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August 9, 2020

Yes, God is Here

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Our featured hymn today is #409  – God Is Here! – and the words were written by British United Methodist minister Fred Pratt Green who has written the words to many of the hymns found in our hymnal. The tune is written by a British Church of England clergyman, Cyril Vincent Taylor – don’t you just love those formal British names! – and it is the familiar Abbot’s Leigh that we sang at the beginning of worship. The hymn was commissioned for the dedication of a renovated worship space in Austin, Texas.

When I got back from vacation and read and sang this hymn, I wondered why we chose it 8 weeks ago when we did worship planning. And then it dawned on me. We chose it because we hoped we could begin to have in person worship again in early August. And we did that today. We had in person worship today at 9 am and it went well. But of course it was a different kind of worship, just like our live streamed worship is different during these challenging times. Everything is different now isn’t it.

As the worship team, the re-opening task force, and the worship staff envisioned what in person worship would look like, we kept asking ourselves, “why would anyone want to attend in person worship with all the safety restrictions and changes in what we now can and can’t do in worship?” And then I sang this hymn again. And then I knew. Because here in this sacred space that we call the sanctuary, God is here. Here in this sacred space are the table, font, pulpit, and cross. Since I have been here most weeks since the pandemic began I have been privileged to be physically among the symbols of our faith, but those of you watching remotely have not had the same opportunity. God is definitely in this sanctuary, and the pews and the banner and the new organ and the familiar elements of worship remind me of that.

It is here in our beautiful sanctuary that we practice the traditions of our faith. When Paul wrote his letter to the people of Thessalonica, those traditions were just beginning. But for Paul, those traditions included doctrinal, moral and liturgical teachings. As new Christians in a Roman world where being a Christian was illegal, it was important to learn about and hold fast to the traditions of the faith so you could understand who you were and to know how to live your life.

And it has usually been in this sanctuary that we too have learned of our traditions. Here we have heard the Word preached and the challenge of the gospel. Here we have baptized our babies (and some adults!) and shared the bread and the cup and experienced the presence of the risen Christ among us. Here we have sung the hymns that mean so much to us. Here we have welcomed our children and new members and friends. As our hymn says, here we have explored what it means in daily living to believe and to adore. And it is here that we have remembered our dead and given them over to God’s good care.

But we know God is not just in a sanctuary or a building. I bet I have preached 50 sermons on where I have discovered the presence of God and few of them have been in a church. During this pandemic we have repeatedly said that our building is closed but the church is not. That has been one of the blessings of this time – a chance to rediscover how and where we can meet and offer praise and prayer to God.

Our live stream worship has enabled new ways for our children and families to worship by doing the Time with Children from their homes. Our Back to School Extravaganza outreach was different this year and yet we still fulfilled the mission of supplying children in Washington township with school supplies. Because that is what the servants of the Servant do -seek to explore what it means in daily living to believe and to adore. And to serve. We have been mailing weekly updates, sermons and bulletins to the over 100 people who do not have internet access so we can stay connected even when we cannot be together in person. The mission team and the Deacons will be asking you to be the church and to show others that God is among us when they begin outlining some new hands on mission opportunities that fall. Even in this time of mask wearing and social distancing we can safely show others that God is among us at Northminster Church.

I have been thinking a lot about traditions and rituals and how we do church lately – especially as I participated in two funerals in the last two weeks. As a person who grew up in a funeral home, I have always believed that the rituals of saying goodbye and sharing our grief and loss with each other are important. Thousands of us have been denied those communal healing rituals in one way or another due to Covid-19. That has been another loss among many that this virus has caused.

But God was with us when 10 of us – masked and distanced – reunited my parents at the graveside among a canopy of trees in Valley Forge Memorial Cemetery.  The tradition of reading the Word, sharing our memories, and the familiar committal words of ashes to ashes, dust to dust were heard. And when we celebrated Cathy Lord’s life in our sanctuary – once again with 10 people masked and distanced – we heard the comforting words of Revelation and were reminded that God is with us and will wipe every tear from our eyes. And here is the verse from Revelation that has stayed with me, Chapter 21 verse 3, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God, they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”

Yes, God is here. God is here in this sacred sanctuary. But God is here, God is among us, wherever we are. On mountain tops and at kitchen tables. In joy and in sorrow. In Zoom meetings and walks around the neighborhood. In the delivering of school supplies and in the prayers of the people. In the act of wearing masks and in the support of phone calls and cards. As our hymn reminds us, God is with us in an age of change and doubt helping us be faithful to the gospel.

As we go move into our future with new leadership and purpose with the coming of our interim pastor Dave in September, our hymn encourages us to work out God’s purposes for us. And we will do this with God’s presence among us and with the blessing of Paul’s benediction to the Thessalonians. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 17).

May it be so. Amen.