Yesterday I taught Sabbath School and preached the sermon to an empty church. It was the inevitable result of social distancing. All brought on by this terrible virus that has caused thousands to become sick and many to lose their life to it. My heart and prayers go out to the families that have suffered as a result of the virus.
As I stood before an empty church, I couldn’t help asking myself, “What will the church look like when we come out on the other side? And for that matter, what will happen to society as we know it in the weeks and month or even years to come?”
The human race is social by nature. Even those of us that are introverts need social interaction, although we aren’t willing to admit it. We were created to be social creatures. So, what will the church look like in the weeks and months to come?
I fear that a certain number will look at nearly a month of isolation and determine, “we got along just fine without attending church, why go?” It is true, for the shut-in, they have gotten along quite well. Yet, as a pastor, I see the loneliness on their faces when we visit together. For many, there isn’t the option of online streaming. Technology left them in the dust years ago. For others, even those that aren’t shut-in they are unfamiliar with online social interaction. This era of social isolation, social distancing, must be extremely rough.
In the early days as the term social distancing became the new buzz phrase, we saw example after example of people going out of their way to show who they truly are. Yes, certainly there are many examples of people sharing what they had or helping each other. But I fear, maybe unjustly, that these were the exception and not the rule.
A week ago, I went to the store, expecting to find the shelves well-stocked as they always are. To my surprise, isle after isle was empty, picked clean. The few items I did find, I placed in my cart and went to the cashier. She looked exhausted. Considering the empty shelves, it must have been a long day for her. I only had about 20 items in my cart, but yet I couldn’t help but to feet guilty. I even apologized to the cashier saying “I feel like a hoarder. I tried to only get what I needed and left somethings behind I wanted because there were so few, I wanted to leave it for those who needed it more than me.” I only had one of each item accept for frozen pizza of which there were two. Her response was one of surprise. She responded by saying, “Oh sir, you are far from it. I cannot believe you would leave behind what you needed because you were concerned others would need it more than you.”
This isn’t written to show the world what a wonderful person I am. That is not the intention of this post. Instead, the intent is to remind us that during this difficult time of uncertainty, God is asking us to care for our neighbors.
The story of the “Good Samaritan” comes to mind along with the new commandments, which really isn’t all that new. The first or the greatest commandment is. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.
Jesus is telling us that the priority of our life should be our love of God and our willingness to serve him. Why do I mention service when service is not mentioned in the greatest commandment? I am looking at Christ and His love for His and our Heavenly Father and see in his life a life of service. Therefore when we truly love God, we should have this same attitude of service for others. That is why Christ followed up the first and great commandment with yet another commandment. “And the second is like it. See Jesus is saying, there is a similarity between the two commandments because our love for God as Jesus’s love for God brought about service, therefore we to should service, for Christ finished the statement by saying: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Because of sin, we are self-serving by nature. Jesus is saying when we love God, our heavenly Father as Christ showed us, then this self-love, this self-serving nature of ours will be redirected in serving and helping others.
The parable of the “Good Samaritan” brings this out. The Jew and the Samaritans hated each other, yet when this poor Jewish person lay beside the road. He was broken and bleeding the result of being beaten and robbed. A Priest and a Levite had passed by, showing little or no concern at all. This shows the condition of many Christians today. As people suffer because of the economic impact caused by the virus or the actual sickness. Their first thought is of themselves and their personal safety. But when the Samaritan comes along, he goes out of his way to help. He helps to the point that it inconveniences himself because he supplied financial aid and physical help to this poor beaten and broken man.
Which brings me back to the original question. What will church look like after this is over? It is not about live streaming or hoping people come back. Live streaming is only a small aspect of what makes a church relevant. Instead, the churches that find a way to serve during this hard time will be the churches that survive, will grow and be relevant going forward.
Therefore, let us all find a way to help those that are broken financially and physically and even mentally during this difficult time. This is what loving your neighbor is all about. Others can tell when you truly love your neighbor when it inconveniences you to help them.
May you all stay well and may your life become a life of service because of your love for God. You all are in my prayers.