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Spiritual Challenges of Covid-19 Closures

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.  

Exodus 16:2-3;11-15 

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…

Exodus 32:1-14 

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  

or 

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. 

Exodus 18:13-23 

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.  

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.

Worship Location Change due to CoronaVirus

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?!

  1. 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!
  2. Take this time to delve into a spiritual practice. Check out this article from our conference leaders here.
  3. 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.

In Christ,
Your Pastor,
Kelly Jane

Saved

Sermon preached by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on March 8, 2020

The first vase of water in our Lenten desert journey.

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.  

Into the Desert…Lent Begins

Ash Wednesday Worship 2020

By Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar

To do this worship at home you will need a Bible, paper and pencil. Dirt and a vase help as well. 

Center yourself with some grounding music then read the 2 letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5 verses 20-21-6″11,  

Invitation to Confession 

Tonight we come to be reconciled with God.  

We will take some quiet moments to reflect on what separates us from the Divine, and perhaps even write our sins down to offer to God. 

In our Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday is a time to confess our sins. 

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent,  

Traditionally a season of repentance, 

 a time to give up something that is blocking our relationship with the Divine.  

Most churches will give disciples ashes  

– dirt to symbolize our humanity. 

We recite the words,  

“from dust you came and to dust you shall return.” 

The ashes symbolize our mortality –  

the fact that all of us will die and return to the earth. 

The ashes symbolize that we are not God, but humans. 

Imperfect, fallible, mortal humans. 

There is a separation between God and humanity. 

It is as if God is on one side of this vase, [point] 

and humanity is on the other. [Point] 

We are separated from God by our sin – [pour sand inside vase] 

Perhaps fear keeps us from acting in love. 

Perhaps pride blinds us to our faults and sentences us to repeat our failings. 

Perhaps gossip provides a false sense of community as it undercut real connection. 

Perhaps our body image has skewed our idea of God’s goodness. 

Perhaps our addiction to disposable goods is blocking us from God’s lush and good creation.  

Perhaps fear of being authentic and true keeps relationships only on the surface instead of going deeper. 

Perhaps addiction to busy-ness pushes God out of our schedules. 

Perhaps nostalgia is blocking the beauty of God’s blessings today. 

Sin [hold sand] is whatever distances us from the Divine, 

Whatever separates us from our spirituality, 

Whatever keeps us from being our best, most loving selves. 

We all struggle with sin, because we are all human –  

made of dust and fallible.  

Acknowledging our humanity and our fallibility is crucial to understanding Jesus and ultimately the resurrection.  

Without naming our failings or struggles,  

we might begin to think of ourselves as God, 

We might think we are in control and have more power than we actually do. 

Such false divinity sets us up for increased suffering. 

So let us take some time to honestly reflect on what separates us from God. 

What struggles do we wrestle with? 

What vices break connection and distance us from love? 

On your paper you may share your confession with God. 

You may write a word, a phrase, draw a picture –  

However you want to express your sin, 

Your struggles,  

what it is that is keeping you from the Divine, 

What is breaking connection  

and distancing you from love.  

After you have finished writing,  

you can come forward and add your sin to the vase of dirt, 

Add your sin to the sins of others –  

for we are not alone in our struggles. 

You may tear up your sin,  

as a symbol of your desire to be free from the struggle, 

Free from the sin, free from all that blocks you from God.  

Time for Private Confession  

In silence or with reflective music, write your sins on paper, tear up and sprinkle into ashes/sand 

Unison Prayer of Confession (Psalm 51:1-17) 

Whether we have written a book, a word, or nothing at all, 

We are all human, all fallible, all capable of sin. 

Like people throughout time,  

we have fallen short of what we could be. 

Faithful people throughout the centuries have confessed their sins with the words of Psalm 51. 

Tonight Christians across the globe will be reading and reciting the words of Psalm 51. 

So, let us join with disciples near and far to confess our sins with the ancient words of Psalm 51. 

Hymn 212 What Wonderous Love is This (v1-2) (Listen Here)

Words of Assurance 

Read 2 Corinthians 5:20b-21 

Jesus is the one without sin who took on our sin that we could become the righteousness of God. 

Traditional atonement theory professes a God that required sacrifices for the people to be forgiven their sins – a ram for this, a sheep for that.  

The burnt offerings were a means to cover our sin and reconcile us to God.  

When Jesus died on the cross,  

he was the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  

(press little cross into sand to create bridge across the open vase) 

The cross was the final sacrifice, so no longer were ram or sheep needed.  

All humanity’s sins were atoned for on the cross.  

The cross, crosses over our sin and connects humanity to God.  

We are no longer separate.  

This is traditional atonement theology,  

upheld by many Christian traditions. 

When we have a heavy burden or a great sin upon us,  

When the weight of our wrongdoing bears heavy on our hearts,  

the idea that Jesus has paid the cost can be a truly liberating experience. 

However, there may be times when we struggle to believe our loving God would require such a bloody sacrifice.  

At such times, we can imagine the cross to be a bridge –  

For on the cross, Jesus, God incarnate,  

experienced the worst of humanity. 

He suffered betrayal, desertion, physical agony.  

Whatever suffering we are going through;  

we can trust that Jesus can understand. 

He too has suffered and can be with us in our suffering – 

Such that in our suffering we are not separate from God, 

But God is there beside us,  

bringing us healing and comfort.  

What’s more is that Christ’s actions show us how to bridge across our sin: 

Eating with strangers, practicing hospitality,  

Living simply and giving generosity, compassion, service, 

Time for prayer and communion with a diverse group of friends.  

These acts of love connect us to God –  

the bridge across the divide of sin. 

Jesus crosses over our sin and connects us to God – 

Jesus bridges the divide by being the ultimate sacrifice. 

Jesus bridges the divide by walking with us in our suffering. 

Jesus bridges the divide by showing us how to live with love.  

We enter these 40 days of Lent  

as a time to journey with Jesus across the bridge, 

A sacred time to release what keeps us from the Divine (lift up sand) 

A sacred time to walk the bridge to closer union with God.  

As we depart this night, we know where these 40 days will end – 

We will find a cross that will, one way or another, bring us closer to God – 

So close that not even death can separate us. 

So may we go into this night,  

Forgiven and made righteous in God.  

May we walk into Lent,  

Humbled by God’s grace and free to draw near to the heart of God.  

Hymn 542 Near to the Heart of God, all verses (Listen Here)

Benediction 

May you go forth in peace to draw near to the heart of God,  

this night and in the days and nights to come. Amen.  

How and Why to Worship God

Children’s Message by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on February 9, 2020

God is always there loving us,  

But we can do things that keep us from seeing God’s love.  

One of those things is rigid adherence to one way of worship.  

In our confession this morning we read together the words of the prophet Isaiah 58:1-12.

God is upset with the people for being so focused on how they worship that they forget to care for one another and their neighbors. 

People worship God in lots of different ways. 

People worship God… 

In buildings with stain glass 

Mid-13th century (Michael D Hill Jr/Sainte Chapel Stained glass I 

Outside in nature 

Silver Lake Hubbell Chapel 

Naples Florida, C3 Church on the Beach 

or Outside on the Street

Common Cathedral Boston MA

Some people praise God…

With arms raised up and lots of loud music 

Repetitive chants 

In silence 

In lines in pews like we have here.

In pews facing each other 

In a circle 

Kneeling on the floor with candles – as in taize in France 

Standing the whole time, like the Christian Orthodox

These are all Christian ways of worship!  

Jews, Muslims, and Hindus have lots of different ways to worship too.  

People worship God in various ways,  

but God care less about how we worship than what we do because we worship. 

Worship done right fuels us to love and care for others.  

Blocking God’s Love

Children’s Moment on February 2, 2020 by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar

God loves us very much.

Child holding heart symbolizing God’s love

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.

Children all holding heart of God’s love for prayer

Christmas Tree Finds Home

An innocent mis-communication resulted in an additional Christmas Tree being set up in the church dining room over a month ago. We wondered from where it came and what its purpose was. Then, a few weeks ago the Woodward House mentors learned that Megan did not have Christmas Tree. Aha! The Holy Spirit had placed a Christmas Tree in the church dining room for Megan! So the house meeting shifted gears. We gathered the tree, found some ribbon, stumbled across some decorations and made one Woodward House resident very merry. 

Gratitude

Gift from the Food for Thought Group

This congregation has given a gift that perhaps not everyone has had the opportunity to see its fruits. Once a month for over a year now this congregation has provided space, food, and pastoral leadership to a budding group of young adults under 40 years old to explore spiritual matters. The group averages around 12 people every month, with a total of 27 adults participating at some point in the last year. We have called this group “Food for Thought” because we have thoughtful conversations around a meal. It’s a model Jesus started with the 12 disciples at the Last Supper. 

This program of the church has been incredibly meaningful. 

We had a year-end written reflection and I asked, “has food for thought run its course for now and is ready to take a break?” All 12 respondents enthusiastically said NO! Those who participate regularly obviously wanted to continue, but so did those who can only come occasionally, and one respondent who moved away wrote, “even though I cannot participate from afar, I love seeing the photos and seeing people enjoy the church space! It makes me smile.” 

Why such an enthusiastic response? Participants love cooking together, the summer campfires were a great hit, and the special paint night especially fun – but those are all means to a deeper spiritual need for community, friendship, and spiritual discussion.  

When asked “how has Food for Thought helped you grow in your spiritual life?” Respondents shared the deep value in discussing ideas in a small group of similar age people and the new friendships that are forming. One wrote, “it has been impactful for me to spend time with other young adults who share my faith. Most of my friends are not Christian and so it made a difference to not feel alone.”  

To many millennials and people under 40, church is seen, at worst, as unsafe and harmful and, at best, boring and out of date. However, one Food for Thought participant wrote about finding healing through this church group. Food for Thought has provided a safe space for young adults to bond and grow deeper in their faith. As one wrote, “Food for Thought day is something to look forward to and have meaningful conversations. We learn a little something from one another each time.” 

Indeed, I have personally enjoyed this group – they are authentic, honest, vulnerable and incredibly insightful…as well as a ball to hang out with.  

As is probably clear by now, the Food for Thought group has an immense amount of gratitude for the opportunity to come together. So members have each pitched in to offer a “Christmas Gift” to the congregation.

The idea to give this gift came organically from the group, for it truly has touched people in ways words can hardly explain.  So thank you all for supporting the Food for Thought program of the church!