By the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson
Eastern PA Conference Coordinator of Congregational Development
On Palm Sunday it seems strange not going to a worship service. But in many ways it might be better. I get to watch several Palm Sunday worship services online. But nothing beats being in worship all together.
The story about Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus knew his life was about to end. It wasn’t going to be an easy death but involve the torture of his body and soul even before he arrived at Golgatha to be nailed and hung from the cross. It was a surreal time for Jesus and his disciples. His disciples had in mind Jesus becoming King and restoring Israel as a nation in charge of the nations in the world.
The new world order was about to happen. They argued among themselves as to who would have what power in the new order. Who would have guessed the new world order had nothing to do with the political realm but with the spiritual realm. Something mind boggling for the Jews, because to them salvation was from the sovereign nation of Israel. For them, faith, nation and ethnicity were all one.
Today, we are living in another surreal time. What will happen to me, my family, my friends, my job, my family. And the list goes on. Our focus has to move from the mountain of what-ifs and refocus on Christ. Jesus in Matthew 6: 25 tells us to not worry about our lives. He asks us why we worry. “Don’t you trust God and know that He will take care of you? Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
Remember, God has a plan of salvation for each of us. There are two things we have no control over: coming into this world and leaving this world. It reminds me of a couple of personal stories about my own life journey.
First, I can remember when God was calling me to go to Africa to help pastors and people in their communities. He called me to go to Tanzania, and I was all set to go. I had my training, my (inoculation) shots; and my team was ready to go.
Suddenly, I said I was not ready to go. I made up some excuse—my wife and daughter needed me at home. And what would my church do without me? Those excuses sounded good to me. The next time, the Bishop asked me to go with the Cabinet to the Congo. I said I would pray about it; and then I said it wasn’t a good time to go. My family needs me and I have dietary concerns with my stomach issues. Again, the excuses sounded good to me.
My real anxiety was a fear of dying in Africa—from disease, food or political turmoil. It all created in me too much fear—too many what-ifs.
The third call came at Bethany UMC where an African from Ghana heard me preach about helping pastors become trained. I was training pastors in Costa Rica, and he asked me to do this in Ghana. I heeded the call and put a team together to go there and train pastors and to travel with medical teams.
No more excuses. Bobie and I went to Ghana in January to do preparations for the summer trip. We came loaded with all sorts of medicines to take if we got sick. The trip had one day to go; so we gave all our medical supplies to the people there. That night, as we slept, I became really sick. A fever started—and my temperature kept getting higher and higher. I wrapped myself in blankets because I felt my body freezing as my fever grew.
I said to Bobie, “Did you keep any antibiotics? “ He said no. I began to pray to God to break the fever—it kept getting higher and higher and even caused me to hallucinate. As hours passed with no relief, I finally said to God, “Take care of my wife and daughter please.”
I really was going to die in Africa after all—my worst fear was coming true. Suddenly, the fever broke. I felt the Lord say, “ I will tell you when you will die and where it will be.”
Now I have been to Africa more than 20 times and have come close to experiencing terrorist attacks, car accidents, illnesses, robbery, and visiting some new countries withnot knowing anyone I was meeting. God has always protected me.
My next story is one that just happened. During this time of social distancing, my wife Karen and I are trying to spiritually grow, eat right, exercise, do indoor and outdoor house projects, and of course, do some binge watching of TV programs. Our exercise consists of walking, working out, and biking. She hasn’t done the biking yet; but I went for the second time for my 11 mile trek throughout the hills of Nantmeal Township.
The back roads I travel have almost no cars and a few bikers and walkers. My goal is to never stop and never walk my bike. Yesterday, I decided to go a different route which took me to a major traffic route—401. As I approached the intersection, I didn’t want to stop; so I had to time my crossing just right to avoid cars and trucks.
I looked and saw only one vehicle coming towards me: a 40-ton red truck. I decided I could make it across if I accelerated. So, I jumped on my pedals. But as I did, the gears disengaged. Suddenly, the coronavirus didn’t seem like something I had to worry about. The truck driver saw my problem and went around me as I made a beeline to the shoulder. The gears came back for me to do so. I said to God, “I guess it wasn’t my time.”
The moral of these stories for me is that God has control of your life and my life. He has a plan for each of us. The coronavirus is a part of his plan. Trust God and remember all things work for his glory for those who have Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This time will pass—as the cross passed for Jesus and then the glory of the resurrection. In closing, Paul says—God’s plan seems like foolishness but to those who know Jesus it is the plan of salvation—eternal life with God.