This is Pastor Lee from St. Paul wishing grace and peace to you and yours as we continue to begin returning our lives to some sense of normalcy within this pandemic.
I am glad to say that we have held three worship celebrations so far this month after no formal worship since before Easter. The first Sunday, May 3rd, with social distancing in play and communion with masks or shields to limit contact saw about 45 people coming. The next week we got about 60. Then, this past Sunday, we topped 100. I don’t know if that trend will continue, especially with this coming weekend being Memorial weekend, but I do know those who came were most grateful that they could gather for worship again. They felt something very important missing in their lives. So did I.
During this COVID-19 crisis, it’s hard to get back to normal, including worship in God’s house. The reasons are many. Naturally, there are those 65 and older who are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Then there are those of any age who have conditions that put them at a higher risk if contracting the virus. These health risks understandably make people reluctant to come to church for worship because of the danger to their lives. Yet, there are also many who are just plain scared to leave the relative safety of their homes for fear of getting the virus. I understand and appreciate all these valid reasons. Their presence is a big part of why we went to the effect to record a worship service from Palm Sunday through to the present. We know how important worship, in any form, is to people of faith. It was good to know that it was well received. However, there is one reason that, while connected to the impact of the virus, should not cause any to stay away.
Sadly, there are those who want to come to worship, but are reluctant because they feel they can’t come. The reason: They can’t give an offering. Oh, they want to, but COVID-19 has cost people jobs lost meaning no income. Businesses are failing and could close forever, businesses that people put their whole lives into to provide for their family and the future, due to continued lockdowns. Money is in short supply with many making choices between medications and food, mortgages and monthly bills. Partly it’s because they grew up with the belief expressed in Acts 20:35, to name one source, that it’s better to give than receive. Churches have always stressed that point.
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Which is true, but possesses a deeper meaning than the obvious.
Add to that the example of the widow’s mite when Jesus held her up as a model for giving and the inability to give a gift causes people to stay away from worship.
Luke 21:1-4 — As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
People know of these texts and think that since, in the case of the widow, she could give, they should, too, and if they can’t then they shouldn’t come to church. This is oh so sad and wrong.
I’ve been serving our Lord as a pastor for 41 years. In all that time I’ve never preached a sermon on demanding money from God’s people. I realize the church must be fiscally responsible with the gifts and monies it is entrusted with by the people. Yet, it doesn’t mean we operate the church like a business on the basis of profit or loss. It’s not! The church is a resource for teaching and preaching, a refuge for comfort and hope, a place for healing when God’s people are hurting, like now.
Yes, a primary function of worship is to give. As God gives to us His holy and precious Word, the good news of salvation in our Lord through the Sacraments, and the fellowship of a community of faith for mutual strength and support, we know we are to give in return back to God. Most assuredly, we can give of our monies, but of far greater value is the giving of ourselves and that doesn’t require a check or cash donations in the plate. Sure, that can include gifts from our treasures, but generous gifts of our time and talents and our very presence in His house where we are dedicated to God’s service is more precious in His eyes. When we share our faith with others (a primary element of worship as the community of believers gathers together) through prayer and praise we are giving generously to God’s work. Everyone has something to give to God.
So, please, as churches begin to worship again with God’s people gathering together, don’t refrain from coming because you are financially strapped to the breaking point. St. Paul, and any church worthy of the name, doesn’t require the purchase of tickets to get in. Your very presence is a generous gift in itself. When we give of ourselves to our Lord out of love, we are giving the greatest treasure of all. Try not to make God’s Word say something it never intended.
I’ll be looking for you this Sunday. And by the way, besides this written devotion emailed out to our St. Paul family, you will be able to watch a video version on YouTube and Facebook. I’ll try to have both available at the beginning of every week. For the video version just type into YouTube “St. Paul Lutheran Church of Bulverde" and you should get there. Until we can be together, God bless! Stay safe and stay well.
Pastor Lee R. Harder