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Apr 26, 2020

Covid Quarantine Conundrums

Passage: Matthew 6:19-24

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Covid-19 Challenges

Keywords: vision, values, worry, fear, emotions, christ's kingdom

Summary:

Into our 5th week of Covid quarantine, we're all beginning to face some hard realities about our responses to crisis. Join us as we look at what Jesus has to tell us must be our values, our vision and our thinking during times of kingdom-shaking events like this one.

Detail:

COVID Quarantine Conundrums

Matthew 6:19-34

April 26, 2020

      If ever there was a Sunday or a sermon title that called for congregational interaction, this one does today. And, unfortunately this is one of the very few I’ve ever preached where we can’t have real back-and-forth. I’ve entitled it “Covid Quarantine Conundrums” because, well, that’s where most of us are right now. 

      We just finished week 5 of this lock-down, stay-at-home order by our Governor and are heading into another possible 4 weeks yet ahead.  As one of our brothers said to several of us this week in my 32-thousandth Zoom meeting, never in the history of the world have nations sought to quarantine the healthy during an epidemic. Up until now, it’s always been the sick who have been isolated and quarantined.  This is the largest and most costly health care experiment ever undertaken in the history of mankind. Anybody feeling like a lab rat yet?

      So naturally, there have been lots of differing opinions. Our country, which was highly polarized before this event, seems to be almost more polarized today.  Instead of just being a country that was largely politically split down the middle into two opposing groups, now we’ve become polarized into two camps of civic frustration:

  • One group is looking primarily at the past, present and potential future health damage the virus COVID-19 can wreak on human individuals.  The death toll has now surpassed 52k American and is at well over 200k in the world…if you can trust the numbers coming out of Communist China.  And there is still a risk that we could encounter successive rounds of this virus.  If the health or medical issues were the only considerations we as a society needed to look at, we might be best to quarantine for the remainder of the year or longer.

But as the health crisis diminishes, it is becoming obvious that health is not the only thing being impacted by our response to COVID-19.  Which brings us to the other half of the nation.

  • This second block seems to be looking not only at health factors but at a host of other factors impacted by both the virus and the course of action most nations and states have decided to take. Those factors include things like the impact on our economy, on the national debt, the livelihoods of millions of people…impact on mental health of people due to isolation, on freedoms and civil rights, on the dangers of increased depression, increased drug and alcohol use, of domestic violence, long-term unemployment, etc. The United Nations even jumped in this week and warned that 250 million people in the world could face starvation this year because of how the food supply is going to be interrupted by the world’s international response to the pandemic.

That’s a very simplistic 40,000-foot view of the debate raging in our nation and world today.  But what about our own hearts and minds?  What is this doing to our souls?  What has happened to your peace of mind…or level of fear to do the simplest things like go outside or go Lowe’s or reengage with others at work or church in a few weeks?  Through all of this, all of us are feeling fresh (though maybe not completely new) personal stresses and trials. 

  • Kids are home 24/7 and schooling is now up to every parent.
  • There are financial stresses and HUGE unknowns.
  • What may have been small cracks in marriages before might be turning into open crevasses.
  • You may have had to wrestle with unwelcomed changes in your personal routines, daily patterns, and normal coping mechanisms.
  • Many of us may have had to confront some mental, emotional and spiritual health challenges arising from the unwanted isolation, the lack of fellowship, too little or too much interaction with others…you name it!
  • Many a young person has had to deal with some deep disappointment at not having the last half of their senior year…or a graduation…or the trip or even wedding they wanted.

It is these kinds of personal struggles and trials that God has the most to say about in His word.  You won’t find a single line of Scripture specifically naming COVID-19 or how specifically governments should have handled this pandemic.  But God does give us a ton of truth about how to handle what is going on in our hearts and minds at a time like this.  And that is where I want us to focus today. 

      So for starters, how about grabbing a pen and paper.  I want you to reflect on a few things today by writing some things down.  So how about finding your Bible and some paper and a pen while you warm up or top off your coffee before we dive into the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6 today? 

PRAY

      Before we read today’s text, I’d like you to take a few seconds to do a little thinking about your own heart and mind.  Answer two questions about these past several weeks:

  • What have you been feeling (positive, negative, etc.)?
  • What has been frustrating you?

[Take 60 seconds to write answers down.  Start the Jeopardy music 30 seconds in; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73tGe3JE5IU]

      Okay, now let’s read our first passage, in Matthew 6:19-24. 

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

      Now let me just start with a bit of a confession:  For the past 5 weeks (with the exception of the last 4 days), I’ve been experiencing a variety of emotions from peace and calm to agitation and anger.  But the general direction of things until about 4 days ago was growing frustration and, if I’m truly honest, a increasing anger and anxiety in my life.  I won’t go into all the thinking behind those feelings.  Some of it is probably based in truth.  But clearly some of it has been based in error.  God doesn’t say that frustration, anxiety and anger are a part of the “fruit of the Spirit.”  Neither are they hallmarks of Jesus or of what the Bible presents as models of mature Christian living.  Clearly, whenever our internal compass is spinning around wildly in all sorts of unwelcome directions, something other than True North is driving the ship. 

This all came to a head for me both earlier this week and on Thursday morning as I prayed (yes, over Zoom again) with downtown pastors.  Earlier this week, I was finally able to sort out what was really eating at me.  It wasn’t that I was frustrated having to work from home most of the day with my desk next to Sandy’s.  (She’s working from home too…on Zoom, of course!)  In fact, I have really enjoyed that part of this change.  We genuinely like to be in the same space at the same time…because we genuinely like being with each other. 

No, what’s been bugging me in increasing level, I finally figured out, was the disaster I perceived we are inflicting on the younger generation—my children and grandchildren, to make it personal.  I’ve worked pretty hard in lots of arenas to try and leave them a country where freedoms abound, where opportunity and general prosperity exist for those who want to work for it, where the church is vibrant and alive in Christ and where they will not have to experience grinding poverty, oppressive governmental regimes or crushing and inflationary national debt. 

      I’m old enough to have traveled in both the old Communist Soviet Union when Leonard Brezhnev was in power and Eastern European communist countries like Czechoslovakia and East Germany before the fall of communism.  I’ve seen the Killing Fields of post-communist Cambodia and seen first-hand the fear and loss of freedoms in present-day communist China.  I grew up with parents who lived through the Great Depression.  And I’ve seen first-hand what grinding poverty looks like in places like the Philippines, Nicaragua, India and Ethiopia.  None of that is a future I want for anyone, especially my grandchildren.

      Yet I’ve watched how in a matter of days and weeks, Americans of both parties and all parts of this country have, out of fear of an uncertain future and promise of a protective government, surrendered more freedoms, took on more debt and submitted to more autocratic mandates than I ever imagined I would ever see in this country. 

      Now, many of you may laugh at or dismiss as overblown all of those concerns I just told you have been rolling around in my head. I will still love you as my family and respect your right to a completely different opinion.  I don’t share my thoughts in an attempt to try and convince you one way of the other.  I’m just telling you where my thinking was at the beginning of this week so you can also see what God did in my soul from this passage and a brief encounter with a fellow pastor this Thursday. 

      Once I identified that my emotions really were being driven by fear, I had a choice to make: would I confront those fears with truth OR would I allow them to dominate and drive my thinking and feelings?  I chose the first route—to confront what I had to admit was fear (fear for the future of those I love, not my future) with truth from God’s word. 

      So I did a brief study on what the Bible has to say about “fear.”  I found that, in the English, fear or cognates of that English word, are used some 340 times in the NIV Bible.  I read every one of them.  And you know what I noticed?

  • By FAR the most commands in Scripture about fear are to “fear the Lord” your God…by far!  I found it interesting that the highest and best purpose according to our Creator for fear is to apply it as a response to God and His holiness, not as a response to life and its uncertainties. 
  • By far the most prohibitions…the most calls not to fear…in Scripture have to do with PEOPLE and CIRCUMSTANCES beyond our control. The Bible consistently presents fear of people as a snare, as something that will get us into trouble.  And it constantly calls us away from being afraid of life’s unpredictable and uncontrollable calamities be they disease, war, pestilence or poverty. 

What struck me was how confused, how twisted my “fear factor” has become.  Why is it that we humans end up not fearing God like we should and instead spending much of our life driven by fears God says are improper?  Just like so many other human emotions of love and hatred, jealousy and joy—our emotions need as much redeeming and sanctifying as our thoughts, our values, our words and our actions. 

      Are you still with me?  It gets better.  Just hang on!

      So once I was honest enough to admit that my life was actually being dominated by the wrong fear—a lack of fear of God and an over-abundance of fear of a bunch of other things—then I could begin to ask God to grow my fear of Him and diminish my fear of all the rest. 

      Then came Thursday morning.  Five of us city pastors were on a Zoom call for an hour of fellowship and prayer.  This started about three weeks ago as we all finally felt a real need to come together and pray for each other and our city because of this pandemic. 

      We were each asked to share two things:

  • Where we were personally—emotionally, spiritually, relationally, etc.
  • What we would appreciate pray for in terms of our respective ministries.

On the first point, I shared briefly what I just told you about my emotional journey of late.  That’s when one of the younger pastors who is Slavic and pastors a new Slavic church made a comment that revealed just how far off my values and desires for my children and grandchildren are. 

      He told the rest of us that there are over 40,000 Slavic refugees living in the Spokane area.  Almost ALL of them came here as religious refugees to escape communism and the suppression of their religious convictions. Yet guess how many of them go to church now less than 30 years later?  About 5,000!  They came here to escape religious persecution and to be able to freely serve the Lord.  Yet today less than 1/8th of them even value going to church anymore. 

      And this pastor reminded me that the “American Dream” of religious freedom, of economic opportunity, of freedom to create or take virtually any job you want, has been more damaging to the souls of thousands of his fellow Slavics than was communism itself!  IF God’s kingdom is really what I am most concerned about, maybe I should be rejoicing instead of worrying that our economy may be headed into the tank…because the revealing of the powerlessness of those ‘false gods’ of our culture may be the very best thing that could happen to the future spiritual vitality and growth of the next generation.  MY problem is that I had actually traded the values of God’s Kingdom for the values of my culture and my earthly citizenship.

      And guess what happened the moment I repented of that and really, truly, honestly wanted God’s kingdom to dominate instead of my culture’s false gods?  The peace of Christ took charge of my soul.  The joy of the Lord replaced my anxiety.  And the love of Christ grew larger than the anger of my shrinking soul. 

APP: That is an illustration of what, I think, God wants to do with all of our misaligned fears, all of our misplaced anger, all of our misled anxiety.  Your issues may be different than mine.  But I can guarantee you that the solution is the same.  And it is a solution that comes right from Matthew 6. 

      This passage gives us a very simple 3-point outline of the problem and the solution:

  • A heart issue…needs the right values and treasure.
  • An eye issue…needs the right vision and vista.
  • A soul issues…needs the right feelings and concerns.

So let’s see what Jesus has to say about each of those and what His solution is for them.   

1.) We have a HEART issue:  we need a realignment of our values and treasures.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Q:  Treasures on earth”, just what are those? 

Answer:  Anything on this earth that can (and will) be destroyed by the forces of nature, the forces of people or the forces of evil. 

      Jesus isn’t just talking about material wealth that you may invest in a home or a car or a business.  He isn’t just talking about material stuff of clothes or pension plans.  He’s talking about anything that we “treasure” or “value” that can degrade over time and through human actions or acts of nature in our fallen universe. 

  • “Moths and vermin”: these could be the forces of nature that take from us the things we treasure—sickness and disease that degrades our health; natural disasters that destroy our livelihoods; they can also be political systems and any people that thrive on injustice or oppression or power and control. 
  • Those “thieves” may be people who relieve us of our wallets or steal our cars or con us out of our retirement. Or they may be policies that devalue our money or destroy our jobs or prey on our fears. 

Whether it is a certain hoped-for future for my grandchildren or even a particular present desire for a job, as long as it is anchored in this world rather than in heaven, my treasure is in the wrong place. I’ve got a treasure issue.

ILL:  Take my concern for my grandchildren’s future.  If I am reading and embracing the word of God correctly, I will actually value more whatever in life leads my grandchildren to know Christ, to fix their hopes, dreams and lives in Him and to love Him light-years more than anything or anyone else in this world than whatever nice, comfortable, pleasant things a stable, peaceable, prosperous nation that I’ve experienced for 60 years has to offer.

21 For where [my] treasure is, there [my] heart will be also.

If my treasure really is God himself, then my heart will be far more wrapped up in what will lead my grandchildren and their generation and you and even me deeper into Christ regardless of what happens to the job market or our economy or our standard of living or our civil liberties. 

[NOTE:  That is not to say that those latter things don’t matter nor that we don’t have a responsibility to steward them well.  They do matter and we do have a stewardship responsibility before God.  How we do that and the relative importance of doing that is a sermon for another day.]

            This drives to the issue of what do I really VALUE in life?  If it is “treasure” that is earth-bound, then I won’t be “storing up for myself treasures in heaven.”  I’ll be more concerned and preoccupied with the ease, material prosperity and comfort of my grandchildren than with equipping them for the best life with Christ they can possibly have. What we value we obsess over, we constantly think about and we work hard to both acquire and not lose. 

APP: So when we are finding our hearts troubled about things, we need to stop and ask, “Is what I’m troubled about a treasure of earth or a treasure in heaven…and experience I wanted here on earth OR something God wants for me perhaps both here and in heaven?”   (For example, many of us may be presently frustrated with our loss of social interaction or job or even fellowship with each other, all truly good things.  But God may know that in order for our relationships with people or our careers to be the best they can be and in proper relationship to Him, we may all need an extended period of isolation with God and possibly family to grow them into that.  Some of you experienced just that when you spent time in prison…or were forced through an illness to slow down and take treatment or engage in an “unplanned sabbatical” of rest.)

2.) The second thing Jesus says here is, “We have an eye issue: we need the right vision and vista. 

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

      Light is an amazing thing.  It literally makes life possible.  Without light, our world could exist but it would exist as a barren, bleak landscape.  Light makes possible the amazing diversity of plants and animals not to mention the array of colors we observe in everything from an amazing sunset at the Grand Canyon to the beautiful greens of the Palouse Country in spring.

      But without eyes to see, all that visual beauty remains unknown and unappreciated.  People can describe it to us but we aren’t just spontaneously awed by it. 

ILL:  Some of you may remember a particular Saturday several years ago when Spokane experienced an amazing and rather rare phenomenon called iridescent clouds. They are clouds that appear in various rainbow colors high up in the atmosphere. These clouds have tiny ice crystals that refract light in a similar way rain does for a rainbow but it cloud shapes and patterns. 

      I was working in the back yard in the garden that afternoon and happened to just look up and see this cloud. What do you suppose I did?  Put my head down and went back to staring at dirt?  Let the kids keep playing on the trampoline or with the soccer ball?  No way!  I shouted to everyone around—the family, our neighbors, even strangers passing by. 

      WHY?  Because the beauty of light had captivated my attention…and I wanted others to share in the joy and wonder of that beauty. 

APP:   This COVID-19 experience can either fill our vision with despair, fear, frustration and a hundred other negative emotions because our vision is filled with concerns about what it’s going to do to life as we know it on this earth OR it can help us see the light of the glory of God more clearly.  It all depends upon whether our eyes are able to see GOD in this or whether we’re blind to what God could be doing here and looking only at what people are doing. 

      Truth is, this experience could be one of THE most astounding spiritual seasons of our lifetime…right now!  

  • Zoom call (again) I was on this week with some prayer leaders around the WORLD…hearing about how this crisis has driven hundreds of thousands of people to pray with others in their city, their nation and literally around the world. There are prayer-calls that take place at a certain time that have linked God’s people from dozens of countries together, as many as over a million people at one time, tuned in via technology, all praying at exactly the same time but in every time zone of the world.  That has NEVER happened in the history of the church!
  • What the Changing Lives ministry has been seeing in serving on the street and sharing the Lord: 8 professions of faith in 5 weeks, 2 new ones last night.
  • What I’ve been seeing among Spokane Pastors praying.
  • The impact not being able to go together to BE Christ’s church for the first time in U.S. history this might have on the spiritual passion and appreciation of God’s people for the privilege of gathering to be the church when we get that privilege back.
  • Imagine the spiritual impact that could happen if just 10 million of America’s self-proclaimed 80 million born-again, evangelical believers (just 1 in 8, 12%) took their Corona-Cash and “stored up” that little bit of treasure in heaven through investing in needy ministries? That alone would be $12 billion given to kingdom priorities rather than spent on meaningless trinkets, lottery tickets, vacations, new clothes or whatever else you and I can dream up to spend it on?
  • Imagine what it could do for our own future missionaries people like Josh & Skyla, Eli and Machala, Jason, Alfred & Jewel, Derick & Zoe, Luke and Bruce David if half of us just here at Mosaic did that for them? That would be around $100,00-150,000 this year. 

Jesus summarized this section with these words:  24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

      Just as we can’t live in fear of things and people in this life while at the same time truly living in reverent fear of God, so we can’t serve this world’s agenda and God’s at the same time.  We can’t be devoted to the kingdoms and nations of this world while being devoted to the Kingdom of heaven.  We can’t be in love with our paycheck, our Corona-cash, our stock market portfolio, our unemployment check, our SSI, our house or apartment…anything this world considers valuable in the material sense AND truly be in love with God. 

      We know what happens if we try to hold tightly to both: we will eventually resent God for not letting us have it our way…and we will ultimately lose what we think we need to have of this world’s things to truly live. 

APP:  Frustration with either God or with life itself are both indicators that our devotion is actually divided, our values misplaced, and our vision of life clouded with darkness rather than the glory and splendor of our God who is light. 

      Jesus actually goes on in vss. 25-34 to talk very plainly about why fear and its twin cousin, worry, are not to be a regular part of the experience of people who know their God.  We don’t have time to look at these verses.  Just let me say that Jesus points to nature as proof that God will take care of us.  Whether it is the beauty and appearance of wildflowers that last but a day or two or the small amount of food birds need to survive, Jesus reminds us that God provides what is needed just as long as it is needed to every level of creation.   

      But that is not really the main focus of Jesus’ teaching here. Yes, God is generous and will take care of us just as long as he wants us to be on this earth.  But what Jesus really wants us to know is,

  • that we are extremely valuable to our God. We are more valuable than any other part of this entire amazing creation. 
  • that we are beings designed to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” not what the rest of our society and world spend their lives running after.

Q:  WHO was undoubtedly the most happy, joyful, fulfilled, full-of-life, kindest, most loving individual to ever live?  Was it not JESUS? 

And what kind of human experience did he live through?

  • He was raised in financial poverty.
  • He lived his entire life in the lowest class.
  • Never, that we know of, did he own a home, possess a donkey for transportation, or carry more than one change of clothes with him. When he was crucified, even that was stripped from Him.
  • He apparently didn’t have any money in the bank, didn’t have a profession or trade that gave him enough income to support himself or others, didn’t make enough to pay his taxes, didn’t have a steady place to sleep and wasn’t able to leave anything of material value even to his mother.

But He proved to all of us that life does not consist of the abundance of things one has.  He proved that seeking first the Father’s kingdom and righteousness is what changes the world millions…even billions of people moat at time…far more than any rich or powerful or famous person in human history ever could. 

      So, for all of you who, like me, tend to forget that worry and anger and fear and all those things we’ve been wrestling against in our souls in this COVID crisis are really just symptoms of misplaced values, of myopic spiritual vision and of divided loyalties, let’s get back to looking to Jesus.  Let’s fill our eyes with visions of the Lord we serve, the One who prayed that we would be one even as He and the Father are one.  Let’s decide not to let these minor differences of opinion or viewpoints become another wedge that the enemy uses to get us off track and out of fellowship. 

Mt. 6:33—“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” 

PRAY

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.