A Christian’s Response to COVID-19
A sermon preached by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on March 22, 2020.
When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. – Ecclesiastes 7:14
“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider:
God has made the one as well as the other.”
Class is now in session. Are you ready to learn? Because as it says in Eccl. 1:1, the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem (who was, perhaps, Solomon) has a lesson to teach. A lesson that is as big as the sky and as authentic a child’s giggle. And the lesson is this—“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” So take your seat, the bell has rung, and the grey-haired Teacher has walked into the classroom for the first period of the day.
Period 1—Consider that God made the good times
The grey-haired Teacher grabs a piece of chalk and writes across the board, ““When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.”
He turns and starts by sharing a personal story. He says, “I thought in my heart, ‘Come, now, I will test you with pleasure to find what out what is good.’” (2:1) And he did. He started with laughter, going to the funniest shows. He tells the students about some of them and they are laughing,
Now the Teacher is telling some drinking stories. “I tried cheering myself with wine” (2:3). Not as a drunk, but as a connoisseur, fine wines paired with fine foods and fine friends. He tells the students that he also did a lot of goofing around, or as he put it, “embracing folly” (2:3), which is always fun. And if this grey-haired Teacher was, in fact, Solomon, he was also very popular with the ladies, having 1000 wives and concubines. He also really got into his work–as king he did all kinds of building projects, and he loved it.
The grey-haired Teacher is smiling, as he looks at what he wrote on the board, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” He’s remembering the good times.
And that’s the delightful thing about this book of Ecclesiastes. He doesn’t put down everything fun as wicked or bad. Doesn’t try to make us feel guilty about having a good time. And that rings true, doesn’t it. Because deep down no one can convince us that wine, women, and song are bad things. Yes, taken to an excess or going beyond the boundaries set by God is sinful and therefore are not to be done. But the beautiful fact is, God has put into our world pleasures great and small.
The Teacher is looking at the board again, but now the smile runs away from his face. Because he knows people. He knows how when times are good, people do not consider God. They tend to take blessings for granted, as if we will always have plenty of food, always have plenty of toilet paper, always be able to go to a movie, always have good health, always be able to have school and proms and graduations, always be able to have large weddings and funerals, always be able to travel.
And so the Teacher takes a deep breath and says, “When times are good, consider. Consider that God has made those good times. And consider the risk God is taking. You might end up loving the good times and the good things more than you love him, the Giver of the good things. That’s why he has to take some of those good things away sometimes. Because if you lose him, you will ultimately lose everything…including your own soul in hell.”
But hell is the last place God wants us to end up. So he both gives good things but also takes them away. And isn’t that what has happened now to ourselves, our country, our world? Consider this, so that we may repent and learn, or re-learn, to love God, his Word, his worship as the greatest good we have, the greatest good we could ever have. And in fact, the only good thing you can keep forever. For all these things will perish. But when God gives us himself in his Word and Sacraments, that is a gift that lasts forever.
The bell suddenly rings. First period class is over.
Period 2—Consider that God has made the bad times
The grey-haired Teacher turns towards the window, as he waits for students to shuffle out and a new class to shuffle in. He is lost in thought. But the ringing of the bell for second period shakes him out of his reverie. He pulls himself away from the window and looks at his class. And he does a double-take. No one has moved. “Why,” he asks, “are you still here? Why haven’t you gone to your next class?”
One of the students in the front says, “Because you haven’t finished explaining what you wrote on the board, ‘When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.’ You talked about the good times, but what about the bad times?”
“Bad times.” the Teacher says. “Yes, the bad times.” You can tell from the lines etched in his face that he has seen his share of bad times. He says, “Consider that the bad times are from God, too. Consider that he means them to be a gift, as much as the good times.” The creaking of the chairs shows that the students are reacting to that statement. He pauses slightly, then, “A gift. To change you. He means for the bad times to change you in a way that is good. You see, the bad times are as much a sign of his love as the good times.” And in fact, a 1,000 years after the Teacher dies, God will inspire the writer of Hebrews to put it this way, “Endure hardship as discipline.” “…the Lord disciplines those he loves.” (Heb. 12:7, 6)
But discipline means that there is something that needs correcting. And it almost always is the same thing. Almost always the thing that needs to correcting is our sinful pride. Because sinful pride grows a little bit each day, like the hair on your legs, like the plaque on your teeth. And it shows. It shows by how much difficulty we have in getting around to doing our daily devotion. It shows by how we strive to be a nice person instead of a Christ-like person. It shows in how we treat each other. For sinful pride makes it easy to hold a grudge or be critical, but such things are hard to do when I am remembering that without Christ I am nothing but dust and ashes. The more self-righteous we become, the more the balloon of our sinful pride grows. This, too, calls for daily repentance and forgiveness.
The Teacher is looking out the window again. Suddenly someone bursts into the room. He is such a contrast to the Teacher. His hair is dark. His skin is young, it looks like the skin of someone in his 30’s. His body is more vigorous.
And he is loud and angry. He turns sharply towards the students. He shouts, “I have given you so much, and then you make me compete for your time, your money, and attention? I have given you so much, and then you get too big for your britches? Is that how you thank me for going to hell and back to win your salvation?” He is shouting now, waving his hands. There’s something wrong with this hands.
And then one quavering voice says, “I am sorry. I am so sorry. You are right. I have no excuses,” the quavering voice says quietly. “Please, do not deal with me as my sins deserve.”
And this man who has something wrong with his hands stops. Walks towards that quavering voice. And takes the face in his hands, in his nail-scarred hands. And he says with such tenderness, “I forgive you all your sin. Here’s proof, see my hands? I got these scars because I paid for your sin by being nailed to a cross to pay for them. And then put into a cold, dark grave. But,” he says with a grin, “I didn’t stay there. I rose again on the third day, proof positive I had paid for all your sin. Proof positive that you, too, will rise and join me in heaven.” And then he adds, “And it is your baptism that connects you to my grave and my resurrection and to the forgiveness, love, and salvation they give. You do know that it was at your baptism that I called you by name, right?”
The rest of the class was looking around to see who the quavering voice belonged to. And I am wondering, myself, who the quavering voice belongs to. And I’m praying it is you, that you are that quavering voice.
So that you also will be one who, “When times are good, (will) be happy (and live a grateful-to-God life, not a take-it-for-granted life); but when times are bad, (will) consider (that this is God’s discipline and a sign of his love): For, “God has made the one as well as the other.”
There’s the bell. Class is over! For now. Amen.