Reflecting on the Journey
The greater the adversity, the simpler the message!
Every now and again, it’s good just to sit back, take a deep breath, and relax. Take a deep breath, relax, and remember … Remember that this – ALL this – isn’t anything new! It’s new for us. We haven’t been here before. But the church has been here. The virus. The pandemic. Even the distancing and the masks. It’s all an echo, a reflection, of what happened a little over a hundred years ago. When the Spanish flu drove us apart. When another pandemic forced us to close church doors. It’s helpful knowing we’ve been here before. When there weren’t any magic words or magic wands. When there were just basic principles for maintaining, for regaining, the public’s health.
This time around, though, at least we have technology on our side. Not just the technology to help us overcome the virus. But the technology to help us pass the time. The technology to help us keep working. To help us keep learning. To help us stay connected … like we’re doing, right now! A century ago, when congregations and synagogues and mosques were closed, there was only the newspaper. For sermons. For prayers. This time, we have a few more options. And after a couple months, our life as a church has fallen into a new “normal.” A new rhythm. A new routine. Worship, Sunday mornings. Morning blessing at sunrise, two days each week. Wednesday evening study. This week, even a graveside service, two hours away. We’re getting together, like so many others, right here on Facebook. Connecting with people in ways our grandparents, our great grandparents, never would have dreamed of.
But it has been challenging. Figuring out what to do. Learning how to do it. Especially when you’re – when I’m – a “boomer” in every sense of the word. But I think, the most difficult piece hasn’t been the technology – as difficult as it’s been. The most difficult piece has been the faith! Has been the believing! It’s not been how to say it. It’s been what to say! There was a time, not all that long ago, when I thought selling the building to another congregation and downsizing to the fellowship was hard. That’s nothing, compared to leaving the fellowship hall and moving our life together online! What do you take with you? What can’t you live without? Altar? Pulpit? Candles? Robes? Hymnals? Bulletins? Inserts? What could we leave behind? The luxuries we could live without? And for better – or worse – this is what we’ve become. At least, for now. At least, for the foreseeable future.
Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve become leaner … theologically speaking! Things have become pretty simple. Simpler than they’d been. Here, today, there are only a couple things that matter. A couple things that are important, essential. There is god; and there are people! There is gospel; and there is church! That’s all we need. Those are the things that bring us together. Those are the things that keep us together. Bottom line, god loves … period. Bottom line, god loves … exclamation mark! And that’s all god does! God doesn’t love if … God doesn’t love when … God doesn’t love unless or until … God, just, loves! Love is the inspiration and the motivation for everything god has done! The inspiration and the motivation for everything god does! For everything god will ever do! Whether it’s creating or saving or making new! It’s all love! Love for every and each! Love for all and for one! That’s what we call gospel! That’s what’s made real in Jesus! No hell; no damnation. No fire; no brimstone. No retribution; no wrath. Only grace! Only mercy! Only love! Whether we believe it or not! In the mercy of almighty God …. Out of the goodness of god’s own heart ….
It’s simple! There’s god and there’s people! People … the apple of god’s eye! People … the object of god’s affection! In order for god to love, there has to be something to love. That something is this! All of this! That something is you! All of you! To have and to hold till! To have and to hold beyond! There is god; and there are people! There is gospel; and there is church! We’re here to do two things. We’re here to proclaim and administer good news. In sacrament. In word. That’s how the world discovers how much god cares! How much we matter! It’s through our words and through our actions! And there’s no one that does it quite like us! Sure, there are principles, philosophies, about love. About loving. But we’re the only ones with the proclamation, with the promise … You are loved! Period. Exclamation mark! You are more important to god that god’s own life! That’s who we are! That’s why we are! To tell everyone that god loves them! Loves them with all god’s heart! Loves them with all god’s mind! Loves them with all god’s strength and with all god’s being! To tell them there’s nothing they can do to win that love! And to tell them there’s nothing they can do to lose that love, either!
That’s the mission, the ministry, of the church. To tell the world, to tell all creation, that god loves! That and, of course, to love in the same way! Love just like god! Love just like Jesus! Bringing good news to the poor! Proclaiming release to the captives, sight to the blind! Letting the oppressed go free! Announcing the Lord’s grace and favor! We’re here to love! Just like god! Just like Jesus! Feeding the hungry! Giving the thirsty something to drink! Welcoming the immigrant and the exile! Clothing the naked! Caring for the sick! Visiting the lonely, the lost! We’re here to turn the other and to go the extra and to do unto! And anything else … everything else … is nothing more than an interruption. Than a distraction.
So, the past two months have done more for us than just introduce us to new ways of connecting with people. They’ve refined us. Distilled us. So we can understand more than just the how, but the what and the why. Leaner – theologically speaking – and more faithful than we’ve ever been. God doesn’t hate. God doesn’t abhor. God doesn’t detest. God – if god is god, at all – does only one thing. God loves! And we – if we are half the church we think we are – we do the same! Love without limit! Love without measure! Love without apology! Love without excuse! For us, especially at times like this, there are only two things that matter … there’s god and there’s people! There’s gospel and there’s church! Anything more than that isn’t important! And anything less than that … Anthing less than that … My friends, truth is, there isn’t anything less!