Ending Social Distancing after COVID-19 (Acts 28:11-16, 30-31)
One year ago last week, Vice President Mike Pence and the rest of the Coronavirus Taskforce stood before the American people and said that we needed to stay at home for 14 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. And I believed them!
I had a routine: I would go to yoga class on Tuesday and Friday and then swim; on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I’d do weight training and then swim. After I left the gym, I’d drive for Lyft and Uber for a few hours.
My routine ended on March 17, 2020. I went to yoga class that morning—I had even picked out a green tank top because it was St. Patrick’s Day. I was the youngest one in that class by 30 years or so, and that day, I was the only one to show up; my elder classmates were apparently concerned about COVID. I told the teacher she didn’t need to do the class just for me, and I went to the pool and swam. A few hours after I swam, the gym would close its doors for good, a casualty of the pandemic.
The following Sunday my family and I worshiped at home, for the congregation in Vinton, Virginia, was closed. But I got a call the next week that we’d meet the next Lord’s Day in the parking lot. We needed to bring our own fruit of the vine, but unleavened bread would be provided. We couldn’t get out of our cars to hug or greet anyone. But we could roll down our windows, sing together, commune together, be led in prayer, and listen to the Word preached.
Life changed a year ago. Tammy stopped working—being a librarian, she couldn’t very well teach remotely. Wil, our younger son, started remote learning; and, like so many other young people, he did not get to walk for his high school graduation—he only got a YouTube video from the administration.
I know life changed for you, too. Some of you began working remotely. Some of you started having the kids at home 24/7. And church changed drastically. You met Sunday mornings online, but you had no midweek service and no worship on Sunday night.
But I imagine the biggest change for you was losing connection. There are probably people you haven’t seen since before the pandemic. There are probably people you haven’t hugged since before the pandemic. There are probably people you desperately want to see, to talk to, to connect with, and to show your love, but you haven’t been able to do so because of COVID-19.
God created man as a social being. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Gen 2:18). Because man is a social being, God intends for his people to share their lives. About his ministry among the Thessalonians, Paul said, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess 2:8).
How do we begin to share our lives with each other again? How do we begin to reconnect with our brothers and sisters post-COVID? This morning, we want to think about Paul’s trip to Rome. The journey was about 2,250 miles and took about 4 months. Luke and Aristarchus were with Paul (Acts 27:1-2); however, he is cut off from every other brother and sister. Paul was lonely during those four months; I say that because of his reaction when he finally sees his brothers and sisters again: “At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged” (Acts 28:15). Paul’s reaction demonstrates: “Christians need connection with other Christians.”
Body and Application from Scripture (Acts 28:11-16, 30-31)
We’re going to do something different this morning. Normally, I’ll exegete a passage for you to understand the Word of God and then move toward application. This morning’s text doesn’t lend itself to that, for it’s largely a travel record of Paul’s arrival in Rome and a summary of his years under house arrest.
Now that Governor Abbott has eased restrictions, many folks are getting vaccinated, and we’re moving toward herd immunity, how do we reconnect with our brothers and sisters? Let’s think about the way Paul reconnected with brethren after his journey to Rome.
To reconnect with brethren, you need A CRAVING.
At Puteoli, “we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them” (Acts 28:14). These brethren craved a connection with Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus; they wanted that connection and worked to make it happen.
If you’re going to connect with brothers or sisters post-COVID, you need to CRAVE, i.e., want, that connection. God expects his people to live in communion with one another.
- The early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:42, 46).
- “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).
- “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (Heb 13:1).
Do you CRAVE a connection with your brothers and sisters? Why don’t you cultivate that CRAVING in your life? Think back over the past stressful year. What brother or sister did you miss when you were stuck at home? What brother or sister did you want to hug? What brother or sister did you want to see smile? What brother or sister did you miss sitting next to in worship? What voice did you miss hearing sing? What brother did you miss leading prayer?
Give some serious thought to what you missed with your brethren this past year. Cultivate a CRAVING to connect with your brothers and sisters!
To reconnect with your brethren, you need A COMFORT.
At Puteoli, “we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them” (Acts 28:14). Not only did the brethren at Puteoli crave to connect with Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus, but they provided them with A COMFORT—i.e., they served them.
Hospitality was very important in the ancient church. Inns were notorious as places of disrepute, and most of them were just not suitable for Christians to stay. Thus, brethren would open up their homes to one another when they traveled. Paul and his companions had a need, and the brethren at Puteoli met that need.
You must be willing to meet the needs of your brethren.
- “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mk 10:43-44).
- “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14).
- “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
How can you COMFORT your brethren? What needs can you meet? This afternoon think about who is in this assembly this morning; do something for someone here this morning. What talents do you have that you can use to serve someone in the assembly this morning? This afternoon think about who is not in this assembly this morning; do something for someone unable to assemble here this morning. What talents do you have that you can use to serve someone unable to worship this morning?
Reconnect with your brethren. Provide them with A COMFORT.
To reconnect with your brethren, you need A COMMITMENT.
“The brothers and sisters [in Rome] had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us” (Acts 28:15). The Forum of Appius was about 43 miles from Rome along the famous Appian Way; the Three Taverns was about 33 miles from Rome along the same road. Think about that for just a moment, the brethren traveled a considerable distance in an era without automobiles to see Paul. They put forth some effort, they made A COMMITMENT to connect with Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus and carried out that commitment.
You must be willing to put forth effort—make A COMMITMENT—to reconnect with your brothers and sisters in Christ:
- The Good Samaritan made a commitment to connect with the injured Jew: “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Lk 10:34).
- The household of Stephanus made a commitment to connect with brothers: “You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (1 Cor 16:15).
Reconnection is not going to happen automatically; you cannot simply sit back and wait for everybody to reconnect with you. Put for some effort—make A COMMITMENT—to reconnect. Pick up the phone and ask a brother to lunch. Spend some time writing a note to let a brother know how much he means to you. Drive over to see a brother or sister you’ve missed. I want you to make A COMMITMENT this week to connect with a brother or sister. Put forth some effort to bridge the gap this past year has created.
The ending of Acts tells us much about the truth that “Christians need connection with other Christians.” Acts 28:30-31. Paul was confined to home for two years, and he needed connection. What did he do? He welcomed those who came to him, and he taught the gospel.
Because Paul knew the importance of connecting with brethren, he sought to make more brethren by proclaiming the truth. Can you proclaim the truth this week? Can you share the gospel with a friend or coworker? Can you show Jesus by the way you live?
Do you need to connect with brethren by becoming a brother in Jesus? If you need to come, come right now as we stand and sing.
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.