Reducing Distancing to Zero – Even in a Pandemic

One of our new realities with COVID-19 is social distancing. Apparently when we talk and sing we propel droplets into the air. And if we have the virus then those droplets can end up on those around us and possibly give them the virus. So if we distance ourselves from each other the droplets fall to the ground instead on others and so stop the spread of the virus.

Social distancing is why we spread out in the sanctuary when we gather for worship and space ourselves out when we receive Holy Communion.

We see markers on the floors in stores showing us how far apart to stand. We are not to shake hands, hug or get too close.

In the Seventeenth Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, there is a story that shows that social distancing is not a new thing. Leprosy is not only a horrible disease that eats away the skin, it is also very contagious. Those who had the disease were required to social distance. They could not be among other people and had to stay separate.

So as Luke tells us in this story when ten lepers encountered Jesus they kept their distance. They stood at a distance and cried out “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.”

Jesus did not have to touch them or get close to them. He just said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed of all their leprosy.

Jesus healed all ten of them but only one returned to thank Jesus. And when he returned there was no longer any need for social distancing. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.

Then Jesus commented, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Jesus’ words remind us of two things. First, when God gives us a gift he wants us to say, “Thank you.” The leaders of our country understood that which is why Thanksgiving Day was established as a national holiday.

Whether it is a gift of possessions or a gift of healing or any other kind of gift that God gives us, God wants us to thank him for it.

The other thing Jesus’ words remind us of is that God will bless us even if we do not say thank you. When the nine did not return to thank him, Jesus did not give them leprosy again. That’s not the kind of God we serve. God is so gracious and loving that he will continue to bless us even when we forget to say “Thank you.”

And we must all admit that there are times we are the nine. We don’t thank God for things he has given us, even great blessings like healing our bodies. So that is yet another reason to thank God; he truly wants us to thank him for all our blessings but he doesn’t stop blessing us when we forget to thank him.

The words that Jesus says to the one who thanked him are also important: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Faith is another one of God’s gifts to us. By grace God enabled the lepers to believe that Jesus could heal them. That is why they cried out to him asking for help. And that is why they did what he told them; they went to show themselves to the priests.

God gifts us with the ability to believe in Jesus as well. We believe that when we cry out to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy, he forgives us. By dying for us and rising again Jesus has cleansed us from a disease far more serious than leprosy. He has cleansed us from all sin.

Because of our sins we had to be distanced from God. Here is how Paul describes it in Ephesians: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 3:12)

To put it in viral terms, by nature, everything we did we spewed out droplets of sin. And since God is holy, sinless and perfect, he could not be around us. He needed to keep his distance.

But being separated from us was not acceptable to God. He had to do something so he did. Again, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-14)

We dare not come into God’s presence without the blood of Christ. Christ’s blood, shed for us on the cross, has broken down the dividing wall of hostility and reconciled us to God. There is no virus or other force in this world than can overcome this good news.

And because of Jesus we no longer spew out sin. We overflow with the love of God for others that they too may know the healing power of the cross of Jesus.

Someday we will be able to shake hands again, maybe even hug and get closer than six feet. Praise God there is no sin or virus that can keep us sinners separated from God thanks to what Jesus did for us on the cross.

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