Susan Sparks: Stop! In the Name of Love

Here’s my question: Why is it that some people are having such a hissy fit over social distancing? And why is it that some of those people are PASTORS?

Why are they still holding church services?

Why are they still encouraging people to hug on each other?

Most importantly, why are they still allowing people to double-dip their green bean casseroles at coffee hour?

Have they not read the Bible? Social distancing is a holy commandment. In fact, it is expressed in the first words of the risen Christ. When Mary recognizes Jesus in the garden, she tries to reach for him, and he tells her to stop: “Do not hold on to me” (John 20:17).

Ah, sounds like social distancing to me.

For those naysayers who are continuing to double-dip, let me offer three pieces of biblical evidence that taken together prove my point. First, ancient Jewish purity laws designated certain things to be unclean, such as a corpse (Numbers 19:11). Second, those same laws mandated that for a high priest to enter the presence of God, he must be consecrated—cleansed for seven days (Leviticus 8:33). And third, the Bible designated Jesus as a high priest (Hebrews 4:14).

Now, let’s look back at the resurrection story. Jesus emerges from an unclean tomb. When he refuses to let Mary near, he says, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Jesusis sequestering himself -- to cleanse himself -- in order to present himself to God.

Or, to put it in Motown terms, Jesus stops—in the name of love.

Are you with me? Good, because brothers and sisters, we must do the exact same thing.

We, too, are in the midst of an unclean time, a time in which the world is ensnared in a global pandemic with a rogue virus spreading silently, many times through people with no symptoms.

We have to stay strong. In this pandemic, there are only two choices: We can continue freely out in the world with no regard for how we might be a carrier. Or we can stay home, realizing that at this time, to go out into the world is tantamount to walking into the presence of God with that virus. Don’t believe me? Read Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40: “What you do to the least of them, you do to me.”

We must stop in the name of love.

But there is something bigger than this physical virus at stake. In the midst of this deadly pandemic is a life-changing opportunity—a rare chance for a second chance.

COVID-19 is not the only virus we need to flatten. We are in a time in history when collectively, the human heart has become unclean, filled with the virus of judgment, hatred, prejudice, and fear. And like with COVID-19, the only way to flatten that virus of hatred is to distance ourselves from unclean, hateful rhetoric. We must quarantine our hearts while we think, pray, and soul-search our way into a cleansing—a consecration of our collective consciousnesses.

Award-winning author Arundhati Roy recently called this time of global suffering a “portal” and explained, “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice . . . Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Here’s my question: What will we tell our children when they ask what we did during the great pandemic of 2020?

Oh, they will remember this time. Maybe not every detail, but they will remember the big things, like that they couldn’t go to the birthday party of their friend or that their grandparents couldn’t visit. What will we tell them that we created from their pain?

Was it a return to business as usual with our violence, tribalism, and hatred?

Or did we take this time of suffering, consecrate it, and change the world?

I pray it’s the latter. For if we use this time for consecration, then, like Jesus, with clean bodies and clean hearts, we can march into the presence of God in the midst of the world as an unstoppable force of grace and love.

Brothers and sisters, this is a rare chance for a second chance.

And all we have to do to welcome it in is stop! Just stop . . . in the name of love.

[This piece was featured as a nationally syndicated column by Gannet Media and is excerpted from my Easter sermon delivered April 12, 2020 at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in NYC.]

Reposted from Susan's newsletter, Shiny Side Up! To connect with Susan, click here.



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