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A devotional from the Rev. Eileen Lindner

The following is a reflection on 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. Offered at the MRA Board Meeting, March 17, 2020

In this fraught moment of the coronavirus pandemic Paul reminds us that we “have these treasures in clay jars…” Today all over the globe these clay jars are sickened, shattered and broken by the coronavirus. We know that as the clay jars break so to do human hearts. For such a time as this did Paul write these words of courage, faith and hope. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” Afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down, but at last, not destroyed. Words that, today, we take to heart.

If only Paul had thought to say a word about fear and anxiety! Millions are now in the grip of such fear and anxiety made all the worst by social distancing which too easily becomes social isolation. In the recent movie Harriet – the story of Harriet Tubman — the title character is meeting with her pastor just before her desperate flight for freedom. Rev. Green tells her, “Harriet, fear is the enemy!”

Indeed, it is. Fear and dread with their companion, paralysis, threaten to overtake us.  How can we cope? With what do we answer such pervasive fear? My late, dear friend the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Chaplain at Yale and later Pastor of New York’s Riverside Church and public intellectual, remains my theological North Star. Of fear he said, “If your heart is full of fear you won’t seek truth, you’ll seek security. If your heart is full of love, it will have a liberating effect on the mind.”

Perhaps it was such a heart full of love that motivated the Queen Mum, as she was called, during the London Blitz in World War II. The wife of King George, she was much beloved for touring fearlessly through the streets and underground shelters of London. She concluded, in a very British way, that what was needed was “some jolly signs to boost the spirits.”  She consulted with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The best known of the outcomes of this collaboration is the iconic poster, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” A copy of that poster, acquired at the time of the 9/11 tragedy today hangs above my desk. The poster is easy to hang; the advice difficult to follow and yet, it is our calling.

Some years ago, while working for the National Council of Churches, I was in war-torn Sarajevo in a hotel that was very much the worse for wear. All the signage in the hotel was rendered in three languages having been host to various ethnic groups. The top sign was always in a Slavic language I could not discern, then rendered in bad French and finally in even worse English. For instance, the elevator in its English manifestation was labeled “Go Up,” the dining room labeled “Food Here.”

As I passed a dilapidated swimming pool filled with bomb rubble, I read the English signage “No swim without a savior,” (meaning, of course, lifeguard). Good advice I thought and still think. No swimming without a savior and — no pandemic fighting without one either! Our hope is pinned to the creating, redeeming and sustaining Lord of life.

We at Montreat have long acknowledged that we provide a venue, worship and program that together forms a context through which God transforms lives.  As the hymnist taught, “New occasions teach new duties…”

The challenge before us is to discover how, in this moment we might use our good office to provide, electronically or otherwise, that venue. In this time we pray that God might transform fear and dread into hope and purpose, and that we might play some humble role as helpmates. Yes, clay jars are breaking and lives are shattered but we do not lose heart. Again, I repair to William Sloane Coffin who observed, “The world now is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.” You see, Paul was right– it is a matter of the heart. May we not lose heart.