I would first like to thank all of you for your cooperation during this time of pandemic. Masks and social distancing have been requirements for our meeting in person and you as a church have been really terrific to work with. I say this knowing that many of you are reticent about wearing masks — but you have worn them anyway. I am grateful to you for that.
We must continue mask wearing until the effects of the vaccine work fully into our area. Even if you have already had COVID-19, I ask that you continue to wear your mask and socially distance in church. Masks and distancing really do help slow the spread of the virus. And they also help other parishioners feel safe in coming to church, especially older parishioners and those with certain chronic conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the virus. Being able to feel safe in church makes a real difference to many in this situation as they are otherwise relatively socially isolated. An hour of worship, even masked and socially distanced, helps them (and all of us) feel embraced by the love of God and of our fellow Christians.
I also want to say a word about this subject as it relates to our Christian identity. Martin Luther wrote a profound treatise in 1519 called The Freedom of the Christian. The thesis contains two seemingly contradictory statements:
A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all.
Luther ties this thesis to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all…” Paul tells us something powerful about the ethos of Christianity. Christians are not self-actualizers or self-asserters on the whole. Christians are servants — servants of God first and foremost; and then servants to their neighbors. Really, the two are inseparable. In our freedom, we serve. We are free to love outside of ourselves.
Over the past few months, I have seen a trend develop that breaks over cultural and tribal lines: pro-mask people are incredulous at anti-mask people; anti-mask people scoff at pro-mask people. It really has been something to see this phenomenon unfold, unsurprising as it is.
I am grateful to each of you that we have not seen much of this at St. Thomas’, at least not overtly. That tells me the Gospel is sinking in and being understood. As the Gospel begins to shape and define us, the beachheads of self-righteousness we all possess are steadily undermined. This is a good thing. It means a new creation is being formed and people are seeing the fruit of the Spirit. It is important, in this way, to experience and show a contrast to the world. It is an oasis for people in a very parched land. You have been a great help.