“Adventists believe that God is concerned with the quality of human life, and that everything—the way we live, eat, speak, think, treat each other, and care for the world around us—is part of His plan.“
March 28, 2020, 1230 PM
Another week in lock down meant I had to attend church, like everyone else, online. It’s been kind of nice to sit on the couch in my pajamas with my coffee cup and simply live stream worship. So easy and convenient. I can see how this would work for those who cannot attend church regularly. However, I believe worship is a verb that requires our intention, our participation, and our gathering as the Body of Christ. Internet church is fine for the present situation, but probably could not sustain the faith in the long run, IMHO. Perhaps this forced separation from actually attending church will help congregants appreciate and long for corporate worship again. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed my coffee, pj’s, couch and no-pressure church services.
This local Seventh Day Adventist Church, a mostly black congregation, began worship right on time with a greeting from the pastor. Sitting in his office, with a voice like James Earl Jones, he welcomed the members of his flock to worship and said that this is how they would be doing things for the foreseeable future. He then invited us to worship God by singing. The video cut to the choir singing a semi-long praise song. I could hear a keyboard, piano, guitar, drums and congregational participation, so it must’ve been recorded from a prior service. I thought it was a great way to recycle. Then the video cut to a man, “Elder _______” flashed on the screen. He basically made a few announcements and prayer requests. He also said, “I miss you, church. Keep the faith, we will get through this together.”
The screen switched to a chef in a kitchen, and for a moment, I thought I had accidentally hit a button which shifted me to QVC or something. The chef gave a few tips on how to bring groceries into your home during the Covid-19 crisis. This seemed a little out of place in the worship time, but I guess it could be considered a public service announcement. We shifted back to the pastor who mentioned more blessings and prayer requests, prior to the prayer time. Then, the choir came back on with “Come, Holy Spirit,” a song that often precedes/follows prayer time. We flashed to another elder who led a prayer for the joys and concerns that had been mentioned. Then, back to the choir for another chorus of “Come, Holy Spirit.”
Next, the choir offered a rendition of “You Take Good Care of Me.” The soloist seemed to ad-lib a few extra lines like, “you love me in spite of me,” which made it feel spontaneous even though it was pre-recorded.
Another elder came on the screen and read the scripture from Exodus 14:10-13. I was especially pleased to see he read from an actual Bible, instead of using an I-phone or a piece of paper. The adult and youth choirs followed with a meditation song called “God Restores.”
The pastor knocked it out of the park, sermon-wise. He seemed to be one of those rare souls who can deliver a sermon without any notes, seemingly without anxiety or even exerting any effort. He simply spoke, in his deep and even tone, like a sage, a seer, or a prophet. And he did it so casually, sitting in his office chair, without ever getting up, or waving his hands in the air, or any distractions whatsoever. He simply spoke, inspired words, strung together, like an artist. I guess that’s called “preaching.”
I cannot do justice to his sermon, but I will summarize what I heard. The Israelites had been enslaved for 400 years in Egypt, when God, through Moses freed them. However, when faced with the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian Army behind them, they became terrified and asked Moses why God had brought them all this way only to die. The sermon’s title, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” was his summation of God’s message to the Israelites through Moses: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.”
Preacher elaborated on the mindset of the slaves, being literally between two terrible fates, with no where to go. They were stuck, hemmed in on all sides, by powerful destructive forces. And this is when God said, “Stand still, and watch what I will do.” The pastor then drew parallels to our current situation of facing a formidable, unseen foe: Covid-19. And we’re stuck–we can’t work, we can’t shop, we can’t go out, we can’t run our businesses, we can’t visit family, we can’t attend weddings, funerals or even go to church. We are literally stuck at home and being asked to STAND STILL.
Preacher went on to say that for many of us, standing still is the antithesis of progress. We often want to DO SOMETHING. He spoke of his father’s admonition to him when he was a youth: “Don’t just stand there, do something!” I have also heard that line many times. And what about this one: “Do something, even if it’s wrong, just do something!” We are mostly human-doings, and not human-beings. But sometimes, God call us to stand down, stand still, and stay put–so that we can watch what HE will do for us. Sometimes, God calls us to wait and watch. And, although this may not feel like progress, it is moving forward in God’s plan for us. God is calling us to stop doing so much, and stand still, watch and see what God will do.
That was the gist of his sermon, although there was a lot more to it. I very much appreciated his even, calm and wise words, which seemed to bring a fresh perspective to our situation. I felt like he had preached right to me, as if I were the only one listening. And when that happens, friends, you have a damn good sermon.
After the sermon, we flashed to a woman (also an Elder) who read from 1Thessalonians and invited us to give our offerings online. Next, we saw the mixed-race congregation standing and singing “Shelter in the Time of Storm,” accompanied only by the organ. The same woman elder came back on and read one last passage, “be not afraid…”
No Lord’s Prayer, Doxology, Gloria Patri, Psalter or other forms of liturgy, but I really enjoyed and felt moved by “attending” this worship time. The choir’s uplifting songs, the pastor’s sermon and the inclusion of a woman elder, made me want to check out this church in person. Therefore, they PASSED the WELCOME TEST!