The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands…Acts 17:24, NRSV
Over the weekend, a big flea market in my town reopened, although we are still under a Stay-at-Home order that allows only life-sustaining businesses to be open. An article on the local paper’s website told the story. The next morning I read about a restaurant in Colorado that opened for Mother’s Day. In contrast, the pastors in my circle of friends and coaching clients are proceeding with caution because of stories like this one from Calgary, and I want to know why people didn’t pay attention to this story from New Jersey. I understand the desire to return to work, and particularly to church, but the warnings we have received about the vulnerable, and the prohibition against singing, point us toward waiting and demand that we offer a vision for what the church is and can be right now.
God does not live in shrines made from human hands.
This week’s lesson from Acts gives us a way to talk about the current situation. Paul spoke at the Areopagus hoping to win over people who might have thought their way of belief and worship and his way of belief and worship were incompatible. He looked for a common value, the thing groups or individuals operating in opposition might actually understand to be shared. The divided nature of our world now makes this particularly difficult. How do we handle things when the Christian value of love for neighbor can come into direct conflict with American values of freedom and independence. A sign in the window of the Colorado restaurant announced,
The news stories read like the troubled dreams I have had in recent weeks. While my daily life has been lived at home, my inner world takes me to crowded spaces where others do not believe there is a problem. We not only lack a shared understanding, many lack the desire to find one. It can be hard not to drift into despair when we read the news.
Friends who are preachers, here’s the good news. It’s not our job on a particular Sunday to change the entire world. It’s our calling instead to speak to this moment in the lives of the people we serve. I note, in my conversations with coaching clients, colleagues, and friends, that most congregations are acting like themselves, but amplified. Thoughtful and cooperative church folk are working well together; conflicted congregations are divided; antagonists are still antagonistic. You know your situation best. What is the story that will remind your livestream-watchers and Zoom participants who they are and whose they are? What common value do they all hold dear?
Paul praised the religious inclinations of the people he met on Mars Hill. We might note the way our listeners care for those closest to them, or serve in the local community, or make sure never to forget the members of the congregation who are fragile or homebound and might be “no tech” in this time of social distancing. Certain voices may be calling them fearful; you can remind them that they are caring. Certain voices may want to call our decisions political; you can remind them that our decisions are made based in our faith. Certain voices may declare them “sheeple;” you can remind them who guides their flock.
Preachers, I am praying for you in this difficult season. Speak from your context and find the highest common denominator that will resonate with the people you serve.