“When will we be able to gather together in church again? Other churches are opening!” I have heard these words from a number of people in our congregation and in our community. I don’t have the answer to this question. In times like these I wish I did. It has been hard coping with separation while there are so many things going on in our world. I know so many of you miss sitting in your favorite pew or engaging in meaningful conversation on the patio. Some of you miss the music and private prayers. Some miss joining in deep conversation in the church after we have worshiped together, while some of our children miss running around playing a game of hide-n-seek. There are so many things we all miss because this is the campus we love and together we are the life of St. Mark’s.
What I do know is that there are two task force groups working on St. Mark’s upcoming services now. One group is working on how we will distribute remote services from St. Mark’s in the short term and when we begin to gather again, because we know there will be those who cannot join us. The second group is doing the work of figuring out our physical opening. These task forces include members of St. Mark’s and together they are working to find the best ways to meet the needs of everyone who wants to worship with us.
Some of you know, we have two guidelines we are following to open the doors of the office and the church for business and worship. However, we must follow the CA Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Cal-Pac Conference Plan Development Guidelines. The CDPH guideline “provides guidance for places of worship to support a safe, clean environment for employees, interns, and trainees, volunteers, scholars, and all other types of workers, as well as congregants, worshipers, visitors, etc.” The Cal-Pac Conference requires to us to work “in consultation with local church leaders, in line with applicable local guidelines, and with the approval of the District Superintendent.” It isn’t as easy as just opening the doors. It takes faithful work following guidelines while listening to how God will lead us as we move into this new time of worship. The one thing I do know is that God will meet us where we are and lead us where we are to go. I know this because God will never let God’s people go.
So, I ask you to be patient as we consider the best way to meet the spiritual and physical needs of everyone; those who can and cannot attend our service due to their individual needs. If you’d like to talk further about this, please contact me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (858-273-1480 x.13). I’m here for you, and yes, I can make Zoom, phone, or house calls, with the proper protection of course.
This Sunday I will be preaching on a passage of separation from Genesis 21:8-21, the narrative of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. It is one filled with pain, anxiety, and estrangement. But it does not end there because God meets these people where they are and leads them forward. Together we will see how God does not let God’s people go. For now, I invite you to see where God is with you today and leading you forward, because through faith we know that God will never let God’s people go. And never is a long time.
Genesis 21:8-21 (CEB)
The boy grew and stopped nursing. On the day he stopped nursing, Abraham prepared a huge banquet. Sarah saw Hagar’s son laughing, the one Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham. So she said to Abraham, “Send this servant away with her son! This servant’s son won’t share the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
This upset Abraham terribly because the boy was his son. God said to Abraham, “Don’t be upset about the boy and your servant. Do everything Sarah tells you to do because your descendants will be traced through Isaac. But I will make of your servant’s son a great nation too, because he is also your descendant.” Abraham got up early in the morning, took some bread and a flask of water, and gave it to Hagar. He put the boy in her shoulder sling and sent her away.
She left and wandered through the desert near Beer-sheba. Finally the water in the flask ran out, and she put the boy down under one of the desert shrubs. She walked away from him about as far as a bow shot and sat down, telling herself, I can’t bear to see the boy die. She sat at a distance, cried out in grief, and wept.
God heard the boy’s cries, and God’s messenger called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “Hagar! What’s wrong? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy’s cries over there. Get up, pick up the boy, and take him by the hand because I will make of him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. She went over, filled the water flask, and gave the boy a drink. God remained with the boy; he grew up, lived in the desert, and became an expert archer. He lived in the Paran desert, and his mother found him an Egyptian wife.
Consider these questions:
- In what ways have you felt—or do you feel—separated from family/friends? How did/do you feel about this separation? What makes it better? What makes it worse?
- In what ways have you felt—or do you feel—separated from God? How did/do you feel about this separation? What makes it better? What makes it worse?
- Where do you think God might be leading you in the face of these feelings of separation?