A certain man had two children. Together the family was a blessing to the village. Both of the children became helpers. The boy guided people on dangerous adventures in order to help them to find things they were looking for and many were grateful. The girl was a healer and was called upon to care for the sick and many were healed on account of her skills. The village was blessed by this family and the man loved both his children.
There was an enemy. One who was envious and wished ill upon the family. One day, a virus entered the village and a number of people became sick. People no longer braved the adventures that demanded the skills of the son, but many were in need of the daughter’s healing. She worked hard, yet many died.
The certain man suggested they work together for the good of the village. They agreed but the brother refused to do some of the basic things his sister claimed were necessary in order to keep the village safe. He claimed she was fearful and sometimes even paranoid. She claimed he was callous and sometimes even an embarrassment.
The two children came to their father and both expected him to agree with their opinion. The man loved both his children and knew the work of the enemy. He was saddened that the enemy had gained such an influence over his children and he asked the question “How can we expect the village to receive our blessing if we cannot even get along with one another?”
Most days I have been wearing a mask. Earlier this week, I was in the bank. I must confess it crossed my mind that I belonged in a movie. I’ve seen this in movies, outlaws wear masks into banks. I am pretty sure that six months ago I would have been escorted out if I came into the bank like this. Now I would be escorted out if I didn’t. But this is our current reality. If indoors and unable to physical distance, I try to wear a mask.
I suspect that most of us are neither paranoid or callous. Most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes, ranging from very cautious to somewhere less cautious. Unfortunately, it is too easy for the less cautious to label the cautious “paranoid.” And too easy for those who are more cautious to label the less cautious as “callous.” Neither of these responses are helpful.
The idea of masks has become an emotionally charged situation. That is stating it mildly. People demonstrate a lot of passion for or against masks. It seems we look for reasons to divide ourselves further. The world has become an arena for division and masks have become another reason for people to dig their heels in and say divisive things.
It is vitally important for the church to respond in different ways than the world. Whatever the church chooses to do there are certain things that should be exhibited. Our efforts should seek to minister to as many as possible and exhibit care for those most at risk and vulnerable. We are one body and must approach challenging situations not by shaming or with cavalier attitudes, but with understanding, humility, and unity.
What does it mean to be the church at this time in history? It is certainly a bit unusual. We have had a full month of in person worship and it has been unlike any other. Masks are not typical worship attire, yet some have been wearing a mask. We typically gather in order to sit close to one another, but some are physical distancing. We usually hand out bulletins, pass an offering plate, and often pass the peace. But instead we have set up additional stations for hand sanitizing. We have been back several weeks now but there are some we are used to seeing in worship who are not yet comfortable gathering. We just keep telling everyone, both those who have started to attend and those who continue to shelter in place, we are one body. It is an unusual time for the church, but we are still one.
When March began I was pretty sure that our walk through the season of Lent would include several discussions during our Wednesday Evening Study that would challenge common notions of what it means to follow Jesus. I was pretty sure it would include a variety of people reading for us during Sunday Worship. I was pretty sure it would include listening to the Gospels as they offer us words with more substance than what we tend to hear from the voices of culture.
Instead we have found ourselves in unknown territory. We are living in the age of COVID-19. The church in the United States is not used to things like quarantine and concerns about new disease. It is not new for the church, but unprecedented for the American Church in this generation.
To be honest, this has been incredibly inconvenient. I am used to stopping on my way to the office to drink iced tea and use someone’s Wi-Fi. I am used to listening to people share stories and concerns in person. I am used to gathering with others to sing, pray, give, and read Scripture together. Yet, here I am getting used to a changing schedule. And we are all learning to be the church differently.
I am thinking this is good for us. I am thinking it may be good to be shaken out of our routine. It is good to be reminded that we are not in control. The natural response to cancellations and quarantine are about how difficult it becomes for us. Our experience has prepared us to become anxious or resistant. It is more difficult to think about what we can learn and how we can grow during this period in time.
And yet, the Bible was written for a church that clawed and fought to encourage one another in any way possible. A church that wasn’t always able to gather but found ways to support one another in community. A church that knew there is a real possibility for people to feel isolated during difficult times. That is where we find ourselves at Christ Reformed Church. We recognize that we are a distributed people. We are seeking for new and even unorthodox ways to connect and serve. Our identity is not based on a virus but on a great God. We will continue to follow that God as we walk toward the next chapter. Whatever else is going on right now, I am convinced we are learning to be a better church.
We are reminded of some rather important things during a time like this;
- There is no such thing as “Business as usual”
- We tend to act as we have power that we do not possess. Yet, when honest we know that we are not in control
- It is time to reflect on our lifestyle… time to evaluate our priorities… time to determine what is excess
- The rest of the world has more experience with suffering than we do
- We need one another… we are created for community
- Grace is more important than blame
- Faith is more important than anxiety
- Sickness nor death will have the final word
This Sunday, we will hold a reception before worship. We have done this often enough that I know we will share baked goods and prepared foods and beverages. I know we will greet one another in an informal setting and do some catching up. I know we will get caught up in the fellowship and straggle into worship a little late. I love these times. Truth is, I don’t always eat during the reception. Instead, I move about and listen. I listen as others engage in conversation. I watch as others look out for one another.
Hospitality is an important ministry of our congregation. I am elated for those who have been participating in this ministry. I appreciate those who make plans to be more intentional about how to show hospitality and those who go out of their way to make others feel welcome. This is not an assignment we want to hand to specific individuals as much as it is a culture we want to find throughout the congregation.
As naturally as hospitality appears to happen during these receptions, I know this does not just happen. This is God making us and shaping us and calling us to be a hospitable people. We hold receptions because, among other things, together we are a welcome committee. We welcome people into the kingdom of God. I love these times because this short time of fellowship is an excellent demonstration of who we are becoming.
Creeds are more than a formal or intellectual statement. The early Christian creeds serve a helpful purpose, even for the church today. Still, many of us remain suspicious and I suspect many of us haven’t even read one of the creeds. With the caveat that creeds do not contain the same authority of Scripture, here are some reasons for rethinking use of the creeds;
- Creeds remind us we aren’t the first to believe these things. We are connected to others throughout history and belong to a bigger story than we can imagine.
- Creeds remind us there are some things we should be informed about and offer us a clear summary of important parts of the faith.
- Creeds remind us there are certain things we hold to; the church is not permitted to run off in any direction it chooses.
- Creeds remind us we are connected to one another by common beliefs. Churches may have minor differences, but we share certain central claims. The creeds promote unity.
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen
We started the week with bread and cup and ended it by handing out food to local residents who sign up for the food bank. These two things are more connected than one might expect. We worship and we serve. We gather and we send. We received the bread and cup in a warm sanctuary on padded pews and we carried food out into the cold weather for recipients. We want to be identified for both of these activities. We want to be known as people who have a thing for the bread and cup and as people who show up on a cold Saturday morning to bag and carry groceries for others.
When honest, there is a lot we do that involves food. Two weeks from now we are holding a soup feast (we call it the Souper Bowl). Three weeks later we plan on having a reception prior to worship. Eating together is part of our DNA. We gather for a lot of reasons. We like each other. We like one another’s recipes. We believe our gatherings around the table are hints of things to come.
Undoubtedly, there is more going on at the table than any of us realize. When Jesus first blessed the bread and cup and told us to remember, no one knew what that might mean for us so many years later. We still don’t know all the implications. But we continue to gather, share bread and cup with one another and with others. There is something valuable going on here, something more than vitamins and minerals and nutrients, more than proteins and carbohydrates and antioxidants. Gathering at table around food is a bigger event than we know.
In the middle of the week, in between receiving the bread and cup and handing out food for our neighbors, we lost our friend Bill. We will miss Bill’s humor, his smile, his cynical ways, his love for songs, his love for people. There is much we will miss about Bill. But we believe Bill is a more recent part of a story that includes people like Abraham, Sarah, Samson, David, Daniel, Mary, Peter and Paul. Bill, like the rest of us, belongs to a story that tells us God is up to something.
Perhaps it is should be no surprise, but I met Bill at a dinner. People like Bill make me glad we get together to eat. To be with old friends and to meet new ones. Our gatherings are a celebration of what God is doing and a foretaste of what is to come.
Twenty-two of us gathered around a table in the basement last night to talk about Christmas. We also eat at these gatherings. We seem to take cues from those first century gatherings we read about in an old book we call Acts so when we get together we are often eating (I suspect some come for the eating). We weren’t quite talking about Christmas, but about Advent. One has to go through Advent in order to get to Christmas. We are preparing. We are waiting. We are getting ready. In a way, I suspect we are like shepherds tending sheep in the fields or like Magi traveling from the east.
Our conversation actually included a prophet for hire and a donkey who talked. These are great stories but it was the words of the hired prophet that stick out in a context for Advent. “I see him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel.”
I love these meetings. While I do not tend to like labels, we have had people who call themselves Congregationalists and Methodists and Lutherans and Pentecostals attend these meetings. What do you get when you put a group like this in the basement with a holiness preacher for the purpose of listening to old texts together? I think you get a great picture of church. Sometimes this text simply fascinates us. Sometimes it creates more questions than answers. Sometimes it challenges us in ways we did not expect. But we always benefit when we get together for the purpose to hear what it says.
It is our hope that our readings and discussions lead to things like belief and behavior and belonging. If they don’t, then why spend time in the basement on a cold, dark night anyway? We don’t want to be a people who just talk about things. We want these things to spill out onto the street and into the surrounding community. What happens at 212 N High Street, doesn’t stay at 212 N High Street.
At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. There, you will find a fine brick building with plenty of character. The imprint in the concrete near the front steps say it was built in 1912. Multiple things go on here. In just the next few weeks, among other things, the building will serve as the site for a dinner, study sessions, the local food distribution, a board meeting, and a party. Next Thursday evening, we will sit on the front steps and give treats to the neighbors.
But the primary thing that happens here is a gathering on Sunday mornings. We don’t take these gatherings casually; in fact, we believe heaven and earth meet here. We gather with allies to acknowledge who rules the world. We gather to remind ourselves of our role in such an important narrative. We gather to pray, sing, and bless one another for the ongoing journey. We enter sacred space and read words of hope out loud. We are reminded of what is real in contrast to the artificial news we hear so much of the time. On account of these things, I suspect most of our gatherings leave attenders somewhat ‘spirited.’
But recently we were reminded that what we do is not always ‘spirited’, at least not in a sense that feels good. In fact, we were reminded that our gatherings can be sobering. It is hard to feel good when one of your own is hurting. It is easy to talk about retaliating toward a perpetrator. It is difficult to talk about forgiving them. It doesn’t feel good when a friend is pouring out the emotional pain of her soul because of a literal catastrophe.
At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. But there is something going on in those Sunday gatherings where we attempt to “bless those who persecute… rejoice with those who rejoice… mourn with those who mourn.”