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Rev. Dr. George Hancock-Stefan

I have a crazy TV habit. At 11:00 each night, I flip from channel to channel. Thus, no one in the family wants to watch TV with me! It is just me, Brian Williams, Don Lemon, Shannon Bream, Lisa Kennedy, and the Shark Tank. In listening to these commentators, one can conclude that there is no health or safety anywhere in this world. If we go out or gather together in any form, we shall increase our potential for death. By the end of the news, we are being sent to rest for the night under this panoply of fear. This new COVID-19 environment has made me evaluate my reactions to the news and my own fear of death.

Some of my favorite verses in the Epistle of Hebrews are in chapter 2: “Since the children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

This fear of death is prevalent in the Old Testament. The Psalmist asked God to prolong his life because if he descends in Sheol, he could no longer praise God. In reading Roman literature, we find out that they also had this fear of death. Very few Romans approached death stoically and the majority were afraid that there was nothing after death. The well-known verses from 1 Thessalonians 4 explain why the followers of Christ were no longer afraid of death. Paul wrote about the certainty of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and then about death and resurrection for the believers. Because of this certain connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of his followers, he concluded: “And so, we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)

I thought about the call that Jesus gave to the Twelve Apostles: “Whoever wants to follow me, let him take his cross and follow me.” We know that the Twelve Apostles, with the exception of Apostle John, all suffered a martyrs’ death. Apostle Peter wrote about the fact that the Lord told him that his death was near, and Apostle Paul said that for him, dying is gain, not loss or fear. My conclusion is that Jesus Christ freed the apostles from their fear of death because they could say with certainty, “Whether we live or die, we belong to Jesus.”

Now that I am in my seventies, everyone seems to be protecting me. Since I am the oldest in my immediate family, I receive extra protection from them and for that I am very appreciative. The statistics do show that a high percentage of those who die from COVID are in their post-seventies, but that is to be expected. We are in that category not only because of COVID-19, but because of so many other diseases that make our bodies feel tired. In my prayer with God, I ask that he will protect my life and if He wills, bless me with many more years to come.

Nevertheless, I have to make sure that the fear of death has not enslaved me. One has to love the King James Version of the Bible where we find this verse, “Fret not!” Is my life ruled by this fretting about things or an optimism for life? There are so many verses about worrying in the Bible, but the commandment is always not to worry. Jesus says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life (or a cubit to his height)?” My life is in the hands of the Lord and worrying cannot prolong or shorten it. The other word related to worrying is the word concern. While I do not want to fret or be worried, concern compels me to be wise in the decisions that I am making. Apostle Paul was concerned about the churches he started. Yet even in his concern for all the churches, he came to the realization that he must entrust them to the hands of the Lord to take care of them.

Our politicians and virologists are telling us to cancel Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. The Governor of New Jersey tells us that his mantra is DDD – dates driven by (scientific) data. In many aspects, he and other officials seek to make decisions by data. However, there have been events where the perceived importance of public gatherings contradicted the data. The mayor of Chicago, who has been in the avant-garde when it comes to imposing curfews and restrictions, participated in the Biden celebration in Chicago and stated that there are some things that supersede restrictions. Sometimes reading what our governmental officials tell us to do reminds me of what Christ said about Pharisees – do what they tell you, not what they do. Consistency and integrity are important for leaders and for those whom they lead.

As Martin Luther King Jr. became more involved in the fight for civil rights, many people told him to take a step back for his own safety. But he persisted, and was attacked in 1958 by a woman who stabbed him with a letter opener. He was told that if the stab wound had been closer to his heart, he would have died of internal bleeding. On the night before his assassination, he gave the speech that is known today as I’ve Been to the Mountaintop. It is in this speech that he spoke these words: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “So, pay attention to how you live. Don’t live like ignorant men, but like wise men. Make use of every opportunity you get because these are bad days. Don’t be fools, then, but try to find out what the Lord wants you to do.” (Good News Translation, Ephesians 5:15-17)

How will we decide what to do for Thanksgiving dinner? Will our decision be made out of fear, or out of concern for our family members and communities in the midst of these bad days? Will we make wise decisions and seek the will of God, which is always good, pleasing, and perfect? As for our family, we will have our family gathering online. We have decided that for this Thanksgiving, we will not cross the state lines but celebrate in three states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

 

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