Our Sunday School children will be singing in the service on Sunday, May 1. They enjoy sharing what they’ve been working on in opening with the congregation.
In view of God’s Mercy — A series of services for the Season of Lent
Lent is a season when we take a look at our lives in view of God’s mercy toward us in the sacrifice of his Son for us on the cross. We, in turn, are called by God, especially during this time of repentance and reflection, to be living sacrifices for him, displaying our devotion to him in word and deed. Jesus helps us to see the richness of God’s mercy in his life, death and resurrection. During this series we will look at God’s mercy in the ashes of Ash Wednesday, the midst of temptation, suffering, betrayal, in relationships, in service, in the bread and wine, and finally in the cross and empty tomb.
It can be easy enough to be reminded of the bad parts of life and the suffering that we endure as sinners living in a sinful world. Though I’m sure you have heard the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, it is always good to be reminded of it again. It is always good to hear of God’s mercy anew. During the Lenten season, these services offer us an opportunity to hear of God’s mercy in a slightly different way and can help you to gain a fresh perspective on what God has done for you through His Son, Jesus.
If you are going to decorate for February, chances are that hearts will be in the mix because Valentine’s Day falls in February. Love is a multifaceted thing that can be seen from a bunch of different angles. As I write this, I am thinking about the readings for this coming Sunday, January 30th, where 1 Corinthians 13 is the reading. Because it behooves me to plan ahead these days, I happen to know that the Sunday of February 20th also contains a few verses from Luke 6 on the topic of love. I do not plan to preach on either reading so maybe I will talk a bit about them here.
In Sunday morning Bible class we have been working through a study on forgiveness. This last Sunday it came up in the study that we often attach conditions to our forgiveness of people. We usually expect a person to be sorry and say so, we expect them to look and act like they are sorry, we expect them to make things right and if these conditions are met, they earn our forgiveness. In some ways this reflects how we often show love to others. In the case of love, the conditions are a little different though. They might be something like expecting that the person be “lovable” (they are funny or see things the way we do etc.). We might want to see some kind of return on our investment of love. We might ask ourselves what we are getting in return for loving this person if anything. How they feel about us can make a difference. We may ask ourselves what the point is of showing love to someone who does not love us back (or even hates us). If someone meets the conditions; if they are lovable and add some value to our lives and love us in return, then they have earned our love.
These kinds of conditions for love are not terribly controversial because they are entirely too practical. Of course, you would love someone like that. Why not? Jesus knows this kind of a person is easy to love when He says in Luke 6:32, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even Sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Jesus isn’t saying that you shouldn’t love those who are easy to love, He is just saying that Christian love is a bit wider than that. He tells us a few verses later in that passage that you should “love your enemies”.
As is rather obvious, this is impractical. You can’t just forgive someone who isn’t sorry. They’ll just keep doing whatever it is again and again. You can’t love people who are your enemies. They’ll take advantage of you. And yet, Jesus flips the coin to show us the other side when He says in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
The difficulty of how hard it is to forgive and to love and be merciful to other people is directly proportional to how much God forgives and loves and is merciful to us. It is hard to understand what unconditional love is until you are asked to love someone unconditionally. We may fall into the trap of thinking that it is easy for God to love us, that He gets something out of His love for us and that is why we receive good things from Him. But this is not true. He loves us unconditionally. He loves us even though we are unlovable. He loves us even though we cannot give Him anything. He loves us even though we are His enemies. This is not a transaction with God. He loves you. Period.
When Paul describes this kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13:7 he says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is how God loves us. We could simply take this forgiveness and deliberately transgress again and again. We could take advantage of God’s forgiveness. When it comes to our response to God’s love He seems to be after volunteers not hostages.
Yes, it is un-humanly hard to love unconditionally. We want it to be easier. We want something in return. We want a give-and-take kind of a relationship with people. But God calls us to a love that is deeper than that. He knows it is a hard ask. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is nothing like being loved unconditionally, by God or anyone else.
Good Shepherd Family, The past few months have been a unique experience for everyone. We have all had to figure out how to do things in our life a little differently. Here at church we have had to figure out how to provide for your spiritual needs while also being sensitive to the unique health needs of this pandemic. Many of the steps we have taken have been in response to guidelines given to us by government authorities and by our own church body. As you may know, many of these guidelines have become less restrictive recently as the danger from this pandemic seems to be in decline. All the guidelines I have seen, however, emphasize that the danger of infection still exists and should be considered with great care.
On May 5th, the board of elders met to discuss what the church will do regarding worship in light of the relaxation of restrictions on gathering. The board decided that we would resume holding worship services in our sanctuary in accordance with the guidelines set out by the state of Missouri and the Missouri District of the LCMS. Keeping in the spirit of the new guidelines, we will be taking a measured approach to our return to in-person worship.
Allow me, at this juncture, to offer some pastoral advice. Christians can (and certainly do) disagree about what the best course of action is in this situation. We are not called by God to have the same opinions. We are called by God to love each other. It has been disheartening to see in secular society, people who are quick to observe a person’s opinion or decision and subsequently infer that they are evil. To do this with such little information one must assume the worst about their neighbor’s thoughts, priorities, and intentions. As followers of Christ you are called to assume the best about your neighbor’s thoughts, priorities, and intentions. When someone has made a choice that is different than the choice you have made regarding this pandemic that difference should be met with love and understanding. We are not secular society. We are the church.
That being said, many of you will make different choices regarding attendance of our services in person or online. This is to be expected. We all have different thoughts about what the best course of action is. We have different priorities when it comes to how we order our life. I trust, though, that we all intend to be good Christians. A good Christian may choose to stay home and view the service online (or read the sermon later). Simply because a service is offered does not mean that you need to come. Indeed, given that the pandemic seems to present a higher risk to the older demographic I would not expect to see them here in church as much as individuals with a lower risk. I want you all to feel free to make the decision to come or to stay with confidence.
Before we delve into some of the finer details of how things will go, there are some general things to keep in mind. The idea is to minimize the possible spread of the virus by limiting contact with individuals (or the things they have touched). Droplets (of saliva) can travel about 6ft from one’s mouth hence the 6ft distancing requirement. So, while we are gathering together we ask that you keep 6ft apart as much as possible and limit the amount of things that you touch. Most of what follows will be done to achieve these goals.
It needs to be said that if you are feeling bad, have a temperature or are exhibiting any other symptoms of COVID -19 you should stay at home. We will sanitize/disinfect commonly touched surfaces in the church prior to worship. We have removed the hymnals from the pews and will be using the bulletins only. Dispose of them after the service. We plan to have an usher open the doors for people as they enter the building (or prop the door) to minimize contact with the handles. We will make use of every other pew in order to maintain adequate distancing during worship. Bulletins will be placed in the pews intended to be occupied. Please sit in family groups (usually the people you drove to church with). The offering plates will simply stay by the back doors of the sanctuary and will not be passed. We do plan on offering communion. To echo what I stated above, you do not have to take it if you are uncomfortable. Care will be taken in the distribution of the sacrament, the details of which are more than I will get into here. Further details will be given in person on Sunday.
In order to help us adequately prepare for worship we need to have some idea of how many people will be attending, as there are some restrictions on space. For this reason, we are asking that you call the church and “sign up” (for lack of a better term) before attending. We would like to have a good idea of how many people will be there by Friday at noon. I understand that today is Wednesday which does not leave much time. If you call the church after hours and leave us a message that would suffice. We plan on having to do this in the weeks to come.
At this point we will only be having worship and using the church facilities as little as possible (no bible class, Sunday School, blood pressure checks, nursery use, etc.). We plan to continue in this way until the first week in June when we will meet again to decide further steps. We plan to continue to provide an online recording of the worship service going forward even at the end of this pandemic. Since the service will held on Sunday at 9am we will attempt to present it live on Facebook. Regardless of whether the internet connection holds up we will have a recording to post later. It will, of course, be later in the day though. I hope this letter will be able to address most of the question that you might have about what we plan to do. If there is something that you think needs to be addressed, please let us know.
In Christ, Pastor Mehl