How will we reopen?
This series  invites each of us to reflect on the recent past,  learn from it, look forward in faith and mission, and examine our personal resources now.  
 
Part 2: Mad, Sad, Glad and More: What’s Your Pandemic Story?
Core human emotions-feeling mad, sad, glad, scared, and ashamed—have probably been triggered in responding to the unique circumstances of the last six months. At some level our bodies and our emotions react at the level of survival mode connecting as
if on autopilot to a much earlier life experience. When life events and crises overwhelm us  we’re not fully present to our current reality.  We are shaped by programming from maybe age 3 or 6 or 8 or 12. So in the midst of our confusion, it may be helpful to ask, “How old do I feel right now?”  
     
Pr. Judith Johnson-- whose calling and work as Pastor/Counselor in our Western Iowa Synod we gratefully acknowledge-- invites us to consider these additional questions:
  • What do you notice about your emotions--mad, sad, glad, scared, ashamed -- which one is strongest today?
  • What has your body been experiencing -- what physical sensations do you notice, and what would your body be saying to you if you were to give it a voice?
  • What thoughts have you noticed recurring or recycling?  (Racing thoughts are typical and often characteristic of anxiety.)
  • It is normal for sleep to be disrupted these days: what have you noticed about your sleeping patterns?

When you put all of these things together (thoughts, feelings, physical sensations) and trace them back, is there a memory or experience that comes to mind? -- not a time when this situation occurred, but a time when you responded to something in a similar way. Thank you, Pr. Judith, for these resources for our journey!

She also wonders, as do I:  Given the reality of the pandemic, and the limitations it imposes, what is it that you want most from your church right now?

In Sunday’s sermon I quoted at length from  Macrina Weiderkehr’s  A Tree Full of Angels in which she concludes: “It seems there is no end to the number of times that the Word can become flesh in our lives.” p. 117) Indeed, because of Jesus Christ—whose birth, work, death, and victory revealed God for us, we can encounter God in every moment. We have a God who is present to every feeling, resourceful for every behavior, abounding in every need. Whatever our days bring, may we trust in God’s ongoing and healing help.  May we  live into the blessing  spoken to every Christian congregation: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  
In good faith, Pastor Barb     
__________ __________ __________ __________ __________
 
On the 20th Sunday after lockdown, we gathered to  resume worship together. This series  invites each of us to reflect on the recent past, learn from it, look forward in faith and mission, and examine our personal resources now.  

Part 1: Where Have You Been?
 
An honest review of our spiritual longings, hunger, crises and connections is helpful as re-orientation to worship. Did you seek opportunities to worship virtually, to practice new ways of trusting and knowing God?  How was prayer different for you—less often or more urgent? Self-focused or broader? Spontaneous or traditional? How were you open or closed to God’s Word?  What memories, moments, surprises or struggles stand out from that phase of your faith journey?

Worship for use in the home was provided  every week because you matter to this congregation and you were missed. If you opened it, printed it, read it, used it—we rejoice to have been connected in that way. If you did not make use of that material maybe you found an online service or sampled a variety of worship options. If you didn’t worship, maybe you gravitated to a comfort zone
that gradually took you further from God—sleeping in, hanging out, tuning out, or hunkering down. Some slipped into fear, unease, and isolation with every passing week. God was with us, but in our own ways, we moved. Some may have distanced from God and lost their bearings. Most likely, most of us experienced these realities at times in the last five and a half months.
 
For some, it might be that “church” is mostly about social contacts.  All of us, for sure, have missed the connections that happen here on Sunday morning and in shared activities.  For some, the emotional or sentimental attachment is also to this place, to “our” church, even for decades or a lifetime. Missing a safe, familiar space during the pandemic
has been a real loss.

God was with us, and always is, but we can forget that we are the created one; God who made us initiated the relationship.  Humans were designed to worship.  According to the first commandment “we are to fear, love and trust in God above all things.”  Turning to God outside of formal services, how many times have we re-discovered that God is with us?  How much relief have we found remembering that God is for us to act in power? How often have we leaned in to the love in needs too urgent for us to shoulder alone or too many for us to manage  at all? As I shared Sunday from a recent quote: With God’s help, you have overcome 100% of the challenges you have faced so far.  How much relief has come when we acknowledge God?  How much balance or perspective can we gain by offering God yes, our laments, fears and griefs, but also our praise and gratitude?

Where have we been? All of us, when we return to worship, admit: “We have not loved you with  our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” (ELW Confession, p. 95)  Confessing and even looking back to see those truths in our March, April, May, June. July, August-- we ask God to “forgive us, renew us and lead us” in the days-- and still the pandemic- ahead.

And we re-open to God as all receive “the entire forgiveness of all your sins” in the name of the triune God who still sustains us.  
                                                                                 
In good faith, Pastor Barb