Sunday May 24th 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
Churches are Essential
This past Friday, the president of the United States of America made an announcement stating that churches and other places of public worship should be considered “essential,” and mandated that states allow churches to reopen. This of course comes a few months after governors all across the United States were forced to make the difficult decision to temporarily close down non-essential businesses and to limit the number of people who can gather together in physical spaces due to the global Coronavirus pandemic.
Now while I for one have always believed that churches are essential to the spiritual health and well-being of believers, and while I absolutely agree that churches play a vital role in our world and our society, I do believe that there has been some misunderstanding. Because there seems to be the perception that during this time of the global Coronavirus pandemic, that churches have closed!
But nothing could be further from the truth. To quote from the children’s song that many of us grew up singing in Sunday School, “the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people” (UMH 558)!
As one of my seminary professors and fellow United Methodist pastor Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt so astutely observed in a Facebook post the other day, “the church, for many of us, isn’t closed and never has been – it just relocated to virtual space. And in fact the church has never stopped worshiping, praying, teaching, calling, disciplining, feeding the hungry, serving, delivering meals, comforting the sick and dying, giving, fellow shipping, encouraging, hoping.” Amen, and amen!
We Have Not Stopped Having Church!
I am glad that we have not stopped having church. We have indeed worshiped and prayed and fed the hungry, and cared for the sick, even as we have abided by the stay-at-home directives and limited our physical interactions with each other.
I’m grateful for those of you who have come to serve at our food pantry on a weekly basis — not only for those of you who hand out the bags of groceries on Wednesday mornings, but also those who come all throughout the week to pack the bags, those who go to the store to pick up food, and those receive donations from the other churches in our area.
I’m also grateful for the few of us, including our worship leaders and musicians, who have come together weekly to produce these worship services for our livestream. We have practiced and will continue to practice the utmost caution and abide by the directives not only of our local government officials, but also our bishop and conference, in continuing to worship via technology rather than together in person until is has been deemed safe to do so for all of those in our church and community.
I do long and look forward to the day when we can gather together in worship here in our church building, but I am so grateful that church is not closed, and that once again this morning we can worship together via technology. In the Bible, Jesus said that where two or three are gathered together, there he would be in our midst (Matt 18:20). And I believe that that includes gathering together via phone, and internet, and other forms of technology.
So this morning as we dig into the scriptures, let us be comforted that Jesus is indeed in our midst, right where you are sitting as you hear the Word this morning (hopefully from the comfort and safety of your own home!)
Chosen and Precious
This morning we conclude our sermon series entitled “Chosen and Precious”
Two weeks ago we looked at Peter’s letter to the Gentile Christians, in which he described Jesus as a living stone, the cornerstone upon which the whole Church is built. Peter said that all of us who are Christ’s followers, Jews and Gentiles alike are also living stones, chosen and precious in God’s sight.
Last week we learned that being chosen and precious does mean that sometimes we will be tried and tested. Just like silver is tried and tested in the fire, we too, as we submit our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ, will find that the tests and trials that we endure in this life will serve to purify us and make us beautiful in God’s sight.
This morning we turned to the topic of “glory,” as we look at John’s Gospel account of Jesus’s last evening before he was crucified and betrayed, in which he prayed for himself and for his disciples, saying, “Father the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 17:1,4-5).
Glory. Many people in our world would love to have glory. They want fame, and fortune, they crave attention and admiration. And sometimes we equate these with glory.
But as many of us know, the path to glory usually entails great personal sacrifice. Glory is not something that can be bought or sold, it is something that has to be earned or won. As the saying goes, “no guts, no glory.”
We may admire or pay attention to the lives of the rich and famous. But we generally reserve the term “glory” for those who have earned our honor and respect.
The word “glory” often evokes images of wartime heroes. Soldiers who risked their lives to rescue fallen comrades, sacrificing their lives for the cause of freedom, with a deep-seated conviction that in doing so they were making the world a better place for their friends and loved ones back home.
Of course on this Memorial Day weekend, we pause to honor and remember the sacrifice of our own friends and loved ones who lost their lives on battlefields throughout the centuries — many of you have lost friends and loved ones, and we stand with you as you remember their lives and honor the tremendous sacrifice that they made.
Giving Glory to God
For Jesus, we know that the process of his glorification also entailed great personal sacrifice — laying down his life to save us, dying on the cross and rising again 3 days later. In giving his life for us, and in conquering sin and death and the grave, Jesus brought glory to his Father, and Jesus himself was glorified.
In return, we rightly praise and worship and adore Jesus — we recognize him as the Son of God who gave his life for us, and because of the sacrifice he made for us, we too can have eternal life.
But interestingly enough, in his prayer for his disciples and for us, Jesus also says that he has been “glorified” in us!
Jesus prayed to his Father, “I am asking…on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them” (John 17:9-10).
Glorified in Us?
This of course begs the question, how exactly has Jesus been “glorified” in us? What part could we possibly have played in all of this?
I want to pause here and say that although these verses may seem to speak only of the disciples who were alive during Jesus’s lifetime, later on in verse 20 we see that Jesus was also praying for all of us who would come after them. He said, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). And so I believe that these verses do indeed include us.
After stating that he has been glorified in his disciples, Jesus said “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11).
After Jesus’s death and resurrection, he appeared to many of his followers. But eventually he ascended back into heaven, where we are told that he is seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Rom. 8:34).
But if Jesus is in heaven, interceding for us, how will those who do not know Jesus come to believe in him? How will those who have never experienced the power of God in their lives, come to know Jesus for themselves? How will those who have never known Jesus, come to worship and adore and glorify Him?
This is where we come in. This is why Jesus prayed that we would be one. Because we together, as the church — we are the physical tangible presence of Jesus on this earth. We, together as a body, as we heal the sick, and care for the wounded. As we feed the hungry, and yes even as we sacrifice our lives for the good of those around us, we bring glory to God the Father and to Jesus Christ the Son.
This is why it’s significant that we do not stop being the Church during this Coronavirus pandemic. This is why it’s important to note that we have not stopped having church! This is why we boldly proclaimed that we cannot and have not stop gathering and worshipping together — albeit through technology. This is why we cannot stop taking care of those who are in need around us. Because Jesus is worthy of our praise and our worship and our adoration. And it is our duty, and our privilege, to bring God glory, so that all might come to know God’s saving love.
So let’s continue to gather together as one! Let’s continue to join together by phone and internet, and when it is safe to gather together once again in person. Let’s continue to work for the good of all, to lift one another up in prayer, and to proclaim God’s word. Let’s continue to use our time, talents, and resources to boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world that is desperately in need of God’s love, grace, mercy, and peace.