Although I miss the fellowship of Sunday worship, in some ways, I actually like attending online church services from my home.
I think my wife likes it, too, because I can’t skip out on it. When local church service is going on in your own living room, on your own television, it’s hard to avoid.
The sermons are just as good. The prayers mean just as much.
Sometimes my wife says to me, “I hope you don’t think it’s strange that I sing along with the hymns.”
Not at all. Most often, I don’t sing along, although I might belt out a few phrases along with the hymns I recognize and especially like.
It’s really not that much different than when I’m actually at church. I admit, often I am just mouthing the words. I promise you I’m usually singing them in my head, and I’m pretty sure God can hear them in there, if he wants to.
That’s been our life for the last couple of months, and maybe it’s been your life, too. It’s the era of COVID-19. We are finding all kinds of creative ways to do all the things we do. In some ways, it’s been amazing, if not completely fulfilling.
Sunday worship is better inside a church building, shared with others, I won’t argue with that. The grape juice and toast in my kitchen just don’t seem the same as the wine and wafer of communion.
But ironically, there are few places in the country right now that are more dangerous than a crowded church sanctuary, and few acts more potentially lethal than Holy Communion.
Here in Iowa, churches have had the option of reopening for several weeks now, but I’m glad most local church leaders have had the common sense to not do that.
I understand the human need for fellowship, I honestly do. I just don’t understand a few national church leaders encouraging — and some of them even demanding — that churches open their doors.
These people are supposed to have our best interests at heart, but instead they are leading us into temptation.
They are encouraging us to do the things which we know are the wrong things to do. They are tempting us to do things that could bring harm to ourselves and others, in exchange for short-term convenience and faux fulfillment.
It’s not “freedom,” any more than driving while drunk is “freedom.” It’s undisciplined and irresponsible behavior.
More than 100,000 human beings have died now from COVID-19 in the United States. Cases and deaths have not gone down. They continue to rise. We can stop this, but we won’t anytime soon.
Tens of thousands of people gathered together in crowds this past weekend, very few of them practicing the necessary social distancing protocols. Almost no masks.
I saw a photo of a very pretty young woman, in one of these crowds, holding a sign in protest of wearing masks in public.
“Take your mask off, because God’s got you covered,” the sign said.
I have to tell you, if someone who knew told me that somehow wearing a hat in public might possibly save the life of just one unknown person, I would put on a hat every time I left the house.
It’s such a simple thing to do. Why is a mask different?
This pretty young woman with the sign that presumes to know the will of God, reminded me of a story.
It’s an old story, something of a fable or parable, and I first heard a version of it when I was very young, in Sunday school.
I heard it again many years later, on an episode of the television show “The West Wing.”
The modern-day parable goes something like this:
A man lived next to a river, and he heard a radio report telling him the river was going to rush up and flood, and those who lived near the river should evacuate their homes.
“I will pray to God,” the man said. “God will protect me.”
He then turned his television on, and saw a news alert, urging those who lived by the river to leave as soon as possible, because flooding was inevitable.
"I'm religious. I pray,” the man said. “God loves me. He will save me.”
He turned the television off and opened up his newspaper, which had a very detailed article that outlined the best escape routes to take away from the river, listed several places that had been set up for temporary shelter and food, and even posted a phone number the man could call if he needed aid or assistance.
The man threw the newspaper away.
"God loves me. God will save me."
As predicted, the waters rose up. His neighbor rowed by his house in a rowboat and shouted, "Hey, buddy, hop in! The whole town is flooding, you can come with me and we’ll be safe.”
The man shouted back, “No thank you! I’m not afraid. God loves me. God will save me."
Then the man heard a helicopter, which hovered overhead, and an emergency worker shouted down at the man through a megaphone.
She pleaded with him. “I’m dropping a ladder! Just grab it and we’ll take you to safety!”
The man waved the chopper away. He shouted that he was religious, he prayed, God loved him and that God will take him to safety.
The man drowned. He found himself standing at the gates of St. Peter. He requested an audience with God.
"Lord," he said, "I'm a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did you let this happen to me?”
And God said, "I do love you. That’s why I sent you three news reports, a helicopter and a friend in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?"
There ends the lesson.
God is sending us news reports. He is sending us people who are desperately sharing information with us, pleading with us to do the right thing.
He is sending us epidemiologists, scientists, doctors, nurses and first responders, all who know ways to help us fight this disease, and slow the spread so we can protect ourselves and protect those we love — and ultimately protect them.
He is sending us volunteers, who are doing his work, trying to help us. He is sending us people who bring us food if we need it. He is sending us people to talk with us, check up on us, make sure we are physically, mentally and emotionally OK.
He is actually sending us people who can sew, who are making us masks, some of them dozens a day, by hand, right here in our own city.
He is even sending us artists and designers who can create beautiful images to put on the masks that make us look cool — or at least make us look interesting if we have to go out where there are others nearby.
He’s been thoughtful enough to send us writers and singers and entertainers — with talents that can be shared over the airwaves directly into our homes — to help keep us sane, and possibly even happy.
He has sent us amazing technological advances, so that many of us can work, teach, learn, communicate, worship and survive from the safety of our homes.
God is sending us all the tools, all the information and all the direction we need to beat this.
He has answered our prayers.
What the hell are we doing?