Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! We are well into our second week of "social distancing", and already the novelty of it seems to be wearing off. As I hear daily about people getting sick, business owners having to shut down operations, and workers getting laid off, the endless jokes about toilet paper and introverts are feeling more and more out of place. Now that there are a few confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our area (and I know one of these people personally), this whole crisis seems much less abstract and theoretical. At the same time, this simplification of life continues to be an aid to reflection and spiritual growth.
The Oakwood staff was very encouraged by the expressions of thankfulness for the "Worship @ Home" resources for family worship that were made available this past Lord's Day morning. I personally would like to thank Tricia Sharp and Linda Bonness for their tireless efforts to assemble the information and make it available and very user-friendly. We're also very thankful for the work of Brian Roberg in producing the high quality sermon and introduction videos. We were thrilled to hear about how the Lord was glorified in the homes of Oakwood members as we shared in the same Scriptures, prayers, and songs.
We also received helpful feedback about how we might improve these resources this week and, if necessary, in weeks to come. Thank you for all your input! Several people mentioned elements of the service that they missed and requested videos of Pastor Owen doing announcements or leading in confession of sin, or the elder leading in prayer, or the benediction at the end of the service. While we are pleased that these elements of worship are valued by our members, it isn't our intention to produce recordings of all parts of a typical Oakwood worship service (even if it were logistically possible). Instead, our goal is to put resources into the hands of the heads of households so they can effectively lead their family in a home worship service that has the essential elements of Oakwood's weekly services. As I stated in last week's letter, it is our hope and prayer that the Lord will use this time of restrictions in our culture to establish and strengthen the worship and spiritual instruction that takes place in our homes. Many churches are providing a livestream of an entire worship service for their members, where families can just turn on the computer or TV and watch, and where leadership in the home isn't necessary. But we have made a conscious decision to ask heads of households to lead their home worship service, using the resources that we provide. The worship resources - including links to song videos and the sermon video - will be emailed to everyone early on Sunday mornings, or you can find them by going directly to the church website ( www.oakwoodpca.org ). In the meantime, we're thankful that the gathering of all of our families for worship led by our elders and pastors is missed, and hopefully we'll be able to come together again soon!
Our deacons are organizing efforts to help any of our families or individuals with needs, especially our older saints and others who are at greater risk if exposed to this virus. If you have a need, or know someone who does, please contact Deacon Don Garbrick and Elder Emeritus Bert Messelink through this newly created email, email@example.com , or you can call the church office (814-238-5442). And please continue your normal giving of tithes and offerings - you can give online at http://www.oakwoodpca.org/resources/online-giving/ or you can send your check to 1865 Waddle Road, State College, PA 16803.
So many things right now are affecting our lives over which we have no control. But we know that the Lord is on His throne, and nothing is outside of His control. So our best response is to pray. If you would like to take part in Oakwood's 24-hour prayer vigil, from 7:00 PM this Friday, March 27th through 7:00 PM Saturday, March 28th, you can sign up at Oakwood 24-hour Prayer Vigil.
One of the jokes being passed around online that I've seen a couple of times advises that your neighbors won't think it's funny if you push a wheelbarrow around your neighborhood at 7 AM shouting, "Bring out your dead!!" (referencing a bit of dark humor from "Monty Python & the Holy Grail"). This comedy bit was based on the horrific bubonic plague, "the Black Death", that decimated Europe in the mid-1300's, killing about one-third of the population of Europe. As I chuckled at the "gallows humor", I was reminded again that we live in a unique period of world history, a time of unparalleled earthly prosperity and security. The advances of science, technology, and medicine in recent generations have been great blessings from God in so many ways, but in our sinful hearts they have also given us an illusion of invincibility and a false sense of security.
Professor and former White House staffer Paul D. Miller writes, "The tools of civilization exist to empower us, to make survival a given and convenience affordable. These are good things, and I’m glad we have them. But tools give us power, and power holds danger. When we have enormously powerful tools constantly at our disposal, that power starts to feel natural. The proximity and ubiquity of tech and convenience breeds a certain attitude: an assumed near-invincibility, a quasi-omniscience. Every problem is solvable, every question answerable... Civilization breeds hubris. This feeling of near-invincibility infects how we look at ourselves, at others, at the natural world and, ultimately, at God. Sickened with affluenza, we need one another less, we look at nature as either a problem to solve or a resource to exploit, and we think of God hardly at all. Jesus warned that it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Simply living inside the bubble of our tech-powered civilization is a form of fabulous, God-blinding wealth... The COVID-19 pandemic can return to us a realization that was normal throughout human history but has become oddly rare: the feeling that life is tenuous; that a simple act of neighbor love is the first, and often last, duty we owe; that civilization is a fragile achievement; and - here is the key - that these feelings are, in fact, normal and good. It’s the feeling of perfect security that is aberrant, disordered, and dangerous, not its opposite." It is my prayer that our time of separation and isolation, if not suffering, will afford us the opportunity to get on our face before the Lord and assess where our true security lies.
"It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart." Ecclesiastes 7:2
Rev. Daniel Kiehl
Oakwood Presbyterian Church
1865 Waddle Road
State College, PA 16803