March 22, 2020

 “Strange Days Indeed…Most Peculiar, Momma.”

Ephesians 5:8-14


I selected this scripture passage back in January, long before there was anything known as the Coronavirus. It seems to be appropriate right now-as it feels like we are in dark times, which may be getting darker before they get lighter. Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesus (or whoever it was that may have written it) is, that we are to live as children of light - “for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”  (Ephesians 5:8-9) What does that mean for us today? How are we to be children of light who share light in the midst of the darkness, as this virus spreads, people get sick and deaths increase? How are we to be light as fears, misplaced anger and blame spread all over the world?


First, let’s begin by exploring our spiritual family lineage a bit. The writer of Ephesians says that since we are living in faith, living in Christ, we are light, and are to live as Children of Light. Theologian Margaret Aymer, pastor of The First Presbyterian Church, Shreveport, D. Thomason Professor of New Testament Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Austin, Texas speaks to the importance of this family lineage. Critical to the author's argument for community ethics of transparency, honesty, justice, and goodness, is the assertion that the entire community is a part of the same family: in this case, "children of light." …This is but one example. In this instance, the author argues that if your parent is light, you should resemble your parent in how you live: exposing what is secretive and false and showing what is good and just and truthful to the world.” 1 John 1:5 says, This is the message we have heard from Christ and declare to you: God is light; in God, there is no darkness at all.” So, we have a heavenly parent who is light and we are therefore to be light as well.

The children of light are also called “those who have been resurrected” in verse 14. They have been in effect “woken up” out of their deadness. So, we who have been awakened see the injustice around us and expose it. That is an important role as children of light.  


The author of Ephesians is pushing the church to turn toward the light of Christ for a source of ethics, rather than turning toward the world in which they live-ethics of justice, mercy, and goodness-the fruit of light, the things that are good, right and true.


This metaphor of producing fruit works on the other side as well. Darkness produces unfruitful works. It is not simply the case that darkness produces no fruit, but even more dangerously it produces works that are the antithesis of fruit. In this instance, there exists not simply the absence of the good but the presence of the corrupt. Paul instructs the Ephesians not to fellowship with such things. Many of them are listed prior to today’s passage- Impurity of any kind, greed, vulgar talk, empty words, not forgiving one another. So light produces fruit, and darkness produces fruit. We who are awakened from the dead are called to produce the fruit of light and call out when we see the fruit of darkness.


I’ve seen some pretty dark fruit in the news for the last couple of weeks. If you have been looking for hand sanitizer and not finding it, you are not alone. I haven’t seen it for weeks on our store shelves in Ashland OR Medford. Perhaps you heard the story about The greedy brothers who bought almost 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to profit off the coronavirus? They were finally cleaned out on Sunday when they were shut down by Tennessee prosecutors. Just a day after they whined about the likes of eBay and Amazon closing their price-gouging attempts, Matt Colvin and Noah Colvin were ordered by the state’s attorney general to “stop buying and selling medical goods and products.” The dark fruit of greed was exposed to the light.


“We will not tolerate price gouging in this time of exceptional need, and we will take aggressive action to stop it,” Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III said Sunday of the investigation. The Colvin’s, facing a huge backlash over their scheme, had said late last week they would donate the stockpiled sanitizer to “a local church and first responders.” After this fruit of darkness was exposed, Matt Colvin went on media and apologized for his actions, noting that indeed, charities and first responders got the much-needed sanitizer, donated at no cost. The writer of Ephesians goes on to say, “everything that is exposed by the light becomes visible, and becomes light.” In the end, this dark fruit became light- much-needed sanitizer got to where it was most needed.


Next, you may have heard that Spring Break in Florida was still happening, at least, until tomorrow- After receiving a lot of pushback from the nation and national press Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis closed the beaches in Florida, beginning tomorrow. I am reminded of the movie Jaws, and the mayor of the fictional New England island of Amity and his desire to keep the beaches open because it was the 4th of July and huge profits awaited, despite a great white shark killing victims in the water offshore.


The governor, who took heat for not closing the sun-splashed beaches after hordes of college kids swarmed them amid the coronavirus pandemic, finally said last Thursday the state will enforce guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about large crowds.


Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who preceded DeSantis as governor, also had a message for spring breakers: “Get off the beaches. What are you thinking about by being on the beach around all these people that might have coronavirus and you’re going to go home and potentially infect the people you love the most,” Scott said on CNN. “What are you thinking? Stop doing it now!” In this case, the dark fruits of greed and selfishness were exposed to the light. Hopefully, when the beaches close down tomorrow, these young party goers will be careful not to hug grandma or grandpa when they come home.


Then we have the President of our nation, who refuses to call this virus simply the Coronavirus. He stated on Thursday afternoon, “I would like to begin by announcing some important developments in our war against the Chinese virus...” Later in the news conference, the president was questioned by ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega on continuously referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” A member of the administration also reportedly referred to the coronavirus as the “Kung-flu.” Vega asked if the president was concerned over labeling the virus as the Chinese virus, in light of hate crimes increasing against people of Asian descent all over the world. The president dismissed this. Meanwhile, racist incidents and threats of hate crimes against Asian Americans have emerged across the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.


The latest New Yorker magazine has an article about this fruit of darkness- the fruit of racism. Reporter Anna Russell writes, “In the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League has been tracking racist memes and online activity directed toward Asian communities in reaction to the outbreak. They’ve uncovered lurid cartoons depicting an Asian “Winnie the Flu,” mocking references to “bat soup,” and more violent imagery.


Russel goes on to mention that historically, during such times of pandemic, the fruit of racism is often rampant.  Rebecca Hayes Jacobs, an urban-studies scholar who co-curated an exhibition titled “Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis” at the Museum of the City of New York last year, told her that, throughout history, pandemics had often intensified discrimination against minorities. In 1858, a mob burned down a massive quarantine hospital on Staten Island. Locals “were afraid that immigrants were carrying yellow fever, especially Irish immigrants,” Jacobs said. Pandemics can intensify fears of “the other,” and exacerbate racist myths about foreigners as being diseased or unclean.


It is my sincere hope that the president and his administration stop labeling this virus as being connected to any nationality. It shouldn’t matter from whence it came. What matters is what we are doing about it. What matters to us, we who are called children of light is that we see God in the stranger, in the other, and value them as a creation of the Creator.


So, what about the fruit of light? Have we seen that as well? Yes. A Guelph, Ontario, Canada distillery, known for its vodka and gin, is now doing its part in fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus by making free hand sanitizer. Dixon’s Distilled Spirits started production on the disinfectant this week out of their facility with the priority to supply frontline workers, such as first responders, doctors, and other healthcare workers. “We have the ability to help out and we said why…not? We’re all in this together,” part-owner Chevy Patterson said over the phone on Tuesday.  Because of their example, many other distilleries are following suit. Who knows? Maybe we will see hand sanitizer back on our store shelves someday soon, thanks to this fruit of sharing.


Doctors and other medical professionals are constantly putting themselves at risk, sometimes catching the virus and working despite it, ultimately dying of fatigue and exhaustion on top of the infection, which has already weakened their already weak immune system. They are examples of Christ’s light shining in the darkness in so many ways.


For example, in China, physician Li Wenliang was one of the first to go public in Wuhan about how dangerous this virus was getting. He was also among the first to ultimately die from it. A doctor in Italy contracted the virus after treating patients. He refused a hospital bed, however, because he wanted it to be reserved for patients. He died on Thursday.


Nurses don’t often get as much recognition as doctors, but they too are on the front lines. For example, Alessia Bonari from Tuscany, Italy shared a selfie on Instagram that gave a picture of what doctors and nurses are going through. Her face is red and chafed from constantly having to wear a protective mask. But she still goes to work every day to be there for patients. These are just a few of the many examples of the light medical professionals are shining throughout the world.


Our job during such dark times, we children of the one who is light, who follow Chris, our light, is to also be light. Theologian Tripp Prince says, “The light of Christ fills us, but is always meant to shine through us as well.” What can we do to be that light?  Call out those moments of darkness and expose them to the light.  Thank a doctor or nurse, and keep them all in your prayers. Pray for those who are sick. Pray for those who have lost loved ones. Order take out Chinese food. Smile at people when you are out walking. Sing a song of hope from your back porch. Keep talking with your neighbors.  Call, email, text, write to your friends and loved ones. Remember and pray for all those city council members, governors and other leaders who have to make difficult decisions in the midst of this crisis. Support the local businesses as best you can in the midst of store closings and layoffs. Remember and give thanks for essential workers who will be keeping our water running, keeping the lights on, picking up our garbage, etc. Share things of beauty on Facebook. Keep your light shining, so that others can find hope in the darkness! Alleluia! Amen.

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