March 24, 2020

Occidental Community Church family,
"Pastor, a church is not considered an essential service, so you will need to discontinue all your group meetings until April 7."  These are the words I heard coming from the representative of our local sheriff's office last Tuesday, March 17, when I had called for clarification on the new order to shut down all non-essential services in Sonoma County.  I had expected to hear as much, but before posting signs on the doors of our church building informing the public that there would be no Sunday services until Easter Sunday, April 12, I wanted to make sure.

Of course, as one who has spent his entire adult life in church ministry and work of one kind or another, this new order has certainly required me to make some significant changes in my daily routine.  From the perspective of ministry, my work week is no longer organized around making preparations for a worship service each Sunday, at least not for a while.  From a personal perspective, concerning the everyday activities of eating, sleeping, driving, and doing things with Sue, it calls for some major adjustments to be sure.

For one thing, I'm trying to figure out how the terms "essential" and "non-essential"  are to be properly understood.  Exactly what are the specific essential services that will remain open?  What is defined as an essential job and what is not?  What about essential shopping?  What does this include or exclude?  What kind of driving will I be expected to refrain from because it is considered non-essential?  Is the call for at least 6 feet of social-distancing an absolute rule, or are there times which allow for essential human contact?  Yes, I am permitted to shop for groceries, but are there certain food items considered to be non-essential that I should not be purchasing? 

I'm working through these questions, as I suppose the rest of you are as well.   And each of us has a slightly different perspective as to which things should fall into each category in our lives.  But in this time of national emergency we are being asked to live for a time under a state-defined definition of these terms.  As Christians, how can we look beyond the natural world and see God's sovereign hand working in our lives during these trying times?

Do you remember the time Jesus was visiting in the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany?  These sisters had opened their home to Him.  While Martha was distracted in all the preparations that were to be made, her sister Mary sat at Jesus' feet, listening to what He was saying.  Luke records the rest of the story in Luke 10:40-42:  50. Martha came to Him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!"  41."Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things.  42. but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."  Jesus here was making His own statement on the "essential" and "non-essential" matters of life.  Do we have ears that hear?

While we go through this time of the reordering of our daily lifestyle priorities to keep us all physically safe and virus-free, let us not neglect to reflect on the one top priority to which Jesus has called all of us . . .LISTENING TO AND SPIRITUALLY BONDING WITH HIM!  Following Mary's example, we too can choose to use this time of forced isolation to "sit at the feet of Jesus."  Do not let the worries, anxieties, and concerns over this societal shutdown keep you from spending time alone with your Lord.  Spend time in His Word, the Bible.  Spend time in prayer and meditation.  Spend time reordering your Christian walk when you see places where God's Holy Spirit is convicting you to make some changes.  And spend much time simply rejoicing in the assurance given to Mary, "She has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her."

A final prayer:  "O Lord, although I did not choose this state-imposed period of restriction and isolation for the sake of my physical being, I can choose how I respond within my spirit.  I can choose Martha . . . bothered, worried, and upset.  Or I can choose Mary . . . sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening.  TODAY, I CHOOSE MARY!"

Trusting in Him
Pastor Rick

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