Here is the video devotional from July 10th. For those of you who prefer to read, not watch, the text is below!
As we enter our 4th month of not meeting in person, I’ve been thinking more about the long-term impact this pandemic is having on our church community. Of course we all miss seeing each other – that is true for even the most introverted among us. We crave community and we human connection. We miss that for sure.
But we also miss our lack of bringing our voices together for Sunday worship. I know we’ve been doing a good job getting church to your living rooms. I know it is certainly nice to go to church (as it is to go to work) in our pajamas. But even after these four months, it still just doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t feel like church.
You see, when we ‘go to church’ we go not just to receive music, prayers, and a sermon, but to participate. To offer ourselves to God. And when we participate in worship it does something greater to our hearts than listening alone. This is why the church for millennia has gathered to sing hymns, read the scriptures together, pray the lord’s prayer together as well as listen to the preaching of the word. When we worship we practice our faith aloud. It’s so much more powerful to be surrounded by hundreds of people singing, however imperfectly, than it is to watch even the best worship song at home. It’s creating something together that is so powerful, and I mourn and lament every week we are apart.
So for today’s devotional I want to turn us to Psalm 137. It is a psalm of Lament written when God’s people were in exile in Babylon. They were away from their place of worship, and longed to be together in the temple of Jerusalem again. They wanted to go back to church, but were also inclined to forget. It says this:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land” is the question on all our hearts today. How can we sing from our living rooms? How can we sing when we’re not gathered at TCC and surrounded by our loving community? These are good questions. We are in a season when God has allowed all this to happen, and we sit at home and lament with the psalmist. That’s okay.
But I also think the words of Psalm 137 were for us before the pandemic and will still be for us after the pandemic is over. It was actually my favorite psalm from years ago, because it illustrates the posture of our hearts as pilgrims in the world. We all have a fundamental longing for our true home with God in heaven. So our lives are all, in a sense, lived ‘in a foreign land.’
That’s why we have disagreements in worship styles: It’s not a stretch to say:
How can we sing the songs of the Lord – how can we authentically praise God – when the music is so old and boring?
Or…when the music is so new, loud, repetitive…you fill in the blank.
I’ve heard some of you say this. And I say, “Amen!” It’s never going to be the perfect authentic worship experience here on earth, and I love that it is my job to ask this question every week.
How shall we, TCC, sing the songs of the lord, in THIS foreign land?
Or perhaps even more relevant for today:
How can we sing the songs of the Lord when there is so much suffering in the world? When the pandemic rages on? Or while our black brothers and sisters are being oppressed?
Our longing for free authentic worship with the people of God is the central longing in all our hearts. Sin and suffering, and sometimes satan obscures that longing, makes us doubt or forget God’s presence, but Psalm 137 urges our heart to NOT FORGET.
This Sunday we’re going to be for the first time showing an entirely pre-recorded worship service on Sunday. All of us on the staff agree this is not ideal. Perhaps (hopefully!) it will be a smoother experience not relying on a streaming service and flaky internet speeds, but we do this with much trepidation and reluctance.
If we say pre-recorded church in our living room is better than gathering with fellow Christians – however imperfectly – something has gone quite wrong. We do not need our faith to become even more individualized than it already is. We need to remember that God’s word tells us that we are part of a family – a family of very different people called to praise the living God together with one unified voice. So pray for unity among us. Pray that God to heal our world from this virus for his glory and for the good of the church. Pray and long for the day when we can come together again saying “praise God from whom all blessings flow!”