Christ Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

Pictures Lack a Thousand Gatherings

I took the thumbnail picture for this post on my iPhone back on December 24th, 2018.  It was Christmas Eve and I was out at St. John’s in Sigel just about to preach their Christmas Eve service.  

The sky was magnificent. A Brilliant orange that faded to a deep royal blue and the further back behind the photo you see above was nearly black.  The nearly cloudless sky allowed for the several pin pricks of light from the stars that were like shafts of light that blazed down from the heavens.
It was breathtaking.  I had to take a picture of the moment.  Of course, I was disappointed in the picture that you can now see above.  All it was at the end of the day was a snapshot.  

The picture isn’t that bad of course.  You can still see the faded colors and can get a general grasp of the beauty that I just described.  But you can’t see the stars or any other detail!  

Of course, if I had a camera like the one that Pastor Daryn has, then the details would be even more magnified!  I always love a good picture; it captures things that we might miss at our casual glances.  (Though there is a beauty and mystery to the things we just cannot capture.)  

But even with the High Definition 1080x60p video resolution or 5120 x 2880 pixels that Apple claims is the world’s highest resolution display, there is just something that videos and pictures fail to capture.  Even the world’s best picture fails to capture the essence of something.  

That realization of something being wrong with pictures or videos always clicks with me when I see photos of my loved ones who are now gone, or when I stare at pictures that families cobble together for a funeral.  The problem is this: Pictures fail to be incarnational.  Videos fail to be present.  They can’t capture reality as it is, but a snapshot of what was.  

Perhaps that is why even the best artists stretch human proportions in their portraits at the cost of accuracy.  I have a suspicion that artists are trying to capture that which is elusive in every photo: something real.  

These conflicting thoughts are how I have felt in the last couple of weeks.  What a blessing our congregation has had to be able to reach out in our online presence. We have reached people that we normally miss with a casual glance. The switching of gears has allowed more time for reaching out to different people and for that I give thanks.  What a gift that has been given.  

But yet… From the live streams, to the nightly devotionals, and even to the phone calls and messages that have been broadcasted and watched, that same nagging feeling has been in the back of my head.  

Something is missing.  

It took me going through my photos on my phone for it to click with me on what it was.

The problem is this: that this whole thing lacks presence, reality, and incarnation.  Though we are being zapped into your living rooms and houses virtually, I am not really there.  And you are not really here with me.  I know this because even when you comment and I respond, I still feel like I have missed you.  Talking with the volunteer fire chief this morning, he stated that they have been notified that depression and suicide will be on the rise in the coming months. Even though we are connected virtually, we all know that it is a sham for real community.  

In fact, all I see on my computer is an image of myself looking back at me.  The perfect modern tale of Narcissus of Greek mythology who fell in love with himself while looking at his reflection.  A good warning that we should heed.  

The Church can never be online, though we should always broadcast ourselves on it and reach people there.  But remember this, what we are doing now is but a cheap imitation.  It is like those sugar substitutes that they make that later prove to be a cause of cancer.
If there is anything that points to how I feel about all of this, it is the fact that yesterday (3/25) was the celebration of the conception of Jesus.  God feels the same way.  God did not just beam a vision to people to say he loves them.  God did not just broadcast a message in the sky telling all about his love and mercy.  
God sent forth his Son. Born of woman, born under the law.  To redeem those who were under the law.  The Word of God was not broadcasted, John tells us, but became flesh and dwelt among us.  God Became real and tangible. Present.  That is our Congregation’s motto if I remember correctly.

It is that reality that becomes present to us in Jesus Christ.  Without His incarnation, we are forever lost.  Without the Church being incarnate, we will likewise die as well.  The body is being starved, it can only go for so long like this.  

So I lament.  Our community is lost right now, though we do have ability to reach out to one another that I am sure the church before us would be envious of.  But yet, with the loss of Communion, I am envious of those who have gone before us.  

As the people returning from exile in the book of Nehemiah do in chapter 9, they pray to God that he will restore their nation and have grace on their community to revive it.  But they also leave it open to God whether he will restore it or not.  I recognize that in the last several years the church at large has taken our gatherings for granted and neglected and abused ourselves with concerns that, honestly, God could care less about.  We rightly deserve that it has been taken away and maybe a good time for us to repent.  
As we wait, I continue to pray to God to restore our fellowship.  I miss it all, I miss you, and I miss the fact that right now we are so hampered from giving the gifts of God out, though the reach to do so has extended.  It does make me hungry for them though and that is a good thing.  It means that despite it all, God is at work through His Word, the Word that right now is incarnated for you.  Amen.  

In Christ our Risen Lord,
Pastor Andrew Belt