Fear of the coronavirus continues to dominate our headlines more than ever. Each day, more restrictions are enacted that will, hopefully, retard the spread of the illness and health officials think that by reducing the size of groups that meet together, we can blunt the impact of the virus and return back to normal more quickly.
Italy and France have pretty much shut down their respective countries and even here in the United States, things are getting more restricted as health officials lead us in an effort to stem the tide of increasing numbers of people being infected. Today, the state of Ohio closed businesses, restaurants and almost the entire state. They are promoting an environment that reduces the likelihood of close social contact – the easiest way that coronavirus is transmitted.
In Indiana, the governor has issued a decree asking for all meetings of 250 people or more to be suspended or cancelled. This means that our home church, Grace, has shut down all worship services, along with many other houses of worship across many faith belief systems. While this is definitely inconvenient, Grace and other cutting edge institutions have resorted to a different way to worship – the streaming of its services on the internet. In other words, the entire worship experience is done live, with the music and announcements, to an empty sanctuary or auditorium – broadcast to housebound congregants eager to hear the word of God.
Now our church has had a streaming option for a number of years now, but I don’t think it has ever been done to an empty auditorium. It must be strange for the pastor and musicians to address an empty building. Yet, that is exactly what happened this past weekend.
Janet and I invited our kids and grandchildren over to watch the service on the big screen TV we have in our lower level. Through some technological wizardry, Andrew has come up with a way for us to project the worship experience from our phones to the entertainment system we have. In a way, it was kind of strange, but the worship team did a great job. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
What made it special was the fact that we had family members present with us. We have worshipped together in church, but this is the first time that we have done our worship at home, together, participating in a virtual program from the church.
I have heard that some people are against this because we aren’t all together in a group. And there are others who say that the church is a place, such as a building, as opposed to a group of people who care for each other as part of a called out assembly. In Greek, this is called an “ekklesia” – and this word connotes a group of folks who are bound together. It doesn’t mean a building…
So virtual worship can encompass a body of believers in different places who are bound together by a common worship experience. And that is exactly what we did. Sure, it was different than what we normally do at a church service on a weekend. But it is also pushing us to be creative and find ways that we can come together as a community and spend time together praising and worshipping God.
The verse for tonight embodies the words of Jesus Himself. Jesus tells us, in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
My encouragement this evening is that God is present with us, every step of the way, whether we are in a church building or coming together online to hear a message. My prayer is that we will all use this time to find better ways to interact and love one another well as many folks fight isolation, loneliness and depression during the spread of the coronavirus. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…