Who knew that impending doom had four wheels and a canopy?
When we signed up for the Disneyland 5K, I did not know there was a limited amount of time to finish the race. I probably should have guessed it since obviously they weren’t going to let it go on forever. But in order to ensure the race finished in a certain amount of time and they could open the park to guests, there was a pick-up cart that trailed behind all the runners. Like a snail, it kept a slow and steady pace, ever creeping forward. And if you we’re not quite fast enough, it would carry you the rest of the way to the finish line. Now, overall that sounds great! Regardless of what happened, you wouldn’t be abandoned in the middle of nowhere. But it also meant you didn’t finish. And to me it was really important to finish the race. This was my first official 5K and I wanted to make it count. I didn’t want the pick-up cart to finish the race for me. You can guess with my body type and super flat feet, it was a challenge, but I was determined to make it across that line. So even though it was difficult, I trudged on as best as I could. Ultimately running and walking with a lot more walking than running. But when I got to the end I was able to say I made it! The pick-up cart was not going to get me.
When it comes to the COVID pandemic, we need to get to the end.
We can almost see the end in sight, a day when our lives can return to something like normal. I don’t think things will ever be truly the way they were prior to last March, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’ve learned a lot. We’ve grown in our abilities and in our faith. And we’ve seen both horrific stories of people dying of loneliness that motivates us to never go there again, and stories of hope and innovation that gives us confidence we can overcome these obstacles no matter how dangerous or deadly. But we’re not there yet. And to think we are is to let up right before the goal. Speaking of “Lett”-ing up right before the goal, I can still remember Leon Lett’s failed run for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII. Lett played for the dominating Dallas Cowboys who had a “commanding 52-17 lead” in the 4th quarter. He had recovered a fumble on the 35-yard line and ran it back toward the goal. He was ALMOST there when he decided to let up and prance around in celebration, showing off to the crowd. And he was stripped of the ball, turning it back over to the Buffalo Bills. While it didn’t stop them from winning the game, it was certainly a lesson for those of us who want to celebrate before crossing the goal line. Literally.
The CDC’s recommendations for the fully vaccinated are a huge step toward the goal.
But they don’t tell the whole story. While it might be safe for MOST people who are fully vaccinated to interact like normal, what we don’t realize is only about 1/3rd of Americans meet that criteria. Less than half have received one dose. Children under the age of 12 still can’t get vaccinated, and while it’s true most of them will not get seriously ill from the virus, the long-term effects of COVID are still unknown and don’t look promising. There are about 50 million children under the age of 12 who are vulnerable. 50 million. While we can’t do much for those adults who refuse to take the vaccine despite all the evidence and encouragement in the world, we must do something for those who haven’t yet been able to or cannot get it. And at least by data provided by the CDC, that’s still over 50% of the population. Then there’s the case of the New York Yankees. Eight members of the team tested positive for COVID despite all of them being vaccinated. The team’s star shortstop, Gleyber Torres not only received the vaccine, but had also already had COVID last December and STILL got infected. Even though none of them have any severe symptoms, it begs the question, “Is now the time to let down our guard?”
We all miss aspects of a pre-pandemic life.
For some of us, we miss being in large gatherings like church or concerts or massive theme parks. For some, we miss giving hugs to our parents and grandparents, our nieces and nephews, our grandkids and even great-grandkids. For some, we miss traveling and the experiences that come with it. And after a year, we’re pretty tired of it all. But there’s something bigger at stake. The costs are higher if we falter. We’ve already seen what happens when we let up too early. Last summer we thought we had turned a corner controlling the infection rate, only to watch it explode and multiply like never before. The United States, even with all of its technological advances, its wide-spread access to the vaccine, and scientific breakthroughs still has by far the largest number of people who have died due to COVID – over 580,000 people and growing. It’s estimated we are still losing about 600 people a day due to COVID and while that’s the lowest number since last April, it’s a reminder we aren’t out of the woods just yet.
Paul’s perseverance is a lesson for us all during the pandemic.
If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your computer and would like to follow along, please got to Acts 20:17. His circumstances were certainly different, but his life was in danger every day like us. Unlike us, his perseverance meant he was putting himself MORE at risk instead of less. He wasn’t wearing a mask or staying socially distant, he had to deal with getting thrown in prison or possibly death for sharing the good news of Jesus. But Paul felt so compelled by the love of Christ, he ignored what would have been easier for him to do and did what he knew would help others. Hear now the Word of God.
17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace…”
The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.”
Paul could easily have called it a day.
By the time we get to this story in Paul’s life, he’s already gone to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus creating new believers in each place. He’s already done a stint in prison, been threatened with his life in numerous places, and started a bunch of new churches, so if Paul wanted to hang up his hat, even at that point people would have looked at his ministry as a huge success. But now he felt like God was calling him back to Jerusalem where he was sure to face more opposition by the Jewish leaders who were already plotting against him. Still he wanted to see it through. He wanted to as he put it “finish the race.”
Paul is an inspiration to us to persevere.
If he can keep going under his extraordinary circumstances, surely we can see this pandemic through to the end (or as close to “the end” as we can ever get). We can stay vigilant in wearing our masks where we are supposed to, in respecting other people’s space, and allowing people time to adjust to yet another change in our culture as we shift back toward a vaccinated life. And if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please do so. It’s free. And what it can do for you and your life far outweighs any side effects from getting the vaccine. Plus, if you consider yourself a Christian, it’s the neighborly thing to do. Christ calls on us to love our neighbor and this is certainly one way for us to live out that calling. We didn’t start wearing masks to prevent us from getting COVID. We did it for other people. We did it out of concern for our neighbor – literally – to prevent the spread of the virus. At the time, no one knew for sure if it helped us at all. But we did know it could stop the disease from spreading. Getting a vaccine is the same. Yes, it definitely protects you. But studies have shown it also helps stop the disease from spreading and that is really important. It protects our elderly. It protects those who are immunocompromised. It protects our children. The more of us that are vaccinated, the better it is for everyone.
It would be so easy to relax.
After all, the CDC says fully vaccinated people can pretty much do anything. Sure they still have to wear masks while taking public transportation or in hospitals, but short of that there’s nothing we can’t do! But as Paul wrote in another letter, just because we have the freedom to do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do it. He wrote to the church in Corinth, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Corinthians 9:19).” There are still 16 states with mask mandates including California (at least for now). There are still major retailers and national companies like Target, Starbucks, and Home Depot asking you to keep those masks on in their stores. And there’s no way to verify if the company you keep has had their vaccine. In the near future, as we continue to find ways to live with this new reality, more restrictions will be lifted, and life will seem much more like it was a little over a year ago. But until then, practice patience for those who may not be ready to abandon all precaution. Show love for one another by encouraging those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to get it done. And be in prayer for how we can finish together. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.