Sleep on This: Mixed emotions (May 28)
Good evening, friend:
In 586 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army conquered the people of Israel, sacked Jerusalem, and destroyed Solomon’s beautiful temple. As was their custom, they led masses of the vanquished Jews back to Babylon where they would be held in exile and assimilated into their culture. But fifty years later, the Babylonians were defeated in turn by the Persians. The Persians were more generous in victory and allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.
Ezra tells us of that moment when, after more than 75 years, the foundations for the new temple were laid. They threw a big party and “…all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid…” (Ezra 3:12)
It was a moment of great celebration. Finally, the people could imagine a day when they could worship together in God’s house. Which makes the very next verse so jarring: “But many of the priests and Levites…old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid….” Those who had experienced the glory of Solomon’s temple were aggrieved by its meager replacement. Talk about mixed emotions!
After hearing the governor’s announcement yesterday about how places of worship can begin to be reopened, I sense the same mixed emotions among God’s people, myself included. On one hand, we are grateful that the essential role of religious organizations, especially in a time of national crisis, is being acknowledged. Grateful for first steps back toward corporate worship. That is cause for some celebration.
On the other hand, the concessions are so limiting as to make them almost worthless to larger churches like ours. If you are a church that worships 75 people on a weekend—the median size of an American worshiping congregation—50 represents a good chunk of that group. But if you worship 1,300 on a weekend, as we do, it is less helpful. You’ll remember that in my May 16 blog, Four steps to re-open Chapel Hill, I said we hoped to be at step 4 by September. It’s simply not clear that we will be able to do that, although we still hope and pray we will. Thus…mixed emotions.
To those who would say, “You can still worship; you can still pray, you don’t need a building to do that,” I would reply, “Of course that is so. But the corporate nature of the Body of Christ is an essential part of our worship. We don’t NEED a building. But we NEED each other. We follow a Lord who “became flesh and dwelt among us,” apparently because there was something that happened in a face-to-face, human relationship that could not happen from a distance.
In his New Testament letter, James told his readers: “…if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously…and it will be given to him.” I confess that I feel I lack wisdom in this moment; I’m not clear on what our right next steps ought to be. So, Cyndi and I are starting our mornings with coffee and prayer together, praying specifically for wisdom for our elders and pastors, understanding and grace from our governor, courage, and tenacity for our church.
I ask you to do the same. Would you pray every morning with us that God will give us the wisdom, grace, and courage to navigate these unfamiliar waters? I entreat you to join us…and let me know that you are.
Lord, as I lay me down to sleep, I confess that I don’t know what the future holds. Of course, I never have. But somehow, this uncertainty, especially about our life together as a congregation, seems more acute. Please, protect your church, make her brave true and resilient, and bring us together again in the time and way that suits your perfect will. Amen.