Mary and Martha would be upset, they wanted Jesus there now.
They not only wanted the Messiah, they wanted their dear friend in this time of sorrow.
But Jesus knows well that there is a time to go and a time to stay.
Many of us are feeling the difficulty of staying put.
We want to help. We want to do. We want to go. Anywhere.
Yet, the most helpful action we can do is to stay home.
Some among us must go – Maggie is caring for the children of healthcare workers, Chris is making sure trucks have tires and can deliver food and medical supplies, Jess and Sara are nurses tending to the sick, David is serving as an EMT, Tyler is working for the Manchester Fire Department.
The most loving thing we can do for those among us on the front lines is to hold back and stay home.
This is not an easy way to love. This is a congregation that wants to step in and serve, to lend a hand, to help in any way possible. The way to help at this time is to stay put.
Every time you go out you could catch the virus yourself or unknowingly pass it on to another.
Every trip out increases the risk of disease and death for yourself, your neighbor, and the most vulnerable among us.
So, go out once a week for food, otherwise remain home.
Staying put is a new and challenging spiritual practice for many of us accustomed to doing and going.
It requires settling into the presence of God, grounding into the core of our beings.
In the words of the psalm 46, it is a time,
“To be still and know that I am God.”
It is a time to hear the voice of God as Elijah did –
not in the loud earthquake or thunder, but in the silence.
Not in the crowds or chorus, but in the small, intimate space of family or self.
It is a time to release our egos and forgo pride,
In humble service for the greater good,
and the most vulnerable among us.
As Christians we are clearly called to love our neighbor, especially the most vulnerable.
You don’t need me to list all the scriptures and parables of Jesus that point us to this core value.
Staying put is the most loving action most of us can do right now.
Whether or not you are high-risk, this virus has severely harmed and killed many people –
So stay home if you have the privilege and opportunity to do so.
Each of you is loved by many and no one wants you to get ill.
Staying home not only shows love for ourselves,
but it is an act of love for our vulnerable neighbors.
Even if you do not have symptoms, you can be a carrier –
So every time you go out and interact with others, you could be transmitting the virus.
Staying home could be literally saving the lives of our neighbors.
Staying home is also a way to be in solidarity with those who must be at home.
No one likes to be “left out” of the party.
For those of us not providing food or medical care, staying home is the most loving action we can do.
Staying put requires us to forgo the glory and praise often showered on do-good-ers.
Often when we do good and help others we receive the joy of seeing them smile and hearing their praise.
At this time we are called to do good, without the laud and glory.
To do good and stay put at this time requires the spiritual practice of humility.
Our individual good deed of staying home will largely go unnoticed;
for it is only in the collective “staying home” that we will see the blessings of less deaths.
Jesus commands his disciples to not make a show of their spiritual practices –
In the New Living Translation of Matthew 6:16:
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.”
At this time we are called to the humble service of staying home as much as possible.
Let us do so in order for the miracle of healing to happen.
For indeed, Jesus, after the time of staying put, was able to work a miracle.
Even though we cannot gather together in person on Sunday morning, we still care for each other and would like to check in.
There will be an “Online Church Meeting” on Thursday, March 19 at 7:00 pm. This will give you the opportunity to be updated on the church, discuss future church plans, as well as see and hear your friends.
To call into this meeting on your phone, please call 929-205-6099 and when asked enter the meeting ID 197 095 794#. You do not have a participant ID #, just wait for it to connect.
To join this meeting online, with the ability to see one another, please go to the church website, which is www.churchcorners.org and click on the link for a ZOOM meeting. ZOOM will need to be set up on your computer ahead of time (takes a couple minutes). If you joined on Sunday, ZOOM is already on your computer. CJ is available (and eager) to offer tech support to any, just text Pastor Kelly Jane’s cell and he will assist.
Also, please note that there will not be an April Columns. The World Health Organization and the government suggestions are changing so rapidly that we cannot make any definite dates or plans, looking ahead.
Check the church website (www.churchcorners.org) and your church emails regularly. If you know of someone who does not receive emails, please reach out to them with any updated information.
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.
Beloved members of the First Congregational Church of East Hartford,
We are a hearty and strong people, and yet at this time large in-person gatherings are a great risk to our overall health. While many of us will fight off the virus if infected, none of us want to inadvertently transmit the virus to a vulnerable loved one. In love for our neighbors and for ourselves, we will not be gathering for in-person congregational worship for the next two Sundays. Instead you are encouraged to join me for an online worship experience at www.churchcorners.org on Sunday at 10:00 am.
This decision comes following the recommendation of our Southern New England Conference Ministers who strongly recommended the suspension of in-person congregational worship for at least the next two week (webinar can be viewed here). This recommendation comes as the World Health Organization declares the Coronavirus a pandemic, the CDC urges social distancing, our President marshals federal aid, schools in our region close, and our Governor places a limit on large gatherings. Our world has not faced a pandemic of this size in over a hundred years, so let us be gracious with our neighbors and leaders as we seek safety for all.
What will happen on Sunday morning? I invite you to join me for an at home worship experience via online video at 10:00 am on Sunday. There will be a link on the front page of our website: www.ChurchCorners.org This will be a specially designed worship experience for you to partake in at home. CJ will be helping with the tech and maybe you will get to see my cat.
What if I have a prayer request? Please submit your prayer request online by clicking here. I will share these prayers online on Sunday morning.
What about the worship bulletins and anthems already prepared for this Sunday? We will join in the worship service originally planned for this Sunday when we can safely gather in the sanctuary again, hopefully on March 29.
What about the Annual Meeting? The Annual Meeting has been postponed to March 29. We may defer the luncheon and meet immediately following worship in the sanctuary. This will require our Lenten Potluck Luncheon to also be postponed.
What about activities during the week? At this time individual groups may decide what they would like to do. Howard, with the trustees, will work with our rental groups. Chris and I will work with the Scouts. Louise is in conversation with the YMCA preschool.
What extra cleaning will happen? Howard with the trustees are ensuring extra cleaning of our building
Who can I call with questions? You can call me on my cell phone: 860-351-7420. You are also welcome to reach out to our moderator, Chuck Holmes, assistant moderator, Joe Murdzek, or Louise Holmes, Director of Christian Education and Ministry Program Assistant.
What about those who don’t receive email? Louise will be calling those who do not receive email. If you know someone who does not regularly check their email, please do reach out to them.
What will I do now that so many activities are cancelled?!
Social distancing does not need to mean social isolation. Let us continue to connect to one another online and by phone…maybe even with old fashioned letters!
Take this time to delve into a spiritual practice. Check out this article from our conference leaders here.
Sunday’s online worship will address the spiritual challenges/opportunities of this time, so tune in at 10:00 am on Sunday. Www.churchcorners.org
May God grant you the serenity to accept what you cannot change, The courage to change the things you can, And the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on March 8, 2020
These days many of us are praying to be saved from the Coronavirus.
Stores are selling out of hand sanitizer as people try to save themselves from infection.
We greet one another with a nod or I saw a video of people in Japan shaking “feet”.
Cases are multiplying rapidly across the United States and even here in Connecticut.
Households are stocking up on basic goods in the event of a quarantine,
Which are happening in more and more areas.
The fear is fed by great uncertainty and a degree of powerlessness.
We can, and should, wash our hands more thoroughly
We can limit contact with others.
And yet, the rapid spread across the world leads me to wonder
if most of us will be infected and our bodies forced to fight it off.
Such prospects strike fear into many,
especially those whose health is not strong at the moment.
We can attempt to find the silver lining or look on the bright side –
The great majority of those infected do indeed fight it off and are stronger for it.
And yet, who is to say we – or someone we love – will not be able to fight it off?
Such uncertainty and powerlessness spark panic at worse and anxious caution at best.
The Coronavirus is not the first thing in our lives which invokes uncertainty, powerlessness, and fear.
Will I get a job and be saved from poverty or homelessness?
Will I find a partner or friends and be saved from loneliness?
Will I have children? Will I have grandchildren?
Will I have enough resources to retire?
Will I be cared for when I am unable to do so on my own?
Where will I go after I die?
With each of these scenarios, as with so many illnesses,
We have limited control.
Our actions can, perhaps, take us part of the way.
The rest of the way is left up to factors beyond our control.
At such times we often turn to prayer.
We turn to one more powerful, one we believe or hope is in control.
A popular prayer at such times involves a bargain with God –
I’ll go to church every Sunday if you save me from the Coronavirus.
I’ll give all my savings away to charity if you get me that job.
I’ll be really good if you give me eternal life.
The trouble with bargaining is that God isn’t really that into it.
Our God is not transactional.
And it is a good thing God is not interested in a bargain, for
If God was transactional, we would never be able to pay the price.
God’s gifts – wholeness, love, eternal life – they are simply too great for us to earn through volunteer hours or acts of kindness or money in the offering plate.
It’s like being at Chuck E Cheeses or some arcade –
You know, where you play games and win tickets or points to exchange for prizes at the end.
As a kid, I would work so hard at those games, trying to win as many tickets as possible.
But, whenever I got to the prize counter, I would almost always want a prize that was way more tickets than I had earned.
God’s gifts are like the HUGE teddy bear worth 100,000 tickets at the prize counter.
All our hard work can get us maybe 74 tickets which basically buys us the cheap temporary tattoos and a finger trap.
We can’t earn enough tickets to “buy” God’s love or God’s grace or Eternal Life.
Moreover, there is a huge ongoing debate about how to win tickets anyway.
Some traditions say you got to pray this way, dress like that, and avoid every vice there is in order to win God’s approval.
Some say you can’t eat this and others say you should.
Some say dancing is a sin and others, thankfully, say dancing is a holy endeavor.
We don’t even agree on how to win tickets to God’s love and eternal life.
Back in the Middle Ages you could pay money to get your deceased loved one closer to heaven. While that practice of indulgences is no longer a thing, trying to use money to win God’s favor is still a spiritual trap for those with wealth.
In fact, this idea of winning God’s gifts through proper prayer, proper actions, and the like has a long history.
So if you find yourself bargaining with God when you are afraid, you have good company.
However, the father of the Protestant Reformation, the one who ignited a whole new way of thinking that eventually lead to our very own United Church of Christ, spoke of a God that wasn’t into bargaining: a God of grace.
In the early 1500s Martin Luther read and preached on today’s scripture from Romans (Romans 4:1-5, 13-17)
What he saw clearly was that Abraham was made righteous, good with God,
Not by his actions –
not by circumcision, nor by leaving his home, nor by following God’s law
Abraham was made righteous and saved by God, based on his faith.
Saved, Justified by Faith alone, not works.
Martin Luther looked deeply into scripture and saw a God that did not give the gift of eternal life, health, wholeness, or anything else on the basis of works, but on the basis of faith.
Justified by Faith alone, not works.
Is the statement that would define the Protestant Reformation
This truth is proclaimed loudly, although in different words, in the popularized verse of John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son
that all who believe in him will not perish,
but have eternal life.
The great gifts of God – eternal life, love, wholeness – are given not based on the number of works or tickets we have acquired, but on the basis of faith.
This is not to say our actions do not have consequences.
Please, do not go coughing your germs on everyone
and proclaim that God will save us if we just believe.
To believe in Jesus Christ is not simply a nice thought that will ward off evil.
Belief in Jesus is not some magic wand.
However, when we truly believe in Jesus, our actions will necessarily change.
To believe in Jesus is to believe that God would come and dwell with us in our human suffering.
To believe in Jesus is to believe in a Divinity that is not lightyears away, but among us and with us.
So when we truly believe in Jesus,
We trust that God is with us and we are strengthened to face the tumult of the world,
For we have a constant companion and friend who is right there with us.
To believe in Jesus saves us from isolation and separation.
To believe in Jesus is to believe that God loves the world enough to be present with us.
To believe in Jesus is to believe in a Divine love that transcend every barrier –
Every social barrier, every emotional barrier.
So when we truly believe in Jesus,
We are less afraid of reaching out to others,
Even those across barriers.
To believe in Jesus saves our world from discord and hate.
To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe God breaks through not only social barriers,
but even the barrier of death.
To believe in Jesus is to trust that God is with us, loving us, through this life, through death, for all time.
To believe in Jesus saves us from perishing – Saves us from destruction and death.
To believe in Jesus is to trust that even when our current bodies no longer breath,
God breathes eternal life and love into our souls.
We are saved, here and now and forevermore.
On one hand it sounds simple –
Just believe you will be saved! Just believe and you win the huge teddy bear!
And yet, faith is more difficult to grasp.
In Mark 9 the father of a boy with an unclean spirit cries out to Jesus,
“I believe, Lord help my unbelief!”
Jesus does heal the boy – even with his father’s paradoxical faith.
Our unbelief – or even simply our shaken faith – can be strengthen with the spiritual practices that have built up disciples for centuries:
Reading or remembering stories of faithful people in scripture, devotionals, or in conversation with friends
Practicing gratitude and generosity often open our eyes to the work of the Divine
Taking time to pray – sitting or walking, singing or speaking – time to talk with God, even if you are unsure God is listening
In AA they say all you need to come to a meeting is the desire to be sober.
I believe the same is true for God –
We need not be unwavering in our belief in Jesus – I know few who truly are -Rather, we are asked to simply have the desire to believe in Jesus.
Perhaps that desire for faith in God’s love is the first step,
Or maybe our God is gracious enough that the simple desire to believe in Jesus is enough.
While fear, uncertainty and powerlessness whirl around us,
May we strengthen our belief in Jesus,
trusting in God’s presence and God’s love through it all,
Trusting that we will be saved one way or another,
For God is indeed with us.
While we should still wash our hands, let us not be afraid, but rather turn to God in prayer. Amen.
Children’s Moment on February 2, 2020 by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar
God loves us very much.
But sometimes we block God’s love and blessings. Psalm 15 in the Bible tells us some ways in which we block God’s love.
If we lie, we block God’s love. (add block)
If we gossip or talk poorly about someone behind their back, We block God’s love. (add block)
If we see injustice or bullying on the playground and don’t do anything, We block God’s love. (add block)
If we don’t keep our promises, We block God’s love. (add block)
If we lend money or toys and charge interest – If we are greedy or refuse to share, We block God’s love. (add block)
Are there other things we can do to block God’s love? (cheat, steal, murder, swear, etc.)
In the church we call these blocks sin. Sin is anything that blocks us from God’s love.
God is still there. Still loving.
We have put up all these blocks.
To take down the blocks we confess our sins – We say sorry and really mean it.
Sorry I didn’t share, help me to share better. (remove block) Sorry I broke my promise, help me to keep my promise. (remove block) Sorry I was silent when another was being hurt, help me to speak up. (remove block) Sorry I spoke behind my friend’s back, help me to speak kind words to and about my friends. (remove block) Sorry I lied, help me to tell the truth. (remove block)
Look! God is still there. Still loving!
Let’s pray with God now. Gracious God, thank you for loving us all the time. Remove everything that blocks us from feeling your love and blessings. Amen.