This Sunday was kind of a special day: the 26th Sunday of livestream worship. TWENTY SIXTH. What’s special about that is that it’s half of 52 – half the Sundays in a given year. HALF.
That’s crazy, right?
It’s crazy good in some ways, believe it or not. It’s awesome what God has opened up through all this. We’re doing worship, sermons, music and connecting in ways that we barely dreamed of before. And it’s crazy good because some of you have only found us in livestream. Some of you have attended every single Sunday for 12 weeks, having never been to worship here in this sanctuary. That’s awesome!
But it’s crazy hard, too. Even as the leader who thinks we need to stay this way, the one who’s the first to say that it’s not safe for a church that averages 200 on Sunday mornings to open back up for in-person worship… It’s still hard for me. I miss seeing you, drinking coffee with you, singing with you. I miss being in a crowded room with you. I miss the energy we feel together. Every Sunday when I walk home after the service, I feel proud of what God has done for us… but also a little sad, because I miss all that.
And after 26 weeks of livestreaming, in this life that is crazy good but also crazy hard, we might start to ask:
Why do we have to have something that counts as “worship” on Sunday morning? Why do we have to provide it as a church, and why should we set aside time for it as individuals and families? Why keep going through all this effort to make a livestream worship service? Why not just wait it out until we can be together in person?
There’s a lot of ways to answer that question, but this quarantine experience has made me acutely aware of one in particular. And the best way to share what I’ve learned, I think, is to show you. So here – take a walk with me.
As your pastor, I get to live in this great house right up the hill. If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a set of wooden steps out of the back of the church parking lot – that’s why! At the top of them is our church parsonage.
Here it is – Sylva First UMC’s parsonage, and my family’s home.
Like so many of you, I’ve spent more time here, in our home, over the last six months than I have, like, ever. But you know – if you have to quarantine… this isn’t such a bad place to do it.
Even so, it’s been hard for me to stay at home. I know some of you are naturally inclined to Netflix and chill. I’m just not. I like to be out, doing things, exploring new places, visiting people, eating at restaurants. Home is the place I love to crash after being out. Or at least – it was… until mid-March, when almost everything we did “out” came to a halt.
At first, I coped with my new stay-at-home life by making it as busy as my out-and-about life. We weeded and mulched. We cleaned out rooms and rearranged furniture. When we ran out of projects, we started in on funtivities. We tuned up the bikes. We played catch and wiffleball. We played “around the world” and HORSE.
For a while there, I started shooting baskets like I used to when I was a teenager, just because I didn’t know what else to do with myself, because I couldn’t sit still.
I can’t sit still.
This not-sitting-still thing… it seems to be a problem of mine in adulthood. I don’t remember it being an issue when I was younger. I used to sit for hours playing video games as a kid. I did movie marathons on the couch with my friends as a teenager. But somehow, after becoming a mom and a pastor, I’ve lost the ability to sit still. I don’t know what to do when there’s nothing to do. Maybe that’s because, as an adult, there’s never nothing to do. There’s always another load of laundry to fold, another phone call to return, another dinner to make, another errand to run…
I’m not necessarily complaining. I like doing things. I like being busy. I like working toward the next thing. Sure, that means I’m like, never content in the present moment… And that’s probably a pretty significant problem that I ought to deal with… But if I just keep busy then I never have to sit with that not-content feeling, and it’s fine.
Or I never did… until I’d been quarantined for a month.
Until I reached the point when all the projects were done and all the funtivities were worn out, and I’d shot all the baskets I could stand to shoot.
And I was left alone with that not-content feeling. I needed to be still, but I couldn’t.
Early on in quarantine, when everything was shutting down and it was kind of freaking me out, I consciously decided to make an unnecessary purchase. I walked down to Black Balsam Outdoors and bought a hammock.
At first, I sat in in only a little bit. I mean, there was still stuff to do – so I did all the stuff. But as the weeks rolled into months, and all the stuff got done, and I started caring less about the stuff anyway, I found myself logging more and more time right here. Can you blame me?
Then there was this one night when everyone went to bed before me. That doesn’t happen very often. I didn’t quite know what to do. There wasn’t anything to do. So I picked up a book – not a sermon-researching theology book, but just a fun book about backpacking that Diana Jurss gave me to read. I took my book outside, and sat in the hammock, and read.
An hour passed. I thought about getting up and doing something. But I didn’t.
More time passed. I got tired of reading and put my book down, but I didn’t get up. I just sat here.
It started to rain. Like pour the rain – one of those fireworks-show thunderstorms that’s great to watch as long as you’re not out camping or backpacking.
I sat there some more, watching the rain and the lightening.
And I felt… content.
It was a magical moment, like I was suspended not just in my hammock, but in time. I could sense God’s bigness in the thunderstorm, and God’s peace in the quiet that came after. I didn’t feel a need to do anything productive.
I needed that moment. I think we all need moments like that, moments when our souls are still and we rest in God. We need them in regular intervals.
The trick is, we can’t always recreate the magic of a sitting-in-the-hammock, everyone’s-in-bed, thunderstorm-light-show moment. But there is something we can do, every week, that invites us to that still-before-God space.
When we worship we enter into a space of holy rest. It takes a little intentionality – we can certainly attend worship and not really be in worship, especially when it’s on a screen. But when we give our ourselves over in worship, something like this happen:
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).
When we praise God we remind ourselves how great God is – “exalted in the earth.” As we remember God’s greatness, we find the space to be still. Be still, because God is bigger than a pandemic or politics or violence. Be still, because we don’t know what the future holds, but God does. Be still, because the God who created you took a day off at the end of that first week – and has asked you to do the same. Be still, because God loved you while you were a sinner.
Be still and know that God is God.
And the good thing is, we can do that in a sanctuary, or in a space like this.
It’s crazy good that we can do “worship” in our living rooms. I know it’s also, sometimes, crazy hard to do worship in front of a screen. After 26 Sundays, we have to intentionally choose to keep setting aside this time to sit down and worship.
But it’s worth it – for many reasons, but in part, because it gives us space to be still.
A gift of all this is its flexibility. Most of you log in during this 10am time slot, which is great – we love seeing the comments and knowing that we’re together. But in this quarantine, livestream life, if you miss 10am on Sunday you can still set aside the time later. And for the sake of our souls, let’s keep setting aside that time. Let’s continue to be still. May we always remember that our God is greater than all the powers of the world – and may that knowledge… make us peacefully still.