Sermon Text: Dispatches from Real Church
It's hard to laugh with empty pews. Laughing in church is important, and I miss it.
Today is Pentecost, the day we all wear red. Some years ago, friends of mine at the 8:00 service got confused. Eric and Judi Laine were away on Pentecost, got mixed up, and wore red on the Sunday after Pentecost. But my friend Dave Surgent was serving as an usher and he said, "They are just observing CANADIAN Pentecost."
That story still makes me laugh years later. But it's hard to laugh with empty pews.
We have had to become a virtual church, at least for a while. Physical distancing is now a big part of our life. Church leaders everywhere are trying to work with this. And some of us have been struck by the example of the apostle Paul. When you think about it, he knew a lot about physical distancing.
He started a whole bunch of churches, and loved them, but then could not be with them physically. So what did he do? He wrote letters....lots of letters. And he stayed in touch with his parishioners that way.
If he were at work today, I have no doubt: he'd be working the phones, using email, sending cards and letters, and using the internet. Because that's the kind of apostle he would be.
We can do the same. Our bishop is saying that virtual church will not go away even after the COVID crisis. Even when we are able to meet together in a church building, we need to keep using these new ways of staying in community.
I don't like it, but I think it's true. Not everyone will come back when we open up again.
But we can stay connected in some of the ways we have learned to do in the past three months.
I have been getting some emails that warm my heart.
Irma Thrall and Michele Swartz, members of our 10:00 congregation, are the two coordinators of our CHOW food pantry. They are doing fabulous work keeping our shelves full of food ready to share. And you are part of that work, too, by your incredibly generous donations, especially over the past three months.
Well, I got an email recently from Irma, telling me that she and Michele had gone shopping again -- with money you donate -- to restock our shelves. I wrote back, and so did our office manager, Kathy Lasicki. We told them how lucky we are to have them in our church. We told them how terrific their work on our behalf is. And we wrote to them, "You rock!"
Irma wrote back. Listen to what she said, because it is very wise. "While missing the people and the activities of St. Mark's, the pantry is one way to stay physically connected." And here's the best part she wrote: "Besides, being able to serve does give one personal satisfaction."
Amen to that! People like this make me proud. St. Mark's likes to feed people. Even in a time of physical distancing.
Then there is Mary's story. Mary Stasko is a member of our 8:00 congregation. Her dad is someone I have known for a long time. He lived over the border in Pennsylvania. Well, he died during the lockdown. Mary could not be with him at all over the last weeks of his life, other than some phone calls. Can you imagine how that feels?
I loved her dad, whose name was Joe. He was an artist and musician, and in fact, back when we had a piano downstairs, he played it once during a church party. He had a wry sense of humor. During his last years, he was losing his memory, and he knew it. He was not happy about it, but kept his balance. He told his family about his growing confusion, and hoped they'd never have to go through memory loss. He said, "Be careful....it's a jumble out there."
That's Joe in a nutshell -- a clever turn of phrase to deal with something difficult.
Well, after his death, I was collecting the church mail, and there was an envelope from Mary and Jim Stasko. It gave me a lift, because there was a return address sticker with a Snoopy cartoon. And they had used a stamp with the starship Enterprise. I am a big fan of Star Trek and Snoopy, so I shot Mary an email to say their envelope had brightened my day.
Mary sent an email back, and I read it now, with her permission.
I am so happy we lifted your day!
I never knew stamps came in different flavors. At least not until I met Jim. When he buys stamps it's always one for use and one for his "collection". My dad worked for the post office and I never knew about different stamps! Speaking of that....
God has everyday big jobs. Listening, healing, etc. He also has little jobs. Those "God-winks" He doles out just every so often.
After dad passed he went to the crematorium in Harrisburg. I wondered how he was going to get home again. I wanted to get him, but I knew that wasn't happening. I asked, but I didn't get an answer. It seemed no one knew. Then, last Wednesday I finally got my answer. Dad was home and would be there until we can have his service. I asked how did he get home? The answer - He came in the mail. When he got to the post office, one of the clerks personally brought him over to his house.
Coincidence? I think not. Just one of those little jobs that God does because He loves us so much and He knows our hurts and how to heal them.
Have a super rest of the day Fr. Mark. Cyber hugs and hellos to you and those you love!
So here we are, in virtual church...physically distant church...phone, email, website, Facebook church. I'd rather be with you face to face, but this will have to do.
And it turns out that, as with the apostle Paul, it will do. These emails were real church for me. I hope you are feeling real church, too.
Today, Pentecost, is what some people call the birthday of the church. Jesus breathed his own Spirit on his friends, and his friends became his hands, his feet, his voice in this world. We are learning to do that in new ways.
The good news is that the Spirit of Love is still around. We just gotta pay attention.