May 1, 2020

May 1, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ:
 
Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation—    whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—    of whom shall I be afraid?

13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord     in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Over a month ago, on March 22, we talked about this Psalm and how we are doing what it says… to “Wait for the Lord.” And now, in the Lord’s providential timing we are able to again come together in the sanctuary to praise God for His salvation to us. We will return to the sanctuary for worship beginning the 10 of May, this Sunday at 10:30 AM. There will be no Sunday School before church as of now. We will revisit that again soon, but for now, no Sunday School before worship.

Following this Sunday, which will include the sacrament of baptism for Avaleigh Sierra, we will return to our schedule of communion on the 1st and 3rd Sundays and the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays. Wednesday worship will return on the 13th of May at 7:00 PM.

Before we get into the details of how we will conduct the service and what our gathering together will look like, I want to take a few minutes to preface the “how” with the “why”; why we will have waited and why we will do things in a new way. Until now, when we are living in unprecedented times for most of us, I’ve not taken the time to teach on the “two kingdoms” doctrine which our theology teaches us is how God oversees His creation.

It starts with knowing that the providence of God is supreme over all things. As Christians we proclaim that God is Lord and King over all kingdoms and rulers of earth, both the manmade and the spiritual. Thus, we need to be mindful that God has established 2 kingdoms for the governing of this world. One is referred to as the ‘kingdom of the left’, in which God ordains governments and rulers to lead and give structure to society. And the other is the church, the ‘kingdom of the right’, whereby He oversees the spiritual realm of His creation. But these two operate in different ways.

God alone is supreme, and He allows earthly government and uses these earthly governments for His purposes. Though we do not see His reasoning, nor does He need to justify Himself to us, yet we acknowledge that the third, fourth, and fifth commandments and their meanings, teach us to love and honor God, respect government authority, and serve our neighbor in love.

Therefore, we learn that God sets all things in heaven and on earth according to His use for all His creation. And, we cannot see His ways as it applies to such things as tsunami’s, earthquakes, volcanos, storms, and hurricanes nor even things such as world wars or our current worldwide pandemic.

In His working in this ‘left hand’ kingdom God “hides” Himself behind the rulers of this world, through the people and institutions He allows to exist. In this, ‘kingdom of the left’, God uses the law to rule. He also uses the sword, as well as historic events or acts, again such as we are experiencing through this pandemic.

Meanwhile, in ‘the kingdom of the right’, in the church, God does not hide Himself. But in this spiritual kingdom, He makes Himself plainly known by His Word and Sacraments. He is thus revealed in the kingdom of the right, and not hidden as He is in the kingdom of the left.

In the church, in the spiritual kingdom of the right, God rules through mercy, love, grace, and forgiveness. We Christians do not combine the left- and right-hand kingdoms, but the Christian is in-between the two. We live according to grace in the church, but as a sojourner in this world we must also live according to the rules of the world and see there God’s hidden hand at work.

Some would wish for a distinct line between the ‘kingdoms’ of the left and right, but we live in both. At the same time, we cannot separate ourselves to live solely in one kingdom or the other but must live in both yet not improperly mix the two. We do not confuse or blend one with the other, nor do we think we can withdraw from society or incorrectly mix society and the church. We abide by the laws of the kingdom of the left because of our love for God and love for our neighbor. (And we obey only as long as governments and rulers do not try to force sinful action or exert coercion in spiritual matters regarding the kingdom of the right.)

Much more can be taught and discussed regarding the ‘two kingdoms’ over which God alone reigns as Ruler, but this very brief look at this doctrine is meant to help us understand why we are doing what we have done and what we will do in relation to the state’s directives.

So, we have been abiding by the regulations put forth by federal, state, county, and city governments to show our love for God and our care for our neighbors by foregoing meeting for worship, Sunday school or other gatherings, in the sanctuary or on campus for a time. But now these various government entities have put forth new guidelines and according to a careful review of the documents put out by the state, county, and city, we can again return to worship in the sanctuary while still maintaining prescribed precautions.

We are not limited to only 50 people or less, nor do the restrictions on square footage to occupancy ratios apply to churches according these government documents.

However, we are to follow the current practice of physical or ‘social’ distancing of 6 feet between family groups or individual persons. We will also need to have people using masks or full-face shields until seated in the sanctuary. Please do not ignore this, this applies to everyone as coming in and out of the sanctuary we will likely be closer than 6 feet at times and wearing a mask will contribute to everyone’s safety.

Again, out of love for God and neighbor we wish to practice these safety measures. And as we are being given the joy of celebrating the sacrament of Holy Baptism for Avaleigh Sierra on May 10, I want everyone to wear a mask or face shield so as to protect her.

Now as for the nuts and bolts of how we will gather. This will be our ‘Phase One’ of restarting worship in the sanctuary. (Phase Two will come next week regarding the receiving of Holy Communion.) The following things have been discussed by the Pastor and Elders along with  contributions from guidelines given by both the Synod and District.

  • Please be comfortable in either coming to the sanctuary or staying home to worship. (But if you come, please remember to wear regular street or Sunday clothes, not pj’s and slippers😊!)
  • Please be sure you are not symptomatic of Covid-19. According to CDC those symptoms may include, cough, fever, shortness of breath, chills, sore throat, headache/muscle pain, fatigue, loss of smell/taste
  • There will be no shaking of hands, no hugs, no fist, elbow or knee ‘bumps’; basically, no touching!
  • There will be no hymnals in the pews.
  • The acolyte will be sitting in a chair in front of the altar to assist in recording the service.
  • The entire service will be printed on paper bulletins. The bulletins will be laid out on an 8-foot table in the narthex, please take one, being careful to avoid touching other ones. (We will be projecting the service on the screens on the walls as we usually do as well)
  • The offering plates will be on the piano as you enter the sanctuary. Please use them for the act of worship of returning to God your tithes and offerings as you enter or exit. We will not be ‘passing the plate’ but we will be singing the offertory and saying the stewardship prayer at the appointed place in the service.
  • We will not be using the red sign-in booklets.
  • There will be markers on the floor and on the pews denoting six foot spacing. Use these as a guide as you come and go and as you sit. Do not sit directly behind someone in the pew in front of you if they are not a family member. Allow that six-foot margin of space.
  • Please leave all doors open. We are trying to be as ‘touchless’ as possible with hard surfaces. Please use only the restrooms across from Sonya’s office and leave those entrance doors open. There are disinfectant wipes on the counter to use on the stall doors.

 

This reset and restart of worship in the sanctuary is a ‘work-in-progress’. If you have a suggestion for improvement of how to protect each other, please contact the church office or pastor.

Returning to Psalm 27, the Lord is indeed our light and salvation, we have no one to fear. We give thanks to God that, so far, our congregation has been spared from this pandemic’s direct attack. That’s not to say that God may not yet allow for such an eventuality. And if in His divine providence that should take place, we will serve one another as best we are able and as God gives us the sight and strength so to do.

Soli Deo Gloria – All Glory to God!
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Tom Rhodes