March 22, 2020 – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ
Just like you, I am also upset, anxious, and scared about this ongoing global outbreak of coronavirus. Over the past week, I got lots of cancellation texts from my counselor, my dentist, my social discussion group, my cat’s vet, etc. The other day when I went to the gym, I saw a notice on the door that they had closed the gym. Out of my painful heart, I also had to decide to cancel our Sunday worship service and all other activities in our church. What’s even more concerning is that we don’t know when we are coming back to worship again in church. I hope it is just before Easter Sunday, which is only three weeks away, but some of us said that we may not be able to return until Christmas, which is ten months later. Well, I know it was a kind of joke, but it can be a reality. Everything is uncertain and that is our panic.
Along with you friends, I am also concerned about how this corona concern will affect our worship and ministry. If it continues for a long time, no doubt it will cause our membership to decline, financial income to decline, spiritual decline… “Where are you leading our church, Lord?” I had to sigh when I prayed. “Lord, I had been praying for growth of our church, but what is this, why did you let it happen, why did this bad thing happen in this time, why, why, why?” I had to grumble to God.
Keep our eyes on Jesus
When I was struggling with this kind of negative “why” question, I got an email from our District Superintendent, Rev. David Calhoun. In his message, he was trying to give us a pastoral guideline, just like I have sent you my emails and letters just try to comfort you. Let me share with you a part of his message:
“My thoughts and prayers have been with you during this challenging time… In times of pain we often ask the wrong questions, such as, Why me? Perhaps the right questions to ask are, What can I learn from this? What good can come from this? What can I accomplish in spite of it? … We need to hear the important words of hope that are essential, in times such as these… It is my prayer that each of us try to develop a mindset that refuses to give up and become discouraged. No one welcomes pain and discomfort, but with the right attitude we can bring about transformation.”
This is a very powerful and uplifting guideline, isn’t it? It reminds me that Christ’s disciples are called not to shrink in fear but to jump with courage in the crisis of our world and fight the good fight. This message switched my mindset and prompted me to ask God, “What can I do in this time of challenge?” And I hope all of us have this kind of positive question and confront this time of challenge. In doing so, we can turn this stumbling block into a stepping stone!
How can we do that? You know God is much bigger and stronger than the coronavirus. You know when we come before the Lord, God will put a shield of protection around us. Under the shade of his merciful hands, we can always find true peace, true safety, and true life. Perhaps this is the time we must show our faith, our discipleship, and our commitment more, as we seek God’s saving hands.
In today’s scripture from Matthew’s Gospel, we see the disciples were in panic as their boat was battered by the storm. When the disaster happened and they were terrified, who showed up? Jesus was walking on the water. And what did he say? “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (v. 27). But Peter looked around and saw the storm coming up to him, and he began to sink again. The key lesson in this story is, don’t look around but keep your eyes on the Lord.
Yes, we live in the time of anxiety and uncertainty. This coronavirus is a global challenge and we are really concerned about our future. Yet if we are honest, we know this coronavirus is not something new. We have been shouldering this kind of heavy burden, stress, and anxiety all the time. The best image to describe about our life-struggle is the “rat-race.” We rush about here, and we hurry over there, and then we see ourselves always tired, hurt, anxious and scared. Perhaps, this coronavirus is just an addition to our rat-race.
The bad news is that if you stay in the rat-race, even if you win, you’re still a rat, always getting stressed and anxious about your future life. The good news is that the Savior Jesus shows up when you are in trouble. But there is one condition if you want to hold his saving hands, that is, you must keep your eyes on him, not look around. If you look around, you will go back to your rat-race full of storms of life. But when you keep your eyes on Jesus Christ, you can always walk on the water.
Jesus’ eyes on us
I need to confess that I sometimes fall into the rat-race. I sometimes feel too tired to answer emails and phone messages… I am sometime anxious about everything… I sometimes feel like bleeding in my heart… I am sometimes tempted to stay alone, away from all of people.
Then I think about my Lord Jesus and I know from the Gospels that he was also very busy with his ministry, often broken-hearted, and even threatened by his enemies. How did he handle or overcome the moment of crisis? Did he give up? Did he run away? Did he close the doors? Did he stay away from all the crowds, just like we are doing now from this challenge of the coronavirus?
In the Gospel of Matthew 12:14-15, we can see Jesus was intimidated by the Pharisees; they tried to conspire against him, so they could destroy his life. It means Jesus confronted a terrible threat. When you happen to hear someone is coming to kill you and you don’t think it’s quite time to die, the first reaction you will have it to escape and hide in a secret place, right? And I believe that is what we are doing today. Like us, Jesus also decided to move away and hide somewhere just to protect his own life. But the following passage says that in his own refuge, he still welcomed people and healed their illness. Even in his own critical situation, Jesus still kept his eyes on others’ needs.
Nothing prevents Jesus from loving and caring for his people. No matter what situation he had to struggle with, he never withdrew himself from people; he never closed the door of his heart; he never ignored people’s need. The cross Jesus took up was pretty heavy and stressful, but his cross was not like ours. If ours is the cross of rat-race, the cross of anxiety and uncertainty, Jesus’s cross is for serving us and giving us salvation.
Take Jesus’ yoke
Don’t get me wrong, my friends, I don’t encourage you to open your doors and rush into people right now. We must be reasonable and practical as we follow the advice of the CDC and the medical professionals. But while staying home or wherever you are, I want you to remember this and practice this. That is, when we happen to be in trouble, our Savior Jesus comes to us and gives his hands to save us (remember this); and we should keep our eyes on Jesus (practice this), that we can have a true protection around our lives, and further, we can even give our hands to save others who are still walking around living in fear.
May the God of all graces bless you and keep you all and may you keep your faith tight in Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.