Sermon for March 15, 2020 for Gethsemane Lutheran Church

Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil. Please know that you are in my prayers and I’m looking forward to speaking to each of you this week.

Early this week we received news from the memory care unit where my grandfather is being cared for that his facility is closed to visitors, family, and all non-essential personnel. This was done after our President and Governor both declared a state of emergency. You likely haven’t heard, but my grandfather is very ill with the progression of his dementia and recently from a stay in ICU because of dehydration. Talking with my mom, we were struggling with the idea of visiting grandpa knowing that, not only was COVID-19 in Ohio, but also that the elderly with health complications were the most vulnerable to this virus. Not only does that vulnerable population include my grandfather, but my mother. By going to the facility we would be taking a large risk of passing that virus to either of them. So we decided that knowing my grandfather is being well-cared for both by nurses and chaplains, visiting wasn’t worth doing for both their sakes. 

This seems to be one of the greatest challenges of this new virus–how to care for the most vulnerable to it. The concern is the rapid spread of the COVID-19 and how that spread can overwhelm the local health care system. It also seems that, as with the flu, those who are elderly and have serious underlying medical conditions are most vulnerable. According to the CDC, while the flu usually causes secondary bacterial infections, deaths from COVID-19 are caused by acute respiratory distress which could lead to more invasive procedures. It seems that this new virus is overall more contagious than the flu and is more lethal, especially to the elderly. However, the good news we’ve seen according to the CDC is that for those under 18, it appears they don’t become very ill with this new virus. For all of our families with young children that can ease our minds a bit, at least about that. 

The leadership for our church family has struggled with the question of not meeting for worship since it became obvious the virus would become a concern for our area. We took a lot of time weighing the pros and cons and different viewpoints about this. As your pastor, the decision not to meet publicly for a few weeks ultimately came down to caring for our neighbor. When we as a church family have the means available to us to reduce the spread of a deadly virus that will seriously impact the health and lives of those most vulnerable to it, we have a God-given obligation to do so. 

As I often do, I went to the pastoral guidance of Pastor Martin Luther, the founder of our Lutheran tradition of faith, for pastoral care in times of crisis. Pastor Luther wrote these words in the early 1500’s when the bubonic plague was in the Town of Wittenberg where he was serving: 

Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. 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.”

Martin Luther, 1527 – Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague

When I read these words from Luther during a time of plague far worse than what we are experiencing right now, it encourages me of the wisdom of our Christian faith.

As Christians, we walk a middle road. First a road of full acknowledgement and trust in our Heavenly Father, even to the point of death, knowing that this life is not all that we live for. But also a road of living responsibly in this life and not assuming upon God to protect us when we do things that are negligent or harmful to ourselves and others. Walking that middle road is both about trusting our Heavenly Father and responsibly for our brothers and sisters in Christ, for our neighbors, and for our communities and avoiding situations where we may cause harm or death to others. How we respond to this crisis boils down to the two Great Commandments: Love God and Love your Neighbor (Luke 10:27). In this, loving our neighbor means that when it is possible for us to prevent harm we should act in accordance with good sense. 

What I also appreciated about what Luther’s wisdom is when he said, “if God wishes to take me, he will surely find me, and so I am not responsible for my own death or the death of others”. In speaking to families this weekend, I learned that one of our members has a loved one in the hospital right now in critical care due to influenza, not COVID-19. Time in this life is short and the fever of life soon ends. However that ending comes, we are to walk down that middle road, knowing full well how short this life is and welcome our peace with the Lord in Heaven and the new life in the New Heaven and New Earth, when God makes all things new. But we also live the earthly life we have been given each day a gift from our Heavenly Father. We live our lives now faithfully, joyfully, and in loving worship to our God and in loving service to our neighbor. Pastor Paul says it nicely in Romans 14:8 “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” 

So, as Christians, what do we do now?

We walk the middle road.

We spend time with our families and loved ones in prayer and scripture reading. We talk often about our hope in Jesus and look to that hope during every fear and uncertainty. We also use our God-given reason and senses to live prudently and wisely, not exposing ourselves or our loved ones, and especially the most vulnerable to unnecessary risk. We patiently wait for this to end, because it will end, and we continue to look for opportunities to serve those affected economically, emotionally, and spiritually by this crisis. 

As of right now we have suspended all of our public gatherings as a church family through the 22nd including our midweek services. When it gets closer to the 22nd we will reevaluate and make a decision from there on when to start publicly meeting again. I will be sending out pastoral messages on our one call now system, as well as recorded meditations on my Facebook page, philip mcclelland, and on my blog, Our Christian Education Director Tracy will also be sharing some great video resources for use with our families with children and youth so they can continue to grow in their Christian faith. I will also be personally calling all of our church family this week to offer pastoral care and prayer and if there is any need, please do not hesitate to reach out to me anytime. 

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​I am a recovering burned out workaholic​ who forgot I couldn't change the world. From the ashes of that not only have I found a peace from God that I never knew but a focus on what matters, God, family and loving my neighbor as God has loved me. My burning out experiences really drive my writing and how much I want to share all of the good God has worked through the hurt I've experienced. Currently I serve a great little parish in Northern Ohio with my wonderful family and our furry farm of five dogs, four cats and the oddball handful of fish. You can find me at

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