03/22/2020 Weekly Message and Worship

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

FEAR, PROVIDENCE AND WITNESS

4th Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2020

Calvary Baptist Church of Clifton – International

Rev. Manuel de la Fuente


SCRIPTURE READING/PASSAGES/TEXTS:


Psalm 91:1-2 New International Version (NIV)

1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”


Isaiah 41:10 New International Version (NIV)

10 So do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.


Romans 8:28 New International Version (NIV)

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


Romans 8:35-39 New International Version (NIV)

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Romans 13:9 New International Version (NIV)

9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”


INTRODUCTION:


So how did we get here?


It must have been sometime toward the end of January that we heard of the news about the novel Corona Virus which was reported to have started in Wuhan, China maybe as far back as December 2019 which is referred to as the Coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 for short. The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020.


While news of COVID-19 was going on, I was in the midst of a vacation in the Philippines and visiting my ailing mother. With a very hectic two-week schedule in the early part of February, I became ill toward the end of my stay but was determined to come back to New Jersey as the wedding of sister Yareth Natareno was awaiting for me to officiate that weekend. However, my return was delayed as I was hospitalized for four days. I experienced episodes of blacking out or losing consciousness three times. I was too sick to travel. I felt it was the worst physical sickness that I experienced with thoughts that I might even not make it. In the midst of that situation, I prayed earnestly to the Lord not to take me yet as I still have dreams or visions for his sake and purpose.


After just a few weeks, COVID-19 started to spread across various countries and continents - with news reports of the number of people getting infected rising by the thousands each day, and more and more people were dying. COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. There was no more denying that this was a serious national and global situation. As of yesterday, there were over 300,000 cases or people reported to have contracted the virus and almost 13,000 people have died globally. In the United States, there are over 24,000 confirmed cases, and more than 300 have died. New York state surpassed 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with more than 6,000 in New York City alone.


Last Sunday, March 15, there was still an uncertainty whether churches could or would hold worship services. With guidance coming from federal and state authorities - restrictions for gatherings were: 500 people and above, then it changed to 250 people and above, then to 10 people and above. A lot of churches canceled their physical gatherings and some resorted to broadcasting through the internet and with various forms of technological mediums. Some friends asked if our church held our Sunday service and when I said yes, I received kind words of praise and encouragement.


By yesterday afternoon, Saturday March 21, 2020, New Jersey has joined a few other states like California, New York and Illinois in declaring a lockdown. The state Governor Phil Murphy issued an Executive Order – for residents to stay at home and all gatherings cancelled or prohibited as the cases soared over 1,300 within the state and deaths reached 16.


After last Sunday, some of our church leaders already saw the probability of a lockdown and a possible necessity to do our church ministry in a different way. By Tuesday, March 17, I went to the office to finish time sensitive matters. By Wednesday, I started receiving communications from family members to stay home and not to leave the house.


With all of these things going on, my mind was racing in reflection and meditation - as people – including our church members and friends – reacted in various ways – anxious, cautious, fearful, dismissive, denial, skeptical, hopeful, optimistic, confused, uncertain, inquisitive, etc.


In my mind I kept on asking and praying, "What is the message Lord? What is the message?" In a global pandemic or plague, there must be a message from the Lord for us, I thought to myself. Is the Lord angry and wanting to tell us something? Indeed the Lord may have compelling reasons to be angry. Many people, have become arrogant and self-centered and are taking credit as the source of the abundant blessings that are being received. Many people have failed to give acknowledgment to God as the source of all blessings. Many people have stopped giving the Lord a special day to worship him and instead have taken the liberty to hold all kinds of activities and events even on the Sabbath or the day of worship. More and more people have failed to obey the Lord and his commands to love others and to treat others with compassion - especially the poor, the lowly, the minority, the exploited, the dominated and the powerless. The fall of the first Adam was because of disobedience, our redemption or salvation lies in following the second Adam in Jesus Christ which represents OBEDIENCE back to God. The reflection or meditation today, is not how I would usually prepare and deliver a sermon on God’s behalf. This is more of a spontaneous reflection coming from our current situation.


I would like us all to focus on three items: FEAR, PROVIDENCE AND WITNESS.


Some of us might have feelings of fear. It could be the fear of getting infected. It could be an anxiety or nameless fear. It could be fear of the unknown or because this is something very new to you and to everyone else for that matter.


FEAR


THE 1st POINT OF THE LORD’S MESSAGE TODAY IS: Do not fear.


THE SCRIPTURE PASSAGES:


Psalm 91:1-2 New International Version (NIV)

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”


Isaiah 41:10 New International Version (NIV)

So do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.


The bible has a lot of passages we can read that tells us not to fear. Psalm 91 reminds me of one of the beautiful hymns we sing at church from time to time entitled: “On Eagles Wings.” It has this passage as its lyrics “… famine will bring you no fear, under his wings your refuge, his faithfulness your shield… You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day …” And the Refrain goes: "And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of his hand.” Beautiful.


The second passage, the one in Isaiah tells us of the Lord’s abiding presence. Why breakdown, why be disheartened? What we must do is to meditate and take in the Lord’s word in times like this when we need him. It does not mean that we put ourselves in harm’s way needlessly and irresponsibly. The Lord has given us our minds, our intelligence to be used for his sake, and for our own welfare and that of other people. When we irresponsibly jump into danger and just invoke God’s name, that is tantamount to tempting the Lord which is wrong.


THE SCRIPTURE PASSAGES:


Romans 8:28 (NIV)

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


PROVIDENCE


THE 2ND POINT OF THE LORD’S MESSAGE:

It is God’s will and purpose that determines the totality of life.


In the final analysis, it will be God’s plan, faithfulness, and guidance of everything that will remain victorious. This is the doctrine of providence for which those who do not believe cannot grasp. This too, this pandemic shall pass. We shall overcome. We do not exactly know how long this is going to last. But we know this is not going to be the determining factor of the totality of our lives.


When Jesus was on the boat in the midst of a storm, he was fast asleep and undisturbed for he knows God the Father will take care of him. His disciples did not yet know his nature as the Son of God, that he can calm the storm, and any kind of storm for that matter. For us, the thing to do is to make sure that the Lord Jesus is with us, for even in this pandemic storm of the Coronavirus, it is nothing compared to the power of God and his providential presence and plan for our lives.


THE SCRIPTURE PASSAGES:

Some passages in the New Testament directs us Christians to focus on God’s providential care as a remedy for overanxious concerns. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus command His hearers not to worry about tomorrow, since the Heavenly Father cares much more for them than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:25-34).


The point is not that following Christ will exempt us from trouble or pain. What it does provide is the assurance of God’s presence in the midst of the stormy tempests of life like the present pandemic we are facing. With this assurance we can face whatever may come in the knowledge that God will care for us as he does daily for the birds and flowers.


Romans 8:28 (NIV)

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


This passage does mean that everything which happens to us is good. It means that nothing can ever happen to us apart from the knowledge, presence, and love of God, and that in the most desperate of circumstances God is always at work towards the good. We are not explicitly or clearly told how this is so, but we are told that the sufferings of the present are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18-25).


God’s providence is expressed in the scriptures as God working in various ways to accomplish his purpose. He may work through trials and tribulations, through tough situations like this Coronavirus pandemic.


The current situation exposes the spirituality of so many people in how they deal with a crisis like this. Even some who have declared themselves as Christians and invoked the name of God in the past suddenly have forgotten to even mention or acknowledge his providential presence amidst all this.


The pandemic reminds us of how we ought to treat each other. As the exposure of one could mean the exposure of the other. How endangering oneself, could mean endangering the rest or the others. Suddenly some people have learned to connect with each other globally. Perhaps we may have learned that if we are to survive, we have to realize that we are all one in this together, that we all live in the same and one and only planet. God indeed can move in mysterious ways.

Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:


For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Despite the reality of evil, its vicious demonic power in the present age, this passage affirms the certainty of Christ’s ultimate victory over the manifestation of trouble, hardship, persecution, famine and all sorts of danger, wars or calamities. We believers, Christians, those who choose to obey God can face the future with the confidence that nothing “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


MISSION


THE 3RD AND FINAL POINT OF THE LORD’S MESSAGE:

We must obey God’s command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.


The Christian response to plagues begins with some of Jesus’s most famous teachings: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; “Love your neighbor as yourself”; “Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.” Put plainly, the Christian ethic in a time of plague considers that our neighbor's life – other people’s lives – is regarded as just as important or even more important than our own respective lives.


In today’s context of the pandemic - which is quite unique - the way of sacrifice is to do away with our convenience and to home isolate ourselves that the virus does not spread but stops. Maybe for the first time, there is a challenge for us to think of ourselves globally, nationally, regionally and locally as one family. As somebody articulated recently: "If everybody is not safe, then nobody is safe."


THE SCRIPTURE PASSAGE

Romans 13:9 New International Version (NIV)

9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”


The Christian motive for hygiene, sanitation and home isolation comes not just in loving oneself and for self-preservation but in an ethic of service to others: your family, loved ones, friends, church colleagues, neighbors and people in general. We wish to care for the afflicted, which first and foremost means not infecting the healthy. Early Christians created the first hospitals in Europe as hygienic places to provide care during times of plague, on the understanding that negligence that spread disease further was, in fact, murder.


We will be known by our love, our consideration, our thoughtfulness. “By their fruits, you shall know them.”


Our mission is the mission of Jesus to call other people back to obeying God. That obedience has to start with us. We must love others as we love ourselves. At present we practice or implement not only what is good for us but also what is good for the welfare of our families, loved ones, friends, colleagues and the people at large.


CONCLUSION:

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 New International Version (NIV) says: 13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.


The call of the Lord’s mission in the world is a call for people to OBEY GOD again. To obey God through accepting Jesus as Lord, for what he stands for.


In the midst of the pandemic and in the spirit of Lent, the passage from 2 Chronicles calls us and everyone else to humility, and to pray and to seek the Lord’s face and turn from our disobedient ways. The Lord promises to hear our prayers and forgive us and heal our place, our land, our earth and put an end to this pandemic.


Amen.


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