It seems anyone with a platform of any kind has something to offer the Church in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. (My plan for this blog, in fact, had been to share some thoughts from go-to thinkers on worship and the Church-in-culture, and I still might do that some time.) One of the persistent themes concerns the necessity to view this crisis as an “unprecedented opportunity” to affect our world for Christ. In two separate sermons I caught yesterday, the pastors encouraged us, especially those with significant shelter-in-place time on the horizon, to use this time well.
For the record, this is my default setting. I’m the firstborn, Type-A overachiever who groans every time Martha gets unilaterally bashed (in sermons on Luke 10:38-42) with nary an acknowledgment that, in that Jewish culture of hospitality, Mary wouldn’t have had the luxury of simply being had not Martha (or somebody) been worried about doing. If I’m inclined to side (or at least empathize) with Martha regarding typical protocol for welcoming a guest (even a divine one), I’m even more inclined to embrace this get-to-it perspective in the midst of a very atypical world pandemic. Indeed, my gut tells me to add my voice to those now providing consider-this how-to’s and encouraging believers to make sure we grab this moment for the Kingdom.
And yet. . . .
(It’s not for want of opinion that I refrain. [Well, OK, just one: Xer and Yer worship leaders, if you’re going to ask Boomers and Builders to sing along with your live-streamed/pre-recorded worship set in the confines of their kitchens, laptops in tow, please let them sing a song or two from the soundtrack of their faith, too. If ever there were a time to put “It Is Well with My Soul,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and “How Great Thou Art” into regular rotation, this is it.])
But something in my soul pushes back a bit on this carpe diem mentality. Maybe I’m the only one for whom this is true, but whenever I hear exhortations like those I’ve heard numerous times the past several days, I am way too inclined to jump into the process without doing nearly enough praying, fasting, contemplating, or consulting with folks far more expert in all kinds of areas than I. I leap into fix-it mode with spiritually reckless abandon, buoyed by the mantra that these “unprecedented times” and the attendant “unprecedented opportunity” demand my such-a-time-as-this, sold-out activity. Now. Said activity can tempt me to put the spiritual cart before the horse and threaten to cause me to forget from whence comes my strength. Maybe I’m the only one for whom this is true.
Psalm 46 has been quoted a lot of late, especially the first three verses; I used them myself in a devotional a few days ago: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” And praise God for those truths. But I’m drawn at this moment to the well-known end of the psalm, verse 10, where God says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
John Goldingay, writing in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, says this about that verse:
[T]he challenge to [be still] also issues an important challenge to the people of God to give up thinking it has responsibility for its destiny or that its task is to bring in the kingdom of God, extend the kingdom of God, or further the kingdom of God. Scripture does not think in such terms. The psalm makes clear that the city of God is not a mere heavenly community . . . but an earthly reality. But in this city, it is not for us to fix things. It is for us to expect God to fix things.
For any pastors or worship leaders who, like me, especially in the wake of urgent exhortation, are prone to take on mantles of responsibility without thinking enough about the One who wraps us in those mantles, I offer the words of Eugene Peterson in the unsettlingly titled The Unnecessary Pastor:
- We are unnecessary to what the culture presumes is important. . . . We are viewed as persons who provide a background of social stability, who are useful in times of crisis and serve as symbols of meaning and purpose. But we are not necessary in any of those ways. . . .
- We are also unnecessary to what we ourselves feel is essential: as the linchpin holding a congregation together. . . . We have important work to do, but if we don’t do it God can always find someone else. . . .
- And we are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be. . . . They want pastors who lead. They want pastors the way the Israelites wanted a king. . . .
I don’t necessarily know what this means in practical terms in the days ahead–these thoughts are by no means fully formed–but I am reasonably confident the Church will rise up and be the Church in the weeks and months ahead, with or without its members’ full appreciation of the unprecedentedness of the opportunity before her.
The Lord be with you!