Dennis Hickman

Dennis Hickman

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Like many pastors in town, I am greatly looking forward to and preparing for in-person worship services once again. Leading Sunday worship on the radio and zoom has been OK during the epidemic, but it’s just not the same. We miss seeing each other in person in the church, the body of Christ.

But even when we are able to see each other again during worship, it will be from a safe six feet away and (sadly) no handshakes or hugs. And I will ask everyone at First Lutheran to please wear a face mask, especially when singing. The last thing we want to do during worship is to make one of our members very ill through carelessness or by flaunting individual freedom.

I shop at our stores in town. It disturbs me to see how many folks do not wear face masks. I realize some people may not be able to wear a mask due to breathing difficulties.

As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” And, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Corinthians 8:9. Paul was writing to the early Christians in Corinth, which was a busy Greek, sea port city and a wild place. I always tell people “think Las Vegas.” And Paul was not addressing a viral epidemic. He was concerned about sexual immorality and eating meat offered to idol gods. Different circumstances, I know. But we can apply the principal to our day and time. Here Paul encourages us to put our neighbors’ needs ahead of our own personal freedoms. Yes, we are all saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a pure gift of God’s grace. But there is also the command to “Love thy neighbor.”

In the 16th century, the reformer Martin Luther would write this. “A Christian is a perfectly free master of all subject to none. And a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” (You knew I would sneak some Luther in here!)

Martin Luther also wrote a small catechism as a way to help learn the basics of the Christian faith. (Lutheran teenagers still love studying this today!?) Among other things in the catechism, Luther explains the 10 Commandments. Let’s look at “You shall not kill.” Luther writes, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbors in any way, but help them in all their physical needs.”

“Fearing God” here means awesome respect, reverence and trust. And “neighbor” includes just about anyone I have contact with. Think of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.

In explaining the 10 Commandments, Martin Luther always includes a “do” along with the “do not.” So not only will I not kill (I certainly hope not!) or hurt my neighbor, but I will think about how I can help him or her.

During this COVID-19 epidemic, helping my neighbors includes reducing the risk of possibly making them gravely ill by refusing to wear a face mask when in close quarters. “I feel fine” you may say? Great, but you or I could still be asymptomatic carriers. My personal freedoms end when they start infringing on my neighbor’s health or rights.

Our Savior Jesus sums up all the commandments in a single sentence. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27. Jesus always pushes us to go beyond the bare minimum legal requirement and do the loving, caring thing.

“Love thy neighbor.” Please wear a face mask inside public places.

Dennis Hickman is the pastor of the First Lutheran Church in Ellensburg.


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