CHARIOTS OF FIRE
“Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are against us.”- II Kings 6:16
We live in unprecedented times. By the middle of September it will be 6 months since the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to curtail so many of our normal activities, including worship, Sunday School, and now our Iowa Mission District Convocation. As I look back on that time, I find that with each succeeding month I kept thinking that this must be coming to an end soon.
In April, I was still holding out hope that the pandemic would be short-lived. So I held off cancelling the Pastors & Lay Ministers’ Retreat, postponing it instead for a later week in May. And I was hopeful that we would be able to celebrate the Sunday of the Resurrection by resurrecting our face-to-face worship services. But on Easter morning the only face I saw was my own looking back at me from my laptop as I sent out the worship service on Zoom.
In May, I was forced to cancel the retreat, but still had hopes that the pandemic may be past its peak and perhaps by the middle of the month things could begin to return to normal. But my predictions were no better than those of so many others.
As we approached June, several churches did begin to offer in person worship, albeit in a limited fashion, taking steps to safeguard worshippers from this silent, hidden, and unpredictable enemy.
Throughout the summer months, as we dealt with these challenges, we were confronted also with scenes of racial unrest, rioting, and violence in our cities sparked by the horrific video of a young man dying at the hands of the police in Minneapolis. Moreover, we found ourselves in the midst of one of the most divisive political seasons in memory, dividing communities, neighbors, even families into warring camps.
And as if that were not enough, we then witnessed the most destructive storm to ever hit Iowa as the derecho tore through farmland, towns, and cities of our neighbors just to the south of us.
It is enough to make you feel that we are surrounded on all sides by enemies determined to do us in. And, indeed, it is the desire of the Enemy to use these troubles and tragedies to shake our faith and make us despair of the future.
In II Kings there is a story about the prophet Elisha who is trapped in a city surrounded by an army sent there to capture him and bring him to his death. Elisha’s servant, seeing this hopeless situation, cries out, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” But Elisha calmly prays that God would open the eyes of his servant so he can see the promise of God. And the servant looks and sees, “and, behold, the mountains are full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
The greatest challenge we face throughout these difficulties is a spiritual one – the challenge to see that the One who is for us is far greater than all the forces arrayed against us – even, and especially, those forces of sin, despair, and fear that rise up within us.
For me, Elisha’s vision is a reminder that I am never alone. Even as I stood before that laptop, I was in union with a cloud of worshippers joining with me in praise. And all of us, in turn, were surrounded by the whole cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and the whole company of heaven praying with us. May we never lose sight of those “chariots of fire” surrounding us, so we may respond to all the challenges that confront us with faith in God, hope for the future, and unceasing love for our neighbor.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Hahn, Dean, Iowa Mission District, NALC