By Paul Baxley
This Sunday morning will be unlike any I remember in my ministry and even in my life. Not only in our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but indeed across the world, congregations are facing the tremendous challenges being posed by the spread of COVID-19. We are seeking to be faithful to our desire to offer worship and praise to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We know we have a Gospel of grace, truth and love to proclaim during frightening and uncertain times. We believe that, especially in this challenging moment, we need one another for strength and encouragement. We also claim a strong sense of obligation to protect all people, including the youngest and oldest among us, from the risks associated with the spread of a virus that we do not yet fully understand much less know how to treat.
This unusual week has required congregations and leaders across our Fellowship to make really important and agonizingly difficult decisions. Pastors and lay leaders have spent hours in meetings and discussions seeking guidance. From my conversations with friends and colleagues, I know that there has been extraordinary stress involved in these decisions. Some congregations are choosing not to meet at all this Sunday, others are operating on a vastly reduced schedule, and some are proceeding as normal while encouraging people to use best judgment about participation.
In many congregations, ministers are leading worship services in empty sanctuaries but livestreaming into homes of church members. Throughout our Fellowship, congregations and leaders are seeking faithful and responsible ways to offer care, support and companionship without risking the health and safety of church members and guests. Many of us are recognizing that each day, as more information comes in, we must revisit decisions made only a day before. These days require a seemingly unprecedented balance of agility and caution as well as courage and grace.
This Sunday I invite all of you to join me in praying for congregations in and beyond our Fellowship, not only here in the United States, but around the world. Pray for wisdom for leaders and church members alike. Pray for strength and courage for the facing of this hour and the living of these days. Pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us to the most faithful ways to live out our faith and carry out our ministries while also protecting the health and safety of all.
Pray that on this unusual Sunday morning when many more of us will worship alone than is normal that we will still experience the love, power and presence of Jesus in ways that still us, comfort us and hold us secure. Pray that in the midst of this storm we will find the most faithful ways to share Christ’s love and extend His peace that surpasses all understanding.
I also invite all of you to join me in praying for federal, state and local officials who have the urgently important responsibility of making decisions, sharing information and coordinating responses so that the spread of this virus might be slowed and eventually controlled. Pray for doctors and nurses who will care for those who are ill. Pray for researchers who will do the life-giving work of developing a vaccine over the course of time. Remember particularly that this virus could have its most devastating impact on those who live in poverty, who have less access to care or who live out of reach of information.
As this week unfolded, two passages of Scripture have come more and more to the front of my mind and are arising more and more in my praying. First, I keep remembering many the words that rise from Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam…
God is in the midst of the city, it shall not be moved, God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; He utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Be still and know that I am God.
And then there is that powerful scene recorded in the Gospels, when Jesus’ disciples are on a boat in the midst of a peaceful Sea of Galilee, when all of a sudden a storm arises. The waters rise, the boat becomes less secure, and the disciples are terrified. As the Gospel of John records, in the midst of the wind and the waves, the fear and the uncertainty, the disciples look up and see Jesus walking to them on the choppy waters. He says to them: “It is I, do not be afraid.” (John 6:20)
If you are a pastor preparing to preach on one of the most unusual Sundays of any of our lives, if you are a believer who will worship at home alone by livestream with your congregation or another, if you will worship in a congregation that is much more empty than usual because of this unusual moment, or if you will be home alone in this storm in prayer, if you are exhausted, afraid and uncertain; I pray that you will experience the presence of Christ in the midst of it all, that in prayer, or in song, or in a silence, you will hear him say: “Be still and know that I am God.”
When we know Christ’s presence with us in this storm and hear his voice, we will know that Paul was right when he affirmed: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That, my sisters and brothers, is a Gospel of sheer grace. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley is Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission. Learn more at www.cbf.net.
For news, program/event updates and resources about CBF’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, please visit www.cbf.net/COVID-19.