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January 14, 2021
All church leaders are tasked with shepherding their congregations through times of crisis. Pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously continued preaching his entire sermon, even when the Nazis had bombed the roof off of his church mid-service.
You might be thinking, how do I write a sermon for a time like this?
During the coronavirus outbreak, church leaders responsible for preaching may want to help their congregations to think biblically about coronavirus, its potential threats, and the promises God makes to us in the midst of those threats.
Here, we’re going to highlight multiple touch points in Scripture that speak to various aspects of the coronavirus outbreak. The point here is to give preachers creative, textual prompts from Scripture in order for them to begin strengthening their creative connection between the text of God’s word and the threats of our world.
Let’s get right into it.
Many people have been spun into a paranoia about coronavirus by the media. Some of that fear is justified, and some of it produces excess anxiety that hurts more than it helps. As a preacher, you can address this coronavirus panic by appealing to God’s words that address fear.
For example, God says in Isaiah: “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you’ ” (Isaiah 35:4).
Furthermore, Jesus says in Matthew: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
Speak to the heart of fear. Call people to be sober-minded, attend to their daily lives, and practice preventative hygiene. Even for those who choose to self-quarantine, this decision does not need to be out of fear. Quite the opposite.
Taking the proper precautions expresses confidence that there is something preventative and protective to be done. As a church leader, aim to shepherd your congregation into a place of peace and confidence by the time the service ends.
It’s very easy to think a lot about fear, and not very much about faith. But Scripture calls us not only to be bold but to believe boldly in the midst of crisis: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
The Apostle Paul wrestled deeply with untreatable illnesses in his life, and yet he reflects: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
Whatever coronavirus can take from us, it can’t take Christ from us. It can’t take our salvation from us. And it certainly will not destroy God’s church in this world.
Paul writes to Titus that ordained church leaders “must be hospitable” (Titus 1:8). This reflects very old divine wisdom, which began when God established physical hospitality laws for the strangers among Israel in order to protect them from the diseases of an ancient and nomadic lifestyle: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God’” (Leviticus 19:33–34).
Jesus himself commands Christians to be hospitable, even more so when people are physically suffering:
“‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ ‘They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ ‘He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life’” (Matthew 25:42–46).
During this time of crisis, it may be tempting to self-isolate so much that Christian service becomes inconceivable. But there are ways you can participate in the Christian practice of hospitality without exposing yourself to risk.
For example, you can send people gift cards, food delivery credits on services such as DoorDash, or even do a last-minute grocery run for as many elderly people in your congregation as possible. Families with small children and the elderly in your church need to be served with physical provisions more than ever before. Coronavirus offers an opportunity to help those who are at-risk to survive.
Christians have a social responsibility in the midst of the coronavirus. Retreating into a private community is not the best Christian response. First of all, the church is obligated to obey the laws of the government: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1). Therefore, when the government makes recommendations or issues warnings, it is incumbent upon the church to treat these communications seriously.
Second, the way your church community conducts itself during the coronavirus outbreak will communicate either a lack of care for the community or it will communicate the care of Christ for the community: “In righteousness you will be established; You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear; And from terror, for it will not come near you” (Isaiah 54:14).
Act rightly. Serve others according to their needs. Prioritize the health and safety of all in your community’s reach, not only those within your church: “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
It may not sound like the best idea to preach on plagues during the coronavirus, but it can be calming to your community to hear that God’s people have survived plagues before. God is not inactive during the coronavirus scare. He is invested in his church. He is in control. When we ask him for protection, he hears us.
When the LORD sent his plague to Israel, he protected the people that took preventative measures: “Pick out a lamb or a young goat for your families, and kill the Passover animal. Take the branch of a hyssop plant, dip it in the blood which is in a bowl, and put some of the blood on the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. No one may leave the house until morning. The Lord will go throughout Egypt to kill the Egyptians. When he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, he will pass over that doorway, and he will not let the destroyer come into your home to kill you” (Exodus 12:21–23).
In other words, the Lord protected those who took preventative measures. This isn’t a promise that those who wash their hands won’t get coronavirus. But it shows that even in catastrophic circumstances, God honors preventative action.
God established purity laws in the Old Testament in order to protect his people from the diseases of exile and war in the Ancient Near East: “Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites from among the sons of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing: sprinkle purifying water on them, and let them use a razor over their whole body and wash their clothes, and they will be clean” (Numbers 8:5–7).
The Apostle Paul applies this purification principle not only to the spirit, but the body also: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
What’s the message here? God cares about physical hygiene. More than we might think. God wants us around as long as possible so that he can use us. This does not guarantee we will not suffer catastrophe and death. But it does mean that God has already addressed the matter of physical hygiene, and we should practice that value because it’s something God values.
Finally, God commands his people to pray: “Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive” (2 Chronicles 6:21).
When Jesus prays for us, he does not pray that God would transport us into some perfectly safe place. He prays that amidst the danger, we would remain spiritually safe: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
This directs our prayer life in the midst of the coronavirus scare in two ways. First, we must pray. If we aren’t praying, we aren’t fully engaging these difficult realities in a Christian way. Pray for safety. Pray for protection. Pray for healing. Pray for recovery.
Second, we must pray for spiritual protection. It is tempting during a pandemic to think that our only trial is physical, but spiritual warfare often raises its head during these events in order to knock us off balance spiritually. Following the example of Jesus, pray against this as well.
Use these themes as prompts for your sermon writing process. It’s not necessary to touch on all of these points. One or two may fit better within your current sermon series. Use those themes which you think are most fitting to your congregation’s needs and which would be most helpful as your congregants look to be shepherded through this season of anxiety and fear.
Teach them what it looks like to walk by faith in an age when all your congregation can see is fear. When you turn on the news, log on to the internet, or speak to a friend, coronavirus is most likely the subject at hand. Help your congregation to root themselves in God, to rest in his promises, and to practice preventative hygiene during this season.