Fredericktown United Methodist Pastor Bryan Schaefer offers words of comfort to the community during these uncertain times.
"This virus, the Australian wildfires, and anything else is not some punishment that God is sending on us as result of our bad deeds," Schaefer said. "That's not what the Bible says, and any verses that people might try to isolate and make it seem that way are taken out and used incorrectly."
Schaefer said the wildfires were caused by humans messing with fire where they should not, lightning strikes and climate changes resulting in drought. He said the virus is a result of people not having access to proper healthcare, if any, or not enough as well as poor planning and response to it worldwide.
"God has not caused these things, people did, poverty did, a lack of resources did," Schaefer said. "God is with us, helping, healing and working to bring good out of the bad. Asking us to turn away from blame and to do what we have always been called to do, to serve people, to help the poor or sick, to lift up those who are oppressed, to fight for justice and equity for all and to love our neighbors as ourselves."
Schaefer said he has been reading on social media lately where people are saying that if you are a good Christian you should not be afraid, just trust in Jesus and he will protect you.
"The implication is that if you are afraid during this pandemic and everything that's surrounding it, then you are somehow flawed or weak or at least not living up to what you should be," Schaefer said. "Well, let me tell you something, they're both wrong because you wanna know what it actually does say about you if you're afraid, especially in a time like this? It means you're human."
Schaefer said humans, all humans, have fear inside of them no matter if they admit it or not, no matter if they cover it up or deny it, it is there.
"You see, fear is natural," Schaefer said. "God built it into our brains to keep us safe to protect us, to tell us where the bad is."
Schaefer said there has been a lot of fear in the world lately, for good reason. He said trends on Google this past week included "unemployment during coronavirus," "is the world economy crashing," and "will supermarkets be closing."
"It's natural to feel fear during a time like this," Schaefer said. "We all do. It's OK to have your feelings, your doubts, your fears. What happens though is that sometimes instead of letting fear inform us we let it control us.
Schaefer said when we let fear control us we start to let it rule over more and more and more because we think it is keeping us safe.
"How was fear a part of the Salem Witch Trails in 1662 or of Joseph McCarthy's 'red scare' in 1952," Schaefer said. "What role did fear play in the apartheid laws of South Africa or the Jim Crow laws of the United States? How did fear shape U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War, and how does it shape today when we look at immigration?"
Schaefer said if we want to look at another impact fear can have, just look at what is going on now with coronavirus.
"COVID-19, right now," Schaefer said. "Sure, it's silly compared to everything else I just talked about, but the shelves of toilet paper at every store, everywhere are empty due to a virus that doesn't normally cause anything you would need toilet paper for."
Schaefer said when fear comes in and grips folks, it causes them to do things that do not make a lot of sense.
"Feeling fear, intense fear, doesn't mean you're being bad at faith or that God has abandoned you, it means you're paying attention," Schaefer said. "But while we pay attention to it, we also have to pay attention to the opposite of that fear, which is our love for each other."
Schaefer said nobody is alone, even if it feels like it. He said people are promised in scripture that there is nothing than can separate us from the love of God.
"Not anything that can be done or said about us, not any way that someone judges us or tries to separate folks out into an us and a them," Schaefer said. "I know it is easy right now to feel isolated and alone especially in this time of social distancing but do you remember all those scary phrases everyone is searching? That proves that we are not alone in this."
Schaefer said everyone is just trying to figure out the way through it all. He said God is here with us in the midst of it all, working to bring good from the bad, light from the dark, hope to the hopeless.
"You can't control what others are going to do," Schaefer said. "If they're going to follow the rule of social distancing. How much toilet paper they're going to buy. How they'll respond to all this. But you can control what you do, how you respond, how you show up during this time and how you can let your love and your faith be what controls you, not fear."
Schaefer said even if we can not be there in person, we can still be there for others in different ways.
"If you do have an abundance, look for ways and opportunities to give that will help others who might not have much right now," Schaefer said. "We can reach out to one another, not physically of course, but take some time each day and give someone a call just to check in on how they're doing, especially if it's someone who's older or lives alone."
Schaefer said look for ways you can be a helper for the people around you. He said take care of others but also take care of yourself and cut yourself a break.
"Know that not everything is going to be perfect with you, your kids, your family right now and that's OK not to be OK," Schaefer said. "This is the first time any of us are doing something like this. There's going to be a learning curve and there's going to be some bumps in the road, it's just going to happen. Expect it."
Schaefer said not to beat yourself up over not being perfect, because this virus is beating us up enough and it does not need any help.
"Instead give the same thing to yourself that you know you should be giving to others: grace, forgiveness and love," Schaefer said. "Because part of loving your neighbor as yourself is loving yourself and giving yourself permission to feel what you're feeling, to feel it and own it but not to let it control you."
Schaefer said whatever we focus on becomes bigger in our minds and if we only focus on fear, it will only get bigger. He said to focus on love, faith, hope and joy in the midst of all the anxiety, worry and uncertainty so that it will grow bigger instead.
"It doesn't magically make the rest of it go away, but it might just make it a little easier to manage," Schaefer said. "Fear is a powerful thing but faith, hope and love are even more powerful."
Schaefer said COVID-19 has the possibility of pushing us to our worst.
"Let us show up and in the midst of this crisis show people the love that casts out fear," Schaefer said. "Show that we will still love our neighbor, still serve the last and the least, still care for those in need and not let fear keep us from the mission and the ministry."
Schaefer said we will be careful, but we will be present and will not let fear control the mindset.
"We will measure our lives in love and not in fear," Schaefer said. "So take care of yourself and each other, love your neighbor, love yourself because right now that's how we can show the love of God and that's how we can get through this together, amen."
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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