Last week, I posted a response to the fear that is gripping our country. Several weeks ago, I preached a sermon from the book of Joel about COVID-19 as a wake-up call to us to consider the lostness of mankind. At that time, I called us to a season of fasting and prayer as we sought the face of God. What has changed?
At the end of last week we made the decision to keep gathering together because we were well below the number set by the CDC for safe gathering. However, as the plague continues to creep into our cities, neighborhoods, and homes like a swarm of locusts; we have come to the difficult conclusion that we will primarily stream our services and move our gatherings to online formats. Last night my wife’s Compass Group and our elders each meet via ZOOM, both took some getting used to, but we adapted and flexed into a new rhythm.
Every local church is to be an integral part of her neighborhood and the city in which she lives – to which she is sent. The struggles of the city are the struggles of the local church community. As Jesus moved into a Jewish neighborhood some 2000 years ago, He did not isolate Himself from the diseases, illnesses, sicknesses, and plagues that came upon those villages and territories. He drank water from an open well, lived without running water, didn’t have a toilet, and certainly didn’t have hand sanitizer – other than a bowl of water shared by all in the house. This is NOT to say that Jesus was not sensitive to disease – there is NO evidence that He made anyone sick by not taking care of Himself. He cares about the sick and vulnerable.
Every local church is to be Christ’s body – His hands and feet, His touch and compassion. Are we? We are called to stand in the gap between the city and Christ and cry out for the people. We are His priesthood, His ministers of compassion and mercy, we are His ambassadors and representatives of His Kingdom. We are His family and household – we are to invite and include others into this community of faith.
Every local church is to be a member of the universal Church – this is the Community of Christ that includes every member from the beginning of time to the end of time. We are to take our place among the cloud of witnesses, among those who lived by faith and not by sight. We are to stand firm in the storm, we are to stand in the face of fear, plague, and disease. The Church transcends leprosy, the Black Plague, the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and COVID-19. In each instance throughout history, the local church responded accordingly while maintaining a sense of transcendence through our eternal identity in Christ.
We are committed to respond with cultural sensitivity and prudence to the needs of our neighbors and city – and not at the expense of our responsibility to transcend the trial, tribulation, pestilence, or plague. This means we will love our neighbor as ourselves and not put them at risk. This means we will look not only to our needs, but also to the needs of others and consider how we can slow the exponential spread of this current plague. It means that our attitude will be the same as that of Christ – an attitude of servitude and compassion. This also means that we live for the glory of God, for the honor of His Name – that He would be worshiped through the words of our mouth, the meditation of our hearts, and the actions of our bodies. May these be acceptable and pleasing to Him.
What does this look like at HarvestDowntown?
Keep loving your neighbors – I have heard of incredible demonstrations of love in recent days: You are checking on your elderly neighbors and leaving bags of groceries on their porches and doorbell ditching, you are supporting local businesses that have been forced to serve their clients virtually or take-out, you are helping single parents who have to go to a workplace but have no place to leave their children, and you have given generously to the church to distribute to those who have lost income during this season.
Keep worshiping Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – “Everything we do is worship!” has become more poignant in this season of pestilence. Worship doesn’t begin or end. We don’t come to or leave worship. We are always worshiping – it is just a question of what or whom. Worship truly transcends time and space because the ONE whom we worship transcends time, space, and plagues.
Practice Presence – We are committed to being present at 411 N. Weber because presence is the best way to give access to the whole Gospel. We will be live streaming our 10:40 church service on Sundays from 411 N. Weber for the foreseeable future. We also hope that you will continue to practice presence in your neighborhoods in this season of social distancing. This is possible by maintaining sensibility and communication. HarvestDowntown will continue to use technologies such as MyHarvest, HarvestDowntown.org, email, ZOOM, and Facebook to keep the community of HarvestDowntown connected to one another so that we can stay present in each other’s lives. Human touch is still important – but PLEASE consider others better than yourself and be sensible!
Practice Access – The church exists to give people access to the truth, hope, peace, and love that we have found in the Gospel of Jesus. We have an opportunity and responsibility to meet the practical, tangible, and emotional needs of those around us during this season. What benefit is this if we don’t also meet the deep spiritual and eternal needs of our neighbors? We will continue to be accessible – as individuals and as a church body, while still respecting the effectiveness of social distancing in this fight against the current plague. If you are compelled to join us for the live stream, the front door will be unlocked (please be respectful that 411 N. Weber will be functioning as a recording studio and childcare will not be available). Please join us online and invite your neighbors to join us online as we will continue to give access to the local church, the body of Christ in creative ways.
HarvestKids/HarvestYouth – In these days, we are trying to think creatively about how we can continue to provide ministry to our children and youth. I suggest that each Sunday you gather intentionally with your family at 10:40 and engage with the community of Christ in song. Teach your children that meeting together is an important value of Christ, and though we can’t currently be together physically, we are committed to staying in the habit of gathering together in His name. Take time to explain the sermon to your children – hit pause early and often. Let your children post a question or comment to the Facebook feed. Share a meal together as communion while looking forward to our family communion on Resurrection Day. Maybe invite your kids into your giving decisions as well. Are you cutting your giving to the church? Are you continuing to give as an act of faith? Explain your decision process to your children so they know how to pray for your family’s finances.
Compass Groups – ZOOM is a great tool to for online meetings. Please don’t give up meeting together as Compass Groups. If you are not in a Compass Group, please join one virtually in this season. This is a great way to engage with one another and meet each other’s needs.
I hope that we will stay connected to one another in this difficult season. Keep your eyes on Jesus and be of good cheer. Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. Let us encourage one another – all the more as we see the day approaching. Let us continue to intercede in prayer and action for our city, nation, and world.