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The Church in COVID-time: Loving our Neighbors

We all long for the time when the United Church of Colchester looks more like good friends sharing life and faith together

than looking at a picture of an empty sanctuary...

We want to be in fellowship together; in the sanctuary, the classrooms, the parish hall, the kitchen, the pastor's study, even outside in the yard. But we can't, yet.

Meanwhile, there is a growing cry throughout the nation for houses of worship to re-open. There is a call for churches to be considered an "essential service."

At some level, this idea that churches are essential services is very true. But, it is being "church" that is essential, not necessarily opening up the church building to normal traffic. Practicing faith is essential. Practicing faith in close proximity during a pandemic is not essential in the same way.

When in doubt...

For a long time I have had a go-to response to crises of faith in my own life and in the lives of those who come to me for Christian counseling. When faced with a problem of faith, I ask, what would Christ have me do? And I hear Christ's answer through two Biblical references: The Great Commandment and the passage in Micah that reminds us of what God requires of us.

Matthew 22:36-40
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Micah 6:8

And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

First, it is clear that the first commandment, to love God, does not nullify the second, to love our neighbor. It fact, it magnifies it. Loving our neighbor is a direct reflection of our love of God.

Second, the Micah passage starts with justice and mercy, the ways we ought to act with others. It is then encompassed by the call for us to do two things, simultaneously, to be humble and to walk with God.

The passages, I believe, say basically the same thing. We are to love -- walk with -- God with all of our being, and then are to reflect that love through love of our neighbor in acts of justice and mercy.

The early Church: suffering and sacrifice

I am also reminded that during the first two and a half centuries of the Church, Christianity was persecuted, first by the Jewish establishment, then by the Roman Empire. Much of the New Testament directly deals with the sacrifices Christian brothers and sisters made for each other, for the church, and for the coming Kingdom of God. Sacrifice was viewed as an essential way to respond to God's mercy and grace. Remember, our symbol is a cross--a symbol of sacrifice!

A perfect example of of this is the passage from 1 Peter used in this week's worship:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

In the time of COVID-19, it feels that seeking to love our neighbors in the midst of this pandemic means something like "stay home, stay safe, be well." It will look like wearing masks. After all, these mask are not for the wearer's protection, it is to protect everyone else from the wearer's germs! It means continuing with virtual worship and meetings, for a while, to protect the approximately 75% of the congregation who fall into one of the risk categories of COVID-19. It means resisting the impulse to turn church worship into a political issue. Worship is a spiritual issue. It means remembering that our symbol is not a building, it is the cross--a symbol of sacrifice.

So, for now, stay home, stay safe, be well. We will get through this, together as the Church!

Peace be with you!

Pastor Russ

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