It is hard not to panic because of the spread of COVID-19. The World Health Organization just determined the virus is a pandemic. They also say that the mortality rate of COVID-19 is 3.4%. In comparison, the flu’s mortality rate is .01%. Other experts say that once we have a better handle of actual infections, the mortality rate will be at or under 1%. Then other experts say we are undercounting deaths and argue for a rate of about 2%. In a nation of well over 350 million people, the difference between .05%, 1%, 2% and 3.4% is the difference of millions of deaths. If you stare at all this information and watch the news, it’s easy to become anxious and afraid.
This is what I want to consider today: how should disciples of Jesus respond to the COVID-19 virus and all the anxieties and fears it brings. Should we panic? Will the economy collapse? Should we prepare for the worst? How do we manage fear? If you get sick, what does that say about God’s care for you?
I want to face head-on every “what if” you or I could ever imagine might happen in the next month. I want to do this by sharing a story from the life of Jesus. This story will help us be peace-filled, faith-filled and love-filled disciples no matter what happens.
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Matthew 8:23–27 (ESV)
The first thing I want you to notice is that Jesus and his disciples use common sense when crossing the water. They don’t try to swim across. They don’t take their chances by walking on water. They use a boat. If you want to cross a large body of water, this is the responsible way to do it. They had an objective and used common sense and the physical world to achieve it.
In the coming days, please do the same. As you live life don’t cavalierly reject common sense or natural means to protect yourself and your family. Wash your hands. If you are sick, stay home. Listen to the authorities. If you show signs of a respiratory infection and fever, get tested. Have some extra food just in case you are homebound. (Side note: Don’t forget to buy 5000 rolls of toilet paper ?) This is just common sense.
The second thing I want you to notice is that it gets really dangerous for the disciples on the boat. There is a real storm and these disciples are not amateurs with boats; in fact, they are quite skilled on the water. They know that this storm is the kind that can easily kill people.
Disciples of Jesus face dangerous things. Maybe we will face something really dangerous in the next few weeks; maybe the WHO is right. It shouldn’t surprise us if it becomes dire. We aren’t kept from bad things because we follow Jesus. For reasons far above our understanding, God allows bad things. This doesn’t mean he isn’t in control or loving. It just means Jesus is right, “In this world you will have sufferings.”
The most important thing I want you to notice is how different Jesus responds to the storm than his disciples. They panic and are filled with fear while Jesus sleeps restfully. They thought the storm would decide their fate. Meanwhile, Jesus knew that the storm was under the careful care of his Father. They were caught up in the chaos of fear and are self-focused. Jesus acts from faith, embodies peace and is able to love those around him.
We know exactly why they panic and he sleeps. They have little faith and he has great faith. Jesus knew something that his followers did not. He was safe no matter what. He consciously experienced and knew he lived in his Father’s world. The disciples on the other hand are little faiths because they thought that they were at the mercy of the storm.
The rebuking of the storm and the miracle that follows is to prove that even the weather is under His Father’s dominion. But you will miss a really important point if you think that when we are with Jesus, he always rebukes our storms and always saves us from the storms.
Sometimes the boat goes down. Sometimes the storm destroys. History is filled with reminders of this. This does not mean God is not in control or doesn’t care for you like he cared for the disciples in the boat. This is not what you are to take away from this story.
Instead, you can rest in the sure knowledge Jesus displayed on the boat. Our father is in control; he can stop the storm and many times he does. But even if the boat goes down, God is still providing his loving care. All shall be well. The waters will not overwhelm you. He will be your stronghold no matter what.
We should all pray that this virus is less dangerous than many predict. We need to pray that God stops it in its tracks. God do it for your fame! But if we end up in a dangerous storm, you don’t need to freak out. Not one hair can be moved upon your head except by the expressed will of your Father. God can be trusted; he will do right by you
Let’s be like Jesus. People of faith, peace and love. Have faith that this is your Father’s world; keep your eyes on him. When people panic, may our souls be like still waters that calm all around us. May we shine forth the truth: all shall be well. Then, go out of your way to love. Love your family and use common sense. Live by engaging opportunities to do good in the days ahead. Don’t let this storm define your life. You can trust God with the future. You can trust God to deal with COVID-19 through natural means and supernatural. We can trust he will do what is best.
So, do good. Love your neighbors. Serve your enemies. Have faith and peace! Proclaim Christ in Word and deed. Let’s seize the opportunity of the storm if the outbreak becomes scary. Church, this might be our moment to show good news and make disciples as the storm rages.