By Chuck Griffin
Matthew 24:1-2: Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
There are a couple of ways to respond to serious threats in the world. There’s always the stereotypical “lone wolf” approach: Stock up on food and ammo (and apparently, toilet paper) and hunker down for a fight. But today, I want us to consider how a healthy church community serves as a key part of any survival plan.
With Covid-19 affecting everyday life so drastically, planning for worst-case scenarios doesn’t seem so kooky right now. We don’t like to think about disasters that very well may never happen in our lifetimes, particularly when we live in a relatively secure environment with easy access to water, food and heat. Serious events do happen, though.
Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve volunteered or even been employed to work in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and you’ve seen how quickly modern urban areas like New Orleans and San Francisco can spend days, weeks or even months without basic necessities.
Human-caused disasters can wreak even more long-term havoc. For example, in 1984, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, was modern and peaceful enough to host the Winter Olympic Games. By 1992, however, the Bosnian War was underway, and the city came under siege for four years. Its residents went from being model citizens of eastern Europe to constant targets of sniper fire as they ran about trying to buy a little bread.
And of course, we will never forget Sept. 11, 2001.
I’m not trying to make us feel more scared. It’s just a reality that the brokenness of the world can intrude anywhere, and people can be left struggling in the wake of such events. We’re talking about a truth that has been constant throughout human history.
Jesus was very open about what a hard place the world can be, and near the end of the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 24, he is quoted as speaking in apocalyptic tones.
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars,” Jesus said. “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:6-8)
Hearing Jesus’ words as a child must have affected me. Since I was a boy, I have enjoyed reading books and magazines on survival skills. I suppose there’s something comforting in at least thinking you might know how to start a fire and make water clean enough to drink under difficult circumstances.
I ran across an interesting magazine, “Living Ready,” a few years ago. Within was one of the best survival articles I’ve ever read, mostly because the author went in a different direction than what you usually find in such a magazine.
In the article, Dr. Kyle Ver Steeg contrasted the stereotype of the lone survivalist in the “Army Guy” costume vs. the reality of how people actually survive difficult situations. He drew heavily on his experience working in Haiti shortly after the massive earthquake that struck there in 2010.
To prepare for a long-term survival situation, “I am of the opinion that the single most important thing you can do is to build a network of trustworthy, capable and likeable people,” Ver Steeg writes. “I would add that you should also work on becoming a part of your community and to develop skills that will be useful to your particular group.”
Later, he makes this particularly pertinent point: “If you are a churchgoing person you already have such a network in place. Think about it for a second. Churches already have leaders and a community of like-minded people with varied skills. They are used to working together to accomplish goals. Many churches already do mission work in desolate areas of the world. These people have knowledge and experience that some of the most survival-minded people do not.”
It makes sense, doesn’t it? In a crisis, relying on the relationships and shared skills we’ve been developing for years in church should be a natural response. Most churches contain all sorts of people useful in an emergency: medical professionals, soldiers, scientists, engineers, food-handling experts, logistical experts—that’s just a quick start to a very long list. And in the midst of all that, we have Scripture as our guide and the Holy Spirit to sustain us.
As terrible as Covid-19 is, perhaps there’s an opportunity here. By the time we get through all of this, we may have a better understanding of just how valuable our community of Christians is, and perhaps we will be better equipped to work in this sin-broken world.
Lord, may we sense how we are part of something bigger than ourselves when we gather as a church. Amen.