Pandemic Sermon: Job 42:10-17 and Isaiah 49:14-23, “Receiving Double from YHWH’s Hand”

COVID-19 and the reaction to it has caused deep divisions in our societies, and right down the middle of Christian communities as well….When we come back to meeting together, as a full church, or as an LCC family, or as societies reckoning with the effectiveness of policies (as I hope there will be investigations and evaluations, based in actual scientific understandings of how these viruses work that we had at the time), there will be anger and resentment that has to be dealt with….If we don’t, we could have a permanent division in our communities, which would be tragic.

…As we build back our lives, and build back our church community, can we think of our process as parallel to this—and also see it as an opportunity? Can we articulate our losses, express our anger and our sorrow, hear the anger and sorrow of others, and pray that God would help us to direct it and deal with it appropriately? Can we accept that nothing happens outside of God’s knowledge or control?

February 28, 2021, in 2nd lockdown

Note: This is part of a series of pieces providing a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

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Online “Church”: Are the Kids Really Fine?

Note: This post is an excursus within a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

In the most recent piece in my ongoing series, I included this statement:

…Reliance on “online presence” may distract us as church leaders from modeling embodied fellowship practices for a younger generation of believers growing up with experiences of friendship that are highly “technologized.” 

Online “Church”: United, or Merely Simultaneous?

In this post, not originally part of my October–November 2020 essay, I would like to develop this point further, because I find that this issue comes up repeatedly in my conversations with parents, fellow professors, and church leaders. Folks who fall into these categories are mostly older than I am (I was born in 1984). In my view, many of these older folks have not adequately reckoned with the differences that exist between their own experiences with digital technology in their adulthood, and the experiences of generations who have grown up with digital technology always being a part of their lives.

The older generations, having come of age in cultures of society, church and education that are formed by reading physical books and encountering peers and authority figures in physical space and time, are better equipped to transfer those educational, spiritual, and social habits into the digital realm and to cope with the shortcomings of digital media, than are younger generations. Put succinctly, we think the kids are fine (even perhaps doing better than we are with all this Zooming!), but they’re not.

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Pandemic Sermon: Ezekiel 11:14-25, “I Have Been a Sanctuary”

The human desire to commune with God is very powerful, and when sacrifice according to God’s law was not available, it was very painful. Many allowed themselves to be squeezed into worshiping God on their own terms, rather than according to God’s law. But other Judeans were faithful and accepted the promise of God’s continuing presence through this time of suffering, a presence revealed in ways that they hadn’t seen before, and trusted that he would eventually bring this time to an end. For these Old Covenant saints who were truly seeking YHWH God, this disruption was a time of “creative destruction” that stripped away many beliefs and practices, and allowed them to see just how big and powerful YHWH truly is.

April 26, 2020, in lockdown

Note: This is part of a series of pieces providing a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

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Online “Church”: United, or Merely Simultaneous?

Note: This post is the next in a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

Worship and Community: “Unity and Presence” over “Mere Simultaneity”

My diagnosis of the problem in the pre-pandemic Western church is that mediating technology has allowed us to emphasize the discursive means of grace (scripture and prayer) while neglecting the performative (sacraments/ordinances, and fellowship/discipleship)—and that in practice the discursive means of grace cannot be fully effective in our lives apart from the others.

One aspect of this has been the substitution of simultaneity for unity. Even unmediated by technology, if the entirety of my pre-COVID worship experience has been simply passive and receptive (hearing and observing the preaching and the musicians[1]) while I am standing or sitting beside someone else in the assembly with whom I am barely acquainted—then there is little benefit to the incidental simultaneity of our passive reception of the information presented to us by the pastor or the worship leader. If this is all that church has been, then it is not surprising that people would feel little loss by introducing the mediating technology, i.e., receiving preaching and music while at home—with or without a pandemic.

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Pandemic Sermon: Numbers and Chronicles, “God Draws Near”

Throughout this time many of us are simply missing human touch and human contact, and direct interaction not through a screen. We are doing the best we can, but it is not the same. I imagine those families in ancient Israel who had loved ones with skin diseases, who had to stay outside the camp or the city and only call out to one another from afar. But there is hope, there is Good News. God was not satisfied with living in a tent or a stone temple among his people. As John writes in his Gospel, “The Word became flesh, and pitched a tent among us, and we beheld his glory.”

(March 29, 2020, in lockdown)

Note: This is part of a series of pieces providing a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

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How Did We Get Here? The Pre-COVID Road to “Online Church”

Even before the pandemic, “word” and “image” had been technologized with some extension of their reach—but with increasing fluidity, and at the cost of “presence,” which cannot be replicated. Technology makes us feel as though we can replicate presence, but it rather enables us to persist in practices that do not really satisfy or edify.

Note: This is part of a series of pieces providing a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

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Halting In-Person Worship: Christian Liberty? Obedience to Romans 13?

Note: This post is the fourth in a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

Some might object to my strenuous insistence on the essentiality of in-person worship, on the grounds that Christians are obliged to respect civil authorities (Rom 13:1–7), and should be willing to lay down our rights for the sake of others (1 Cor 8:9–13). Throughout the pandemic, some churches have voluntarily stopped meeting for extended periods of time (here, here); others have defied civil authorities in order to stay open (here, here, here).

If the government says we may not meet or should not meet, mustn’t we take that into account? Don’t we as churches have Christian freedom not to meet for worship? While these considerations should not be blithely dismissed, such biblical texts and principles cannot faithfully be deployed as justification for suspending in-person worship (Heb 10:25).

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Franklin on Why the Christian Response to COVID-19 Must Change

I have to say that I have felt a bit isolated in the last year—not just because of physical isolation due to COVID restrictions, but also when it comes to thinking about appropriate Christian responses to our global situation.

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Science, Worship, and an “Epistemology of Love”

Note: This post is the third in a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

So far we have seen that a modern scientific worldview has difficulty accounting for the immaterial “essence” of human personhood, and therefore cannot meaningfully balance the risks of physical and spiritual harms. In this installment, we compare “scientific” ways of knowing (epistemology) with other means of knowing that are just as important for human life and purpose: knowing through love, and knowing through ritual. Knowing truth about God and ourselves by these means gives us purpose and hope.

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Humanity, Danger, and “Knowing”: Ancient and Modern Worldviews

Note: This is the second piece in a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

How do we know what we are, as humans? How do we know what we know? On whom or what do we rely in order to determine what is safe and what is dangerous?

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