Pastoral Thoughts in the Midst of This Pandemic
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, without question it’s a whole new world for us and the transformation has happened almost overnight. Without any regard for our opinions, the COVID-19 Virus, as well as the decrees and methodologies of our secular leaders, trying to combat this deadly threat, have turned our daily lives upside down, utterly transformed our lifestyles, and instantly made chaos out of our otherwise orderly daily living. It has all happened so quickly and continues to change almost by the hour! “Stay tuned” as they say, “more change is sure to come!” We have all been left feeling like ships adrift on a turbulent sea aimlessly floating to strange and sinister places where we have never been and being buffeted about by forces we are powerless to control. It’s not only the stock market that has gone on a rocky nosedive but so has our sense of security. We have no clue what is coming next. It’s a new world where none of us wants to be but is, none-the-less, a new reality that demands our adjustment whether we want to or not.
I hear journalists in their little echo chambers continually referring to this pandemic as “unprecedented.” Really? The rapid spread of this Corona Virus around the world might be unprecedented due to the fact that in this day and age of jet travel and giant cruise ships travel between continents is so convenient and can be accomplished in hours not days or months greatly enhancing the infection rate, but it is hardly an event that has never occurred before. There have been devastating pandemics and plagues of one sort or another all throughout recorded history. They have all made profound changes in people’s lives. In our own 20 year old century alone, we have experienced now five pandemics: SARS 2002-03, Swine Flu 2009-10, Ebola 2014-16, MERS 2015- present, and now COVID-19. The most deadly so far was the Swine Flu reportedly killing 200,000 people world-wide.
For you and me and, I’m sure many of our fellow Christians around the world, one of the most devastating disruptions to our lives has been the call by our federal, state and even local leaders for social distancing and the official “orders” to desist from assembling together in groups of over 10 persons and even to sequester ourselves in our own homes for an undetermined amount of time. This, of course, has led to school closures, restaurants and bars being shuttered up and even our churches no longer being able to conduct worship services.
I feel compelled to express to you all how very sorry I am that the decision to temporarily halt worship services came about so suddenly and at “the eleventh hour,” so to speak. I know it left you little time to become informed about it and to adjust to it. For this, I alone bear all the blame. Please forgive me.
I also want you to know how this whole affair has led to a real crisis of conscience for me as your pastor. I was called to care for your souls by administering the Holy Sacraments to you and by preaching and teaching God’s Word to you. I kept asking myself, “How can I be a faithful pastor and suddenly stop such important ministry to you the people of God?” As we all have understood, that God-ordained work has always been chiefly conducted in the assembly of God’s people. We read of the Christians immediately following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and (to the) fellowship, to the breaking of bread and (to) the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The holy writer to the Hebrews even gives this exhortation to God’s people: “Brothers, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24,25). It has gnawed at my very soul that now the state has mandated that I must cease and desist. This seems to be in direct conflict with the clear mandate of our Lord to “gather with Him.” My gut reaction has been to go the civil disobedience route and continue with our regular worship services and Bible Studies on the grounds that I must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). I was ready to say, “If they want to arrest me, so be it!”
But after much soul searching, prayer, study of the Word, and the wise counsel of my brothers in the pastoral ministry, my elders, and family members, I came to the conclusion that we as a congregation ought to temporarily halt our public worship services for the simple reason that God also desires us to honor and obey our leaders (4th commandment) and to love our neighbors as ourselves just as God has loved us in Christ (5th Commandment, Mark, John 15:12-17). Loving our neighbors in our community, in our congregation and in our own homes, as you will read from Martin Luther below, includes doing our part not to “spread the contagion” to the detriment of our neighbors. Besides, our leaders are not commanding us to stop Word and Sacrament
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ministry forever or even completely. They are simply asking us to love our neighbors by doing our part to protect their lives. To comply just requires us to be more creative and innovative for a while as to how we feed God’s people with His Word and Sacrament in such unwelcome circumstances.
Dr. Martin Luther very wisely wrote in his letter: “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” the following counsel after not so gently admonishing those pastors and parishioners that fled from the plague forsaking others to their miserable fate:
“Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that is God’s punishment; if He wants to protect them He can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting Him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health…..I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God… If the people in a city were to show themselves bold in their faith when a neighbor’s need so demands, and cautious when no emergency exists, and if everyone would help ward off contagion as best he can, then the death toll would indeed be moderate. But if some are too panicky and desert their neighbors in their plight, and if some are so foolish as not to take precautions but aggravate the contagion, then the devil has a heyday and many will die. On both counts this is a grievous offense to God and to man - here it is tempting God; there it is bringing man into despair.”
So, what do we do now that we find ourselves in this new reality! First of all, I want to assure you that I, as well as others, are working hard to come up with some alternative ways and means to provide you with Word and Sacrament. It will not be ideal to be sure; neither will it be what any one of us would prefer. Hopefully, however, they will prove to be a blessing to you during this interim in your ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Secondly, I would like to inform you of what is available to you. For those of you who have an internet connection and computer or smart phone, there is a multitude of options for you. Simply go to our church and school website: trinitylutheranchurch.360unite.com and by clicking on the appropriate tab you can read and/or download my sermons, our congregational newsletter, school registration forms and much more. With a click of your mouse you can also connect to our church Facebook page, our school Facebook page, and our synod and district websites. On our Trinity Lutheran Church Facebook page you can also find links to a few Lutheran congregations who are live-streaming their Sunday morning worship services enabling you a “virtual” worship opportunity. Also, don’t forget to check out Issues, etc. and LPR (Lutheran Public Radio). On these sites you will be able to listen to great music, enjoy some informative discussions of current theological issues, and participate in some wonderful Bible studies. You might also consider downloading the free app from Concordia Publishing House called PrayNow. It provides daily Scripture readings, a Psalm, a hymn verse, and some great excerpts from the writings of some of the early church fathers and our own Lutheran theologians.
And who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! With the wonderful assistance of John Dane, our new webmaster, I’m hoping this coming Sunday, March 29, you will be able to view a worship service that I will be leading. It will be prerecorded on YouTube so you can “tune in” to it at your convenience any time on Sunday or even later. There will be a link to it on our Trinity website. If successful we will continue with the following Sundays until we can return to “live” services again.
For those of you who are not part of this new technological age and like it that way, copies of my sermons will be available at the church office. If you would like us to mail a copy to you, please let us know and we will be happy to do so. Daily individual or family devotions are also a great means to stay in the Word and hear your Savior’s voice every day. If you have not been in the habit of home devotions and don’t even know where to begin, pick up a copy of the Portals of Prayer from your church mailbox or one of the Lenten Devotions still available in the church narthex. These wonderful publications make it very simple for you and will provide you with great spiritual food. Don’t forget, you also can tune into The Lutheran Hour each Sunday morning at 8:00 am on KIKC 101.3 FM. (Continued on last page – back cover.)
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN
CHURCH & CLASSICAL SCHOOL, LCMS
Preschool - 8th Grade
221 S. Center Avenue
Miles City, MT. 59301
Phone (406) 234-4983
Fax (406) 234-8033
If the government mandates of self-quarantining and social distancing are not lifted within a few weeks but will appear to be imposed on us for a more indefinite period of time, I will try to set up some times for you to come to the church in small groups of less than 10 persons to receive the Lord’s Supper. In the meantime, if you would like to receive the Sacrament, please call me and we can set up a time to meet either at the church or your home where I will be most happy to serve it to you.
Please be advised also that the church doors will be open every week day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm if you would like to enjoy some time of silent meditation and prayer in our church sanctuary. Our hymnal contains the Psalms as well as some great prayer services to assist you.
Finally, I want to encourage you to remember that our congregation’s operating costs will continue even during this “shut-down.” It would be greatly appreciated if you continue to remember the Lord’s work by continuing to give your offerings. You can either mail them or drop them by the church office.
In these uncertain and “unprecedented” times there is one thing you can be sure of and that is that your gracious God will see you through in glorious fashion. Soon it will be Easter once again which reminds you the victory has already been won by Jesus. His resurrection is the proof. You can, therefore, be confident that your God will never abandon you but, as always, will use all these things to strengthen you that you might indeed obtain to eternal life with Him. The apostle writes: “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).
The Lord keep you safe in His love and grace! Pastor Schreibeis
(This newsletter & calendar do include previously planned services, meetings & events although some of them are not going to happen unless the government mandates are relaxed or lifted. If so, some or all of these things may be reinstated. Small groups of 10 or less may still meet; attend at your discretion. Please check the church website or with the church office for further updates.)