We are still in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Some doubt, others fear, while all of us wait for assurances that we will be all right. How do we describe the situation in which we find ourselves. G.K. Chesterton stated, “We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty.”
My interpretation of this statement may not be what Chesterton had in mind, but I think he would approve of various interpretations. I venture to say that the common interpretation puts all of us in one vessel, all facing the storm together. Is this how we look at life—we are stuck together and therefore, what happens to one happens to the other. After all, as the common Covid-19 expression states, “We are all in this together.”
We, through this, seek to demonstrate a loyalty to each other, a determination to help one another no matter what. What a lofty goal! Is this possible, especially during a pandemic that is creating so much havoc? Possibly this is something we need to strive towards. Doug Klassen, Mennonite Church Canada, wrote recently, “Throughout history, the Christian church flourished during times of epidemics and restrictions. Early Christians created community by ministering to their immediate neighbours. These communities worshipped together, but the hallmarks of their identity were acts of love and charity to the lonely, vulnerable and suffering.”
Where is the church today? Is it joining with others to state “We are in this together”? I do not plan on spending time on restating the numerous comments made for and against the actions of the church in the face of Covid-19. I am not in a position that I can offer judgments. If we really are together in the same boat then we need to get along and help each other to the best of our ability.
I have found that a sermon preached by Michele Rae Rizoli, (Toronto United Mennonite), touches on these issues. Rizoli challenged her listeners that, “as a church, we are the body of Christ, our character as peacemakers, justice seekers, mercy extenders, is urgently being called out. We must reveal these traits.”
Rizoli went on to share the following statements which I have gleaned from her sermon. “Let us keep on asking ourselves: What is the Spirit saying. I’d like to suggest three things: Do not judge; Strive for reconciliation; Trust in God.
“First let’s have a look at Romans 14:1-12 where we read “Do not judge.” The apostle Paul was speaking into a very real community conflict in his time: folks arguing about rules around what was OK and what wasn’t OK to eat, because these things had deep religious meaning for them. People haven’t changed that much, and though we don’t fret as much about food, could anyone else identify with the feelings in this passage? I know I could. What if I changed a few words?
“Have a listen: Some believe in wearing a mask all the time, while the weak do not wear masks. Some desire to gather in person, while others feel safer at home. Those who mask must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who wear them, for God has welcomed us all. Some judge one social distance to be better than another, while others judge all distances to be alike. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Rizoli continues, “I find it tremendously unnerving when people are not wearing masks, not wearing them properly or disregarding all the widely agreed upon rules for everyone’s protection. My temper flares unreasonably inside of me and I want to call them names and consider them less than myself. What is revealed is a great lack of patience deep in my gut as fiery darts come out of my eyes and judgmental thoughts fester inside of me. It is not at all a Christ-like attitude. “Why do we judge? Sometimes it is because we are afraid, sometimes it is because we are self-righteous, sometimes it is because we are suffering and we want others to suffer the same. It doesn’t seem fair when they are not following the rules. But if anyone is dealing with this rush to judgment every time you go out in ppublic, it’s pretty clear that Scripture is calling the faithful not to judge. Our true character must be grounded in love for each other, whatever the other’s views and practices.
Rizoli then lead into the second concept: Strive for reconciliation. “Our second scripture passage is at a crucial point in the story of Joseph and his brothers. If you want an interesting read, I suggest you spend some of your time looking at Genesis 37 to 51 – reader discretion is advised. The very very short version, the trailer, for our purposes today, is that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He was not treated like a brother. They took his ‘amazing technicolour dreamcoat’ —the special garment his father had given him—covered it in blood and lied to his father that Joseph had been killed. They considered themselves better than Joseph. They created a false narrative. Lots of important things happen as God takes good care of Joseph. At an crucial turning point, Joseph arranges to feed all his brothers during a famine, including their elderly father, and then the father dies. At this point, the brothers become very afraid, because they know that they wronged their brother and that they no longer have their father’s protection. Their true situation, their past sin, is revealed. In this moment we don’t know what will happen next.
“We too as a society and as people are confronted with a shared history where fellow human beings — indigenous and people of colour, for example— were not treated as siblings but rather were traded, sold, mistreated, stolen from. The climate insecurity, the ravages of the virus upon racialized communities, the shameless and hateful political discourse in which we are living, all reveal what was always there: we have not treated each other as siblings, as brothers and sisters who love each other as ourselves, and that is not what God wants for humanity. This is hugely important and now is a time when we are being confronted with it and asked to change. The Church’s true character as peacemakers and justice-seekers is being called out. Now more than ever, we must strive towards reconciliation and Shalom.”
After these challenges, I ask, “Are we really all in one boat, fully loyal to each other”? How do we deal with a pandemic and also deal with our judgmental thoughts. If we are in one boat, we better learn to help each other. Are we able to trust God for directions? I ask that we learn to accept each other; to be reconciled, and to trust God for the wisdom needed to help each of us get through this pandemic.