Loving Those You Disagree with In a Pandemic


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“Loving Those You Disagree with In a Pandemic”
May 10, 2020
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service
Pastor Nicoletti

Our sermon tonight is again a topical one.

Our topic is: “Loving those you disagree with in a pandemic.”

We will consider a number of Scriptural texts, but we will begin with First John 4:19-21.

Please listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this evening:

19 We love because he [that is, God,] first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

This is the Word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)

Let’s pray …

There are people in this congregation (this isn’t speculation, this is fact) – there are people in this congregation (heavily involved in this congregation) who, while they might disagree with some things here or there, on the whole think that Governor Inslee is doing a great job. And they are thankful for the shut-down and for the stay-at-home order and for the cautious approach that he has taken. These people right now are more worried about our state opening too quickly than they are worried about it opening too slowly, and they have been extremely frustrated by how President Trump has handled things at the federal level.

There are also people in this congregation (and this too is fact – not speculation) – there are people in this congregation (again, heavily involved in it) who have strongly disagreed with the way Governor Inslee has handled things. They have actively protested his orders, they want the shut-down ended immediately, they have urged organizations to defy the order, and they have been very supportive of President Trump’s approach to things at the federal level.

Now, as I described those two groups, if you responded to either description by thinking (or by saying to the person next to you): “How can anyone be so stupid? How can they be so blind and naïve? How can a Christian be so morally compromised as to take that perspective? I don’t know what to do with people like that! It kind of drives me nuts that there are people like that even in our congregation, because honestly, I’d rather not have anything to do with them!” – if that at all resembles your response to one of those groups … that is what we will be talking about this evening.

And if you find yourself somewhere in the middle, this will apply to you as well. Because every person I have talked to has some strong opinions about what’s going on right now. Everyone is worried about something. Everyone is mad about something. Everyone is looking with blame … at someone. Maybe for you it is not a leader, but it’s that person who came closer than six feet to you without asking, or that person who asked you to put on a mask before walking into a certain building or store.

We live in a time of cultural division, and it did not take long for us to fit this pandemic into the same mold.

Tensions are running high. And the fact is that it is not us in here against them out there. The fact is that the lines of disagreement run through our congregation.

But the Apostle John says to us that if we do not love our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we see, then we cannot love God whom we have not seen: “whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

And so tonight, I want us to begin to consider what it will look like for us to love those we disagree with in the midst of this pandemic – both how we will love one another within our congregation, and also how we will love those outside the church.

To do that I want to look at five ways we are called to love those we disagree with. I want to look at:
– How we are to love in the way we seek knowledge.
– How we are to love in how we evaluate costs and benefits going forward.
– How we are to love in how we use words with and about those we disagree with.
– How we are to love in how we act around those we disagree with.
– And finally, how we are to love in how we lament with those we disagree with.

That is what we’ll be considering this evening.

With that said, let’s dive in.

First, I want us to consider how we are to love in the way that we seek knowledge.

Proverbs 18:17 says “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

This first point might sound like it has more to do with wisdom, and it does have to do with wisdom – in fact we may come back to it in a future sermon on wisdom – but it also has to do with love.

When we think of arguments in an abstract sense, this proverb can seem to mainly be relevant for gaining abstract knowledge and truth. But when we think of it in terms of relationships, we quickly realize that it has to do with love.

Hear it again: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

Now imagine applying it to one friend, who comes to talk to you about another friend. Do you see now how it has to do with love?

We have a tendency, when someone comes to us and tells us just their side of a disagreement, to take what they say at face value without first hearing what the other person has to say – without first letting someone else question or dispute the account we have heard. And if we do that with one friend talking about a second friend, then we are failing to love that second friend. We are believing claims about them without first hearing a different perspective on what happened.

And this can be an issue even when no one is trying to deceive anyone else. Everyone’s perspective is limited. Everyone’s perceptions are shaped by a number of things. Everyone may need the gentle correction of another perspective.

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

Failing to consult other perspectives – failing to allow others to question the perspective we hear – this is not just folly in terms of determining the truth … but it is also a failure to love others.

And it is a pattern of seeking knowledge that we are very guilty of in our culture right now.

And so most of us have our preferred sources of information. And we consult them first. And they seem right to us. And then often we stop there. Or we only go on to consult others who agree with that first source. And far too often we never consult another perspective that will examine the first one that we heard and liked.

That’s a good way to remain ignorant. But it’s also a good way to be unloving. Because as you follow that habit again and again, you won’t just remain ignorant of where your preferred sources of information might be wrong, but you’ll also become dismissive of anyone who would say your preferred sources of information could be wrong. You will not be able to think it reasonable that anyone would seriously question your preferred sources of information. And you will then fail to love people.

You will fail to love those leaders in our culture – whether in government, or in the media, or in the business world, or in some other position of power – you will fail to love those leaders whom your preferred sources of information are critical of, because you will never even consider that those leaders might not be as bad as you are being told.

But in addition to that, you will fail to love the people around you who have a different perspective than you do. You will fail to love them because you will be critical of what they believe before you’ve even given it a fair hearing. And if you do engage in a conversation, you may not even truly listen to others, because you have grown accustomed to really listening to only one perspective.

Now this is true whether your preferred sources are CNN, The New York Times, and NPR, or whether your preferred sources are Fox News, National Review, and Rush Limbaugh.

The point is not that you should be listening to every source or perspective out there – of course that’s impossible and would be a waste of time. The point is that you should be listening to some solid sources from a perspective that will cross-examine your preferred sources of information – to some perspectives that are different from your own.

Listening to perspectives different from your own – allowing other sources to cross-examine your preferred sources – helps you be humble about what you believe, because it will show you that while you might still agree with the arguments you have heard and agreed with, they also might not be as airtight as you might wish they were.

Listening to perspectives different from your own – allowing others to cross-examine your preferred sources – will help you see that in many cases a well-intended, reasonable, and intelligent case can be made for a perspective that is very different from yours – even if you still think it’s wrong.

Listening to perspectives different from your own is a way of loving those you disagree with.

How we seek knowledge and how we love those who are different from us are connected.

Where do you need to consider how you will better love those you disagree with, by how you seek knowledge?

That’s the first thing to consider.

Second, I want us to consider how we are to love those we disagree with in how we evaluate costs and benefits going forward.

Here’s what I mean by that: every way forward in this pandemic from where we are right now has costs and benefits. And in every possible scenario, those costs and benefits fall unevenly on people.

In other words, we can tend to think of the costs and benefits of different approaches to the current situation in purely individualistic terms. We think of the possible economic costs versus the possible health cost for me. But in no scenario is there a simple cost and benefit result that is the same for every individual. In each possibility some groups pay higher costs and others receive greater benefits. [Alastair Roberts in Littlejohn & Roberts]

And when we only think of the costs and benefits to ourselves or to people that we know and are close to, then we have a tendency to only see – or only pay attention to – the costs and benefits that will fall on people like us. But other people face a different set of costs and benefits. And to ignore those is not a loving way to evaluate what we should do next.

In Philippians 2:3 the Apostle Paul writes: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

That means that in all things, including what we should do next, we need to consider and think about and take seriously the range of costs that will fall on different people in each situation. We need to weigh them in any position we advocate for going forward. And even if after those considerations we have the same perspective as we did before, how we hold our position, and how we view other positions, should be different.

Let me explain what I mean.

If you are a white-collar worker who can work from home or in isolation, and you favor extending the stay at home order, have you also really considered the worker who can’t work from home, who maybe depends on an hourly wage, and who is facing economic costs to the lockdown that you are not?

Or, if you’re a white-collar worker who can work from home or in isolation, and you favor an end to the stay-at-home order, have you really considered the fact that while you will still get to maintain good social distancing in your job, other people will be quickly put in close proximity to others at work once the order is lifted, and they may have serious concerns for their health?

If you own or run a business or institution or department, and you prefer that the order stay in place, and you’re not worried because your organization has the funds available to wait this out a bit further, have you really considered the fact that other leaders are concerned that their organization might go under, or that they won’t be able to keep paying their employees, or that their clients will be deprived of something important that they provide, and that those worries might be behind their desire to open sooner?

Or, if you run some sort of organization and you really want to to open up things sooner, have you considered that leaders of other organizations are genuinely burdened by the idea of having to make major decisions for their employees’ or clients’ health and safety – decisions they feel wildly unqualified for and want someone else to make for them, out of their concern for the health of others?

If you are someone who is comfortable at home with your family right now, and you’d prefer that the order be extended just to be on the safe side, have you considered the person who lives alone, and is terribly lonely, and who may be beginning to struggle with their mental health?

Or if you are someone who is healthy and wanting to get back to work, do you consider that there are others who have factors that make them more vulnerable, and once their employer opens up again, they will have to go back right away, despite the risks it presents for them, or they may lose their jobs?

After all, for all the talk of freedom in our culture, every option will take away some people’s desired freedom. Closing down takes away the freedom of some to work. And opening up takes away the freedom of others to stay away from work until the risk to their health is lower, without permanently losing their jobs. [Tavernise, et al.; Grose]

But there are people facing a countless range of circumstances. Some are anxious to get back to work because they are afraid about feeding their kids. Others are anxious about being required to go back to work because they may bring the virus home to a vulnerable family member.

Every path forward has costs and benefits, and every path forward puts more costs on some people and more benefits on others.

We could go on and on with such examples. And by listing all these different situations I’m not actually arguing for one position over another. But what I want you to see is that in some situations, benefits to you will be bought by greater costs to others. And in other situations, greater benefits to others may be purchased by greater costs to you.

It may be fitting and expected in a pagan society for each group to fight for their benefits and unthinkingly foist the price of their benefits onto someone else. But that is not how Christians should approach such issues. We need to take the costs that our benefits will put on others seriously. We need to seriously consider when the loving thing to do is to take costs onto ourselves in order to love our neighbors. And even if we do advocate for something that ends up being more to our benefit, because we also believe it is for the greater good, we should be especially humble towards, and thankful towards, those who will pay greater costs for that plan of action – rather than dismissing their concerns or pushing them aside.

We need to love those we disagree with in how we evaluate costs and benefits of how we might go forward.

Third, I want us to consider how we are to love in how we use words with and about those we disagree with.

How are we to love those we disagree with, with our words?

In the ninth commandment we read: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” [Exodus 20:16]

James adds that with our tongue “we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” [James 3:9-10]

The Westminster Larger Catechism – part of our denominational standards – summarizes the Bible’s requirements for our speech under the umbrella of the ninth commandment.

It’s a long passage, but worth hearing.

Listen to what it says, in two questions and answers:

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any; endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

That was long. I’d encourage you to sit down and look over those questions and answers from the Westminster Larger Catechism later this week – questions #144 and #145. You can find them online.

They are convicting.

The dominant patterns in our culture more and more run counter to the patterns set out here in the catechism, based on the Scriptures. And both sides of the culture are guilty of it.

David French had a really good article back in February, titled “The Church’s Real Political Correctness Problem.” It’s another thing that would be worth having a look at this week.

French argues that both the secular left, and the religious right are guilty of their own versions of political correctness. It’s not, he argues, that one is for political correctness and the other is against it – rather that have different rules and different codes, but the underlying pattern is the same. Both value how communication is done more than what is communicated – though one values delicate inoffensiveness while the other values harsh provocation. Both have a cancel culture in which they completely dismiss someone and try to take them down for a viewpoint they don’t like. Both stoke and exaggerate anger at the faults of their opponents while ignoring the faults of their allies. Both have a system for quickly labeling someone and then dismissing them so they don’t need to even hear what they have to say: on one end, once you are labeled “bigoted” or “ignorant” or “phobic” in some way, then you can be safely dismissed and ignored; on the other end, once you are labeled “woke” or “pearl-clutching” or “virtue-signaling” or a “snowflake” then you can be safely dismissed and ignored.

Like the pattern we noticed this morning in another area of life, we again have two opposing sides secretly allied against what is good and right.

Because the Westminster Divines would say that both are breaking the ninth commandment.

Now – step back from the cultural debates and think for a moment just about yourself.

And let’s consider what the catechism says.

Consider first what it says about those you agree with. Who do you find yourself agreeing with at this moment about this pandemic? Who in the political sphere? Who in the sphere of the media? Who among those you have personal relationships with?

The catechism reminds us that to love those people well whom we agree with, we need to be careful to avoid flattery, or unjust fond admiration, or thinking or speaking too highly of others.

It says that we fail to love our allies when we are unduly silent when their iniquity calls for reproof.

As the Book of Proverbs says: “A man who flatters his neighbors spreads a net for his feet” and “a flattering mouth works ruin.” [Prov. 29:5; 26:28]

When your friend speaks falsely or does wrongly and you flatter them, you are not helping them. When someone whose opinion you generally like speaks or does wrong and you defend them wrongly and speak more highly of them than you should, then again, you do wrongly.

Instead, we are called to lovingly speak truth to our allies. As Proverbs again says: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

Sometimes we need to lovingly confront our allies and those we agree with on our current situation.

But the catechism has even more to say that is relevant to how we respond to those we disagree with. What does it mean for us to love them in how we speak and how we hear?

Again, take a moment to think about who falls in this category for you. Who are the writers, and the media outlets, and the politicians, and the people you know at church, who you disagree with in how they have handled and understood and acted in light of the current crisis?

Bring them to mind right now.

How does the catechism say you are to love them with how you hear and speak – how you are to love them with your words?

It says we must be ready to receive a good report about them, and resistant to admitting an evil report about them.

It says we must refuse the unnecessary discovery of their infirmities, or the raising of false rumors about them, or the eagerness to receive an evil report about them, or the stopping up our ears against a good report about them.

It says we must avoid evil suspicion of those we disagree with.

It says that when a report comes to us that seems to be true regarding a fault in them, then our response should be to sorrow over their infirmities, and not to rejoice in their disgrace.

It says that when we speak about those we disagree with, we should freely acknowledge to others the gifts and graces that God has given them, rather than denying the gifts God has given them or grieving when they do well.

It says we should seek to have a charitable esteem of others – that we should love, desire, and rejoice in their good name, rather than aggravating and exaggerating their smaller faults.

It says that when we speak to others about someone, we should refuse to tell tales about them, to scoff, to revile, to speak rashly or harshly about them, and to be prejudiced regarding their reputation. Instead we are to strive for the truth between ourselves and others, and promote the good name of all. It says that when others engage in talebearing and slander we should speak to them and discourage them.

Now, my guess is that somewhere in the middle of that list, many of us have stopped thinking about our own failures to do this regarding those we disagree with, and we shifted to thinking of how others fail to do this when they interact with us or those we agree with. If that’s you, then stop, and turn your attention back to how you treat those you disagree with your words – both how you speak and how you listen.

Whether with public figures, or your neighbors, or your family members, or your fellow congregants:

How do you speak to them over the phone or online?

How do you speak about them to others?

How do you speak about them with your closest friends, or your own spouse in your own home?

Peter Brown records how Augustine, when he was a bishop, had a warning against gossip, in the form of a short poem, written onto the table at which he did all his hospitality. On at least one occasion when a guest began to gossip about someone who was absent, Augustine “upbraided them so sternly that he lost his temper, and said that either they should rub [those] verses off the table, or that he would get up and go to his room in the middle of the meal.” [Brown, 195]

Imagine if we were so concerned with loving others by what we spoke and by what we agreed to hear?

Again, none of this says that we shouldn’t disagree with others, or disagree strongly. Instead, it is about how we disagree.

Where does love require you to speak and listen differently to and about those you disagree with?

Fourth, I want us to consider how we are to love in how we act around those we disagree with.

When disputes arose among Christians in Rome about foods, Paul stressed that while there were right and wrong answers to those questions, whether the Christians in Rome acted in love in those areas was far more important than which camp they fell into or what they ate. He wrote: “let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. […] For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” [Romans 14:13, 15]

When a parallel issue came up in Corinth, he wrote: “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” [1 Corinthians 8:13]

Now, the situations that Paul was dealing with were different from the situations we face in many ways.

But there is an underlying principle that is shared: Love for our brothers and sisters should be more important than what we disagree on.

What does that mean for us?

It means that if you are concerned about practicing social distancing, then you will need to be patient and gentle with those who you hear are not practicing it, or whom you see not practicing it, or who suddenly invade your own six-foot buffer without your permission.

That doesn’t mean there’s no place for you to challenge them or disagree with them, but it does mean that even as you do, you do it in love.

It also means that if you personally think that the lockdown, or social distancing, or masks, are unnecessary, then when you see or hear of others who are taking those things seriously, and individuals or institutions who may ask you to practice them when interacting with them, then you will respond in a way that is more concerned with loving your neighbors and being sensitive to their conscience and their concerns than you will be with asserting your rights when around them.

Again, that doesn’t mean there’s not place for you to challenge them about the level of their concern. But it means that even as you do it you do it in love. You stand six feet away from them or you wear a mask as you explain to them why you don’t think it’s necessary to stand six feet away or wear a mask.

This is what love in our actions look like, even as we disagree.

Fifth and finally, I want us to consider how we are to love in how we lament with those we disagree with.

In our country right now there is a lot of disagreement about what is going on and what the best way forward is.

But one thing we should all agree about is that a lot of people have died. And a lot have faced other hardships.

Even if there is debate about how deaths are being counted, a look at the overall deaths per week this year, in comparison with the average deaths per week in previous years, looked at by country or by state, makes this fact undeniable. And a look at unemployment applications in the U.S. or food lines around the world shows that the economic impact is real as well.

People are dead. People are in need.

You know, it’s sort of a stereotype that some men often express any negative emotion they feel as anger.

It’s a stereotype – it’s not true in every case. And yet, we all know men who, if they feel any negative emotion, they express it as anger.

Sadness is expressed as anger. Shame is expressed as anger. Embarrassment is expressed as anger. Fear or anxiety are expressed as anger. For some men, anger is the only negative emotion they feel safe expressing. And so every other negative emotion has to be turned into anger and expressed that way. It makes them less able to express what’s going on in their hearts. It also makes them less able to come alongside and have sympathy or empathy for those who are suffering.

I was thinking this week that in some ways it seems like our culture in the U.S. has become a lot like a man who needs to turn every negative emotion into anger. Whenever something happens, we as a culture turn it into anger. Sadness is too scary for us. Fear is too scary for us. Uncertainty is too scary for us. And so we find a way to make any problem or any loss grounds for anger at someone.

And this pandemic is no exception. It didn’t take long … but everyone’s angry again.

And when we do that, we become less compassionate … and we often fail to love those we should be loving.

Yet the Apostle Paul commanded us to “Weep with those who weep.”

Peter Leithart, on this theme, writes this – it’s long, but worth hearing – he writes:
“Let’s put aside, for a moment, debates about infection rates, IFRs, modeling, dying ‘from’ v. dying ‘with,’ death counts and juicing the numbers. Let’s take a break from shouting at each other about the wisdom of continuing lockdowns. Let’s call a time-out on our ‘I told you so’s,’ our attacks and self-justifications. Stop looking for someone to blame—China, Trump, Fauci, Republicans, Democrats, the media, Big Pharma, the CDC, WHOmever.
“Let the calamity sink in. Worldwide, a quarter of a million people are dead, each one a son or daughter, friend and colleague, thousands of brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. Whether or not it’s accurate to say ‘COVID killed them,’ they’re dead, and the toll of loss and sorrow is many times greater than the death toll. Remember that thousands have died without the comfort of family, friends, or pastor at their deathbeds. These are horrors. Think of wives and children locked indoors with their abusers, the depressed for whom isolation squeezes out the last remnants of hope, the sick who deteriorate because they’re scared to go to the hospital. Think of restaurant owners who stand to lose the clean, well-lighted place they’ve been building for decades, the retail salesclerks laid off in middle age, the nurses and doctors deceased in the line of duty. Think of millions huddled in their homes, terrified to venture out. Those too are horrors. Think—feel—the sheer wreckage of the past two months. Hold that feeling, and ‘sit alone in silence’ (Lam. 3:28).
“Silence is something we can do together. If we lose the capacity for shared silence, we’ve lost our shared humanity. We chatter on because reality is too painful. It’s easier to slip into our comfortable ideological slots. Yet we can’t be silent forever. Silence we can share, but when we break the silence, can we find a common language?
[…]
“There will be a reckoning. We’ll have to assess whether and where we panicked and overacted, whether and where we were complacently under-prepared. Whatever mistakes we’ve made, we want to avoid repeating them. That reckoning will be contested, as it always is. It will be divisive, as all judgments must be. To be fruitful, the future battle over COVID-19 needs to be something more than a blame game. To approximate truth and reconciliation, it must be bounded by our shared vulnerability and shared sorrow. The church must lead the way, compelled as we are by apostolic mandate to ‘weep with those who weep.’ Maybe, just maybe, if we lament together now, we can lay the foundations for a more human world where, in Auden’s haunting words, ‘one could weep because another wept.’”

I have worried about a lot of different things over the past two months. I should be praying about those things more – and I have. But often I worry. I have some room to grow.

When it comes to our congregation, I’ve worried about how the illness might affect us: Will congregants get sick? Will congregants die?

I’ve worried about people’s financial situations as the economy takes its hits.

I’ve worried about families and marriages, with people who have had various levels of tension between them before they were all locked up together every day.

I’ve worried about the church’s finances and the school’s finances. I’ve worried about how we’ll know what to do next. I’ve worried about what mistakes we might make.

I’ve prayed about all these things too. But I’ve also worried.

This week I scheduled the first meeting of a committee of a few elders, a few deacons, and the ministers of our church, who, with the help of our administrator, will begin to work on a plan for how we might approach re-opening in the weeks and months ahead. When we’ve got our recommendations together, we’ll discuss them with the full diaconate, and then present them to the session, and then the officers will make the final decisions.

I don’t know exactly what our timeline will look like, and I’ll share our plans for reopening with you once they are set. In the meantime, I have to ask you to be patient.

But as I thought about those plans, a new worry struck me.

I worried about how we would love one another as we re-open.

Not because I think we have a congregation that is unloving – not that at all. I have seen wonderful acts of love, care, and sacrifice in our congregation.

But I worry because it is going to be difficult. No matter what happens, people will disagree. Sometimes strongly. And it will be difficult to love one another well.

Some will be frustrated we are going too slow. Others may be frustrated that we are moving too fast. Some may be frustrated by restrictions and rules we put in place to prevent the spread of disease. Others may be frustrated that we aren’t doing more, or that people aren’t following the rules strictly enough. Some will be personally offended by the caution or the lack of caution of others. And we will be called to love each other in the midst of those disagreements, and frustrations and offences.

It’s going to be difficult.

And so in the midst of all the other worries and concerns, I need to make that chief among my prayers: That we would love one another well – in thought, in heart, in word, and in deed.

Jesus said to his disciples: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Brothers and sisters, let it be so of us.

Amen.

This sermon draws on material from:

Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (A New Edition with an Epilogue). Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2000.
French, David. “The Church’s Real Political Correctness Problem.” The French Press. February 23, 2020. https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/the-churchs-real-political-correctness
Grose, Jessica. “What Rights DO Pregnant Workers Have in a Pandemic.” The New York Times. May 1, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/01/parenting/coronavirus-pregnant-workers.html
Leithart, Peter J. “Because Another Wept.” First Things. May 8, 2020. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/05/because-another-wept?fbclid=IwAR1JeFPimQUXoDU50HRtfKGYb0ZBiHuwvWNO_Hxpc7tCArfpCtZE7rmwtEc
Littlejohn, Brad & Alastair Roberts. “Christians and Coronavirus, Part #4: Tradeoffs: Lives, Livelihoods, and Freedoms.” The Davenant Institute. April 20, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa61YNJJtNY
Tavernise, Sabrina, Jack Healy, and Nicholas Bogel0Burroughs. “Your Life or Your Livelihood: Americans Wrestle with Impossible Choice.” The New York Times. May 1, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/01/us/coronavirus-reopening-workers.html
Westminster Larger Catechism. Accessible here: https://opc.org/lc.html