Well this week sure took a turn, didn’t it? For our Lenten service on Wednesday night, I had originally planned to step away from the Israelite’s journey in the Wilderness and talk about Jacob, at whose well Jesus and the Samaritan women met. I wanted to examine the story of how he wrestled with God and received a new name. I think there are some interesting connections there between Jacob’s story and the Samaritan woman.
But then some things happened. Some news came out, guidelines were recommended, and our gathering place was closed. And that really sucks. I don’t like it either. I’m going to miss shaking your hands and seeing your faces. BUT I believe this is the absolute right decision—for us, and for all churches at this time.
We are commanded to love God and love our neighbor. In fact, one of the clearest ways that we show that we love God is by loving our neighbor. At this time that means keeping our distance from one another to slow down the spread of Covid-19, thereby keeping our most vulnerable neighbors safe. Keeping our distance from one another means not coming to church. To do otherwise would be selfish and dangerous. It could cause harm to our neighbor. God doesn’t want you to come to worship and harm your neighbor in doing so. That’s not love—for God or anyone else.
Churches all over the country are having to figure out how to continue to be a community of faith without being together. Some are mailing out worship materials for families to use at home. Others are recording services and broadcasting them. Some are even hosting online video chats so that everyone can at least see each other while they’re stuck at home.
All those things, and any other way we can find to worship God, ARE church. You don’t have to come to 6605 Old Independence Rd. to have/be church. Jesus said that whenever two or more are gathered in his name, he is there. In John 4, when asked by the Samaritan woman where the correct place to worship God was, Jesus said, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
Well. The hour is here. We CAN’T worship together like we used to. And we shouldn’t. At least for a little while. So, we’re going to get creative. We’re going to read and study more. We’re going to pray together over the phone. We’re going to drive by the church and receive communion while we can. We’re going to sing along with others as we watch videos or listen to hymns. You are the body of Christ, friends. Wherever you are, that’s where the church is.
Back to Jacob. On the way back to reconcile with his brother Esau, Jacob found himself alone in the Wilderness (Genesis 32:22-32). Somehow, the story doesn’t really say, Jacob winds up wrestling this guy and they wrestle all night, neither one of them gaining the upper hand. When morning comes, the guy tries to leave, and Jacob won’t let him go. I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Jacob says. The man blesses him and gives him a new name, Israel, because he had “wrestled with God and with humans and had prevailed.”
The world, our nation, and our church are in a wilderness moment right now. Many of us find ourselves alone wondering what on earth is happening. Many of us are wrestling with our faith, trying to discern how show our love for God in new ways. How do I love my neighbor? Won’t God protect me from this virus? How could God let it all come to this? These are good and important questions that we all need to wrestle with. It’s good to ask questions. Remember the Samaritan woman?
My prayer for you is that you are blessed in your wrestling and your questioning. That we come out of this disaster with a clearer knowledge of who God is and who we are called to be. I pray that we meet God in this Wilderness. I pray that we reemerge with new names and new ideas. I pray that we learn what it means to worship God in Spirit and truth.
I’m praying for you,
Pastor Shea Berbaum