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In COVID Exile

Posted: 6/11/20 at 7:00am. Written by Angie Frame.

Angie Frame

Jeremiah 29:4-7, 11-14

Like an army, it invaded, striking our cities hardest, seeping into our towns slowly, and stifling our lives. The NBA shut down. March Madness cancelled. Schools closed for weeks and then for the rest of the year. Work shifted from cubicles to computer screens.

We were whisked into exile without ever leaving our homes–barred from our conference rooms and coffee shops, our stores and sanctuaries. We’re preachers without pulpits and pastors without permission to pray at deathbeds. We’ve been removed from our native spaces and pushed into new territories of digital and socially-distant ministries whether we were ready or not–financially, theologically, or logistically.

To be in exile is to be reminded that we are not in control. Our 2020 plans are pointless. Our contingency plans have drowned in data about the disease and declarations from our government. There’s no conference or webinar to attend, no book to peruse, no course to take, no consultant to call that will answer all our questions.

But we’re determined to keep our churches afloat in this new land, so we go harder. We get up earlier, stay up later, and schedule more meetings.

Alas, this frenetic frenzy is in vain: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil…” Psalm 127:2 The longer days, meetings, and plans are largely in vain. All we gain is anxiety. Our shoulders tense. Our tempers flare. We fast from sleep and gorge ourselves on the bread of anxious toil, neglecting to remember that building the church is not our task. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1

So what is our task in exile? The good news is that God has instructed his people in far worse exile than this. He told them to establish themselves in their new land, so we must stop looking back at what was and settle into this new reality. He told them to increase in number, so we must increase our reach to those who are searching for hope and truth in this depression and confusion. He told them to seek peace and prosperity in their new city, so we must work for peace and prosperity for all in this contentious and unjust land.

And we trust that God will build his church.

Angie Frame is teaching pastor and Midlothian campus pastor at Passion Community Church in Midlothian, VA.