An older friend asked me the other day what had happened to the Church. He was a man who had lived through the Great Depression and World War. These were threats larger than a shortage of toilet paper or social accommodations to public life. You could not escape these by hunkering down in the home or by a vaccine. He spoke of the witness we gave to those outside the Church and to those new to the faith by our quickness to shut down and admit that worship online is as salutary as in-person and that nothing we do as a Church is as important as the preservation of this mortal life and our good health. The occasion for his disgust was the vote by 90% of our Synod congregations to delay the Synod convention a year. His upset was not really about the vote but was largely directed to pastors and our elected leaders in the Church. By the way, his wife is still planning to attend the national Lutheran Women's Missionary League convention in Lexington, Kentucky this same year that it is too dangerous for LCMS Districts to meet. I admit that I not only sympathized with him but found his concerns spot on. COVID has taught us some bad lessons, held us captive to fear, tempted us to believe what our enemies said about us, and left us with the idea that being safe at all costs is worth the cost of being safe.
At what point did we forget that virtual by definition is not real? Who can survive on virtual food or live healthy with virtual exercise or pay their bills with virtual money? So when did we decide that virtual preaching and virtual Sacraments and even virtual ashes were the same as real, their benefits as salutary and their blessing the same as hearing the Word in person and eating and drinking with your mouth the flesh and blood of Christ? But we have given the impression to the world that these are the same, there is no compelling reason to get together. We work online, we learn online, we order our food online, why on earth would people not get the impression that worshiping online is different? WE, the Church, have given this impression -- if not in words, then in action. And then we wring our hands and lament that the people are not returning to Church, tithes and offerings are down, and it is too dangerous to do the Lord's work.
This has not been the Church's finest hour. We have let the government characterize what we do and we have failed to make a compelling reason to disagree with that assessment. We have too quickly rushed to less than real and salutary substitutes for being together in the Word and at the Table of the Lord (from drive by worship to the endless video that has profited camera sales and the bottom line of increased band width suppliers as much as it has the Church). It is time this Lent to repent of how we have failed the Church, failed the Lord of the Church, and failed the work of the Church. It is time this Lent to restore the integrity, soul, courage, and determination of the leaders to be godly leaders and of the people to be godly people belonging to the Lord and living for His will and glory. It is time this Lent to take back the cause and restore the voice of the Church in proclaiming to the world that your best life is not now and your best work is not preserving the status quo -- what do we gain if we win the whole world and lose our very souls! It is time this Lent to admit that life was never safe, that we have real enemies who are gloating over the weakness of the Church, her leaders, and her servants, and that our most real life is the one Christ died and rose to give.
In the end the decision to delay a convention one more year may not be such a big deal but it will end up costing us far more than the $300K to $1M we will lose in contracts signed. In the end, all of these little decisions we make to accommodate our fear and overall concern for safety will reap benefits we may not like when the next threat appears or when we find that COVID will not depart from our vocabulary for years or the next inconvenience causes us to remember how we admitted that what we do is not all that important and is not worth the risk. We have enough problems without having learned COVID lessons -- lessons that may seem perfectly logical in the short run but are toxic to our existence and to our cause in the long term. What we have learned from this pandemic will not be unlearned in the near future. In the meantime, the Lord is waiting to forgive us, to give strength to our wearied minds and hearts, and to renew us body and soul for the crosses we will and must bear and for the work He has given us to do.
Return to the Lord your God, for He gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
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