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Creating Community

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection HERE.

I start each and every week with God—and with the readings for the upcoming Sunday. I have labeled this time on Monday mornings my GPS: my time of gratitude, prayer, and sermonating (offering myself to the Spirit as a conduit for revealing what God has to say to us today). When the weather is nice, I sit out on the patio at church, or on the deck… or in the woods. This past Monday it was raining, so I sat in the garden, on one of the flagstones underneath the overhang of the building.

There are some weeks when, as I pause and pray, the Spirit says “here… start here with the sermon on Sunday.” This was one of those weeks.  This is a reflection that really, really, wanted to launch with:

In the beginning…

Now, this didn’t feel comfortable to me. I tried to resist starting the sermon with just those 3 words, but throughout the week the Spirit pushed back with a vengeance and insisted that this is—we are…

In the beginning…

This is our starting point. As our family and friends who are essential workers step into spaces filled with risks every day of the pandemic, and we begin to realize that in the United States the viral hotspots are our nursing homes, prisons, and meat packing plants, we are living at the edges of the beginning. This is a time in which financial uncertainty lurks not around the corner, but in this place—this congregation, this city, our place, our neighborhoods, our homes. This is a moment in which the mental health challenges we face in “normal” days, the loneliness, any disconnect we experience because we are human—becomes intensified in the reality of all of the sudden loss and grief due to the coronavirus.

Thus today, we are living into a creation story. Not a creation story being told in the way you are used to hearing, one heavens and earth, moons and stars, creatures, and plants, water and wind, and people being formed from a great nothingness, but this is a narrative of making-something-new. The Bible tells us that in the beginning… and throughout time… God creates new out of chaos.

This is a beginning.

The creation of a community.

But how do you form a community out of nothingness?

This is where the actions in the book of Acts we heard read today got me energized and full of hope. In this story I encounter a true GPS, a global positioning system, something I can follow. A Word that can point us to the potential for a God-informed transformation.

You see, the early followers of Jesus were creating a community following a life shattering event. This story takes place on the day of, or just after, the first Pentecost. Fifty(ish) days after Jesus’ execution. These were days in Jerusalem which the author of Acts could have remembered as being fear-packed, with worries about additional imprisonments for those who openly talked about Jesus on the streets. John Valters Paintner notes “The Acts of the Apostles begins with… (the apostles) still by-and-large in hiding. The possibility of arrest and execution is still their primary concern. Their faith in Jesus has been restored, but they lack the courage to do anything about it…” (pg 127-128).

Acts opens with the apostles social isolating. But instead of gloom-and-doom predictions, our biblical ancestors left us texts filled with surprising moments of revelation. Over the past few weeks we have heard people were suddenly understanding, recognizing, touching, and responding to Jesus’ presence in very ordinary places: a garden, on a walk with a friend, around the dinner table eating bread, in the words, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19), and in Thomas’ moment of doubt, “Unless I can touch… I will not believe” (John 20:25). This was the beginning of a new community. A change in their world view.

We are at our own “50 days.” We are now 50(ish) days past the World Health Organization’s declaration of the pandemic. How are you feeling? We too have been hearing about unexpected moments of coming together as community. We have started to understand, recognize, touch across distances, and respond to Jesus’ presence in new ways. This is our Pentecost moment, as we begin “to speak in other languages, as the Spirit (gives us the) ability” (Acts 2:4). Our “languages” of gathering include Zoom and FaceBook, texts and phone calls, cards, emails, emojis, as well as hearts and teddy bears placed in windows, and words of encouragement written in chalk on sidewalks. These are the connectors of God’s ongoing creation.

It strikes me that as we approach Pentecost on May 31, a day on which we will celebrate the birth of the Church, that this is a moment in which humanity has an opportunity to rebuild community. More than that, we as Christians have an opportunity to rebuild how we understand our faith community… and where Jesus is leading us into that space as well.

A central dimension of our faith is the embodiment of the Church as the Body of Christ. Gathering this morning shattered in multiple places, I believe we need to make time to redefine what being that Body means to us. As we do Church digitally, the Body of Christ looks different, feels different, IS different. During the need to rapidly respond to the pandemic there hasn’t been much space in which to say, “But we’ve never done it that way before.”

What DOES being the Body of Christ look like for us? I would like to suggest the actions in Acts can provide us with guidance in the weeks ahead as we prayerfully discern how to, and when to, take steps such as reopening the church building. So hear these words:

In the beginning…

They devoted themselves. They devoted themselves in uncertain times to:

  • Teaching
  • Worshiping
  • Getting together for conversation
  • Stewardship—collecting all of their belongings and distributing things as needed… in other words a responsiveness to, and service in, the community;
  • Breaking of bread, in homes
  • Praying

These are the creative building blocks of a new community. In their time of crisis, these are the actions that grounded people in the Way of Jesus. Even though we cannot get together face-to-face due to the need to physically distance, these are all faith practices we are finding ways to do, even during a pandemic. We are continuing to devote ourselves to the actions of our faith.

Our faith is one of embodiment. The Body of Christ. Our faith is communal. And Virtual Church? The reality is “we have not done it this way before.”

I want to offer space to think about this. To think about the rapid changes which have happened over the course of a few weeks, and that statement church people love to turn to: “we have not done it this way before.” So, I ask you:

  • In the move to Virtual Church, what are you worried about?
    • People typed their responses into the “chat” box or “comments” which included….
      • I am worried about those people who do not have access to a computer and cannot participate in worship.
      • That eventually the number of households joining online will drop off.
      • Concern that my computer will crash!!
  • What have we learned in our move to Virtual Church that has been positive?
    • People typed their responses into the “chat” box or “comments” which included…
      • I am grateful that there is a SAFE way to worship together
      • Online services can be just as good as in person services – still poignant
      • Virtual church – reinforces the concept that the church isn’t just a building
      • I think a positive thing is that there are more people coming to Scripture and Scones (the Wednesday Bible study) because they don’t have to drive. The same thing is true of worship.
      • Positive. I can be in my jammies!
  • Are there aspects of Virtual Church we should hold onto as we look towards reopening the building?
    • People typed their responses into the “chat” box or “comments” which included…
      • Hold on to: Still offer online opportunities
      • Yes to continuing to offer online opportunities!
  • What do you need now?
    • Note: no specific responses were posted to this question

This is a beginning.

God is creating community once again.

And I wonder: what story will be written about us and our response during the pandemic, as people of faith?


~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Acts 2:42-47 offered Sunday, May 3, 2020