We’re All in The Same Storm
May 3, 2020

=> You can see our entire worship service on Facebook: Congregational Church of Northridge – UCC

 

An amazing thing happened during the first three centuries of Christianity.

It began as a small Jewish sect devoted to a disgraced rabbi, that was thrown out of local synagogues and then hunted down and murdered by Roman emperors but within 300 years had become an official religion of the Empire.

How could that be?

A number of factors were at play – and I don’t want to over-simplify – but one main reason was how these Christians lived.

For example, when plagues swept through Roman provinces –sometimes killing as much as a third of their population – pagan citizens usually fled for their lives.

Those with financial means might temporarily relocate to a different city while the poor might camp in the woods.

Meanwhile, prophets roamed the streets shouting that the gods were punishing the city for some unfaithfulness, and various leaders would often scapegoat some minority group for causing the plague.

During the Plague of Ephesus, a beggar was stoned to death by a crowd of hundreds after a failed miracle worker pointed his accusatory finger at him.

But Christians were known for staying in the city to care for the sick and bury the dead – at great risk to themselves.

And during that time, when people gave birth to a child they didn’t want – maybe because they were poor,  because the child was female, or because the infant showed signs of weakness – it was a common practice to discard them on the roadside to die or be eaten by wild animals.

But Christians were known for rescuing those babies and raising them as their own.

Over time, the compassion of the Jesus communities led to a tipping point of public opinion until in 313 the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as an official religion of Rome.

That is our heritage – that is in the DNA of our church – the Congregational Church of Northridge – two millennia later and halfway around the globe from Rome.

Here is what the Apostle Paul wrote to his church in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

The keyword here is “comfort”, but for there to be comfort there had to have been suffering.

Paul never addresses the question of why there is suffering.

For Paul, the only question is what do we do when we face suffering – both for ourselves and for those around us.

I was talking with Jim Pope the other day about his father, Tom, who died last week.

You may know that Jim and his siblings were raised in a Christian missionary outpost on an isolated island in Brazil.

Tom and his wife chose a very challenging life for nearly two decades.

When they arrived as a young married couple in the indigenous tribe’s village that they would serve for sixteen years, they had no running water or power, and they had to build their own house by felling trees and cutting them into lumber – with no power tools and no nearby Home Depot to buy nails and hardware.

They created a sewer system and running water – cold water only.

Tom provided some basic medical care like antimalaria drugs and antibiotics.

And if a villager had a toothache, Tom was there with a little Novocain and a pair of pliers.

After sixteen years, they returned to the United States leaving behind a much healthier village.

Jim estimates the village has tripled in size just because people are surviving what we consider fully preventable and curable diseases.

Tom was living out the DNA of Christianity: caring for the vulnerable just as Jesus did.

Often, it’s when we have personally experienced suffering or come close to it that our compassion is awakened.

I get the New York Times daily COVID-19 update which gives data about the progression of the virus.

For example, charts show that the number of COVID-19 cases doubles every four weeks in Savannah, and every two weeks in San Diego and Los Angeles.

But that doesn’t engage my heart.

Suffering isn’t statistics; it’s personal.

During last Wednesday’s Fellowship Hour, Janette shared that she started to feel the suffering of the pandemic when two of her friends became ill two weeks ago.

For me, it was hearing Joyce Payne share about several extended family members who had died, and the prayer request from Nanette about her two sons who had the virus – and fortunately recovered.

God showed His compassion for us by joining us here with regular people who were going through all the hardships of human life, and then He invites us to do the same.

The Father of Compassion, as Paul names God, reminds us of our connection to one another.

1 Corinthians 12:25-26 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: …. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Janette posted a humorous quote the other day: The only question is will you emerge from the quarantine pumped, plump or drunk?

After my second piece of pie and ice cream last night I’m working on plump, I’m afraid.

But of course, the real question is what kind of person will we emerge as from this season – and from what I see, you are becoming more compassionate and engaged with one another.

Within days of the shelter in place order, your phones were busy checking in with church members and reporting special needs to me.

Then, within days of learning that facemasks can be lifesavers, Robin, Cindy, Lisa and Cyd began sewing masks.

Next, Meredith went into action distributing the masks, delivering them to anyone in need.

Donations came to the church to help people who needed financial assistance.

We are all struggling through this pandemic – and we all have something we can do to help others through this.

You may have seen a poem that has been circulating over the past couple of days.

It touched me deeply as it put into words something I felt and wanted to express.

It’s called We Are Not in The Same Boat

It starts out, “I heard that we are in the same boat. But it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.”

And then it describes so many different experiences people are having, from the stay-at-home orders being a respite to a time of desperation.

Some people are bored at home, others are locked in with abusers, some are wondering if their Ramen noodles will stretch through the weekend.

I am concerned for each one of you, and I am really proud of how you have risen in compassion to care for one another, and
to people outside our congregation as well.

And as Paul wrote to his congregation in Colossae

Colossians 3:12-23a Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you

May God be with you this week.