Just as we had begun to enjoy the summer, the pandemic has taken an unexpected turn with infection rates suddenly spiking again. It could be easy right now to be discouraged or frustrated, says Bishop Hughes, but God has planted hope in us, and it's important for us to hold on to that hope as we persevere. (Time: 5:19.)
This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark and I want to talk with you about perseverance and hope.
It's easy to see these qualities in people who are preparing for the Olympics. They have been training and training and training, and going to competition after competition, and headed to those Olympic trials all in the hopes of being selected to go to the Olympics. And then they train and train and train some more, wanting to compete with the best of the best, all in the hope that in that competition they might potentially get a medal. It is that hope for the end goal. It is that hope to live directly into the gift that they've been given as athletes, and to do it well, and to do it with others who do it well, that gives them the ability to persevere – to push on through to the next thing. I can't imagine that every single day they wake up thinking, “Let me get to the gym, let me get out on the road, let me start running, let me start lifting weights.” I imagine that there are days where they look forward to that – I imagine there are days when they just don't feel like it. But they persevere because of the hope that is in them, that thing that gives them the desire for what they want to get to.
It's important for us to think about that hope that is within us right now, especially at this unexpected turn in pandemic this summer. We expected this to be a summer of great joy and so far it has been, reconnecting with family and with friends that we haven't seen in such a long time. The ability to hug again, to be able to be in conversation with our mask off, to gather with great ease for worship and for meetings and Bible studies and prayer groups and choir rehearsals – all those things that we have started back up again. And what a surprise it was to us when suddenly the infection rates started to spike back up here in northern New Jersey with a 65% vaccination rate. The fact that those infection rates still went back up anyway. One of our counties went red, into the red zone, with high infection rate this past week, and we expect another one will happen within the next few days. That's been a change to everything that we had just begun to enjoy.
It could be easy right now simply to be discouraged or to be frustrated. It's hard to know exactly what is driving this. It could be the relaxation in safety protocols, it could be the new delta variant – it's difficult for us to know exactly what it is. We simply know that it is and once again we must be careful.
And what I want to encourage us to do is to hold on to the hope that God has planted in us: the hope for being the kind of church that God wants us to be next, the kind of church that is being shaped in this time. All of us are being changed in this time, into being more faithful, more compassionate, more compelling Christians in all of this. It's important for us to hold on to that hope as we persevere, as we push on through this.
Now I’m not always going to want to put my mask on, but I’m going to do it anyway. Not just because it keeps me safe but it keeps everybody else around us safe. And it gives me the ability to continue to be able to be in front of people, if I have that mask on and they have their mask on.
By persevering to I want to encourage each of us to ask ourselves, ask our doctors, ask our local department of health: how can we help? Is there something that we can do in households? Is there something that we can do as friends or family members? Is there is there a way for us to approach those we know who do not want to be vaccinated, not because they can't be vaccinated for health reasons, but who don't want to be vaccinated because they don't understand that information? How can we share that information and do that in a way that is compassionate and caring and not judgmental?
This time of perseverance is a time for us to try new things, to look to assist in any way that we can, that our communities and our churches and our households and our schools and our workplaces are all safe. And that we encourage others who are worried or who are afraid, that they can be safe too. God is not going to leave us. God has been with us through every single bit of this pandemic and will continue to guide us. And part of the way God guides us is to give us that hope for the future and the ability to push on through, to persevere until we get to that place.