“Pastor’s Ponderings” June 2020

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:36-39)

Dear friends in Christ,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The commandment to love God and neighbor is the very core of Jesus’ message to his followers. To extend love, through our words and service to others is at the heart of our Christian DNA; it is who we are.

On a church sign near where I live, it says, “Our worship is over, our service begins.” This is written on the back of the sign, so you are only able to read it as you are leaving the parking lot. It is a very fitting message of how we are to live out our faith in love through service to our neighbor.

Unfortunately, our beloved practice of in-person gathering to worship God, grow in faith, and build-up and encourage one another for a life of service has been curtailed. Still, our mission remains the same. It has not changed: we are to continue to grow in faith to love and serve.

Recently President Trump has said that “houses of worship, churches, synagogues and mosques” are “essential places that provide essential services.” Therefore, governors must allow churches to reopen.

The truth is that, although many church buildings have been closed to the public, led by the Holy Spirit, the Church has never closed. The Church is alive and active in the world fulfilling the mission of God through love and service. At St. Mark’s, except for taking a week off to reorganize, our food pantry has remained open. We have figured out new ways to gather in worship, share the Good News, and to bless and encourage one another, all while using best practices to keep ourselves and others safe.

At the last church council meeting, the council agreed to continue our current practice of limiting the use of our building and worshiping online until we are confident that we can keep everyone safe and provide a worship experience that is satisfying to our membership. As we seek to fulfill our mission of loving and serving our neighbor, for now, the best witness to that love is an empty church building.

What follows is a message from Bishop Gerald Mansholt of the East-Central Synod of Wisconsin and other area church leaders. Please take a moment and read their rationale about waiting for the appropriate time to gather in worship and fellowship.

God bless you on your journey and continue to love and serve one another,

Pastor Bob

“Pastor’s Ponderings” May 2020

Pastor Bob Wilkinson

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (Psalm 25:16)

Dear friends in Christ,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

According to a 2018 survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults, nearly half (46 percent) report experiencing times of loneliness. Surprisingly, the survey found that young adults (ages 18-22) were the most vulnerable and that heavy use of social media did not noticeably lessen the extent of loneliness. Now, in this time of social distancing, loneliness is an even greater health and well-being concern.

The Bible has many examples of loneliness other than David’s lament seen above. Many of God’s prophets were estranged from their communities as they answered God’s call. Even Jesus, betrayed, abandoned, and dying on the cross, cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I find it reassuring to know that we have a God who not only knows our weaknesses but has experienced our temptations and troubles.

If you are experiencing loneliness, the first practical step is to realize you are not alone. Whether it is classmates, family members, or people in your community, others have experienced loneliness and know what you are going through. One of the suggestions that professionals give in combating loneliness is simply to take care of your physical self by eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Another is to build a support network of family and friends. Unfortunately, for many of us, a huge part of our support group was our weekly time of worship and fellowship. Still, we might ask ourselves not only where can I find support but who might I reach out to that needs my word of encouragement? Often it is in the act of giving that we receive.

Finally, the one suggestion that intrigued me the most, especially during this time of social distancing, came from a website called lifeandhealth.org. They noted that being alone does not equal loneliness and often we may just need to change our perspective. Jesus often found it necessary to get away from the crowd to spend time with God and gain a new perspective. Time alone is also a useful time to sharpen a talent or learn a new skill.

Many pastors, including myself, are having to learn the new skills for ministering and ministry, like creating an online worship experience. For you, this may be the perfect time to take up crafting, learn a musical instrument, or learn to make bread from scratch. You might rediscover the wonders of nature as you take time to watch a bird build a nest, watch the sandhill cranes do their mating dance, or listen to the spring peepers. Maybe you will find the time to view a spectacular sunset or watch as a full moon breaks over the horizon. Perhaps you will discover a new book, reread a beloved book, or have a long phone conversation with a friend.

And last, but certainly not least, perhaps you will find time to read a word of scripture and sit and reflect in the quiet stillness of God’s presence, knowing that God who watches over the sparrow, will certainly watch over you (Matt. 10:29-31).

God bless you on your journey,

Pastor Bob