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Where are you? Your doors are locked. Your windows are dark. Your community rooms are empty. Your ministers are unavailable. Where are you?
Yesterday, we witnessed in our nation’s capitol a scene that we never expected in this country. A protest, legal in all rights, turned into a violent riot by a small group of angry citizens. After the dust settled, many were hurt and four were deceased. Blame began to go around and the anger… it festers still.
Looking back on our history, during times of trial, the Church has emerged as the one and only sustaining hope. Why? Because in times of peace and in times of war, the Church has offered the world Jesus Christ. So, I ask again, Church, where are you?
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25
Over the past year, I recognize you had to make some difficult decisions. Decisions that you have never been faced with before. I get it. In March, we were all navigating each day without working instruments. We were told that Covid was going to wipe out a third of the world’s population. It was like an enemy we had to battle but could not see. It was scary. So, the world shut down. And along with the world, the Church shut down too.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16
The plague (a.k.a. “black death”) spread throughout Europe in the 1300s. Over 90% of those who contracted the plague died of it within a week, costing Europe 30-60% of its population in the fourteenth century. In that era, ministers, priests, monks, and nuns courageously cared for the sick and the dying, knowing that it might cost them their lives. Indeed, many did succumb to the black death because of their work. It wouldn’t be until the seventeenth century that the black death and various mutated forms of it would finally disappear.
Martin Luther was one of many ministers who was faced with a plague. And when this disease reached his city, Luther said:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely.
“If my neighbor needs me,” represents the attitude of a godly pastor in plagues, in wars, in times of fear.
Church, where are you?
Now, before I get a slew of angry messages, let me clarify. I recognize that during the first couple of weeks of covid, everything was in chaos and closing seemed like the right thing to do — for a couple of weeks. Some churches have developed an online ministry with viewers from around the country. This is a good thing. For some people, the idea of walking through church doors is too much but watching online is easy. There have been some out-of-the-box ministries that have emerged and for those things, God is glorified. But …
Many churches are still closed 11 months later. Eleven months! Why?? Your congregants are not without the ability to think. They can make decisions for themselves. These past 11 months, the Church has been needed more than ever. And we — the Church — have failed.
Open your doors to the sanctuaries the people need. Trust them to have the ability to decide if they can attend in person or not. Allow singing to return and … for the love of God Almighty, stop preventing hugs! Strip the stages of the sets and let the cross become the only focus.
Look around this country. The anger, hostility, lawlessness… it’s incredibly overwhelming. For the past year, we have been locked down. Riots have been unstopped throughout our country. Lines have been drawn. Jobs have been lost. Politicians have used our difficulties for their gains. And people are lost. Seriously lost. Every way you turn there is pain and it feels there are no places left to find solace.In the past, when people have encountered true pain, they have migrated to churches or sought out ministers. After tragedies such as school shootings, terrorism, natural disasters, people seek the Church as their source of hope. But for some reason during the most difficult season many of us have ever encountered, the Church has shuttered the doors. Ministers have become silent or snarky, dropping one-line zingers on social media. Social justice has taken the place of Jesus Christ as the one to worship. Zoom meetings, online worship, virtual communion …. these things are nice tools but they do not fulfill the role that we are meant to fulfill as found in Acts. People NEED people!
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
People are hurting. They need human touch. They need to come into a sanctuary and worship alongside others. They need to be missed when they aren’t there and checked on. They need to be heard. They need to listen. They need a place where fear isn’t the focus. Rather, the focus is faith. Church, where are you?
You skipped Easter. You skipped Advent. You skipped Christmas. You skipped Epiphany. But even more important, you skipped fellowship and support. You skipped youth events and Bible studies. You skipped the opportunities to hold prayer vigils and healing services. You skipped opening your doors yesterday when the fears of your people were at the brink of explosion. Church, where are you?
Stop preaching a gospel lite. Instead, preach the Bible — all of it.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” Hebrews 10: 26-27
Stop trying to skirt around sin and start naming it. Help people to understand the absolute need for repentance. It’s the only way to be free of the shame and guilt they carry around … and yes, they carry it around with them even if they refuse to acknowledge it. People need to know there is one place in this world where truth is still truth. They need to know that someone will actually have the courage to tell them that the gospel is not just love. It’s so much more. And quite honestly, Church, you have failed. You have failed to hold the people accountable to the Word of God. You have failed to be available to the hurting people. And you have failed to condemn the things that the world wants to celebrate.
But, praise God, there is grace. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matt. 7:13-14
The Church doesn’t have to keep following the wide road. We can choose the narrow path. Lord, have mercy, it’s a hard road; a lonely road. But it’s a road that Jesus himself instructed us to follow if we want to be with him in our eternal home. Church, stop living in fear. Stop affirming sin as okay. Stop remaining silent when the world begs to hear you roar.
The Broken World