What does it profit us to gain the whole world and loose our own lives? Matthew 16:26
For the past two weeks we have heard a word of encouragement and hope from the word of God as we face the present pandemic in our diocese, the nation, and the world. We have heard of God sending someone ahead of us to preserve life, then we were admonished not to be conformed to this world, but have our lives transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is God’s will for our present time. This week we are asked the question, what will it profit us if we gain the whole world but forfeit our lives? God is saying something to us through this series of messages. There are some messages that may not be getting through to us because we believe that we are being told the same old story. Why? because we seem to forget soon after hearing it.
While there are mixed messages coming from certain corners of our society, thereby encouraging some disobedient folks not to adhere to the necessary guidelines provided to protect us, there are those who do believe that COVID-19 does exist. There are those who want to heed the warnings to protect our health, and there are those who are denying the existence of what most scientists have labeled as a global pandemic. Some are not taking the necessary precautions and are completely ignoring the ancient texts account of plagues and pestilences affecting the human population. Consequently, they are missing what God did to deliver those who cried out from the depths of their circumstances.
Christians are called at this time to be the voice of God in the community. The Prophet Jeremiah in Chapter 15:19 tells us, “If you utter what is precious, and not worthless, you shall serve as my mouth.” As people wonder what we are going through at this time, and why we are having this experience, the Christian community must be the witness for the Lord, calling on its members and the community to trust and obey. Scripture promised that when we speak the truth, others will turn from their evil ways and seek the lord. The church will become like a fortified city because God will provide all that the church needs to accomplish its mission. In the midst of scarcity, God will provide enough for all of us with more left over to share with others.
This is the time when the Church must sow seeds in preparation for the harvest God has in store for those who persevere to the end. There is a story in Genesis 26, of Isaac living in a place that experienced a famine. In that place God told Isaac to remain there because God will take care of him. The command was, “Stay in this land, where I tell you to stay. Live here, and I, the lord, will be with you and bless you. Isaac sowed crops in that land and that year he harvested a hundred times as much as he had sown, because the lord blessed him.
Our present times are filled with many restrictions, restrictions in travel, restrictions in the workplace, restrictions in family gatherings, and even restrictions in the way we must fellowship. Some of us may feel like we have lost our liberty. Each day the circumstances become more challenging, And, in the midst of this dilemma, God is telling us to stay where we are, at this time. So, be patient in suffering. Persevere in prayer. Rejoice in hope. Rejoice in the hope that one day when this time is behind us, we will reap the harvest for which we had labored.
While times are hard now, they will not always remain that way. During this time, we have the opportunity to pray without ceasing, to listen to God for guidance for the present time and for the future that God has prepared for us. As we pray and believe, and put our faith into action, God’s invisible hand will bless the labors of our hands. It was by faith that Isaac obeyed God and planted crops. In his natural state he could have argued with God that the time was not right to plant. After all, no one plants when there is no rain to water the earth. Yet Isaac trusted and obeyed and today his story is a lesson for us of what God can do when we follow the instructions given to us. You see, Isaac could have worried about what others would say, but his mind was set on divine things. He had the faith story of his father leaving all that was familiar and being guided to an unfamiliar place where God wanted him to start a new life. When the circumstances were out of Isaac’s control, he trusted in God to deliver him from the present pestilence.
In the meantime, while we await our deliverance, let us consider the question Jesus asks his hearers in Matthew 16:26, “what does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our own souls? In essence, what does it worth us to exercise our freedoms to do as we choose, and then contract a devastating disease? Or to disobey the guidelines provided for our protection and that of others, then to infect everyone with whom we come in contact? Just imagine how busy we were prior to this pandemic! Day after day we were busy hardly giving our minds and bodies any rest. Well, we are given this time for reflection and meditation, as though God is saying to us, “Be still, now, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”
During this stormy period, of both a pandemic and the hurricane season, the God of hosts is with us, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is our refuge. Our Lord continually reminds us with these words, “Remember what I did for them, I can do for you. What I promised them and their descendants, I have promised you. Know that I am God.” If that be the case, then let us join with the psalmist David and rejoice as he said, “Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name, tell of the things God has done among the people, Sing to God, sing praises to God’s name and speak of all His marvelous works.”
May we all find comfort in God’s word and in the hope that others expressed by their experiences of “God’s providential care especially during the storms of life. As we face the challenges of this present time, may we be always mindful that we are not facing them alone. Jesus not only asks us what we can give in exchange for our lives, but he also speaks words of comfort. John 14:27 Jesus tells us, Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. Do not be worried and upset, do not be afraid. Brothers and Sisters, all manner of things will be well with our souls once we place our hope in the Hands of the Almighty and do what is necessary to stay safe. We will find that often when earth has no balm for our healing, under the wings of the almighty we can find comfort.
May we all find our song of assurance and hope as we journey in faith and safely abide under His wings.
— Bishop Edward Ambrose Gumbs is the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of the Virgin Islands.