Christ Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

Concerning Covid-19

I always love looking at the pictures of all the confirmation classes in our Fellowship Hall.  Every time I walk through that room, I will always stop and stare at a few of them.  I love coming across many of your names that appear through the years.  For some of you, these pictures provide me with some good dirt with those hairstyles you were sporting back then! Ha!

But being a person who loves to reminisce, I will also look at the years that I know great events in world history were taking place.  During the years of 1941-1945, I glance at the faces in those pictures and wonder what is going on inside their minds as they gathered for church that day.  Thoughts of loved ones in harm’s way over seas fighting in the War?  Fears of further attacks like Pearl Harbor?  Hope for a better tomorrow?

What about the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis?  The fears of an all-out nuclear war?  the year the Berlin Wall came down?  The year of 9/11?  I check off the events as I go through the pictures.

Of course, I get to the end of the line of pictures.  I am just now beginning to appear on these pictures as well and back in 2018, I remember thinking to myself: “what major events will we go through together here?”  What horrors will we witness?  What will someone be thinking when they come to the picture of year 20XX?  

One such year will be 2020.  And here are my thoughts for the moment.  In our pride, we thought that plagues and pandemics were from a bygone era before people had soap and hygiene and smarts, and not for our ‘sophisticated’ society.  But God is merciful to knock down such human arrogance and pride.  It allows us to be humbled and turn to God in repentance.  All suffering is an opportunity to repent, whether it is our own suffering or the suffering of another (Luke 13). We remember on this side of things that death has only one Lord. Thankfully that Lord is the one we call Jesus Christ, who is your Lord too.

With this in mind, on November 10th, 2020.  Governor Evers signed an executive order ‘advising’ the stay at home of all Wisconsin Residents due to rising cases and deaths of Covid-19.  When I read this order, my mind flashed to March 17th earlier this year when life as we knew it shut down.

Back then, in the rush of the moment, out of fear of what faced us, resulted in a quick decision to shut down.  In an age where the Church is disconnected from her history and her theology and life is treated in piecemeal, it was perhaps all we thought we could do.

As we did, I was panged and my conscious burdened.  I know the history of the Church well because it is my history, our history.  In times of plague, the result was more services of Christians gathering together to implore of God’s mercy.  (Even today, an Eastern European country begged Christians to still gather, using smart precautions of course, in order to implore on God to save in the midst of Covid-19).  In Soviet Russia, small groups of Christians still gathered even as soldiers would come in and drag pastors and lay members away alike, never to be seen again.

Can we do any less?  Of course to gather carries the burden to know why Christians gather: that Christ is actually in our midst, that He actually accomplishes your salvation when we do gather, and this is something that happens nowhere, I repeat, nowhere else.

To shut down, even temporarily, betrays a forgetfulness of who we are as Christians, even if it costs us our lives.  The day is coming soon.  Should we want the Lord to find us shut down if he comes during a shut down?  I shudder at that thought.

There is, after all, much worse that can happen to us besides death.  To fear losing life and to guard it at all costs, to love our life to do anything to save it, to trust in the fact that we are alive, betrays that life has become our god and not a gift that God gives to us.  All idolatry stems from what we think we have to work out for ourselves and not just receive from the hand of God, which can be given and removed whenever the good Lord designs.

Covid-19 is a real and serious threat.  I do not want to downplay the seriousness. You could get very sick and even die from it.  I expect and accept the fact that I will most likely get it at some point.  But as a Pastor, I forfeited my life the moment I took my vows before you when I was ordained and installed.  I promised to give you God’s Word, supply you the Sacraments, and visit and teach, not just when conditions were good enough to do it, though I pray God grants good conditions!

It is at this time that what is accomplished when we gather is needed the most.  We will continue to offer services Wednesday at 9:00am, Thursday at 6:30pm, and Sunday at 9:00am.
Coming together to worship and hear God’s Word is a risk.  A risk you must calculate.  One that Christians have taken for ages because we know whose we are and what kingdom we belong to.  The world will not and cannot understand or accept this.

I do not promise you safety, I can never promise you that.  Whether it is Covid, a shooter, or one day the government coming and dragging us away.  God himself is not safe.  But He is Good.  I once heard a pastor say this in regard to what he would say if a shooter came into his church, “this man has come to take our lives, but he is too late.  Christ already has claimed them.”  Christ has already claimed you.  And one day, he will take your corpse and raise it to life.  What I do promise you is Christ himself, because that is what He promises to give.

I am also not saying we throw caution to the wind.  We will employ proper precautions.  Wear your masks.  Keep the proper distance.  Show that level of respect for one another because in your neighbor you will find Christ for whom He has died for.

I understand that many of you cannot come to services.  Out of love for people you serve in other professions or family members who depend on you.   I do not look down on you for that.  Please continue to honor that.  If I hear any say such comments mocking you for those, I will check them.  For you, we will always continue to offer the FM during Sunday at 9:00am in the parking lot (though winter is coming!) as well as watching the services that we continue to post to YouTube and link to our Facebook page.

I only ask you to not shrivel your faith by not neglecting the Sacrament.  Don’t starve yourself!  Note though that it is improper to celebrate it by yourself or use materials other than bread and wine.  Communing via online is not how the Lord instituted the Sacrament to be celebrated.  The Lord’s Supper is not between you and Jesus, it is between Jesus and His Church.  We take that medicine as He has prescribed.  If we do not take His medicine of immortality properly, our unbelief turns it into the poison of our doom.  If you desire Communion, I will jump through any hoop you tell me to in order to get that to you.

When it comes to in person worship, I will never turn away someone who comes to service because they want to hear the Word of God and be fed by him, to do so would be theological suicide that goes against every form of the Gospel.  I will also always be here to hear your thoughts and concerns.  But I will never respond to threats that call us to act a certain way or else you will do ‘x’.  That is improper and calls for repentance. God’s people and Church will not be held hostage.  Christ already paid the ransom.

Our church is open during the normal office hours: 8am-1pm.  Usually there is someone longer than that, but that is what we can guarantee unless an emergency calls for it. If you would like to come and pray with me or use the sanctuary to pray, I welcome that.  Isn’t that what the Lord’s house is for?  

The only thing that will shut us down is if this takes me down and I need to quarantine.  And even then, if there is an ability for a group of you to gather, grab some hymnals, read the Word of God, and sing a bit, read the Catechism, then do it.  You are Christians and God has gifted each of you His Holy Spirit.

It is late at night as I write this (almost 1:30am), but my mind and body wouldn’t let me sleep until I had gotten this out on paper.  May God be with us and with His Church, you whom he has sealed for the day of redemption with the blood of Christ.  May he guard us in these last days, may our love not grow cold for one another.  That is my prayer for you.  It is a joy to be here with you as your pastor during these days, there is not another time period on our Confirmation wall that I would rather be in then this year of our Lord 2020.

In the Love of Christ our Lord,
Pastor Andrew Belt
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