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The following is the transcript of Pastor Scott Peterson’s Temple Talk on March 8, 2020, on the Covid-19/Coronavirus and its impacts on worship at Messiah Lutheran Church.                                                                   

In 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Castle Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany.  10 years later, in 1527 the Bubonic plague returned to Wittenberg, Germany.  200 years earlier the plague had swept across Europe killing almost 40% of the population.  If there is anything good to say about Coronavirus, it is that no medical expert is saying this is going to be as devastating as the bubonic plague.

In 1527, understandably, people were anxious and wondered what a safe and faithful response might be to the plague.  To address this, Martin Luther wrote the pamphlet, “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague.” In it, Luther emphasized the duty to care for the neighbor, the responsibility of government to protect and provide services to its citizens, a caution about recklessness, and the importance of science, medicine, and common sense.

To provide care for the neighbor, Luther recommended that pastors, those in public office, doctors, and public servants should remain in the city. Luther himself remained in Wittenberg to care for his people. He recommended that public hospitals be built to accommodate those with the plague.  He condemned those who took unnecessary risks that put themselves and others in danger of being contagious.

Luther also encouraged the use of reason and medicine, writing, “God has created medicines and has provided us with intelligence to guard and take care of the body. … Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate your house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence”.

With the coronavirus, people have the same concerns as those in Luther’s day. Many people are anxious. Luther’s counsel, based on the Bible, is still sound.  Let’s respect the disease.  Let’s not take unnecessary risks.  We are still called to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of our neighbor. Make use of medical directions.  And care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.

HERE ARE SOME COMMONSENSE THINGS WE CAN DO AS DISCIPLES.  Wash your hands.  Stay home when you are sick.  Wear a mask in public if you have symptoms.  See a medical provider when needed.  That is just common sense.  This coronavirus outbreak reminds us the life is fragile.  And, how deeply connected we our with our sisters and brothers around this world that God so loves (JN 3:16).

Here are 2 changes we are going to make at Messiah Lutheran beginning today (March 8th)

FIRST:  The SHARING OF THE PEACE:  The New Testament says disciples share the Peace of the Lord by KISSING EACH OTHER.  We are not going to start that.  Rather let’s learn something from our Korean sisters and brothers who worship here each Sunday at 2p.m.  They greet me and each other with a small bow.  Why?  This ancient practice of bowing towards another is a sign of peace.  What it communicates is that we are acknowledging the presence of God in each other.  Isn’t that fitting?  A bow that says, “God is present in you.  The Lord created you in God’s image.  I care for you.  I respect you.”

Many of us already have been doing this.  When an altar guild or choir member or I bow in front of the altar, that is recognizing that this is a holy place.  Here we offer up prayers to our Lord and here our Lord comes down to us in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  Our bows are acknowledging that.

So, when Sharing the Peace rather than shake hands, let’s speak our words of the peace of the Lord to each other (as usual) and with a small bow to non-verbally communicate to each other, “God is present in you for me.  I am grateful to be with you.” 

If you choose not to do this, that is OK.  It is also OK to just sit down when the Sharing of the Peace is happening.  (Now, a Commonsense thing:  If you live with the person you are sharing the peace with, shake hands–or kiss them if you want.  If not a house mate: Words and a bow.)

SECOND:  During worship, while the offering is being received every service I am going into the sacristy to wash my hands.  If it is a Communion service this is before preparing the bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper and distributing it.  If it is a non-Communion service I will be washing before greeting people immediately following worship.  At that back center door, if you don’t reach out to shake my hand, I won’t reach out to shake your hand.  We can still greet each without a handshake.  But, if you do reach out I will gladly shake your hand.  On the other hand, you can use either of the side exits to avoid contact if that is more comfortable for you.

FINAL WORD on this for TODAY:  WHAT HAPPENS HERE WHEN WE GATHER TO HEAR GOD’S WORD FOR US AND RECEIVE THE GIFTS GOD GRACIOUSLY GIVES US THROUGH GOD’S WORD IS VERY IMPORTANT. Unless we are sick, let’s not stay away.  Let’s not miss out on what God delivers here when we gather in worship.  There is no substitute for this time together in our Lord’s presence.  As the Lord’s church, we want to be a great source of help and comfort to each other as we go through this together.

Talk to me.  Talk with each other.  If there are other ways we can make changes that benefit the life and mission of MLC, let’s discuss them.  I want to be your Pastor.  I especially want you to keep growing in your relationship with our LIVING LORD.

In Luther’s pamphlet he also reminded his people and reminds us that we should trust God’s faithfulness and promises, particularly the promise eternal life.  St. Paul wrote in Romans 14: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). 

The Lord’s Peace be with you.