Let’s face it, this is a weird season to be the church. We are connected and distanced, we are not who we were, but we have little clarity about the practices we should keep and those of which we should let go.
There is little “normal” about the time we are in, and some of the “new” isn’t very appealing to us. Perhaps that is why one of our congregations (St. Mark in Newport Beach) is doing a sermon series entitled “Living into the NEWMAL.” It acknowledges that we are called to honor God’s work in the past while at the same time leaning into to the new thing that God is doing among us.
Powers and Principalities
I suppose every generation imagines it is unique, and on one level it is. In an evolving earth and an expanding universe, it is impossible not to be. The geophysics of things make it so. But so does human consciousness, that is what we are aware of and what we are not, what is acceptable human behavior and what is deplorable.
And this carries over to the realm of spirituality as well. The violence, exploitation, and colonization of a triumphalist faith (“winning over” rather than empowering servanthood) is no longer in vogue. And it shouldn’t be. “Christ consciousness” reveals to us a different “way,” and the longer we live, the more we get in touch with the heart of Jesus for the marginalized, sick, and powerless.
The Common Good
If the COVID pandemic has taught us anything, it is that there is widening disparity between those with resources and those without (education, jobs, health care, wealth, family cohesion). But far more frightening is an ideology that worships individual freedom so fervently that it eclipses concerns for the collective good.
If too many people choose not to get vaccinated, the coronavirus will outflank our defenses and be killing us off for a generation or longer. Alternatively, if a critical mass of us gets vaccinated, then the coronavirus will have no place to call home and we can focus on more redemptive pursuits, at least until the next challenge arises.
A number of my friends are reading Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, by Kristin Kobes du Mez. Although I have yet to read it, the title intrigues me. Ideology and mass behavior matters, and it can fracture a nation, with the tragic consequence of making it nearly impossible to achieve collective goals.
I can’t imagine my dad’s generation, for example, protesting getting COVID vaccines because it “violated their individual rights.” Some of my dad’s friends lied about their age and their medical histories to fight Hitler’s version of genocide and fascism. And, tragically, some paid the price with their lives or by suffering decades with post traumatic stress syndrome. They were fearless in the face of evil. And they were united in their values of their country and with each other.
Freedom from Fear
To me, this pandemic-shaped world can provoke a lot of fear. To one degree or another, we have all been traumatized. Friends have died, jobs have been lost, and children and grandchildren have gone unvisited. More daunting, we don’t know how the pandemic will change our world and lives going forward. As a Reformed people, however, we possess valuable resources to overcome our fears, namely, our identity in Christ, the witness of scriptures, and each other’s encouragement.
With the Apostle Paul in Romans 8, we can be encouraged by our identity as “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” and remember that “we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” We can also “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” And lastly, we can call on the “Spirit of God to help us in our weakness,” for “that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
Therefore, let us keep encouraging each other during this “weird season” of being God’s Church, standing together as Christ’s family, and making each other stronger because we accompany each other on this unique and faith-demanding journey.
In addition to the strength we receive from our kinship with Christ, the support we give to each other is invaluable. As a presbytery, $500,000 of COVID-Relief grants were made to help congregations adapt to a “hybrid-church” environment. We couldn’t do this without the faithful giving of congregations over a long span of years.
But more important than financial support are the targeted learning opportunities that equip leaders and congregations to stay relevant in a changing mission field. Our presbytery’s Missional & Pioneer Leader Training has equipped three new Spanish-speaking leaders for three new church starts, fitting as nearly half the population living within the bounds of Los Ranchos are of Latin American descent.
Also, we have doubled our Google Groups platform to include forums for Audio Visual Teams, Stewardship Leaders, and Missions Committees. And, we have continued to embrace the gospel vision of inclusion through the Crossroads Anti-Racism Webinars, just to name a few.
With these resources in mind, let us keep encouraging each other during this “NEWMAL” season of being God’s Church, standing together as Christ’s family, and making each other stronger because we accompany each other on this unique and faith-demanding journey.
With you, in Christ and for Christ,