August 2020 Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,

As the coronavirus pandemic has stretched into its fifth month, and with it the many disruptions to our daily lives, I have come to a new realization: we are in it for the long haul. In other words, things like mask wearing, social distancing, and advisements on limiting contact with others, will be the norm and not the exception, at least for the foreseeable future (though hopefully not for too terribly long). I may be late in coming to this conclusion, but the idea has settled upon me like fog rolling in on a summer day. I know that sounds depressing, but at the same time I am beginning to see new possibilities, and even glimmers of hope. Let me explain:

The confluence of global pandemic, social unrest, economic recession, and hyper-partisanship have certainly caused a great deal of distress and anxiety. All this upheaval has exposed the shortcomings of worldly institutions and brought our attention to the plight of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed in our society. We see ever so clearly the frailty of human life. While this is certainly discouraging, I believe our heightened state of awareness has had the positive effect of bringing out new contours in God’s word and opening the Good News to us in so many new and wonderful ways. I am sure someone has come up with a fancy name for this, but let’s just call it the exile phenomenon.

In the Bible, whenever the people of God have found themselves in distress or exile their relationship with God always seemed to grow—even if that growth was of the “two steps back and one step forward” variety. Consider how God used forty years of post-exodus wandering in the wilderness to form a nation; or how the Babylonian exile turned out to be a renaissance of faith and worship for the Jews; or how the early church thrived even during a time of persecution which began with the stoning of Stephen; or how imprisonment could not stop Paul from writing so much of what we find in the New Testament today. These times of turmoil were not just bumps in the road, but major upheavals that God still managed to use for good.

On a personal level, I have noticed God’s word become especially vibrant in our weekly Bible studies. Promises of aid in time of need, hope amidst despair, salvation from the snares of death, have all been leaping out of the pages of Scripture in recent days and grabbing me by the shirt collar. Cries for justice and prophetic call to action have been sounding like a clarion. The subtle contours of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love have come into sharp relief. Who among us can read the prologue to John’s Gospel—The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.—in the same way as we did a few months ago? Or take the 23rd Psalm—the valley of the shadow of death seems more vivid, as does the presence of the Good Shepherd, and the touch of his protective rod and staff.

On the national and global levels, I see God at work bringing our attention to the continued need for justice and social reform. Recent protests against injustice and racism in the United States have sparked similar ones throughout the world. They have also brought to light racism and ethnicism in places like India and China. And as the light has been shown on such things, so have the doors of opportunity been opened for us to join with Christ in his work of reconciliation in the world.

These are hard times, but they are also fruitful times if we are open to the possibility. For as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong and God is the source of [our] life in Christ.” We will weather this storm no matter how long it lasts, for God is in it with us.

matt sig