“It is our mission to worship God and help make God’s realm visible in the lives of people, individually and collectively, especially as it is set forth in the life, teachings, death, and living presence of Jesus Christ.”
April 19, 2020, 11 AM
I chose another UCC church, which I thought was in my area. However, halfway through the service I realized this one is located in Colorado. Oh well, when you’re crashing churches online, it doesn’t really matter where the building is. An organ prelude played while I stared at a wooden cross with a draped white cloth, set against a stone wall, behind an altar table with candles lit, tulips in vase and an open illustrated Bible. After that, a man and two women came out from behind the scenes to welcome worshippers and make announcements. I learned several important things: they are an open and affirming congregation (they welcome gays and lesbians); they are asking for donations to meet immediate needs of those dealing with Covid-19; and where to find the worship bulletin. I was able to pull it up easily and join in the call to worship, the hymns (also printed in bulletin) and the prayers in unison.
A young woman song leader led the opening hymn, which is helpful even when you’re sitting at home. I still like to sing along and it’s much easier with someone leading who can actually carry a tune. One of the women pastors came forward with a book for the children’s time. What? A children’s time in an on-line worship service? Looks like they have kept their order of worship the same for all ages of the congregation. She summarized a story about Saint Francis who taught that all of creation is part of God’s kingdom. He used to say, “Peace be with you” to animals and trees and streams. He even taught a town to feed a hungry wolf, which was unheard of in those days. But the wolf became a protector for the town in return. She tied this story to Earth Day, which was coming up this week.
After a prayer, the man pastor stood to read the text from Leviticus 25:1-7, and I think it’s worth sharing here:
25 The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
The pastor stressed that he did not want to minimize the terrible loss of life, income and other negative effects of the Pandemic. However, he pointed out that some good things have been happening to the planet during this time. He shared a picture of New Delhi before COVID-19 and after. It was a striking contrast between the city shrouded in smoggy gray clouds and the newer picture of clear skies and clean air. He pointed out that maybe the planet is telling us it needs a Sabbath rest. Maybe a shutdown of the old way of doing things is just what the earth needs to rejuvenate, restart and regrow. We have neglected God’s admonition to give the earth a rest, and maybe, this time will teach us the benefit of Sabbath, not only for us, but for all of creation.
God told us to rest, recharge and worship one day a week, this is our Sabbath day. When we neglect this important mandate, we begin to feel run down, out of whack, exhausted. What if the earth needs this time of rest too? What if we reduced our old life by 1/14 (equivalent to one day of rest) by telecommuting more, biking to work, not consuming, not destroying, not burning, not doing whatever we were doing before COVID-19? What if we reduced our strain on the earth by 1/14? The whole world might be renewed, refreshed, and ready to regenerate again. He concluded the sermon by saying that since we are a resurrection people, we should not go back to the old ways of doing things. We must be intentional about change and move into a new chapter for us and for the earth.
I’ve always been uninspired by Earth Day sermons, but this one definitely provoked something inside me. It made me want to fight for the planet, fight for its right to rest, and to remind everyone that this isn’t some liberal agenda. It’s part of God’s plan. It’s BIBLICAL. We are God’s caretakers of the planet.
The other woman pastor called for the offering, which we could give online or mail to the church. The young woman sang a solo during this time. After another unison prayer, the pastor then shared about seven minutes of prayer requests. After a moment of silent prayer, the male pastor led us in a pastoral prayer time followed by the Lord’s Prayer, which I said aloud, just like I normally would.
Then, as a way to Pass the Peace, the worship leaders waved to each other and to the camera. I thought this was kind of sweet. A closing hymn, a benediction and postlude closed out the worship.
Since they welcomed visitors, made it easy to find the bulletin, and since the pastor gave an outstanding sermon, this church PASSED the WELCOME TEST.