Faith in the time of COVID
This week our Priest in Charge, The Rev. Dr. Susan Carter, spoke to us about the importance of discerning who to believe, who to trust, in these difficult times.
The readings for Sunday 31.01.21, Pentecost XVI - Year C
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1: 21-28
Faith in the Time of Covid
Whom do you trust? Whom do you believe?
Those questions are all the more important in a time of global political challenges – and in a period of a pandemic that is driven by an ever-evolving virus. The questions matter as we are engulfed by comments and critiques of closures and cloth masks.
The mass of information directed us is well-nigh overwhelming – to the extent that many of us feel buried and don’t want to engage with any of it. Either political or pandemic.
Moses addressed the confusion that people were feeling in today’s reading from Deuteronomy. The reading is an excerpt of one of his three sermons to the Hebrews who have escaped Pharaoh and are in the land of Moab.
They are parked in the desert for forty years waiting to complete the journey that will place them in the Holy Land – the promised Israel. But – they are not there yet. In fact, they are getting a bit whiney. “Here we are in the desert,” they complain. “Remember when we were fed – for free – fish and cucumbers and melons and onions and leeks and garlic?”
“This isn’t what we bargained for when we fled. We trusted you, Moses, and look what we got.”
Moses reminds them that they are the people of Yahweh, of the Lord their God. And it is God who will “raise up for you for you a prophet like me.” Moses adds it is that prophet you will heed. That is the one to follow.
The advice from Moses is sound, but lingering is still the question – who is that prophet?
Translated to our contemporary setting, who is to be trusted? Who is to be believed?
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the psalms we use, all 150 of them, each have a heading in Latin that suggests its content. The heading for the psalm we heard moments ago is Confitebor tibi. One of the better translations is “I confess to you.”
As we work to solve the puzzle of confidence of trust, we get a clue, I believe, in the psalm. The people confess. The people understand that they are to be realizing and acknowledging that God is good, and that God’s deeds are great.
And how do they know that God is to be trusted? Well, those who respect God have food. They also have seen and experienced majesty and splendor, faithfulness, justice and compassion. These things are being played out in their lives.
Still lingering, though, is the nagging question – whom should we trust and whom should we believe in during the course of our daily lives? Haven’t we been exposed to false prophets and charlatans? We fear that there is misinformation presented to us. But should we sort things out?
In what ways are we any different from those Hebrew escapees who are marching round in the desert – trying to make their way forward.
Paul has an interesting take on knowledge, and those who present themselves to be all-knowing – the ones who suggest they are to be believed.
And so, we continue with his first letter to the Corinthians, those folks in Greece.
The question addressed here is an interesting one that is apparently significant to the congregation. It is a bit cross-cultural, even. Should the followers of Christ eat food that has been offered to idols – to false gods – when they know that there is only one God?
While the subject matter – eating sacrificed food or not – isn’t relevant to us today, Paul’s answer is instructive.
What he is telling them is that they have superior knowledge, in a sense. The Corinthian Christians know that some people, who could be followers, are in a dither about eating sacrificed food. And that are still somewhat drawn to false prophets.
He cautions them however to be gentle with those who have been deceived and are undecided. He urges the congregation not to mock them or hold their ignorance against them. In his words, “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
In other words, if they are struggling to decide who and what to trust, help them. Don’t make it more difficult for them to believe. Rather, work with them – if you are firm in your own faith – so that they, too, can reject falsehoods.
To return to our own time – we are still confronted with the question, the conundrum, of what to believe in our present world – whom should we trust? How can these readings guide us as we walk through our days?
Because we are Christians, the direct answer is to trust in Jesus. After all, there at the synagogue at Capernaum, he confronted the evil, the unclean spirit that had consumed a man, and ordered it out – to the astonishment of the rest of the congregation.
They all recognized Jesus’ authority and word of this prophet – a true one. His actions spread like wildfire. It was, as Moses had promised, a prophet raised up by God. It was one who would become our savior.
Still, what should we look for to guide us, here on earth, in a time of political challenges and pandemic spread?
A little like them people in the desert, we long for what we used to have. The ease of movement, restaurants we could visit, hugs and handshakes, and a life without masks.
For the moment, those days are not ours. We have yet to reach the promised land of real political calm and a world where the virus is under control.
Is there anything that we have heard today that provides comfort and helps us understand how and what to trust?
I believe there are important messages here.
One is to recognize that there are false prophets. We must discern carefully. Look for the goodness, the great works that reflect not people, but God. Compassion and justice, faithfulness and grace, will be hallmarks of those in whom we can place the trust of our daily lives.
The second is to beware of those who are haughty with their knowledge, and who manifest it with superiority. They do not represent who God – and God’s son Jesus – is. There is falsehood in their leadership as well. They lack compassion and faithfulness.
We will know whom to believe in, and whom to trust by their actions that reflect Jesus in compassion and authority.
To paraphrase the psalm, acknowledging the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – “those who act accordingly have a good understanding.”
As we make our way through this murky time, remembering God’s power and grace – and measuring those who hold out to be leaders and prophets – will help us to discern whom to believe, and whom to trust.