Discipleship with Purpose
~By: Sylvia Reynolds-Blakely~
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
It’s amazing how something we cannot see has made the whole world stop and pay closer attention to those we can see.
I’m writing this on my break from making barrier masks for family and healthcare professionals. Yes, our modern society has been brought to this place that homemade masks may help keep us all a little safer. I am happy to join in the effort, although, truthfully, it’s going a LOT slower than I would have expected. (In my mind's eye, I was like a little one-woman factory cranking out dozens a day. That has not been the case.) I think I am on my fourth iteration, and I’m still not 100% satisfied with the end product. My expectations are too high, and my output suffers, because I seek what I cannot attain - the perfect mask.
So many makers around the country are engaged, as I am, in a collective effort to positively impact the lives of those who must be in direct face to face contact with the public.
This makes me think of the childhood stories of my parents during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Those were times, I was told, when fellow Americans, in distress as so many were, chose to rise to the occasion, collect their resources, and help with efforts to restore hope and rebuild the country. That generation was young when the flu pandemic of 1918 hit, but undoubtedly they heard THEIR parents recount their own stories of fear, hardship, sacrifice, and rebuilding, if not infrastructure then certainly lives. How many families lost a wage earner, a beloved child, noted scientist, or stay at home mom because of an unseen enemy now known as H1N1? According to CDC.gov, approximately 675,000 Americans out of a total population of about 103 million succumbed to that pandemic, mostly in the spring, summer, and fall of 1918. That is a tremendous number of deaths in such a short period of time!
Obviously my grandmother and grandfather made it through those dark months, or else I wouldn’t be typing this. I don’t know what their contribution to the nation was, but I know they were parents to at least two young children in the countryside of Georgia, and they must have felt some fear about their future.
In turn, the Great Depression deeply marked my parents’ childhood. Surely they watched the ones who’d survived the flu pandemic hunker down to make the best of their current financial circumstances. What I remember the most - what struck my heart deeply - were the tales my Dad recounted of neighbor helping neighbor during those very lean years. It only took a knock on someone's door, and the occupants would serve someone disheveled, fearful, and hungry by offering them some bread and butter, maybe allowing them to pick some fruit off their tree or possibly sleep under the porch until the light of day.
During my young professional years as a hospital nurse, our trial came with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and 90’s. What a shock it was to be fresh out of school and run smack dab into a quickly spreading contagious disease. I had never encountered the concept of a disease that had such a moral stigma attached to it. I personally knew doctors and nurses who absolutely refused to care for HIV positive patients out of utter fear for themselves and their families or because of a disagreement with the lifestyles of its earliest victims. It was a truly polarizing time for the nation and for health care workers as to what position to take at any given moment. That experience birthed the idea of Universal Precautions and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that was to be made available to all health care personnel likely to come into contact with the blood or bodily fluids of ANYONE. Up until then, nurses started IV’s, gave shots, cleaned up bodily fluids, etc. without the benefit of gloves. It almost seemed offensive to wear them - you didn’t want to communicate to your patient that you thought they had the disease. (Sounds ridiculous now, right?!) I remember getting stuck with a needle once, having to get an HIV test for three consecutive months, and then take drugs to hopefully prevent the virus from becoming active in my blood. Talk about fear! At that time, HIV turned into AIDS and was 100% fatal; now, it is considered a chronic condition. It turned out that my patient was HIV negative, but the process was the process.
Could you imagine any of those scenarios happening today? Even in the midst of this new assault, which has essentially equalized the whole world in some respects? Most of us cannot imagine because we are too far removed from the stories of humility and need and fear that brought neighbors together with little regard for race, creed, or social standing. But here we stand in the throws of yet another great awakening, another great equalizer (during Holy Week, no less!), and the things that occupy our hearts and minds are, I’m so bored! or, When can I get back to doing…
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ left us so many examples of servanthood with a purpose during extraordinary times of lack, inequity, and disease that we can eagerly follow as His disciples; it’s our ‘TODAY to-do list’:
Feed the Hungry. In Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, and Luke 9:10-17, Jesus took on the extraordinary task through His disciples of feeding thousands in one afternoon. When the people came hungry for the Word, they received nourishment for their bodies as an added bonus. How can you share the love of Jesus in such a way as to make people want to linger in His presence to receive their fill both spiritually and physically? Who can you partner with to provide food for the hungry?
Fight for Justice. Jesus was never one to stand for injustice. After all, He came down from heaven to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah and to take away our sins because He wanted to restore a right relationship between us and the Father (Isaiah 53:8-11). In Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus reminds us that we have an obligation to provide for the least in society, and He explicitly names who He means: the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the naked, the sick, those in prison, the lost (those who do not know or have not heard the Good News), and the widows and orphans. Because Jesus knew the Gospel has the ability to allow us to see God as He sees Him, which is the greatest justice there is (John 8:36), He has commissioned us to simply spread it. Who or what agency can you lock arms with today to join Jesus in the fight for justice, and where else can you spread the seeds of the Good News?
Heal the Sick. May God bless you if you are, right now, on the frontlines during this battle against a virus that can scar lungs, fail kidneys, and shred hearts. There are so many of you who are afraid and discouraged by the enormity of the fight, and we feel your despair. Take heart that you are right where Jesus would be. In Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus healed a man with leprosy, which, to a rabbi, would be wholly unclean and untouchable, yet He touched him. Nobody knew then that leprosy was caused by a bacteria, but they did understand that the mode of transmission was by skin to skin contact. It took Jesus to demonstrate the healing power of God’s touch, which was miraculous in more ways than the obvious one: Jesus stood in the gap and touched the diseased, and the diseased were healed. Then in verse 13, He healed the Roman centurion's servant with a word and blessed those who were not of the house of David that He knew would later come to believe also in His healing power through faith alone. In verse 14, Jesus, saw a sickly feverish woman lying on her bed and healed her whole body by touching her hand. This was Peter's mother-in-law, and she was able to immediately show her gratitude by serving Him. And in verse 16, he cast out many demons and healed all the sick who were brought to Him. Who can say how many there were that afternoon who stood before Him, clambering around Him, falling at his feet with just enough strength to touch his garments?
In His righteousness, He took on our infirmities and bore our diseases as the prophet Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 53: We lay our lives down for one another in so many different ways that, through His power, bodies are healed, spirits are lifted, and souls are mended. This is our ACT of love for our fellow man, and there is no greater love than this sacrifice (John 15:13). Inasmuch as we, fellow Americans, are worthy to be called friends of the countless doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, environmental service workers, transport team members, morticians, and first responders, we are all grateful, and we thank you for standing in the gap for us all. How can we partner with them to ease their burden?
I can imagine Jesus being our general in this moment, not leading from behind with strategists and war plans, but leading the charge and running toward the sick and infirm to heal them. And what can we do as His disciples? We go with Him as He checks in on the sick and shut in through phone calls, FaceTime, and handwritten notes and letters of encouragement. We offer to shop with Him for neighbors. We deliver protective masks, snacks, and hope with Him to health care providers. We say ‘thank-you’ with Him to the grocery store stockers and cashiers and pray for their safety. We deliver food with Him to those neighbors who have lost jobs and have no income. We cash app a relative who works in the gig economy and doesn’t know when they will be gainfully employed again. There is no need to wait until someone asks. We can all be about our brother’s and sister's business, carry a bit of their burden, keep their discomfort and disquiet like Jesus would, and help calm their storm.
It doesn’t take an act done perfectly; it only takes an act done in His name.