I delivered the following address at the COVID-19 Candlelight Service service at Forrest General Hospital, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on March 11, 2021, marking the one-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in Mississippi:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love… – Romans 8:35, 37-38, NLT.
We are here today to look back and remember, to look around in unity, and to look forward in hope.
We look back and remember. We look at our calendars, and we remember that one year ago today, the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Mississippi. We look back over that year, and remember those who died, those who
survived, their families and friends, and how all of us have been affected. Let us reflect back at how all of us have been changed, in ways often painful, but we are not defeated– “overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” So we light a candle to remember.
We look around in unity. We look around this room, look at our co-workers, look to our families and our community, and we see that we are standing together. We are all unique individuals, but we come together, because we have a
common calling to care for people. In a few minutes, we will light candles together. Let us look around and draw strength from one another. “Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” So we light a candle in unity.
We look forward in hope. We look forward, just as the darkness is broken at dawn by the rising sun. In a few weeks, we will celebrate Easter, when we who are Christians celebrate the rising of the Son of God. We have many reasons for hope. Amazingly, in less than a year since the first case of COVID, there are now three vaccines available, the number of virus cases is declining, and look at us—we are still here. We have made it “through the valley of the shadow of death.” So we light a candle of hope.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. – Psalm 23:4, KJV
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Everybody has to deal with rejection. Even Jesus Christ was rejected by his hometown of Nazareth. They didn’t like it when He declared His Messianic mission would include Gentiles, so they tried to throw him off the local cliff (see Luke 4:23-29).
In one of the greatest face-to-face confrontations in history, Jesus faced their rejection and “passed right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30). That’s how He handled it, how do we?
Let’s be clear about something. You and I are not Jesus, so we first need to examine our own actions and motives in the light of scripture, to make sure our rejection isn’t a deserved rebuke for ungodly behavior. Peter writes, that if we are ridiculed “for the name of Christ” we are blessed, yet cautions “let none of you sufer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15-16). Most of us would be okay if he hadn’t added “meddler.” So before anything else, let’s take an honest look at why we are rejected.
If, after taking an honest look at ourselves, we know that our rejection is because we have lived for Christ, and done so with integrity, then what? Scripture tells us three ways that Christians can face rejection: rejoice, remember and rely.
- Rejoice (Matthew 5:10-12). Jesus concluded the “Beatitudes” by telling His followers that when we are rejected, we should rejoice: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you becaue of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We naturally want to get angry, defensive, or feel hurt, but Jesus tells us we should rejoice, because it shows we are on the right side! The early apostles did exactly that! When the Jewish Sanhedrin ordered them not to preach about Jesus, they left, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name” (Acts 5:41).
- Remember (John 15:19-21). Jesus reminded His disciples, “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, because I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” So whenever we are rejected, we don’t need to be surprised; we should remember that we were told to expect that it comes with the territory.
- Rely (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). The Apostle Paul is a great role model for handling persecution. He explained how it taught him to rely on God: “We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed– beyond our strength– so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again.”
Tony Evans says that whenever somebody rejects him because of the color of his skin, he remembers who he is in Christ. God says he is a child of the king. Thus, if they reject him, they are refusing royal blood in their presence. What a good example for us when people reject us because of our faith. Remembering that, we can rely on God, and rejoice!