Pastoral Letter for June 5, 2020
Pastoral Letter for a Distributed Church June 5, 2020
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As of this writing, we are set to resume worship at Harper Park Middle School on June 14. Obviously, we are mindful that prudence and wisdom will look different for each family. The pastors and the session want you to exercise wisdom when making decisions about attending services and functions in-person as we open back up. We’ll still be uploading the service to YouTube and providing materials to worship at home even as we restart in-person services. We’ll be recording the service as it happens, so if you’re worshipping at home, please note that those videos won’t be up until after the service. We’ll be moving to a livestream eventually, but we want to do it well, so please bear with us as we incrementally figure things out. We cannot stress enough that we simply want you to worship with us on Sunday’s. At this point, if it’s via the online service or in-person, it’s all good as long as you worship.
There’s a lot of details to reopening and lots of considerations to be examined. To help prepare us for that, we shared our plan for reopening last week. Next week, we’ll be sharing the details of the protocols and precautions that we will be implementing in Phase 1. But this week is a little bit strange in that there’s not much new to share. While we anticipate being able to worship again at Harper Park, we all have learned to hold our plans loosely. We don’t know what the next week and a half will bring.
Since there’s a lull in new news, I get the privilege of writing to y’all this week. And as in past weeks, I want to call our attention to the Word of God by sharing what He has been doing in my own heart. Over the past few weeks and months, I’ve been floored by the Lord’s timing. I’ve noticed that sometimes passages that were picked long ago have a particular resonance with where I’m at or with current events. That happens once in a while, but recently it’s been every single passage between the sermon series in Mark, the middle school/high school Sunday School study in Isaiah, and youth group’s look at Philippians. And so let’s use this past Wednesday’s passage from youth group as a springboard into a quick devotional.
12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
If you’ve been on social media over the last few weeks, it’s been impossible to miss the anger, outrage, and division within our country. Race riots, fights over coronavirus restrictions, and the usual debates about whatever highlight our division. We are not united on almost anything. And yet, Paul in his letter to the Philippians gave a vision for a church that would be distinctive in its unity. Do you see the unity that is envisioned in verse 14? It’s a little more explicit in chapter 1 and earlier in chapter 2, where Paul calls them to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:27) and to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). Do you see how this is a stark contrast to the rest of the surrounding culture in verse 15?
Our unity in Christ is meant to be a witness to those around us who are not united. We are to be a light in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. And the greatest thing about unity within the church is that it is unlikely. Remember, the church is filled with sinners, filled with people that have absolutely nothing in common except for Christ. The differences between Christians within the church are not simple, trifling things. The differences are big and rife with emotion and baggage. Paul calls the divisions within the church “dividing walls of hostility” in Ephesians 2. So they’re hostile. They’re mean. They’re hard to overcome. Sound like what our country is going through right now? And yet, we are to be one.
But how? How can we be one when we’re so different and divided? We can be one because of Jesus. Jesus has broken down the walls of hostility within His own body. He has made us new in Him, and so our defining identities are no longer the identities that distinguish us from each other (race, class, etc.). Rather, our new identities are found in Christ. We are Christians first and foremost. And so, we’re able to look across the aisle, across skin colors, across cultures and embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ in joy and praise.
If we slide back to Philippians 2, we’re reminded that unity is hard work. It requires us to live peaceably. It requires us to live contentedly, without grumbling or complaining. Why? Because when we grumble and complain, it reveals an attitude of discontent. It says, “If I were in charge, this wouldn’t have happened.” or “If everyone would just listen to me and do things the way I think they should be done, we wouldn’t be having these problems.” That’s just pride and arrogance talking instead of humility and grace. You see, unity is only born out of humility and sacrifice. That’s the point of verses 16-17. We have to hold fast not to our own views but to the word of life. We have to look to Gospel and actually apply it so that we don’t think about ourselves anymore, but rather think about serving others. And of course, that service is sacrificial. Paul was willing to give up even his life for the sake of growing the faith of others.
My friends, we have been talking about what it means to be the greatest in our series in the Gospel of Mark. We’ve seen that it is about servanthood and humility. The unity that we are called to in Philippians can only be achieved by getting our hands dirty by serving sinners right where they are, in the midst of their brokenness and need. If we want to see a true reconciliation between various groups, we’ll first need to see grace worked out in service, without grumbling or complaining. Seeking to serve them as Christ did, in love and grace through sacrificial works of service.
The prospect of serving others the way Christ served us, to truly embody Christ for those who do not know Him, ought to make us glad and rejoice. The idea that we can be His Hands and His Feet in this world should fill us with anticipation and joy. We get to be like Christ! I can’t wait! I hope our anticipation of reuniting in person with our church family will mirror inward anticipation of serving our Savior in this way. Let us be of one mind, striving side by side for the faith.
Hopefully I’ll see you in a little more than a week!
Rev. Frank Wang, Assistant Pastor
Potomac Hills Presbyterian Church