Here are some items from the church services on Wednesday and Sunday. I watched them online.
A. Sunday’s church service was very well done. I felt almost as if I were there. The pastor led the liturgy and did the sermon in his usual robes. We followed along and did the responsive readings with a PDF of the church bulletin. The worship leader sang, with the words posted beside her on the screen so we could sing along. The youth pastor did an even more creative children’s message from his home. The prayers were for people I knew. I must confess, though: I was in my pajamas. I remember listening to a sermon when I was a child, and the pastor said that, if we are going to do church at home, listening to a cassette, then we should at least dress up. The youth pastor Sunday morning, by contrast, acknowledged that his audience may still be in their pajamas.
B. On Wednesday, the pastor said that we want to know. When the Governor talks about social distancing and self-isolation, we want to know for how long. The pastor told a story about when his son was a child and needed assurance as he was going to a Boy Scout camp. They passed a Methodist church, and the son assumed that his son knew the Methodist pastor because his father knew everything. I still feel that way about my Mom. I disagree with her about some issues, but I feel that, when it comes to such issues as health, she will offer me informed, practical, and reliable advice. At times, though—-probably more times than I would care to admit—-I want her news to be good. I want, not just information, but reassurance that things will be all right.
C. The pastor said that God is providing for people through their governing authorities. The youth pastor reassured the children (maybe also the adults) that God is bigger than the Corona-virus. I can see the point that God provides for people through other people: the government, doctors, people researching and seeking a cure. Maybe we can even help the process along through our prayers. But part of me struggles with the issue of God’s provision. It is one thing to feel provided for if one is a kid in his or her pajamas, enjoying time at home and relying on one’s parents for an income. But what about people who have been laid off, who feel that they cannot miss a day of work, who own a restaurant that will be closed for an unknown period of time? Plus, under the U.S. health care system, not everyone can even get tested for the virus. There are other questions: is the government’s current policy the best policy? And, conspiracy theorist will ask, is the government even benevolent through all this? I suppose we can transform our concerns into prayer, maybe even practical deeds of mercy, but one can still wonder where God is in times of uncertainty. Does God still provide in such uncertain situations, but only for those who love him or seek God’s help? I was reading and reflecting on I Kings this week. God provided for Elijah and the woman of Tyre during the famine, but there were probably many Israelites who starved and whose children died.
D. The church is continuing its way through the Red Letter Challenge, which focuses on the sayings of Jesus. The theme today was service. The pastor talked about how Jesus in John 4 persistently broke through the woman at the well’s barriers in order to make a personal connection. There was the barrier that discouraged Jewish rabbis from talking with women, as well as the issues that the woman kept raising as distractions: the question of where should one worship, for example. Jesus also went the distance on the cross. His food was to do the will of God, and the will of God was our salvation.
E. The pastor talked about a book by David Brooks that he was reading. He called Brooks a sociologist who was a Christian. I was a little surprised there. I thought Brooks was a pundit, not a sociologist, and a Jew rather than a Christian. I can find no formal academic credentials in sociology that he possesses, so the pastor may have been using the term “sociologist” loosely: Brooks is a commentator on society. As far as Brooks’s religion in concerned, that has been a topic of discussion. See here. Brooks’s second wife went to Wheaton, and people have wondered about Brooks’s current stance towards Christianity. That said, the pastor was talking about Brooks’s treatment of Genesis 1-2. Adam in Genesis 1 is assigned a task: to be a steward of creation. In Genesis 2, however, a personal dimension to Adam is acknowledged: it is not good for man to be alone. Brooks was talking about how being consumed in one’s vocation can be detrimental to other aspects of one’s humanity: one’s spirituality and need for relationships. I was unclear about how this fit into the pastor’s sermon, which was about Jesus’s vocation. Perhaps the point was that Jesus combined the vocational with the personal and relational.