June 21, 2020

Discipleship in the Time of Covid-19
Bradenton-Sarasota Congregation online service
June 21, 2020 (Father’s Day)

Fathers’ Day Remembrance

As of June 17, 2020, 117,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the United States. All of them were someone’s child. Most of them were someone’s parent. Many of those parents were fathers. Each year we take time to honor the fathers and father figures in our lives. I found a song that I believe in very poignant given the environment we are coping with. Apologies to daughters, because the song speaks primarily about the father-son relationship, but since I have sons, it hit home with me. It’s written by Christian artist Bryan Duncan and sung by Bryan and his son Devin.

Invitation to Worship

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life
for I am devoted to you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
—Psalm 86:1–4, adapted

Prayer for Peace

O God, our loving Creator, Sustainer, and Friend,
We live in a world torn by violence, hatred, prejudice, anger, and bitterness. We find it sometimes difficult to live our lives as dedicated disciples, feeling the hurts thrust upon us, leaving us impotent and frustrated. We lose sight of your counsel to pursue peace on Earth when the waters are muddied and we cannot clearly find our way. Yet we remember you have promised that if we will discern and embrace our name, Community of Christ, we will discover our future and become a blessing for others. Help us to follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace. May we be found engaged in ministries that share that peace with others. Amen.
–adapted Doctrine and Covenants 163:1, 2a

Message – Priest Sherry Lindgren

I found today’s Prayer for Peace from the World Church worship resources amazingly appropriate and so in tune with my thought processes this week as I prepared to attempt to minister in some meaningful way. Because if you’re like me, you are very familiar with the following scriptures:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared
for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and  you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34 – 40

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

And again, if you’re anything like me, those scriptures are etched in your brain and have been making you feel guilty ever since about the second week of March. In many ways, “discipleship” is seen as a call to action – Invite People to Christ; Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; Pursue Peace on Earth, Develop Disciples to Serve, and Experience Congregations in Mission (https://www.cofchrist.org/mission-initiatives). And we sing about and talk about raising our hand and saying, “Here am I Lord, send me.”

So it’s hard to not feel like a failure as a disciple. It’s hard to not feel like you’re letting the Lord down if you have an ounce of faith or compassion and a belief in the concept of servanthood. I ask myself if I’m being a coward and hiding behind government and world church guidelines by social distancing and not answering potential calls to action to be an agent of change. Am I in essence “hiding my light under a bushel”?

But here’s the deal. Covid-19 has taken away some of the “agency” that those of us in the Community of Christ faith hold so dear. You don’t have the “option” of laying your life down for your friend. You can’t get the virus “for” anyone. You can get the virus, give it to your friend, and you could both die. It’s not an either/or proposition. You CAN’T visit the prisoner. You CAN’T visit the sick, even if you were willing to take that risk. You can’t even wait in the waiting room if you bring in someone else who’s sick. Things have definitely changed.

So does that mean that we’re off the hook? That we just shelter in place now, watch Netflix until we can’t stand another minute of it and commit to making up for lost time when this is all over? I suppose that’s one option, but the problem is, we don’t know when “over” is. I have to assume that until further notice this is my life now. And I have to figure out how to move forward with it both physically and spiritually.

Not being able to do things we’d like to do and go places we’d like to go is very frustrating, depressing, and scary. So many times we’ve said things like, “if I had more time, I would . . .” Fill in the blank with yours. No matter how hard I try, I will never be thankful for what the world in going through right now, but I could be being more productive than I am. And I mean spiritually. Every time I turn on the news I get mad. Every time I look at social media, I get mad. I need to work on de-stressing, finding compassion for my perceived enemies. I need to learn to chill out and be a better peace maker. I need to take advantage of this time to look inward and find creative ways to reach out to make others feel remembered, loved, valued, honored. While the reason for this confinement is horrible, the opportunity it provides is precious and I shouldn’t waste it. I feel like I’ve wasted a good portion of it already by being angry and feeling sorry for myself. It’s very counter productive and doesn’t provide a positive environment for empathy and love to grow.

Here are things that have happened since we stopped “congregating” in a building that I see as disciple-like behaviors (and these are just the ones I know about):

  1. A committee was formed to call everyone in the congregation to check in and see how they are doing and if they need anything.
  2. People I don’t normally interact with have sent me emails and cards saying how much they appreciate the communications that have gone out and the Sunday morning care and share meetings.
  3. I know of cases where members of the congregation have actually grown closer since the pandemic.
  4. We see and interact with anyone and everyone who attends the 2gether is Better Sunday
    morning calls instead of just chatting with a few friends on a Sunday morning on the way in or out.
  5. There is a true sense of community in the calls and everyone is excited to see each other. No one and nothing is taken for granted.
  6. People are making an effort to invite others to join by phone or in person and following up to assist with access.
  7. Pre-baptismal classes are taking place in spite of the lack of literal congregation.
  8. Priesthood classes and ordinations continue to take place.
  9. Communion is taking place creatively.

I have read the guidelines that the World Church has published. They are available for anyone to read and can be found here: https://www.cofchrist.org/Common/Cms/EN-Reopening-Guidelines1.pdf.

Let me just say, it’s all necessary, but it’s 7 pages and it’s “a lot”. Even when we do eventually go back into the building, it will be a long time before we will be able to get back to what many of us would think of as “normal”. But if we can take this time away, and use it as a time of reflection and introspection, we can potentially gain insight and inspiration into how we can be an inclusive, diverse, close, intimate community of disciples without physical closeness. That’s going to be really hard for the people I’ve met in this congregation. But I know that we can do it. The more “2gether is Better” meetings we have, the more I see a possibility that we can someday all be in the same building again with a new mindset that we can be “hand in hand” with our brothers and sisters without ever touching each other.

Closing Meditation

This video is a great way to emphasize the message and close out the service. If you have the capability, I would recommend you enlarge the video to full screen. People are holding up signs and it makes it easier to read them and adds impact to the message.

This service was prepared by Sherry Lindgren.