Rector's Blog: Throwback Episode, Make You Odd
Hey, friends, welcome to my podcast, When Love Shows Up. This week we’re going to rerun an episode from last year because I find it has held its relevance in terms of our community response to COVID-19. While some of our guidelines have changed, since this was written/recorded, our guiding principles and philosophy are the same. Our Christian beliefs put our care for each other at the forefront of our priorities, and this can sometimes put us out of step with the world around us. With COVID cases dropping dramatically, and vaccinations on the rise, we believe we will be seeing some big changes in the next few weeks. I am meeting with Redeemer’s COVID Advisory Response Expert Team regularly as things unfold, and we continue to make decisions based on the data, and on the best practices available to us. Assuming a continued downward trend in case numbers, we are expecting to loosen some of the restrictions we’ve placed on our gathering – as it is safe to do so. In all this, I welcome your questions and feedback, and I ask for your prayers for sound and loving decision-making.
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This past week, I preached about how odd being a Christian is. I addressed this message first to a room of several dozen people in masks sitting in every other pew, distanced at least 6 feet from one another. I was wearing a mask too, and a big white robe with a big white stole draped over my shoulders – so calling us all odd was not a big stretch.
Flannery O’Connor said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” And I mentioned this on Sunday. Because the readings pointed out that following Jesus has the capacity to put us at odds with the world around us. While the Romans said, “Caesar is Lord,” Christians would proclaim, “Jesus is Lord.” One of the recurring themes throughout our Scriptures is this: Adherence to God puts faithful communities at odds with a world that worships money, power, violence, status, and other ephemeral things. We know the truth: That these things cannot rival the eternal Love of God. This knowledge makes us odd. Our world, our culture, our country, our city – they are not built on the belief that God is Love, and that the world is an expression of that love. But we seek to build a community whose whole identity is rooted and grounded in Love. This is odd. You are not normal, and you never will be.
You know what we do is odd, right? We who worship God in the church. One of the things we’ve missed the most these last months is one of the things that makes us odd: the weekly gathering for the purpose of honoring an invisible God and asking that God to care for us, to heal and reconcile us, to give us all that we need. It’s not really comparable to anything else.
Sometimes people will say to me that going to a ballgame is their church. Or going for a walk in nature, or spending time with family. And I love all these things and have no doubt about their holiness. They are absolutely places where one might see God, might feel the presence of the divine, might be refreshed, renewed, and ready to begin anew. But “going to church” – which is the term we often use to mean gathering in a holy space with the specific intention of worshiping God – going to church is much different and much more odd than all the wonderful non-churchy things listed above.
In Christian worship, a group of people who otherwise might have no other common interest or connection decide to create community. We anchor that community in the recognition that Love is the greatest, most powerful, most fruitful, most authentic reality ever. Then we spend time actively contemplating and proclaiming the reality of our dependence on that Love. We explicitly say that, even though we want to love and be loved, we’re often very bad at living as if this is so. And then we openly ask for help! And then we participate in a ritual by which we believe we receive the Love and help and deliverance we need so that we can continue to heal and be healed. We do this by eating bread and drinking wine that we say is the body and blood of Jesus. This is odd behavior, and we are much better off when we admit this.
I know it feels weird to wear masks in church. And to sit far apart.
I know it feels weird to watch the readers and singers and preachers up front in masks.
I know it feels weirder because we are, in many other places in our lives, relaxing some of these safeguards and acting more normal. Last week we got a lot of very promising news from the CDC about the efficacy and safety of the available COVID-19 vaccines, and here in Ohio, our governor made the decision to end all emergency orders surrounding the pandemic. And then we came to church and put on our masks and sat at a distance from one another anyway. And this felt weird, at odds with the world around us. But don’t blame the masks: we were going to be weird anyway. We believe in Jesus.
A community founded in Love is sacrificial, giving up some of our own preferences and deep desires in order to better care for our neighbor. Many of us are vaccinated and have just been told that it is safe to go maskless in any situation. At the same time, a very large number of people are still unvaccinated from COVID-19. Some by choice, others, like children for instance, by necessity. As a church, we will not be requiring proof of vaccination in order to worship, and we do not feel comfortable with creating a different set of rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. We will not be making those distinctions. And the virus is still present in our communities, it’s still contagious, and it’s still dangerous. So, we will be holding the line of masking and distancing in order to keep people as safe as possible.
Not making distinctions among ourselves, acting in solidarity with those who are most at risk, seeking to serve and love one another at the expense of our own comfort, this is how we embody Jesus in this moment, how we act as the Body of Christ in the world we’ve been given. And it’s not normal. If you are serious about Jesus, wearing a mask is the least odd thing about you.
If you are a part of the community that is Church of the Redeemer, I want to thank you. Thank you for your patience, your thoughtfulness, your care for each other, and your willingness to step outside your comfort zone. Your willingness to maintain a flexible approach to our shared life is a beautiful act of love that teaches me more about God each day. As we continue in our regathering process, as we find ourselves back together in our sanctuary partaking of these odd rituals and making these outlandish claims about the God who loves every person, your continued cooperation and participation in this work is a gift and a blessing.
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