By Mandy Sayers*
I was sitting around recently, lamenting the state of the world and the state of the church, and how this is just the worst time to be the church, ever, and I was reading Hebrews 11. And as I read the list of names — Noah, Abraham, Rahab, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses — I thought, “Man, those folks really had a hard time. I mean sure, they received their reward and all, but wow, did they have to do some hard things.”
Then I got to the part about people being tortured, mocked and flogged, thrown into jail, stoned to death, and “sawn in two.”
So, I scanned elsewhere in the New Testament for some better news and found scared disciples, the stoning of Stephen, and a church again being persecuted. No fancy buildings, no guaranteed appointments … just a bunch of crazy followers of Jesus trying to keep up with the Holy Spirit.
I know that in a very real sense, “we’ve never faced anything like COVID-19 before.” However, one of the reasons “tradition” is one of the four sides of our quadrilateral is, very often, we have indeed faced this and worse and have found our way through it. Usually, we do this by trying to keep up with the Holy Spirit and getting rid of the things that weigh us down and the sin that clings so closely, especially when things are going fine in our world. Every church I’ve ever actually attended has spent a fair amount of time teetering on the brink of failure, closure, crisis, and/or despair. Sounds like folks who dare to follow the Son of Man, who has nowhere to lay his head, if you ask me.
In this time of pandemic, I think we have been brought up for “such a time as this” by our forebears, if you will. I think the church has something special to offer in a time of unprecedented change and chaos. We are finding out that the golden calves we may not have worshipped (but kept around just in case) have proven less than useful and everyone I know is having to deal with their mortality and the insecurity of so much they were so sure of. In these days, we have Jesus to offer, we have resurrection to offer, and we have meaning and purpose to offer, rooted in the Kingdom of God and the vision for the world that God makes real in Jesus.
The church has a chance to reach out to people offering the very thing folks need — the love of Jesus, the Bread of life, and very real help and care, offered not because of “payback” but because that’s how grace is. We also have the chance to jettison some things that need to go. (Nothing like a global pandemic to make the church realize the color of the sanctuary carpet doesn’t matter).
From time to time, the church is tempted to think, “Well, we’re really done-for now!” Isn’t that when our Jesus does his most amazing work? Isn’t that when the Holy Spirit shows up, and shows out, if we let her? Turns out the church isn’t a building or a steeple or a resting place after all. Turns out it’s a bunch of crazy followers of Jesus, trying to keep up with the Holy Spirit.
What a great time to be the church!
*Rev. Mandy Sayers is Lead Pastor at Glen Mar UMC in Ellicott City, Md.