All seems right with the world as I gaze from my window across the vineyard and onto the mountains standing majestic in the distance. All seems right with the world, except for the absence of cars on the normally busy road dividing the two landscapes.
This is day one of a nationwide lockdown in South Africa. Confirmed cases of Covid-19 have topped the 1000 mark, and the first two deaths have been reported. Though the virus respects no person, taking into account neither race nor socio-economic status, those distinctions seemed all too evident over the past few days. In the townships, those who eat according to what they earn each day worry about the reality of starving because they cannot work. Others ask, “How can we wash our hands when we have no running water, and how can we stay in our homes when we have to use the public toilets down the street?” Who has answers to these questions. Why is it only now, in the face of a pandemic, that anyone even really takes notice?
This morning, Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:15 hit me hard: “…having heard of your faith in the Lord….and your love for all the saints, [I] do not cease giving thanks for you.”
When do we talk about the faith and the love of a local body of believers? When do we give thanks for them? I am not accustomed to listening for such stories nor am I gifted in telling them. And yet, for Paul, it seemed like the norm. “I too, having heard…” Others heard of their faith and love and so did he. The Ephesian believers had a visible faith and love about which others talked. The expressions of that faith and love moved Paul to express gratitude to God.
What does that even look like? James tells us that faith expresses itself through our works. Indeed, faith without works has no life in it. (James 2:26) The Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, demonstrated their faith and love through sacrificial giving. Paul told their story to the church in Corinth and of course, to us who read it today. But, where are our stories of faith and love? The goal, of course, is not to have others talk about us. Yet, at the same time, the faith that James talks about overflows with love and motivates action. Others see that action and express gratitude to God. Do we, as a church, have that type of faith? Do we tell the stories of those churches that do and give thanks to God for them?
A judgemental attitude comes easily. I can look at the world around me, especially in the light of lockdown, and conclude that the church has no faith and no love. If it did, the world would be a better place. Somehow, that seems overly harsh. Still, do we invest more time into what happens on Sunday morning than we do into what happens during the rest of the week? Are we so focused on the “church service” that we have forgotten that we are God’s workmanship created to serve outside in the world?
We are salt and light. We are the expression of God’s love to our neighbor and to the world around us. Genuine faith is filled with love, is seen by others, and produces gratitude toward God. How do we cultivate that kind of faith in our churches? How do we recognize the stories of those who have it and pass them on to others so that they too can join with us in giving thanks to God?