollection of the Passover and the judgment of God on the Egyptians; the intimacy of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper; the humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet; the desolation expressed by the stripping of the altar. It is incredible.

It has always been my favorite of all the Holy Week liturgies. It was at a Maundy Thursday service that I received my first communion as a young boy. Maundy Thursday service in the congregation in which I grew up is my most vivid memory of worship from my teenage years. All of that makes this night, this Maundy Thursday, so very painful for me this year. I think of the line from Psalm 137: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” How shall we observe this night when we are kept from the Eucharist? How shall we keep this night when we are banned from washing the feet of our brothers and sisters and kneeling at the Lord’s Table with them?

So I have to reframe this for myself—something I’ve been doing a lot of lately! Perhaps it helps to think about how our experience of this night echoes that of the disciples. Consider what it was like for them. I don’t know how things were in Jerusalem that night, but I suspect fear was in the air, especially for the disciples, as the authorities ramped up their conspiracy against Jesus. As Galilean country folks, perhaps even just being in the city is new for them, new and scary. It is disorienting. You know that feeling of being in a place you’ve never been before. You don’t know the geography. You don’t know which way you’re supposed to go. It becomes even worse if you’re in a foreign place, where no one seems to speak your language. And now, in addition to all this disorientation and fear, the disciples are hunkered down, locked in a room.

In the midst of this, they gather together to share a meal. Biblical scholars debate whether this was the Passover meal, as Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest, or if it was the night before the Passover, as John would have it. But no matter. They are gathering—these twelve friends and their Master, perhaps others—gathering to share a meal as they have done many times before. It is a note of familiarity, an anchor, in a world that seems to be spinning out of control.

And then the twist. Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. His actions are calm, deliberate, but completely unanticipated. They did not expect this. Oh, it was common, in that place and time where roads were dusty and people wore sandals, to be given water for washing your feet when you entered a house. Usually you washed your own; if your host was wealthy enough to have servants, perhaps one of them would do it for you. But that was when you first came in, not in the middle of dinner. And that was the unpleasant task of a servant, not your host. Certainly not your Teacher, your Master, your Lord.

So they did not expect it. It shakes them out of their own thoughts—shakes those who, Luke tells us, are talking again about who was the greatest; shakes Peter, who always seems to be thinking about himself and his role; shakes Judas, who has already decided to betray Jesus. Suddenly here is Jesus, kneeling before each of them, serving them, demonstrating his love for them, showing them that real love means humility.

And now here we are, hunkered down, afraid to go out—and there’s more than just fear in the air, or at least that’s how we feel. It certainly seems like we are in an unfamiliar place, a foreign land, a city with frightening noises and shadows and unseen dangers. We cannot understand the voices around us—not because they speak a different language, but because we seem to hear so much contradictory information, or rapidly changing advice. We cannot be with those we love—or maybe we are with those who are closest to us, but there are others we long to see whom we cannot. Some of us are completely alone. All of us are lost in thoughts we never thought we’d have to think.

And in the midst of this, Jesus does something surprising. He calmly, deliberately, takes a basin of water and begins to wash our feet. For us this night, in this time, that can be only a metaphor. But for us hunkered down ones, for us who feel lost in a foreign place, it is our souls that are dusty and tired, our spirits that are weary from what already seems like too long a journey. And that is what Jesus washes, our spirits, our souls. It is unexpected, but it is real.

Notice that he does it calmly, for us as for the disciples. The world outside is in turmoil—maybe not literally right here where we live, at least for now, thanks to be to God—but the chaos invades our hearts and our lives daily, and we know we are not immune. But in the midst of it: this calm. I wonder if the disciples thought back to when Jesus calmed the storm on the sea? I wonder if his deliberate and gentle demeanor now stilled the storm in their hearts, their roiling fears about what was to come?

And his words! I suspect the disciples were relieved when he also said, “You do not know now what I am doing.” Indeed they didn’t know, they didn’t get it. But his words were all too clear: “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. . . . I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” The words, together with the gesture, say that love is about humility and service.

And so it is for us, my dear sisters and brothers. The love of Christ, the love that washes over our weary souls, is shown in humility and service. It is always so. I’ve been thinking lately about a best-selling novel of a few years back, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. I haven’t read it, I have no idea even what it’s about, but I’ve always been captivated by the title: Love in the Time of Cholera. What is love in the time of Covid-19? Well, it is just what love always is, for the disciples of Jesus. It is humility and service: humility, in that we cannot know what the Lord is doing or what it means for us; service, in that caring for one another is still our mandate. That will look different for each of us. Perhaps it means making masks for the hospital. Perhaps it means, if you are able, helping out at the food bank or homeless shelter. Perhaps it means checking on a neighbor, or telephoning someone you know is alone or frightened. Certainly it means praying, lots of praying for all manner of people in the midst of this crisis. But in all these things, it means turning your eyes away from your own fears and concerns; it means looking toward Christ, who so calmly washes our feet and our spirits and our hearts; and it means looking toward others whom Christ loves, serving them, loving them, as best we can. It is being mindful, but not fearful.

There is a prayer ascribed, I believe, to the English philosopher James Martineau—not really an orthodox Christian, but an eloquent writer, and this prayer contains a line that has always stirred me: “Since we know not what a day may bring forth, but only that the hour for serving Thee is always present, may we wake to the instant claims of Thy holy will, not waiting for tomorrow but yielding today.” May we, in other words, serve one another in humility as Christ serves us, love one another as Christ loves us. That is our mandate on this Maundy Thursday. That is Christ’s commandment, and Christ’s promise.

Yes, it is an incredible night, this Maundy Thursday, unlike any other. It is in some way a desolate night as we sit alone, the altars of our normal existence stripped until there seems to be nothing left. But though we cannot be together, though we cannot wash one another’s feet, though we cannot gather at the Table to receive the gracious gift of his Body and Blood, still he is with us even in our desolation. Still he brings that sense of calm and peace. Still he loves us, loves us to the end. Still he teaches us to love one another, as he has loved us. And for us right now, that is enough.


Forum Blogs / The award winning Forum Letter
« on: March 19, 2020, 07:47:25 PM »
Today was the Associated Church Press's annual "Best of the Christian Press" awards presentation, done virtually (and without the usual banquet). Forum Letter took two awards this year: an honorable mention for "Best in Class--Newsletter," and an award of merit in the category "Personal Experience" for Charles Austin's "The Sad Liturgies" in the December 2019 issue. We appreciate the recognition!

Selected Re-Prints / Luther on COVID-19 by William Cwirla
« on: March 13, 2020, 04:06:04 PM »
Luther on COVID-19
by William M. Cwirla
Reprinted from the April 2020 issue of Forum Letter
Copyright 2020

Martin Luther was well-acquainted with epidemics. Waves of Black Plague wiped out significant portions of the local population. Pastors conducted thousands of burials; some buried entire congregations. Luther’s Wittenberg experienced an outbreak of the plague in 1527, prompting him to write a treatise addressed to a fellow pastor in Breslau concerning the question “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” (Luther’s Works 43:119-38). Luther’s approach provides some good reflection for our day.

To flee or not to flee
Could you flee at a time of plague? Or were you bound to remain where you were? There were strong opinions on both sides. Some held that it was sin to flee since disease and death are God’s chastisement; therefore fleeing in the face of death demonstrated a lack of faith. Others held that you were free to leave provided you held no public office and had no one dependent on you.

Luther commends the former but does not condemn the latter. Not all have the same faith. “Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone. A person who has a strong faith can drink poison and suffer no harm (Mark 16:18), while one who has a weak faith would thereby drink to his death.” The strong must travel with the weak. “Christ does not want his weak ones to be abandoned.” Luther lays down no hard and fast law, nor does he bind the consciences of those who do not wish to remain. Rather he frames the question in terms of vocation according to the three orders or estates of the temporal kingdom – church, civil society, and home (see Table of Duties in the Small Catechism).

Remaining steadfast
Pastors and preachers, who are engaged in spiritual ministry, must remain steadfast before the peril of death to bring comfort to the sick and dying. Where there are sufficient preachers available, one may leave so as not to expose oneself to danger needlessly. Luther cites the examples of Sts. Paul and Athanasius.

Public officials likewise must remain at their posts as ministers of God. “To abandon an entire community which one has been called to govern and to leave it without official or government, exposed to all kinds of danger such as fires, murder, riots, and every imaginable disaster is a great sin.” Still, if they feel they must flee, they must ensure that the community is well-governed and protected by others.

The same applies to the household. “Fathers and mothers are bound by God’s law to serve and help their children, and children their fathers and mothers.” Where one is not needed and where ample provision is already provided, one has a free choice whether to remain or flee. “If someone is sufficiently bold and strong in his faith, let him stay in God’s name; that is certainly no sin. If someone is weak and fearful, let him flee in God’s name as long as he does not neglect his duty toward his neighbor but has made adequate provision for others to provide nursing care.” To flee from death is not unbelief, but “a natural tendency, implanted by God and is not forbidden unless it be against God and neighbor.”

Don't despair, but don't be reckless
Luther counsels against despair and the assaults of the devil. The devil is to be rebuffed in two ways. First, by the victory of Christ. “If you have poison in your fangs, Christ has far greater medicine.” Second, by the promise of God that those who minister to the needy are blessed in serving Christ. “If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him, not outwardly but in his word.”

Faith is not reckless. Luther has no praise for those who disdain the use of medicines and do not avoid places infected by plague but lightheartedly make fun of it to show how strong they are. For Luther, this is tantamount to suicide. “If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes.” Moreover, by needlessly exposing himself to disease, he risks infecting others and so becomes a murderer many times over.

Luther’s advice combines faith with sound reason, medical science, and common sense, 1st and 3rd article gifts working together. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate the house; avoid persons and places where you are not needed. Those who are sick should be isolated from the general population, like the lepers of the OT, states Luther, but they should not be abandoned in their quarantine.

When death is in the air
Luther provides sage pastoral counsel for living in times when death is in the air. First, attend church regularly and listen to the sermon to learn how to live and die while you are in good health. Second, prepare for death by going to confession and the Sacrament every week or two. Be reconciled to your neighbor and be ready should the Lord knock before the pastor arrives. Third, if anyone wishes a pastor to come, summon him while you are still lucid, before illness overwhelms you. The pastor can do you no good if you are not in your right mind.

Luther charts a pastoral course that neither burdens the weak in faith nor allows weakness as an excuse to flee responsibility. We are all responsible to ward off disease to the best of our abilities, but in emergencies, we must be bold enough to risk our health for the sake of others if that is necessary. “Thus we should be ready for both – to live and die according to God’s will. For 'none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself,' as St. Paul says (Rom 14:7)."

Advice for the current day
How might Luther advise us today with our current COVID-19 pestilence, not to mention influenza and other contagious diseases that threaten us? At the risk of putting words in the Reformer’s mouth, I would venture that he might say something like this:

1. You are free in Christ, and in Christ’s freedom you are to care for your own health and the health of those around you.

2. Whether you are weak or strong in faith, trust Christ, especially in times of trouble, and do not let the devil drive you to panic, fear, and despair.

3. Tend to your vocation and serve your neighbor in love as God has called you in your family and workplace, in society, and in your congregation.

4. Do not despise medical science and reason; these are God’s gifts to you and failure to use them is to put the Lord your God to the test. Faith, while it is bold in the face of death, is not reckless.

5. Come to church to hear the Word, receive the Sacrament, confess your sins and receive absolution while you are healthy. You do not know when the plague might come to your house. Do not presume on God’s mercy.

Pandemics and epidemics are nothing new. Only our awareness if heightened due to increased communication. Heightened awareness can be bring fear, terror, and despair. These are the devil’s work. Remember your Baptism. You have died in Christ and have been raised with Him. Nothing in this world, whether death, life, or Covid-19 can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

William Cwirla is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Hacienda Heights, CA. This essay first appeared on his blog, and is reprinted with permission.

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