Sheptock, Rudy

Pastor Rudy Sheptock.

NOTE: The Cape May County Herald is offering full coverage of the COVID-19 / coronavirus emergency to all, with no payment required. We are committed to ensuring our readers can make critical decisions for themselves and their families during this ongoing situation. To continue supporting this vital reporting, please consider a digital subscription. For more coverage, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

The isolation of this social distancing world we now live in is starting to get to me.

During this coronavirus battle, I have only ventured to two places besides my house - The Lighthouse Church and Coastal Broadcasting’s radio studio. While in both places, I get to interact with many people through social media and the FM dial. The only problem is, while others get to see and hear me, I don’t get to see and hear them, and this spells a recipe for loneliness and a skid into potential depression for an extroverted soul, like mine.

I can’t help it, but God wired me to be highly response-oriented. Preaching to an empty room is not the same as sharing my messages with the flock staring back at me. I like to see faces as I passionately share God's word.

During the weekends before this tragedy shut us all down, I would present the same sermon three different times on Saturdays, at 6 p.m., and Sundays, at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. It never got boring to me because every occasion provided a unique twist and spiritually driven turn that always kept everything fresh and new. The content of my talks might have been the same, but who God placed strategically in the congregation always meant that it came out of me with renewed vigor every time. When I can’t interact personally with those within earshot of me, it affects my psyche.

Do you think that maybe this is why Jesus came from heaven to show the way? He could have gotten on a supernatural powerful sound system and blasted his parables and stories down to us while our Savior stayed within the safe surroundings of glory. Yet, Jesus didn’t do that.

He came down to our level when we couldn’t get up to His. He lived among us. He made eye contact with His creation. He ate meals with us and walked where we walked with His disciples by His side.

The Shepherd didn’t direct His sheep by remote control. Our Lord was directly in the pasture that the sheep could rub up against Him and feel the security of His presence with them. This wasn’t God sending text messages from a distance. It was God so close to us that we could hear Him whispering truth in our ears.

Maybe, this is why the pandemic is beginning to pound at my gut. Being visible to others without the closeness of true communion is not an actual fellowship.

Somebody said to me this past week, “Are you going to continue with the online classes and studies after life gets back to normal?” As for me and my ministry, I responded with a quick, “No.” This is why I am not a fan of going to church to only watch a speaker on the screen like you would watch television at home.

The apostles would sit Jesus' feet. They would experience all of Him, as He also related life in an upfront and unusually close posture. There are approaches that we all have to do out of necessity, but that doesn’t mean that they are the best way.

I long for all of us to be in the same room again as soon as possible. Nothing substitutes for being physically together while understanding spiritual principles. If it was only about intellectual learning, all we would need was books. 

Even the Bible itself can’t be fully appreciated unless you invite the author to interact with you while you read. The Holy Spirit revealing to us eternal truth is not a one-way conversation. It involves the participation of God and man involved in the same place, in a united process, and at the same time.

I miss the hugs and high fives. I miss the fist-bumps and the laughter and tears we all share along the journey.

I read where a high-ranking official said that people should abandon shaking hands altogether. I profusely disagree with that suggestion.

We were not made by God to operate like robots. The Bible encourages us to greet one another with a holy kiss, and that goes way beyond a polite head nod. Jesus wasn’t afraid to catch our cooties.

It wasn’t a virus that took His life. It was hatred. I’ll risk the consequences that come with the power of touch.

I can’t go the rest of my life without it. Like Olaf, the snowman character in the Disney film "Frozen," I, too, need warm hugs just to get me through the monotony of days spent on earth. The fact that so many loved ones had to take their last breaths alone, without any contact from family and friends during this ordeal, is enough to make my heart ache forever.

This is not the way God designed us to exist. All we need is love. It is even more important than Clorox wipes and toilet paper.

The other day, it felt like spring, so I drove down the street because I missed my granddaughter, Lucia, and I still had not seen my newest twin granddaughters, Adelina and Claire, in person.

I went by Leah and Jeff’s house and found Lucia playing with bubbles in the backyard. She was giggling in such a contagious fashion that I couldn’t help but join in the festivities. I think she got a kick out of the fact that I was calling it “bubble juice.”

Pop-pop kept saying, “We need more bubble juice.” At that moment, in the arms of their parents, those new lives appeared at the door. It took all the restraint within me to not hold those precious treasures in my arms.

I complied with the new world order, but my heart was protesting. They were within my reach, and I couldn’t touch them. I share this because there was nothing normal about it, and in the long run, I don’t believe that it would be healthy for them to be so protected that no other loved one could cuddle them and love on them in their arms.

What I am trying to say is that ships in the harbor might be safer there, but that is not what ships were made for. People were created by God to be loved-up close and personal.

I am praying, like many of you, that this, too, will pass. We will not survive if this lifestyle continues forever. It won’t be a virus that kills us, but rather a broken heart.

No man is an island, and we are not put on this earth as solo entities. We all need the power of a holy touch. We need to be held in the hands of those who cherish us.

When I get to heaven, I will not be content to just be in the same room as Jesus. I want to fall in the arms of my Lord. I hope we never get to the extreme where we outlaw contact.  I, for one, won’t survive without it.

Go away, coronavirus. Return soon, communion and community. I will never take you for granted again.

ED. NOTE: The author is the senior pastor of The Lighthouse Church, 1248 Route 9 South, Court House.