Sermon by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on March 15, 2020
Coronavirus precautions and cancellations have pushed many of us into a desert time.
Devoid of travels, events, and activities, we are in an open and seemingly barren space.
The hope is that this time in the desert will lead us to the Promised Land of health and healing for ourselves and our loved ones.
Yet, this desert time also comes with some spiritual challenges.
Today I will talk about three and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments.
For one, we face the spiritual challenge of loss.
Loss of being able to do what we want to do.
Loss of control and certainty.
Potentially loss of income.
The spiritual challenge of loss is likely familiar to anyone who has had an illness, a surgery, or a body that no longer does what it once did.
When I suffered my concussion, I could not dance the Lindy Hop like I used to. The bouncing and turns would send my head spinning.
With the closing of nearly every agency and organization, public and private, many of us have loss the normal in-person ways of connecting and enjoying life.
When the Israelites were wandering the Desert in hope of the Promised Land, they too felt the sting of loss for what was.
The Israelites longed for the food of Egypt, even though going back to Egypt would bring death at worse and slavery at best. God did not give them the food of Egypt, but gave them a new food: manna. Manna would sustenance them through their desert journey.
So too will God provide “manna” for us in our modern desert time today.
When I suffered my concussion and could not do Lindy Hop, CJ brought me to Tai Chi – a form of gentle movement that did not give me migraines. I ended up falling in love with tai chi as it sustained me through the time of healing.
Now that many of us find ourselves in a semi-self-quarantine,
Let us look for our manna.
Maybe we will try a new spiritual practice,
Or call friends we haven’t talked to in awhile,
Or discover a new game with the kids,
Or go for a walk around the neighborhood,
Or do some spring cleaning,
Or learn how to use technology – I’ve certainly learned a lot in the last 48 hrs.
Maybe we allow ourselves to slow down into some sabbath.
Sabbath – or rest with God – is an intentional time to be with God.
Sabbath can be on our own or “with” others, for example, we might be home with kids –
Sabbath is about a break from business as usual for some time to focus on God.
Indeed the spiritual practice of Sabbath can be the balm to the spiritual challenge of loss.
When we are feeling loss,
sabbath can connect us to the Divine and sustain us through the desert.
So take this time to connect to the Divine anew.
Perhaps you set up an altar space in your home.
Perhaps you try a new prayer practice.
Perhaps you relax into a deeper spiritual conversation with a friend.
Perhaps you and the kids enact some favorite Bible stories.
The Spiritual Practice of Sabbath can be the balm to the spiritual challenge of Loss.
May we allow sabbath to be our manna during this desert time.
The second spiritual challenge is self-control.
With meetings, worship, and activities moving online,
It is so much easier to skip out.
While you can watch someone on a screen,
They can’t see you, unless you choose,
so you can do whatever you want.
Those who have worked from home may have already encountered the spiritual challenge of self-control. You will know that while your boss or teacher or colleague may not be watching you all day, they will eventually find out if you’ve been playing video games instead of working.
If you do work from home – maybe you could share some of your wisdom in the comments.
Self-control is a spiritual challenge because even if others don’t see, in our hearts we are denying our responsibility and respect of God in others and ourselves.
The Israelites on their desert journey also encountered the spiritual challenge of self-control. When the “boss” Moses went up the mountain and left them to their own devises…
When Moses was no longer present the Israelites strayed from doing what they ought and instead built for themselves a golden calf – a false god to worship. God gets so mad that God considers destroying the people – but Moses implores God to remember the holy promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – a promise for a Sacred Land and a people a numerous as the stars.
Having remembered the promise for a land and a people, God’s anger subsides.
Remembering our promises – to others and ourselves – may help us to have self-control and focus during more “online” meetings or while spending more time at home.
Remembering what we hope to gain from this time can keep us on track.
As Moses reminded God, it is certainly helpful to have a buddy to remind us when we forget.
So perhaps we tell a friend or colleague our intentions –
For example I may tell a colleague I’m planning to work on this paper for the next two hours, let’s check in at lunch.
Or I may tell a friend, for the next two weeks without the evening activities I’m going to have family dinner say grace – ask me how it goes.
Or I may tell my pastor I intend to read through one of the Gospels.
A little bit of accountability can go a long way in maintaining self-control.
Even if you don’t tell anyone, simply writing your intention down can help to jog our memory of where we hope to end up.
The Spiritual Challenge of self-control can be met by the spiritual practice of remembering with the help of a friend. So in this desert time, let us practice remembering – and helping others remember – where we hope to be in our spiritual or professional or family lives by Easter.
The last spiritual challenge I will talk about today is the spiritual challenge of caring for the least of these.
The many closures are hitting hard on small businesses,
Wage employees without paid sick leave,
Many of whom already are not making enough to make ends meet.
First Church is working to keep the Food Bank functioning and the YMCA open, as some of our most vulnerable citizens rely on these services for basic needs. In addition, I am ready to help church members in need with the pastor’s discretionary fund.
Many of you diligently volunteer through the church or otherwise to care for those in need.
Caring for the least of these is a spiritual challenge at this time,
Because we can be tempted by fear to do nothing at all
We can be tempted into a “Savior” complex –
We can be tempted to forgo health advice in an effort to heroically help others.
In striving to provide services to others, we sacrifice ourselves –
Running ourselves ragged or simply exposing ourselves to a deadly virus when our immune systems are compromised.
On the Israelites’ desert journey, their leader, Moses, ran himself ragged trying to care for people.
To care for all the people Moses selected elders to help him lead. He did not work alone, but in tandem with others. It is similar to how Paul later calls Christians to each excel in the spiritual gifts given to them, but to know that no one has all the gifts – rather we each have unique gifts to share – each have a unique place in the body of Christ.
Perhaps you have the gift of peace in chaos to share with those worried.
Perhaps you have the gift of being young and healthy and can do errands or volunteer work for those with more compromised immune systems.
Perhaps you have the gift of experience – while none of us have been through a pandemic of this size before, you may have been through some trying times and have advice to share.
Perhaps you are a salaried employee and can donate the money saved by working from home and traveling less to wage employees or social services who will surely be tapped more in the months to come.
To meet the spiritual challenge of caring for the least of these,
We must identify our particular gifts with humble honesty.
We must be humble in recognizing that we are not God –
We are not invisible nor immortal nor all powerful.
We will not avoid illness because we can’t believe we could get it
Or don’t want to believe our bodies are weakened in any way.
We must be humble in what our limitations are.
We must be honest in recognizing what our specific gifts are at this time;
They may be different than they were a year ago or even 2 weeks ago.
Humble honesty is a spiritual practice that allows us to see realistically how we can best help others.
Humble honesty is a spiritual practice that is often helped by good friends or family – people who can reflect to you honestly what they see and tell you with compassion.
The spiritual challenge of caring for the least of these is met when we share our gifts with humble honesty.
As we wander through this desert time together,
may we practice humble honesty and share our gifts well,
so that we may indeed care for all.
Covid-19 may have pushed us into a desert time.
We can choose how we view this desert time.
Deserts can be viewed as barren, bleak spaces –
Devoid of water and life.
Deserts can also be seen as places of openness and exploration;
Indeed many mystics retreated to the desert in search of a closer relationship with the Divine.
Instead of a crowded forest of activities and responsibilities,
We find ourselves with space to breathe and explore –
Space to see the Divine anew.
In this desert time,
may we practice sabbath in the midst of loss,
care for others with humble honesty about our gifts,
and support one another in the midst of temptation,
that we might use this desert time to draw near to God. Amen.