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A Letter from The DS

July 17 2020


We faithful laity and clergy love our times of worship when we have the opportunity to come together and lift up our hearts to God. We are accustomed to doing it on a regular basis and when we don’t have the opportunity something meaningful seems to be left out of our lives. That is as it should be. We should be disappointed when we are unable to worship with our family of faith. We should never cease to worship God in community for anything other than a brief period of time. I understand the frustration and disappointment that this pandemic has thrust upon us, and the struggle we are going through to determine how to be a witnesses for Christ as well as good citizens of the communities we have been chosen to serve as His disciples.

Yet, we find ourselves in a season of time today where worship as we have known it is not going to happen. Even before the most recent pause in worship services, it was not the same. It was not the same because we have entered into a new way of delivering the gospel through technology that we have only done sparingly before the coronavirus. It was different because many of our faith family have not felt safe returning to worship. It was different because we were encouraged not to hug or even shake hands. It was different because there had to be restrictions regarding social distancing, singing, coffee and donuts, and more.

Let us be prayerful and careful that we don’t confuse our social activity disappointment around times of gathering for worship with our feelings about actual worship. Worship is always focused on the God of the Christian faith, not on me. Worship of God has never been done in the same way, by all people around the world. Let us ask ourselves, “Is worship about where we are, who is around us, the order of worship in the bulletin; or is worship about coming into the presence of the Holy and Living God of all creation and humbling ourselves before Him?” Maybe even without the coronavirus it is a good time to pause and pray. I have heard worship described as the whole church service…announcements through the benediction. I have heard worship described as only the sermon in the service. I have heard worship as the portion of the service where the praise band “leads us in worship”. Any and all of that is worship if and only if we allow God to be a part of it, by allowing Him to take His place on the throne in our hearts, minds, and spirits.

Pause and pray may be the best form of worship the people of church could offer to God at this moment. Yes, we will move forward at some point whether coronavirus disappears or not. There is no assurance that it will disappear. However, like most difficult decisions in life that involve risks it may be prudent and Christian to pause and pray before we move forward. It might be more Christlike to remember that our decisions as leaders in the church will affect not only our family of faith, but also the communities we live in as we relate with others in the community.

I would encourage you to read the apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 8. He is not talking about coronavirus, but he is taking about using our knowledge and freedom without the concern for the well-being of others in mind. Then Paul says this, “But watch out or else this freedom of yours might be a problem for those who are weak.” (CEB) The weak…the vulnerable…are these not the ones Jesus showed so much concern for when Jesus ministered on earth? Should we not do the same?

If we desire to be the hands and feet of Christ in order to show the love of Christ to the least and the last and the lost, we have to be concerned with more than just ourselves. We need to have a heart for doing what is best for the common good in our communities. What is the best way each of our congregations can do that in their context? Is Sunday morning worship, like we have always done it, converting our communities to Christ?

Can we be honest? The church, including most of our United Methodist Churches, have been in a state of decline for many years now. Some of us can automatically point to a particular issue or event that we believe is the cause of this condition. But I would suggest today that most of the outside forces we would point to, and most of the inside events or issues we would point to, are not the cause. They are the symptoms or the results of something much more serious. That being, our decision to keep on doing church in the way that has made us comfortable through the years, proclaiming our desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but unable or unwilling to ask God how He wants us to be about this disciple making today.

Maybe we should all take a moment to pause and pray…to worship God by asking God what God wants us to do now. Maybe this demon of comfortability, that we have come to love so much in the American church, needs to be cast out in favor of what Jesus called for when He said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.” (Mark 8:34-35 CEB)

Jesus is not talking about risking our lives to do what is comfortable to us. Jesus is talking about risking our lives to make sure that person who is lost at least hears and sees the gospel in and through us, thereby having a chance to receive salvation.

“Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened.” (Matthew 7:7,8 CEB) Maybe coronavirus can be an opportunity for us to pause and pray before going back into our gathering spaces, and just ask Jesus, “What is the next step for us as a people of God…as the people called Methodist to take in giving up our lives for the sake of the gospel?” My best guess is we won’t hear Jesus say, get back to what you have been doing as soon as possible.

I would be interested in what you hear God speak to you after you have spent time in His presence worshipping with your heart, mind, and spirit focused upon nothing or no one but the Holy Triune God. There is absolutely nothing to hold us back from doing so, except our unwillingness to do so. It may be then, when we finally ask, seek, and knock that God will open the door to the Kingdom work to be done today.

Just something to think about.

Your servant in Christ,