Recently, there have been churches around the country suing local governments for placing restrictions on their meeting together. Local governments, after all, are bearing the burden of trying to keep the COVID19 pandemic under control. Again and again, you see some pastor go on tv and claim, “Essential businesses are open. The Church is essential too.”
I too would fervently agree that Church is essential, essential to moral and spiritual well-being of people. But then what is it about church that is essential? Virus or no virus, building or no building, what do we absolutely need to do? Here are some things about Church that I believe are essential: worship, prayer, teaching and love. You might come up with a longer, more exhaustive list, but I can stop there today. At First Christian Church we are continuing to do all these things. Worship feels different, when you are not physically gathering in one place, but gathering by means of zoom or livestream means that we can worship while not passing germs to one another. Loving one another is different too. When we were meeting in person, our fellowship times got downright rowdy as people rushed to hug one another and squealed with delight to see one another. These days, we share our love with cards and phone calls. We talk on zoom and occasionally socially distance one on one. The same love is still there!
Then there is the teaching. Ohhh, it is so important now. With so many competing visions of what it means to be religious, we have to keep working hard to teach how to live the Way of Jesus. Here is one passage I would like to lift up today: Luke 13:10-17. Jesus had done the good religious thing. He went to church (synagogue, actually), and was sharing a teaching when a woman who had been bent at the waist for 18 years hobbled in to the service. When Jesus saw her, he called out to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” And he went over, laid his hands on her and immediately she was healed. Notice, I didn’t say that the healing was the good religious thing that Jesus did. In fact, by healing her, he had broken the religious requirement to do no work on the sabbath. The ruler of the synagogue was indignant, and he went over and yelled at the woman (Yes, at the woman!), saying, “There are six days for work to be done, come be healed then not on the sabbath!” And Jesus answered, “Wow, you all would pull your donkey out of a ditch if it fell on the sabbath, and you won’t even permit me to heal this child of God today?” Luke says Jesus’ adversaries were put to shame.
So here is what we need to be teaching today. That to be a Jesus’ follower is to put love first. What we need most is empathy. Empathy means to be tuned into the people around us, listening to them and caring about them, trying to feel what they are feeling. The ruler of the synagogue in the story probably hadn’t even noticed that woman, much less cared about her. But Jesus saw her, and because she was suffering, she became the most important person in the room. And that, I believe, is what is essential about the Church. It is essential that we pay attention to where people are suffering, where they are burdened, where they struggle. And when we do that, others who doubt that the Church is essential might change their minds.
With hope and faith, Pastor Ted