We had someone come to the house to measure our disaster of a kitchen because the horrible particle-board cabinets that don’t open properly, never close and are missing their handles are starting to fall off the walls onto the horrible, broken, scratched Formica counters. That’s a story for another time. We didn’t want people in our house during this time, but there it is. While he was measuring the counters and walls we started talking and it became clear very quickly that he was, well, a very different Christian than we are. That’s fine. We can all learn and grow from one another. But at the point at which he told me that his church had reopened despite “regulations” and were worshiping, without masks, without distancing, in numbers approaching 700 folk at a time, I found myself starting to panic and I just wanted him to leave. He must have seen the look of panic on my face because he proceeded to lecture me on trusting God to keep them all safe and how meeting in person for church was essential. At that point I just shut up, mostly because I was really needing this probable walking virus-ball-of-faith to leave my house.
But that night I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep because this kind of thinking is completely incomprehensible to me at so many levels.
1. Do we really think that worship must take place with everyone in the same space? And if so, why? Why is worshiping through Zoom, or YouTube, or any of the other social media platforms somehow less legitimate? After all, the televangelists have huge numbers of followers. Does that not count as worship for those watching at home? Why is praying at home, praying with one’s family or even praying alone not acceptable as a form of worship? As Patricia McHale Apy wrote, “Jesus’ (presented a) revolutionary rejection of any theology that suggests that the PLACE we worship is more important than worshipping in Spirit and in Truth. There may be hard truths that will interfere with our ability to physically gather, and will silence our choirs and singing for a season…. but locked doors couldn’t stop the impartation of the Holy Spirit. Worship has been sweet and sacrificial … and thou good and faithful servants … it has produced some of the most amazing sermons you’ve ever preached… and we’ve ever heard… So be not weary in well doing and Be not afraid…. show us what you know about worshipping the living God….” The Spirit is active wherever we listen for Her. The Spirit is active wherever and whenever and however we gather. We can’t be stopped from worshiping by simply being apart during this time. And we have so many gifts that enable us to “gather” through electronic means. We are not separate, though we may be apart. And it is foolishness to think otherwise.
2. Do we really think that God will protect us from this virus? If you believe that, how do you understand the increasing deaths of so many people, including many people of faith? People die all the time for all kinds of reasons. This is not less true for people of faith. We ALL die. And sometimes that happens because people have made bad choices. God can’t protect us from our own foolishness. I found myself remembering the joke about the man who lived in a house where a flood was rising. A police car came by and told the man he had to evacuate before the flood overcame him. He said, “No. I trust my God will save me! I will not perish in this flood!” The waters rose higher and the man had to go up to the second story of his house. At that point someone in a boat came by and insisted that he leave with them through the window to escape the flood. “NO,” the man insisted, “My God will not allow me to die in this flood! I will survive!” The waters rose higher until finally the man was on his roof when a helicopter came by and tried to get the man to climb the ladder. At this, too, he yelled, “NO! I have absolute faith in my God to save me!” The man drowned and when he approached God in heaven he demanded, “Why didn’t you save me when I called on you?!” to which God responded, “I sent you a car, a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?”
God has sent us scientists, doctors, and wise people to tell us what we need to do in this time and in this place to keep safe. God has sent us people who’ve invented all kinds of amazing ways to meet, worship, and congregate electronically that do not involve putting ourselves at risk. But we have become so impatient to be together, and so fearful of not gathering in our houses of worship (something else I just don’t understand) that we are taking unnecessary risks and testing God, all using the mistaken phrase “trust”. That is not trust, that is foolish failure to listen to those people God is sending us to help us. We can wait a little longer to meet together.
And I can wait a little longer for a new kitchen.