In these uncertain days, when fears about coronavirus are on the rise, it is wise to remember that an ever-present, pervasive spirit is always with us -- God’s grace. His creative, healing, transformative force binds together our community – and all of creation.
The Book of Discipline defines grace as “the undeserved, unmerited and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit.” John Wesley teaches us that God’s grace can be felt and understood in four ways: prevenient, convincing, justifying and sancntifying.
There are means of grace which are the ordinary channels by which God connects with us.
Weekly worship is a primary means of grace. While some say services are being canceled, it is more accurate to say that United Methodists are still worshipping, just in new ways! I am proud of the ways our churches are meeting through technology, livestreaming, and Facebook Live. I am also offering a worship service from my home on Facebook Live on Sundays at 11:00. I encourage everyone to worship with their own congregation if it is offering online services. But anyone can join me in my living room for worship.
Small groups are another means of grace. Even in this time of social distancing we can participate through video conferences and phone calls. When we connect through Zoom, Skype or FaceTime our distance is removed. A support group, Sunday school class or prayer session can carry on.
In his understanding of grace, Wesley also included individual practices as works of piety – prayer, fasting and reading the Scriptures. He even included healthy living on that list. This is an opportunity all of us have to reconsider our own individual acts of grace. How healthy are we living? Can we fast from a certain practice or food? Are there certain parts of Scripture that you can study while you are staying home?
Can we find more ways to incorporate prayer in our lives? Now is an ideal time to ask that question. Sometimes, my wife and I will be stuck in traffic and instead of growing more and more frustrated, we decide to pray. We all need to get creative and find ways to continue to experience God’s grace.
Wesley focuses on works of mercy as a means of grace, as well. That means helping those in need, giving financially and visiting the sick, in addition to broader acts, like seeking justice. We need to stress generosity during this time. There are so many people in Texas who are paid hourly or work for tips, who have lost their jobs due to this virus. Carry those individuals in your hearts. Look for ministries at church that help the poor, and donate to area food pantries. Even if you cannot volunteer during this time to protect your health, you can make a donation.
Continuing to tithe to your church is also important. A lot of these church programs do amazing work in our communities and can be forgotten in a time of crisis – even if there is an increased need for service. Don’t forget that your congregation still needs you.
We also must pray for those who are infected with this virus and their families -- and send them a message of hope. Even though we are keeping the recommended distance in person, we can still stay close over the phone and continue check on others. We can still pray together during the call – to pray for health and to pray for the disease to stop spreading. We have to continue to show faith, to remember that God is with us.
I am personally meditating on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the spirit.”
Churches need to use our platform as leaders during this time, to respond to a crisis in a biblical manner, which teaches us that we must rise above fear. We can peacefully, not fearfully, educate congregations on the best safety measures to take during this time. When the world reacts in fear in panic, we actually have a God-given mandate to be unafraid.
We need to love our communities well. We can, peacefully, not fearfully, educate congregations on the best safety measures to take during this time. We encourage you to tune in to services online. We can also provide materials for preventative measures such as extra hand-washing stations and tissues. We can encourage those who work in and attend our churches who feel ill to take rest for their bodies and not risk infecting others.
The Texas Annual Conference is stepping up to keep our congregations in the loop as new information about COVID-19 becomes available. As God’s church, we are called to not conform to the world. Instead, we must have the mind of Christ, and in so doing, discern God’s will. Even though the community may be panicking, we have a responsibility to exhibit peace and love our neighbors.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is a true test of our dedication to carrying out Christ’s commands during difficult circumstances. By depending on God, remaining committed to his word and loving others selflessly, we can drive away fear through his perfect love that he gives freely to each one of us.
Bishop Scott J. Jones