Covid-19 is throwing us all for a loop. As we practice “social distancing,” people are spending more time than ever on social media, posting opinions and graphs and memes and complaints and pictures of empty toilet paper aisles. One comment leads to a heated reply, which leads to another heated comment. And just when we thought we couldn’t be more polarized and divided as a nation, we find ourselves confined to our homes without any sports to cheer for!
And there’s this term we keep hearing in response to Covid-19: “flatten the curve.” You’ve undoubtedly heard it by now. If for some reason you haven’t, the idea is that if we were to chart out the rate that this virus is spread, without any intervention, the rate would potentially have a very sharp increase, leading to a very high peak on a bell curve. Meaning that a lot of people would get sick really quickly.
And if a lot of people get sick really quickly, then our hospitals and clinics get overwhelmed and are not able to handle the demand.
So, the argument to “flatten the curve” is that by practicing “social distancing” in creative ways–like hosting church services online instead of in person–we are able to slow down the rate that this virus is spread.
This doesn’t mean that the number of people who get the virus is necessarily decreased; it’s just that they don’t all get it at once. And by slowing the rate, or by “flattening the curve,” we give our hospitals and clinics a much better opportunity to respond effectively in treating people who become ill.
This idea essentially illustrates the difference between feeding the momentum or breaking the cycle.
Now I don’t know about you, but this was a new concept to me. In fact, if you would have asked me a week ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what “flatten the curve” even meant. And yet today, I’ve heard it so many times that it’s become a second-nature phrase in just a matter of days!
It struck me this week as I was spending time studying John 4 in preparation to preach about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well–while also watching and listening to the news–that this idea of flattening the curve isn’t new. In fact, it’s something that Jesus was doing 2000 years ago!
Think about it. Again, when you “flatten the curve,” you’re choosing between feeding the momentum or breaking the cycle.
Over and over throughout Jesus’ ministry, he is constantly “flattening the curve,” choosing to break the cycle of momentum in a variety of ways.
In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus could have followed cultural norms and fed the momentum of patriarchy by not associating with a woman, but he doesn’t. He breaks the cycle. He flattens the curve.
Jesus could have fed the momentum of tension between Jews and Samaritans, but he doesn’t. He breaks the cycle. He flattens the curve.
Jesus could have perpetuated the division caused by the argument about where true worship was supposed to take place (v. 20-24), but he didn’t. He breaks the cycle. He flattens the curve and instead says, “You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t understand. True worship of God isn’t about this mountain or that. It’s about worshiping God in spirit and in truth.”
Over and over, when given the option to perpetuate the momentum or to break the cycle, Jesus chooses to flatten the curve, to do something radical that would completely change the trajectory of the future.
And the truth is, we are called to do the same.
Practical example: While my mother-in-law was town last week she decided to make a grocery run (which, as many of you know, has been quite an adventure recently). She made her way through the chaotic aisles, between people who were fighting over the last of this and the last of that–kind of like shopping the day after Thanksgiving. When she finally made it to the checkout line–which was enormous–there were two, young Asian women in line in front of her. One of the women turned around to my mother-in-law and out of the blue says, “Thank you for smiling at us. You have no idea how much that means to us.”
How terrible is that? That simply because they are Asian, they have been treated so poorly during this outbreak that a simple smile means the world to them? How is this real life? How have we come this far? How have we let this virus sicken us in ways that go way beyond the physical symptoms of illness?
I read an article from a local news agency that affirmed this notion. Covid-19 is perpetuating the momentum of racism in our own backyard. People are giving into the lies of fear and anxiety in ways that are not flattening any curves. Instead, they are increasing the rate of hatred toward one another.
So, we ask what does John 4 have to do with us today? The reality is, today more than ever, we are faced with decisions and opportunities. Are we going to feed the momentum of racism, division, and hate? Or are we going to step into our calling to flatten the curve?
Ask yourself, how can I help flatten the curve of division?
How can I help flatten the curve of irresponsible social media posts?
How can I help flatten the curve of social isolation (which is different than social distancing)?
How can I help flatten the curve of misunderstanding people with different abilities, or beliefs, or political perspectives?
How can I help flatten the curve of anxiety?
In the same way that Jesus constantly flattened the curves of division and hatred in the first century, we, too, have an opportunity to change the trajectory of the future of our homes and our communities.
It’s my prayer, that God would give us a sense of peace and purpose in this moment, that we could become the non-anxious presence in a world that is flustered, that we would have the courage to call out the things that people are saying that just aren’t right, and that as we do so, people might look at us and say, “Oh, that’s the church. I see it now. They might not be meeting in a building these days, but they’re more clearly the church now than they’ve ever been.”
This is an excerpt adapted from a sermon “Encountering Jesus: The Woman at the Well,” preached at First United Methodist Church Richardson, on 3/15/20. Click here to view the sermon in its entirety (as well as the rest of the worship service).