Hopeful Images

Since the COVID-19 pandemic sent us all home, Faculty and staff at Campbell University Divinity School have been posting “Words of Encouragement” to our students and others twice a week. For this week, I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the students’ thoughts.

Six faithful proclaimers took “The Practice of Preaching” course this semester. Their last assignment was to write and present the kind of sermon they believe a pastor would offer the congregation in response to a crisis such as that thrust upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were encouraged to think of a biblical image that could help people connect with the situation that is now causing such consternation, fear, anger, and despair. Their thoughts are worth sharing beyond the virtual classroom in which they were preached.

Kenyetta Brown drew on the image of exile. As the Hebrews endured the pain and uncertainty of their time in Babylon, longing to get back to their former way of life in Jerusalem, Isaiah reminded them that God was present in suffering. The current restrictions can make us feel like we’re in exile, she said, but sometimes “you have to go through it to get to it.”

Brandon Hendricks looked to the captivity in Egypt as an image, when the ruling pharaoh would not agree to let the people go. While the present situation has many people living in fear and uncertainty, he said, “Don’t let fear be your pharaoh.” Rather, we can find confidence through trust in God, who can deliver us from fear.

Shawn LaFortune recalled how David, when pursued by Saul, had to spend time living in a cave at Adullam. Citing the charge in 2 Tim. 1:7 that God has not given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (KJV), he pointed to ways that David rose above fear and isolation to find strength, love, and confidence.

James McKinnon pointed to a New Testament image in Jesus’ instructions for the disciples to remain in Jerusalem after his ascension, waiting for the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:4). “Patience is not a virtue of our culture,” he said, especially in a time like this when “we are waiting on many things.” But, waiting can be a time of growth and renewing our faith.

Naomi Simmons noted how many people expect the government to bail them out of the current crisis, leading them to a place of misplaced trust. Promises are often false and stimulus checks don’t last long. Citing 2 Cor. 4:18, she said our trust belongs not in what is seen, but in the God who is unseen. Faith does not guarantee financial prosperity, but can offer peace and assurance that God is with us.

Timothy Howell envisioned a sermon to be delivered when the crisis has passed, and we can gather and move freely. Recalling Jesus’ words in Mat. 5:13-16, he said it will be especially important then for believers to go out as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Visualizing images such as these may help us put our own time of waiting into perspective as we remember how the God who was faithful to Israel is still present with us, enabling us to learn and grow, to persevere and to overcome. So may it be.

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