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The last time we were able to meet physically together as a community at One Commonwealth was 22 March. Since then, we have been gathering online. It has been heartening to see that over the past 2 months or so, we have more than 120 unique IP addresses joining us for our services on Sunday.
In the beginning, we thought that this would be a temporary measure. During Holy week, I thought that we should be able to resume meeting in June. We are now in June, and we still do not know when we can meet in person again.
Meeting through this medium isn’t the most conducive method. Even though we sing “As we gather, may your spirit work within us,” it feels odd to be singing at the computer screen. It feels weird not singing in community – like many of you have mentioned to me, you really want to know who else is here. It feels isolating, and impersonal when you cannot see each other and you can only see the few of us who are involved in the service.
That’s why we have been trying new things – we have a pre-service meeting room that starts at 10:10 so you get to hang out with folks before service, and at least 2 meeting rooms after service – one to chat about what we learned from the sermon / service and another to pray together. We have Wednesday evening prayer meeting, and our Friday evening conversations. Still, it is not the same as being together physically in church.
While it is not the same, are we still able to worship God? Recently, Lynnette invited me to think about what worshipping God in spirit and in truth means during this time of Covid-19 when we are all at home.
Are we able to enter into a worshipful space? Or are we distracted by things around us? Let’s be honest – there are a thousand and one things that can distract us at home. This means that we have to be even more conscious about entering into that space. When we step into church, we have a physical change – we feel like we are stepping into a sacred space when we enter church. It is even more apparent for us at One Commonwealth. You all can picture it right? Stepping out of the lift into the lift lobby, turning left, and then you step into the carpark of an industrial building. You walk down all the way to the end, and then you step into our premises, with the TV screen announcing Welcome Home, and the welcome team warmly welcoming you. It feels like you step over a threshold, into another kind of space – a warm, inviting, sacred space.
But the difference is actually in our mind. We can enter into sacred space in our hearts and minds wherever we are.
The Samaritan woman pointed out the disagreement between the Jews and the Samaritans about where they are supposed to worship God – the Samaritans worshipped God on Mount Gerizim, while the Jews worshipped God on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Jesus told her, “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth.”
Worshipping God is not about where we worship God, but about how we worship God.
You can worship God anywhere. You don’t need music, you don’t need words. As one of my favourite worship songs go –
For a song in itself
Is not what you have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart
Worshipping God requires our hearts.
You may ask what about worshipping God in spirit and in truth?
I have thought about this – and I thought it is easier to first tell you what it is not.
It is not worshipping God in spirit and in truth when the worship is for others to see.
It is not worshipping God to just hold the Bible in your hands and pose in front of the church.
Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by people.
We often repeat Micah 6:8 in FCC– (not a surprise as it is my favourite verse). Even the youths know this verse by heart. But do you know the verses that come before it?
With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before God with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
God has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
It is not worshipping God in spirit and in truth when we do it as a substitute for what God is calling us to do. Burnt offerings, thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of olive oil, singing praises of God are not what God requires of us – what is required of is to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
It is not worshipping God when all we do is sending “thoughts and prayers” to people who are suffering. God requires us to act.
The prophet Amos is even more severe. He proclaims on behalf of God,
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Our worship is just noise without justice and righteousness.
Worship does not happen just because we are in church.
Worship does not happen just because we sing praises of God
Worship happens when we place God above all other things.
We must also consider what do we understand as putting God above all other things.
Is it merely with our lips? Just saying that God is great, and then go back to living our lives as per normal?
Worshipping God can happen every moment when our hearts are aligned with God.
When I speak up on issues of human rights, on LGBTQ issues, on race, on inequality, it is not done just because I am interested in human rights – but it is what I feel in my heart as God’s call for all of us. I believe this is worshipping God as well.
Rev Marc Antoine Lavarin, a Baptist minister, wrote something that shook me up. I think we need to pay attention because we need to ask ourselves – are we the new allies he is talking about?
“Prior to this moment, new allies have preached a gospel of Jesus devoid of justice. They failed to make the theological connection that Jesus and justice are, in fact, mutually inclusive. To invoke Jesus and then to invoke justice is redundant. Every time we invoke the name of Jesus, we commit ourselves to the ministry of justice. Every time we invoke the name of Jesus, we declare the Psalmist’s decree that justice and righteousness are the foundations of God’s throne. Every time we invoke the name of Jesus, we summon the Messianic prophecy that the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jesus, to preach the good news to the poor, to set the prisoners free from the Roman industrial complex, and to proclaim liberty to those who were oppressed. Every time we invoke the name of Jesus, we remember that Jesus was convicted of a crime he did not commit, received an unfair trial, and was sentenced to a state-sanctioned lynching on a tree. We cannot divorce our theology from the ministry of justice, for to do so, is to divorce ourselves from Jesus, himself. The ministry of justice is the ministry of Jesus.”
While we talk about Black Lives Matter, we also need to recognise the racism that exists in Singapore, and even here in FCC. How can we cry out for justice for people far away, when we ignore also the injustices that happen near us?
Beyond putting hashtags on our social media, or putting a badge on our profile pics, or just changing our profiles to a black square, or wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt like what I am doing, beyond saying “we can no longer be silent,” we need to start listening. We need to participate actively in the difficult work of dismantling racism – the racism that exists within ourselves, and around us.
Rev Marc Antoine Lavarin wrote:
“…there is no real substantive difference between a racist bigot holding a Bible in front of a church and a Christian holding up a #BlackLivesMatter sign with no plans to parse out the practical implementation of the holy truth of justice. So, pray for the spirit to move, and pray for the movement to start in you. Preach the resurrection, and preach the injustice of the crucifixion. Protest inequality, and protest your own theology. Beloved, this is the real work of ministry, and Justice is her name.”
We are planning for conversations on race as part of our Friday evening zoom conversations in July and I really hope you all can take part and listen – so we may begin to repent of the sin of racism. God is searching deeper within – God is looking into our hearts.
So we come together to sing and worship and pray – Our songs are just the beginning – to open us to the moving of the Holy spirit, and we pray for the movement to start within us – so our lives becomes worship – to do the continuing work of Jesus, the continuing work of Justice.
Come holy spirit, fall on us now.
We need Your anointing, come in Your power
We want to see God face to face –
So we can worship God, in Spirit and in truth.