Monday, June 29, 2020
The Great Divide. . .
It was probably inevitable that this would become a cause for division with churches already poised to divide their people. We are segregated by race, musical preference, time slot, and so many other things -- even within the same congregation! -- that was sure to make COVID 19 and our response another cause for dispute and offense.
I have heard from people who were offended that we did not require masks of everyone who worshiped and those who insisted they would never come to church if a mask were required. I have watched as people took offense that some folks sat too close to them and others were offended that we were so spread out among the pews. I have had emails from folks over everything from the use of the chalice vs individual cups to masks to singing to, well, you name it. Some folks are offended that the folks do not love their neighbor enough to wear a mask for the sake of that neighbor and others are offended that a mask might be the price of entry into the House of God.
Satan has certainly hijacked the issue and turned us against each other. We have been offended by everything else, why not who wears a mask and who does not or where people sit in relationship to us. It all reminds me of a Sunday when I was a child and somebody had the nerve to sit in my great Aunt Anna's pew. She walked into the nave and stood staring at the poor unwitting soul who had inadvertently sat where she had been sitting for a gazillion years. Eventually she found another seat and after church spent the ride home with us complaining about how she got nothing out of the service because of where she had to sit. So some folks might get up in a huff and march out of the church because somebody had the nerve to sit too close instead of simply finding another seat (of which there are always plenty in most churches!). And somebody might stop coming to church because they think not wearing a mask is lunacy. And another refused to come when we had a sign up going because they had never had to sign up to go to worship before. And others were angry that we keep harping on hand washing, sanitizers, and appropriate distance.
Well, let me challenge this whole idea of offense. You are not offended. You are angry. You think that your way is the best way and if the pastor was smart he would heed your advice. In reality, your pastor is trying to follow as many reasonable precautions as possible while knowing that whatever he does or says, somebody will be angry about it. Part of me wants to tell folks to grow up but that is not the solution either. However, maybe the key here is how Luther put it.
Luther defines the 8th commandment (You shall not bear false witness) by saying, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (Small Catechism). So if you are one of those who is ready to quit the Church because of masks or no masks, physical distancing or no physical distancing, having services or not having services, singing or not singing, or whatever, listen to Luther. The big line in Luther is to “explain everything in the kindest way,” or better understood, “put the best construction on everything.” Repent of your judgment and repent of your insistence that you know better or that folks who may disagree are lunatics, fools, or, worse, a threat to you. The corona virus does not release you from the 8th commandment.
And while we are at it, who are those folks you love to dispute with and get so angry with? They are not strangers but your brothers and sisters. Nearly every Lutheran congregation I know is filled with folks who already know each other. While it might be somewhat understandable to presume the neighbor who is a stranger to you might be a threat, why would you presume the folks who shared the pews with you before the virus pandemic are now a mortal threat to you? Show some patience. . . and compassion. . . and repent. And while you are at it, try to be a little kinder to your pastor and church leaders who are trying to balance a whole ton of concerns while at the same time making sure that the doors will remain open and the Church continues through it all. They are not your enemies either. Satan is having a field day with us and we just need to stop it.
Sometimes I imagine God saying what my mom used to say to my brother and I in the back seat of the 1950 Chevy, Don't make me come back there! Thanks be to God that He is not like us because that would cook our goose in a minute. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Maybe we could try that a bit.