Doing the neighborly thing

By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
Everyone’s lives have been affected by COVID-19. The pandemic has impacted the ways we worship, shop, work, travel and live. Some are suggesting that we simply must wait it out—wait for increased herd immunity or the development of an effective vaccine. While we cannot rush this process, our waiting does not have to be passive.

What if there were something that we can do right now that could help to decrease the spread of COVID-19? United Methodists have a penchant for acts of care and compassion. Doing good is engrained in who we are as Wesleyans and as Christians.

This time of “active waiting” involves doing all the good we can right now while trusting that God is ultimately in control. We cannot escape from the reality of COVID-19. So what, then, can we do?

Wearing a mask is a tangible and visible witness of our care and compassion for others. Epidemiologists widely project that if masks were worn by everyone, the rate of spread and infection would decrease dramatically. When worn appropriately over the nose and mouth, masks act as a two-way barrier, preventing our germs from traveling as far and preventing others’ germs from entering our nasal and respiratory passages.

The COVID-19 pandemic has isolated and insulated us, initiating the postponement of many events and service projects and causing us to reflect on ministry possibilities and budget constraints in new ways. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of people we love and caused dire impact on the economy.

The simple act of wearing a mask can change the course of the future. Wearing a mask can save lives.

It is true, masks hide our facial expressions and can be annoyingly itchy and hot. When wearing a mask, it is frustrating that vital parts of the conversation go missing and facial expressions are hidden. Masks make it impossible to decipher emotional nuances accompanying conversations.

Masks can be a huge nuisance, especially in the summer and for folks who wear glasses that have a maddening way of fogging over.

Yet whatever the hardships or inconveniences, masks are a small, simple way of practicing sacrificial love.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “love others as well as you love yourself.” Wearing a mask is the neighborly thing to do. Masks seem second-nature for people embracing neighborly love since they show our concern and respect for other people. Let us demonstrate what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves by choosing to care for the health and well-being of all in these days.

In a world filled with complexity and uncertainty, it is easy to get overwhelmed. The best way to counteract this kind of paralysis is to do something for someone else. In the early days of the pandemic, there was confusion about whether or not to wear face coverings. We all understand now that the accepted wisdom today is that masks are an effective protective barrier.

We have all heard the excuses and reasons that some people balk at masks, but I believe that when we wear our masks, it sends a signal to others that says, “I am willing to sacrifice a little bit of my comfort to help protect your health.”

It is up to us to spread the good news of Christ through our actions, sharing God’s abundant grace, love and mercy in tangible ways with all whom we meet. Your witness might just be the only sermon some people will ever hear. Let your witness of wearing a mask be an opportunity for someone to experience the greatest commandment.

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