This is the fifth Sunday that we're meeting exclusively online.
Now that we're all sheltered in place, it seems everything is on break.
The economy is on break. School vacation is on break. Sports. Normal is on break. Yet things like being a mom isn't on break. Trying not to feel so down or restless or anxious isn't on break. Needing love and encouragement is not on break.
Fortunately our awesome GOD is not on break either; His lovingkindnesses never cease, His mercies are new every morning.
The church isn't on break, either. It may seem like church is on break since we're not worshiping God together. Especially if we think of church as a building that we go to, or a Sunday morning service that we attend.
How do we express our faith in Jesus Christ if we cannot meet for church and worship God together? How do we do church if we cannot go to church?
But two this COVID-19 shelter-in-place intrusion on our lives highlights 2 things:
First, while it may be easier to stay home and watch worship and sermon videos on Sunday mornings, we are reminded of how important it is for us to actually meet together in the flesh, face-to-face.
A second thing about not being able to meet together is the reminder that our faith is meant to be expressed in ways far beyond "going to church" and singing songs to God. And the church is way more than a Sunday Gathering.
The church is that something we're a part of that is so much bigger than of us. In Matthew 16:13 Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"
Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it."
According to Jesus, the church is something incredible that He is building, that we are part of, which the gates of death and evil and hell cannot withstand.
Gates are defensive structures. So the church is on offense, evil is on defense; defending itself against the church's preaching of the good news and works of love.
The apostle Paul described an aspect of the church in a beautiful way in Ephesians 3,
Ephesians 3:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace… 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household [God's family], 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone…
Through faith in Jesus Christ you are part of God's intimate family of believers —you're connected to Jesus Christ, Peter, Paul, Calvin & Luther, all of the faithful martyrs, those who ministered during the plagues and believers who erected schools and hospitals and those who helped to abolish slavery.
The church is the Community of the Eternal sons and daughters of God chosen by the Father, renewed by the Spirit, given for each other, and given a message of eternal hope for all the world to hear.
Mark 16:15 And [Jesus] said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation."
Go throughout the world, tell them Jesus died for them and rose again again and offers eternal life with God to all who believe. That's the gospel we're to take into the world. That's the mission.
This is the church. A fellowship of the saints who've been reconciled to God, a community of grace for each other, and for the world. Chosen by God. Redeemed by the Son. Renewed by the Spirit. And given to each other. And given a message and sent to live and share it in the world.
So even though we cannot meet on Sundays, the church is not on break. The church does not cease to be the light of the world just because you're under lockdown. The Gospel doesn't cease to be good news. And people don't cease to need God.
The church must not be on break during this moment. For this quarantine may last another month or months longer, so this is a fresh call to make the most of our time,
Ephesians 5:15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
So how do we express our faith in Christ if we cannot worship together? How do we do church if we cannot go to church?
Bloom where you're planted!
Right now, you get to be a home church, you have the opportunity to express your faith at home more than anywhere else.
Some of you are sequestered at home without work. Some are blessed to still be able to go to work. Some are working in medical fields and with people, and you have great opportunity. Some of you are working from home. Some of you are working from home and raising your children who are home too…
IF you have extra time, use this to draw near to God. Spend time cultivating a conversation of prayer.
Also, be in the word, be in community, and look for ways to bless others.
Draw near to God through reading your Bible and trusting God's glory and power and love. Be in the word. Continue to grow your trust and knowledge of God and the lovingkindnesses of His grace toward you! I've read the Psalms and have almost completed Acts during this time. It's been good. Read the Bible. Open an app. Listen to good sermons online, there are a lot of good messages to be discovered.
Be diligent to be in community. Get outside your head, outside of your television. Don't overdose on the News. Experience community and love with real people. Phone loved ones, better yet use Facetime and see the person you're speaking with. You laugh more. Your heart gladdens. If you're working from home, daily text a coworker that you normally connect with. Maintain community with your church, your family, friends. Also, join us on our Facebook page each Wednesday at 7:00 PM for "Live" communion.
Bless others. Bless your coworkers. They're scared, frustrated; encourage them. See if they need anything. Bring in some donuts or something. Share our messages, share how God is blessing you.
Bless your friends and neighbors. Check in on them and see how they are. Offer to shop for an elderly neighbor or find other ways to help. One of my neighbors had her garage door open and a ladder out so I ran over to help. Cooley Dickinson is accepting PPE's like homemade masks and goggles and safety glasses.
Bless your church family. Many have offered to help and have donated to our benevolence ministry during this. Call people up who are not keeping up online. Go old school and write letters to some of the seniors.
Bless others online. A great way to carry out our mission is to share your faith online. Share good Christ-glorifying posts that you read. Share our sermons, don't just like them share them. Not to preach at people, but to share Jesus and the hope that you have in Him.
These and many other ways are how we can be the church for now—a community of grace for each other, and a community of grace sent into the world with the message of hope and life in Jesus Christ.
If you are married, or if you have children at home with you, perhaps the best expression of your faith is to love those you're cooped up with. Realize they are stressed too. Draw on Christ to love them, and I mean fruit of the Spirit love! Draw on Christ in you to be patient when you feel like jumping on them, to be kind when they upset you, and to be gentle with them even when they might be making your life more difficult. Choose in Christ to not be offended, to have mercy, and to genuinely forgive them for not measuring up.
These are strange times.
If you are working at home and you have young children, or you have teens stuck at home with you, realize again this is hard for you, and hard for them too. It may be prudent to relax things a bit. Give your young children undistracted face-time time. Give them you! But if you have work to do you are responsible for that work too. You may need to set the kids in front of the television while you work, or allow them to be on their phone more than you like. There's no shame in this. Give yourself a break. And afterward, give them that one on one face time again. Realize love covers a multitude of sins.
Most everyone is under more emotional stress these days, including you. So now is a particularly important time to choose to trust and live intentionlly under God's grace, not impossible laws.
Galatians 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Don't put yourself under impossible to fulfill laws or expectations; and don't put anyone else under those self-determined laws! Right now is probably NOT the best time to enforce strict rules in the house. It's not the best time to double down on your diet or losing weight or being the perfect mom and the perfect employee and the perfect Christian all at the same time.
Now is the time to double down on God's grace, on abiding in Christ, trusting in His sovereign grace, and making the most of this.
Be the church wherever you are. Probably at home. With whomever you are with. This isn't law, it is grace. Grace for a clean conscience. And grace to be Christ's church in the world, today.