Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
May 31, 2020
“Park Hill 2.0”
Note - I wrote a second sermon for the day addressing the murder of George Floyd. Below is the sermon I preached for our pre-recorded service for the day. My other sermon is entitled "I Can't Breathe"
Isaiah 43: 18-19
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
I wanted to share my sermon from up here in the mountains today to physically manifest what we have learned in the past two months. Wait, has it been two months? Actually, I went back and counted on the calendar and we’ve been worshiping this way for 12 weeks! Three months. But it’s felt like, what, an entire year? And tomorrow is June, but I still feel like I was just getting used to it being April.
Well, anyway, I wanted to share my message from up here to demonstrate what we always knew but never really had to practice. Church can happen anywhere. There’s a popular saying: Be the Church. Don’t Go to Church. Thirteen weeks ago, that’s all it was. A slogan. But what have we discovered? Church can happen anywhere. Church is what happens in our lives. Church is putting our actions in alignment with our faith convictions. We can be anywhere to practice love, compassion, forgiveness, patience, gentleness, bold acts of justice, generosity. Christianity is too little if it’s only about showing up on Sundays.
Don’t get me wrong. I need my church community. I need worship. It’s what gets me back on track when my practice of love and compassion has grown thin. But is there more than one way of being church? If I asked you 13 weeks ago, is online church real, what would you have said? You may be watching right now and still have the same question. Is this real?
I’ve been reading as many blogs and articles as I can and watching webinars about being a congregation that isn’t meeting in person for worship. We adapted to this interruption as fast as we could. But few us of have welcomed this disruption. Few?!! No one has welcomed this disruption. Until now. Until I realized God is in here somewhere “doing a new thing.” Until I realized this is our Pentecost.
Let’s recap where we have been. We started our separation from each other mid-way through Lent while Jesus and his followers were on the move toward the final confrontation in Jerusalem.
I feel like I encountered that same Spirit on Thursday, May 14th. But, for me, the Spirit has never been very wild. I identify more with the Elijah who stood at the entrance of a cave waiting for God to pass by. You may know the story: “There was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then a [quiet] voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
It was in that kind of quietness of listening and writing notes during a webinar that I heard a question the presenter hadn’t asked. It actually wasn’t a question, but it prompted questions. I heard the presenter say, “Don’t miss what God is handing us.” To be clear, God didn’t hand the world a pandemic. But, as Tony Morgan said, God is handing us an opportunity.
He described the church as “fortunate.” Because under no other circumstance would the church as we know it, as we have known it to be our entire lives; under no other circumstance would we have been as fortunate to come to a complete standstill, allowing us to question who we are and what being a church means. In that moment, with that turn of phrase, I felt the Spirit. And ever since, I am more optimistic about the future of the church than perhaps I have ever been. More optimistic. More energized.
Again, I do not wish the effects of this devastating pandemic on anyone. The economic pain and loss of life. This is not a good thing. But, theologically, we always look for redemption. Not, how can we dismiss our grief? Not, how can we minimize our loss or forget what’s going on in the world. But, the Spirit asks you quietly, what are you doing here to redeem this tragedy?
In my humble opinion, too many churches are rushing back into their buildings; rushing back before the Spirit arrived on Pentecost. They are focused on “What do we need to do so we can go back to being church again?”
But that’s the wrong question. Well, I don’t want to judge it as necessarily “wrong,” but, at least for me, the Spirit prompted a different question. To change the narrative. Whenever it is that we return to in person worship, how can we keep including people who have started worshiping with us in the past 12 weeks? We can’t turn our backs on them and walk away. So, what would that take?
Never has the church been as accessible as we are right now. Laura Harris has said many times that through our mid-week Zoom calls, she feels more connected to people in the church now than ever before. This is a gift. People are reaching out to one another. Never have we had as much opportunity to innovate as we have right now. Sure, we are missing a lot. Physical human interactions. Singing. Cookies and marshmallow squares made by Inez. But people may not realize that if we began meeting again next week, we wouldn’t be able to hug. We wouldn’t see each other’s smiles behind our masks. Singing is dangerous – so, until there’s a vaccine, no congregational singing, no choir. And no lingering over coffee and marshmallow squares. In one door and out another – six feet apart. Kind of depressing. Frankly, our coming back to church too soon will be painful in a whole other way and induce a whole other level of grief and loss.
So, how can we change that narrative? It’s in the questions. Not in what we can’t have but on what we can. What Spirit-filled redemptive opportunity have we been fortunate enough to have handed to us?
So says the Lord:
“Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a new way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”
The Governance Team has decided we are not returning to in person worship any sooner than the first Sunday after Labor Day. And maybe not then either, but at least, so we all know it, no sooner than then. But, in the meantime, we are not going to sit around waiting. God is busy working on a new thing. So are we. We are announcing the launch of Park Hill 2.0. It is our intention to become a fully local and digital church. We are not going back to just who we were. There was nothing wrong with it, but something more “is springing forth, do you not perceive it?”
We want anyone worshiping with us now from around the country or even around the globe to continue. But not just to watch. We want you to be fully engaged in the ministry of the church. Anyone who wishes to be included and involved. That has lots of implications. There is a lot to figure out. But our goal is use the summer to prepare for the launch of Park Hill 2.0 on what would normally be our Homecoming Sunday in September.
It’s going to take you helping to answer lots of questions, like:
I can’t answer these questions. We have to answer these questions. And so, I invite you into this process of figuring it all out. Listening to the Spirit. Will you say yes? Not to abandon who we were, not to leave anyone behind, but to be more, adding more love and compassion, and to include more.
I invite you to say yes. To come aboard this new venture. Type “count me in” in the comments section. Say yes. Offer your ideas. Offer your help. Type your questions, send me emails. Realize how fortunate we are to have this opportunity handed to us to be more than we could have ever dreamed about or even imagined just 13 weeks ago.
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world