8/5/20 Letter to Oakwood
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Pastor Dan Kiehl's Weekly Letter to the Congregation

                                                                                                        August 5, 2020

Dear Oakwood Church Family,

I've been thinking lately about the deep need that we have for community. The first observation that God made about the man that He created in His own image was that it wasn't good for him to be alone. It is because we are made in God's image that we have this deep need for relationships in our lives. God is one, and yet He is three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In His essence, He is a loving, harmonious community. Therefore all human beings are hard-wired with this need, but redeemed, Spirit-filled Christians who are being remade into the image of God are the only ones who can fully experience what God intended for us.

One of the reasons that I enjoy science fiction stories so much is that they often address important worldview, moral, psychological, and spiritual issues. Since the settings and circumstances that the characters find themselves in are strange and alien to our own, it enables us to look familiar issues and dilemmas from our world and our lives from a different vantage point. Some of the most profound portrayals of the human condition have been portrayed in science fiction movies and stories.  Regarding community, two familiar examples come to mind. In the Star Trek universe, there is an alien race called "the Borg", which only exists as "the Collective", a hive made up of interdependent drones which exist only to fulfill their specialized role in serving the purpose of the whole. One the other hand, in the Star Wars universe, one of the main characters is Han Solo, and his name is an apt description of his approach to life and to other people. When the rebel forces prepare for their assault upon the evil Empire's Death Star, Han Solo packs up his belongings and prepares to leave. When Princess Leia says that the battle isn't over, he replies, "It is for me, sister. Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money." At least early in the Star Wars series, Solo is a typical modern anti-hero - a rugged individualist who resists human connections and operates according to his own internal moral code.

I chose these two examples, the Borg and Han Solo, in order to contrast them with the Biblical teaching on the believers' need for community. We are neither mindless drones who have no identity or purpose outside of our community, nor are we lone rangers who live life for ourselves, on our own terms. The Apostle Paul pictures our relationship to one another in terms of a human body (I Corinthians 12:12-31). We are interdependent by God's design, like hands, feet, eyes, and ears, so we need each other's presence, encouragement, rebukes, prayers, and support in order to live and have purpose. We have one source of identity since we are one in Christ, our Head. The Apostle Peter portrays us as "living stones" which are "being built up as a spiritual house" (I Peter 2:4-10). This indicates that our lives can be defined as an individual existence, with individual rights and responsibilities before God and man, but our lives come together with other believers to create a spiritual entity known as the church. God's Word shifts easily and often between addressing God's people as individuals and also as a corporate whole, the community of believers.

We are individuals who need each other. My hope is that the separation and isolation caused this year by the coronavirus pandemic has enabled us all to feel and see that need for community in a new, intense way. The fellowship of the saints is something that is easy to take for granted - until you don't have it. But we live in a culture that intensely promotes individualistic thinking - doing things your way, finding your identity, following your own heart, fighting for your own rights, etc. My concern is that we not accommodate that way of thinking and living. It is easy to get comfortable going to church in your living room, focusing upon your own family, hanging out only with people who think like you do, and setting aside ministry responsibilities - doing church on your terms. The health crisis will one day pass - if you haven't already re-engaged with your church family I pray that you are longing to be back and prayerfully preparing to enter back into the interdependent life of the body of Christ. We are a spiritual family - and, as one comedian once said, "You can pick your friends, but you're stuck with your relatives." We need each other.

This is the dilemma that the church leadership has been faced with for the past few months - in no way do we want to subject our church to unnecessary physical risks, but, at the same time, we recognize the very real spiritual risks of believers being separated from the life of Christ's body. I'm not writing this in order to make anyone feel guilty who has decided that it's not yet wise, for health reasons, for them to return to church for worship and ministry. My only purpose is to encourage you to resist becoming comfortable in your current state of isolation or limited connection with your church family. See this as a time of deprivation, a time when one of your core needs in life is not being met. And when you are able, please come running back to join us!  We miss you.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan

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Oakwood Presbyterian Church · 1865 Waddle Rd · State College, PA 16803 · USA

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