I want to talk about something I never thought I would talk about as a pastor.
If even the mention of the word “masks” brings a roll of the eye, a huff, or whatever your preferred choice of exasperation, I understand. A few weeks ago I was frustrated by any demand to wear a mask. I was tired of political leaders who are using this pandemic to advance their own political aims and the inconsistent advice given. Don’t buy masks! They don’t work! Wait…Wear a mask! They work! I began to wonder if I would have to shave my lengthy beard because it does not work well with a mask. This was going too far. (That was a joke—can we laugh together about masks!?)
If masks, or the demands to wear one, are frustrating, I understand. And now, as our campuses prepare to gather together again in person, we are faced with what has become a controversial question in the church world—should churches require people to wear masks?
Until two weeks ago, I would have answered “no.” I did answer “no.” Then something happened, which is why I want to talk to you about masks.
I have four awesome kids—three boys, one girl. One of my sons has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which means if he were to get COVID19, it could be very dangerous for him. This pandemic has been hard for us and for him. Isaiah hasn’t been in public for several months. Our family has had to withdraw. We have not met with our Community Group, and I only meet with people outside at parks, socially distanced.
This has been brutal for my wife and me. My jokes about masks aside, these have been some of the most painful weeks of our lives. It was entirely possible that for the next several months, perhaps years, my son could not go to church. My son, who I baptized a year ago, who took four pages of notes on my last sermon (not a joke), who loves God, cannot go to church. My son, who already has been called to suffer in profoundly painful and unfair ways, now has church taken from him.
Then a couple of weeks ago, we met with his medical care team. We asked questions about masks, about how we are to care for our son during this pandemic. We learned—if everyone wears a mask to church, our son can go to church.
My opinion on masks changed.
I am willing to bet that even if you are the most ardent opponent of masks, even if you have burned a pile of masks because you are so tired of them—you can understand why this father really hopes his church will require masks, why I want to be able to look my son in the eyes and say, Buddy…we can go back to church together...and watch his eyes light up because he loves church.
Maybe your opinion hasn’t changed and won’t. That’s okay. Maybe you still question the efficacy of masks. Maybe the thought of trying to keep a mask on your child feels like punishment no one should endure (I’m with you on that!). Whatever your thoughts are on masks, medical professionals encourage their use during a pandemic because they protect the vulnerable.
So, as we re-gather as a church, we have to decide, do we require masks?
What makes the question of masks in church so difficult is not just that I am a father, but also a pastor, and a pastor that is ultimately responsible for making a decision about requiring a mask (or not) at my campus. I have to make the decision about whether or not my son can attend church.
I do not want to make a selfish decision (although let’s be honest parents, don’t we all want to do everything we can for our kids?). I knew I needed to wrestle with what Jesus would want from His church right now.
Would Jesus mask?
While I was wrestling through that question, I started working on my sermon for July 5. Luke 14:12-24. In that text Jesus says two things:
But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:13-14).
Jesus told us that when we invite people into our homes, into our lives, we are to give special consideration for the vulnerable. We are to make a special place for them because society so easily discards them. When we make special consideration for the vulnerable, God says He will repay us in the new creation. That is how committed He is to make sure the vulnerable are included in His Kingdom.
The second thing Jesus says in that passage is that the poor and vulnerable are invited in special ways into His Kingdom. In the parable Jesus tells, the master of the feast says:
‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
As a father to a vulnerable son, those words of Jesus are my only hope. Jesus says that people like my son have a special invitation to the kingdom of God, to feast with God.
Now, back to masks.
If we gather as a church without requiring masks, the vulnerable cannot come. They must stay home. Being vulnerable can already be a lonely, isolating experience, which is why Jesus calls His church to make special invitations to the vulnerable. We are to make sure that the vulnerable are in community with us, in our homes, in our lives, in our church.
What would Jesus have us do? Practice church in a way that excludes the vulnerable? The sick? The lame?
I will not pretend I am objective on the question of masks in church. I am not. I was a sick, vulnerable sinner and Jesus gave up His freedom, doing literally everything He could to offer me a seat at His table. His table is for the vulnerable, the poor, the sick, which means His table is for me.
Now, it’s time to regather as a church. Our world needs the church right now. We need to be on mission right now, so may we go out into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.
But remember, they can only come if we are wearing masks.