Greetings to the family of God at St. Ursula, across the Diocese and wherever this service is being heard. Under normal circumstances this would have an occasion for great celebration as you celebrate your patronal festival. With the COvid-19 pandemic ravaging the world, this is what our Sunday worship has come to, a virtual service.
In the midst of this pandemic
each week God has sent us a word of hope. This hope comes from the stories in the sacred text of God delivering enslaved people and journeying with them to a place of promise. We will recall that as they journeyed, they faced many dangers, toils, and snares. Yet, the grace of God took them safely through! All they needed God provided, be it food, water, shelter, shade from the heat of the sun, light in the darkness of night, guidance, and protection from the enemy.
As we journey through this COVID-19 pandemic, God has provided all that we need to keep us safe. God has sent messengers to tell us what to do to protect ourselves. We will recall that when the children of Israel were about to be set free from the tyranny in Egypt, God sent instructions as to what they must do to remain safe. They were not only supposed to put the blood over the doors of their homes, but also, they were supposed to stay inside, quarantine themselves. Isn’t that the same kind of instruction we are given today, stay indoors, wash our hands, wear face masks, social distance!
My friends the circumstances may be different, but the instructions are the same in order to preserve life. We have to choose whose voice we will listen to, who is telling us the truth. For those who know the Sacred Text account, it should not be so difficult for us to compare the voices of the true shepherds from the voices of the hirelings. The true shepherds’ account will call to mind the biblical account. While the hirelings’ account will contradict the Scared Text.
We have the assurance to be guided in the right way because God said, “My presence will go with you.” So, we are not travelling alone. Such knowledge should give us hope as we journey. God will keep God’s promise. Even in the misted of life storms. God is with us to guide and protect us.
From the Sacred Text for this week in the midst of this pandemic, Deuteronomy 34 tells us of new leadership being raised up to carry on the work of ministry. This calls to mind the clause, the with the spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
God knows all about our struggles at this time and will stop at nothing to raise up new leaderships during this most challenging time to help us fulfill the mission to which we were called as a community of faith and the ministry for which we were given individual gifts. When Jesus exercised his ministry, he called us to love one another.
When questioned about the commandments He informed them that they must love God and their neighbor. Through His ministry the love of God was being experienced in the lives of the people. Lives were being changed through the power of the Holy Spirit. People were going around calling on the name of Jesus as the one who showed them the love of the Father. This love was best demonstrated as they cared for the needs of the community.
The love of God is made perfect in us by the way we love our neighbor. 1 John 4:20 asks us, if we despise God’s other children how can we say, we love God? Remember we must love our neighbor as we love God. We must love our neighbor in God who so loved us that He gave His son. This kind of love rescues us from serving for selfish reasons. Our love for each other stands against the background of what God has done for us in Christ. To Love God with all our heart is a commitment required in love of our neighbor. One law is like the other, they cannot be separated. Because we share in the immortal love, which is forever full, forever flowing free, forever shared, forever whole. This should give us an image of the depth and weight and breath and height of God’s love for us.
Then to love the Lord with all our heart and mind and soul and strength means that we are to love God with all our powers. We are made to love and serve the Lord. We are made to love with the whole self. One of the things noticeable about the early church was their love of God which was manifested in their love for one another. This brought many converts to the faith as people saw how they endured during difficult times, and in spite of the situation looked out for each other, they shared their material possessions so that there would be no want in the community.
Let us always remember that we have to Love the Lord with our entire being. When we draw near to God, God draws near to us and writes His law of love on our hearts that it may never depart from us. The word becomes a lantern to our feet and a light to our path. And in that light, we can show the love of God to each other.
— The Right Rev. Edward Ambrose Gumbs is the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of the Virgin Islands.