I miss church.
If being a part of a Christian community of faith has been a part of your life before this pandemic, you probably are missing church too.
Oh, we have our online worship, Zoom groups and meetings, phone calls, and texting as ways of trying to find some semblance of the togetherness we experienced when we could gather every week. Some of us have even met with a few friends and members every now and then while trying to be safe from the virus.
I miss church…you miss church…many of us miss church, but one thing I know with certainty: God is not missing us. By that I’m not saying that God has gone and left us or that God has given up on us. On the contrary, this we know for sure: God, who is our Gracious Presence continues to create, love, forgive, and shape us. God continues to make us fully into the people of God that God has always been doing.
It may be that in this time you and I don’t know exactly how to live and love and relate to others without the gathered community we know so well. Yet, God continues to be God shaping us in new ways to be the church—ways of which we are not fully aware. There is much that we can discover about being faithful in a separated community even in these fearful, tearful, bewildering days of COVID-19.
For three Sundays this summer our lectionary focused on Jesus as teacher who was always teaching with stories. Many of us have discovered in our lives that good teachers are good storytellers whatever they are trying to teach us. When there’s a story to be told, there has to be both the storyteller and the listener who receives the story and takes some meaning or enjoyment from it.
In Matthew 13, Jesus really seems to be putting on a workshop about just what this amazing community of God is and how it grows in the world whatever the circumstances it faces. He shared it with the crowds, but it seems that the disciples paid more attention, probably because they had been with him longer and were trying to listen to what Jesus was saying. And, we are told, Jesus did much of his teaching with storytelling. So, his disciples got the opportunity to become better listeners even as they became more captivated by the life Jesus was showing them.
Near the end of this chapter there is this intriguing verse: Jesus said, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:52) At this point in the chapter, I think the disciples are the “scribes who have been trained for the kingdom.” Jesus is saying, “When you share with others about this amazing life God is creating in our midst, be sure that you speak in words they can understand. You may have to tell simple stories (what is new) first rather than stories you know well that others may not understand (what is old.) You can tell these stories later if your audience is still listening to you.
There is so much happening now that is unsettling and sad that make us yearn for being together at church to comfort us and help us feel more secure. We all hope that time will come sooner rather than later.
In meantime, perhaps there’s another “church” for us (not to replace our home church, but just for now) in our neighborhoods where we get to tell our stories to neighbors we meet outdoors and where some of them (new friends, perhaps) may listen and be curious. Then it’s important that we begin with “new treasure (stories)” that might move our listeners to want to hear more “old treasure (‘the old, old stories of faith’ we know so well).”
God, our Storyteller, who tells each of us our stories, thank you for keeping us safe today in the midst of the pandemic. Be with those who are hurting in this time for whatever the reason is. Help us to tell stories about the life you are creating in us that others will hear and be curious to hear more. Keep us patient and hopeful. Amen.