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Returning as Resurrection People

Sermon by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on April 19, 2020

Denial or doubt is belief in lies; faith in falsehoods.  

Doubt is a form of despair in which we believe the crucifixion is the end – as Thomas originally did.  

Denial a refusal to hope in Easter.  

The question is what do we have faith in. 

Do we have faith in death or life? Despair or hope? Crucifixion or resurrection? 

What we have faith in determines where and how we work, where and how we spend our lives, 

Where and how we move through this “quarantine time”. 

As Christians we are called to be “Resurrection People” – 

People who believe and practice life in the face of death,  

hope in the face of despair,  

new possibilities when everything as we know it has changed.  

There is a temptation to believe this time is temporary. 

At first it was just two weeks, now it’s been a month,  

and at least another month is ahead of us, probably more. 

While I do believe in-person worship and business with return, 

There is no doubt that this time not only will,  

but already has transformed our world.  

To live as a “Resurrection People” is not about believing this will be over soon and  

It is not about believing life will return as we remember it. 

Afterall, Jesus was resurrected, not resuscitated – 

When Jesus rose again on Easter, he was different than he was before. 

He had wounds, but he also passed through walls. 

To be “Resurrection People” is to believe that after this “Good Friday” time, 

We will arise as different, renewed people.  

A Resurrection People.  

So the question is how will we arise? 

Where will we put our faith?  

Where we put our faith determines our actions and how we emerge as individuals,  

as a community,  

as a global society.  

On a very concrete level, I hope we will arise into a physical building. (hold up wooden church) 

I believe our building is a sacred space to gather as a community larger than ourselves.  

It is a shared space – not my living room or Jerry’s den – 

But a space for us all to gather regardless of economic or social status. 

It is a space shared not just in the present, but with the ancestors of our faith. 

Some of your grandparents even worshiped at First Church! 

While most of us don’t have a direct tie – 

to be in a space that has held the faith of people for generations has a power beyond words. 

 I believe our building is a sacred space to gather, 

 and I hope that we will arise into that shared sacred space, 

So I am so very glad that the trustees have continued to not only maintain the building, 

But improve it. 

This past week Valley Restorations finished their work on the front doors

Repainting and repairing this historic and majestic entry-points off main St. 

They also repaired windows and repainted the balcony ceiling where paint had chipped from water damage. 

They accidentally did more work than agreed upon – and donated their extra work to the church.  

The Trustees and Finance committee graciously paid a little more while also receiving the donation of work and supplies. There was good will all around and a God-sighting for sure! 

But I hope that we arise not only into a building,  

I hope we will arise as a more connected people.  

I believe and have faith that technology can connect us through walls and barriers that once divided.  

On that first Easter the Resurrected Christ passed through walls to connect to the disciples.  

Today an awe-inspiring number of church members have overcome fears and technological trials 

In order to stay connected even while walls and social distancing keep us physically apart.  

On Thursday night one person commented that there is more communication now than ever before. 

I believe that is due in large part to each of you taking the initiative to call one another, 

To read emails, attend church meetings, and otherwise keep in touch. Bravo! 

While technology at times can feel like a barrier to overcome, 

At other times it can be a bridge to connection that would otherwise not happen. 

Those who are homebound recovering from surgery are able to join in and be seen and see others. 

Young adults who have moved away are able to tune in. 

Parents with young children are able to join in without the extra stress of corralling energetic young ones.  

Anyone who is home sick can turn over in their bed and listen to the comfort of their faith family worshipping together.  

For many technologies can be a bridge to connect to their faith community, 

 But technology is also a bridge for curious seekers to try out a church family.  

It is easier for people to click a button to log into a worship experience – 

Much easier than getting dressed and entering a place where you don’t know anyone 

 And are unsure about what to expect.  

In fact, research shows that churches with online presence over the last decade found that most new members joined in worship online first. 

I believe and have faith that technology can connect us through walls and barriers that once divided. 

So during this time I hope we will develop these technological tools  

As individuals and as a congregation – 

so that we will arise a more connected people.  

I hope we will not only be more connected to those we already know, 

But during this time connect to other church members we don’t know as well 

And visitors who may log on to check out what an affirming church is like, 

In doing so we will arise more connected in more than one way.  

Not only do I hope we will arise as a more connected people, 

I hope we will arise as a people more connected to our environment.  

I hope we will arise as a more creation conscious people. 

I believe the interconnected environment is God’s sacred way of sustaining life 

“Just as Jesus appeared before his disciples in his resurrected form still bearing the scars of the crucifixion— this world is wounded, deeply, yet at the same time, there is resurrection and transformation. We are called to care for creation in its beauty and in its wounded-ness. The resurrection of Jesus offers hope of new life, for all of creation, and for generations to come.” (UCC Fierce Urgency of Now Environmental Sunday Worship Materials) 

Many of us are going for walks and soaking in spring like never before, 

Embracing the beauty of nature on a personal level.  

On a global scale, this pandemic has allowed the Earth to breathe again. 

Electricity usage has gone down. 

We are tapping less oil and driving less. 

Factories are blowing less chemicals into our waterways and air.  

As a result the air has literally cleared. 

You have probably seen the startling photo of New Delhi, India 

One side is a normal day in the fall of 2019; 

The clear side is in recent weeks. 

Clear air to breathe is not only better for the environment,  

But better for human health – during a pandemic or not. 

As a global or national society we have an opportunity now to choose how we reinvest in the future – 

Do we return to our environment destroying ways –  

excessive driving and travel, excessive meat eating,  

excessive plastics and consumer purchases of disposable goods-  

Or do we reinvest in a more sustainable, greener future? 

As we rebuild our economy, will we invest in jobs that destroy the life-giving earth? 

Or will we invest in green jobs that build a sustainable future for generations? 

Will we invest in wasteful products or quality products that can be reused for years? 

On a personal level we might take this time to look anew at our personal practices in terms of shopping, travel and activities to reassess what is truly needed and how we could cut back on driving, cut back on packaged foods, cut back on plastics, cut back on one-time use products – all of which contribute to the destruction of our natural resources. We might look to how we can re-use products and purchase quality items that won’t end up in a landfill in a short amount of time.  

On a global or national level, we might follow closely where stimulus money goes – and let our representatives know what we think. We might choose to invest our own money in sustainable businesses or encourage our workplaces to do so. For those with any sort of investment accounts – say for retirement – you can request your investments be placed in environmentally conscious companies.  

I invite you to take this time to look at a long view – 

Towards a future you may not see. 

For the changes we make as a society during this time will ripple through the generations – 

Long after all of us have left this earth. 

What do we want to witness when we are in heaven? 

We are a “resurrection people” that will arise different – transformed – from this quarantined time. 

I hope we arise into a physical building  

for I believe in the power of gathering in a shared sacred space. 

I hope we arise a more connected people  

for I believe technology can be a bridge for many to participate in our faith community,  

no matter who they are or where they are. 

I hope we arise more connected to our earth,  

for I believe God’s sacred earth must be treated sustainability, 

 so generations of humans have clean air to breathe and water to drink.  

We are a “resurrection people”, 

Called to believe in and act towards life amid death, 

Hope amid despair, 

Love beyond self. 

May we live boldly into our calling. Amen.  

I would like now to share a prayer I heard from a colleague in the Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska Conference. Let us listen together.  

Pastoral Prayer for this time: We Are Prophets of a Future Not Our Own (VIDEO from the Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska Conference: https://vimeo.com/405885820

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. 3 We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. 

Easter 2020

Sermon Preached by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar

Photos provided by Pat Sirois and Megan Gaul

In a time of emptiness and grief, the women at the tomb are amazed by an unexpected surprise. 

 We’ve heard this story before, so we tend to focus on the joy of the surprise – Christ is Risen! 

Yet our scriptures tell us that the women were afraid. 

They were not sure what to make of the empty tomb and the angel – 

They were a bit overwhelmed. 

We remember too that while the women went to the tomb, 

Most of the men were locked away in an upper room,  

Terrified that those who had killed Jesus would come for them next. 

The first Easter took place when the disciples were locked away and scared. 

While we are not literally locked away, perhaps this year, more than most, we can relate to the scared and shut away experience of the disciples on that first Easter. 

Some congregations decided to celebrate Easter when everyone could return to the sanctuary together. 

On some level I understand the desire to celebrate the return with great fanfare – 

And Easter at home feels quite different than Easter in the Lilly-filled, people-filled sanctuary.  

And yet, the Risen Christ did not first appear to a crowded sanctuary. 

He did not appear in the middle of the Roman marketplace. 

According to Matthew he appeared to the women at the tomb, 

According to John and the longer ending of Mark he appeared to Mary Magdalene alone, 

According to Luke he appeared first to two disciples on the road to Emmaus 

Whichever Gospel account you read, Jesus first appears to a very few bewildered and amazed disciples – 

Some alone, some in pairs, some in very small groups.  

So while I respect the decision of some churches to “hold off” on the celebration of Easter, 

I am glad we are celebrating Easter this day – 

It is a reminder and testament that Christ Arose during a confusing and scary time. 

Even when we are locked away at home, Christ is Risen. 

Even when fears of the pandemic swirl about, Christ is Risen. 

Even when miss what was, Christ is Risen. 

Cross outside First Church East Hartford

To proclaim that Christ is Risen even now is a proclamation of faith that God is at work in this world. 

Indeed, I’ve been amazed by all God is doing: 

Neighbors checking in on neighbors 

Masks being made from novice and expert sewers alike 

Food banks and soup kitchens continuing to work to make sure people have basic needs. 

Creativity and ingenuity on the part of my colleagues, teachers, and people of nearly every profession. 

The support, guidance and abundant resources from the SNE Conference of the UCC 

And each of you, showing up and tuning every week – staying connected.  

Perseverance and patience so many of you have had in learning a new technology.  

God is indeed doing some amazing things.

  

We have been sharing God-sightings over the last few weeks and there have been a lot. 

What has struck me about them is that many are simple, even small gestures of kindness – 

A smile from a stranger has taken on a deeper meaning. 

A call from a neighbor has lifted our spirits to a new degree. 

The gift of a roll of toilet paper has never been so valuable.  

The small has taken on miraculous dimensions.  

While small gestures have taken on deeper meaning, 

I have found that everyday objects have taken on a deeper sacredness. 

Pastor Kelly Jane’s Home Altar

A living room will never quite have the expansive and embracing sacredness of a large sanctuary,  

Yet this time of leading worship from home has sharpened my eyes to see the sacred in everyday objects. 

Ordinary vases are now symbols of Jesus’s nourishment in the desert. 

A tan table cloth and sand are symbols of the desert.  

I have watched as some of you have taken a look at your own spaces and rearranged with creativity 

And sought out ordinary objects to craft a space that feels a bit more sacred.  

Decorating the space each week has encouraged me to think anew about the sacred meaning and symbolize of everyday objects.  

As small gestures and everyday objects are viewed in a different light at this time, 

So too can we look upon the empty tomb or even this desert time in a new way.  

Throughout Lent we have talked about this time being like a desert time – 

Barren and open.  

As the empty tomb looks different depending on your perspective, 

The desert can look different depending on what we focus on.  

The empty tomb can signal loss, but we have come to see it as a sign of new life and the Risen Christ. 

The desert can symbolize desolation and wandering,  

but if we look closely we also see in the desert hardy life.  

We see cactus and creatures who have adapted to the harsh conditions – 

Life that sticks with it. 

Usually we have Easter Lillies to symbolize Christ’s resurrection. 

This year I have these little cacti – 

They are resilient and strong, able to survive without water for weeks 

And according to the internet novice gardeners like myself are less able to kill them. 

I think the cactus is a very fitting plant to symbolize Christ’s resurrection,  

For Christ persevered through desolation and desertion and horrible trials. 

Christ survived. Christ lives. Christ is Risen.  

This is the whole point of the Easter Story – the Christian faith – 

Christ not only perseveres, but blossoms. 

Christ brings life – 

In the desert places in our lives 

Christ brings life – 

Amid trials and suffering – when we are scared and locked away – 

Christ bring life – 

Beautiful, everlasting, hardy, life.

As the governor declares schools and non-essential businesses closed through most of May, 

We are not quite out of the desert. 

May we rejoice in the hardy life growing in this desert time. 

May we rejoice in a God who insists on surprising us with simple amazements. 

May we rejoice in the Risen Christ who promises us everlasting life and love. Amen.  

All Desert Pictures Compliments of Megan Gaul, the First Church Woodward House Resident, currently staying safe back home in Arizona with her family.

Virtual Easter Egg Hunt

We will miss not having an Easter Egg Hunt at church on Easter morning with you, so we decided to be a little creative and have a virtual Easter Egg Hunt.

That means our fun will be on the computer screen instead. 😊

When you are on Zoom for Easter Sunday Worship,

look for the answers to these questions. Happy Hunting!

1. How many people are wearing an Easter bonnet (hat)?

2. Who has Easter Eggs in their house?

3. How many Easter Eggs do you see altogether?

4. What are the different color eggs that you see?

5. How many children do you count?

6. Who has a duck?

7. What are two things you see in Rev. Kelly Jane’s picture?

8. How many people have plants?

9. Describe a picture, on the wall, from anyone’s background.

10. What are 3 things on the Easter Tree? (write them down after the Children’s Moment)

Spiritual Sacrifice in a Pandemic

Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on April 5, 2020

Pastor Kelly Jane’s At-Home Altar Space where she leads us in weekly worship

It is out of sacrifice that love grows in the desert.  

So you see that our altar space has evolved. 

At the beginning of Lent it was rather bare – vases filled with sand and brown cloth everywhere 

Each week we saw how Jesus can bring nourishment in our desert times – 

And vases were filed with water. 

Jesus’s nourishment not only gets us through the desert time, 

But allows love and life to grow.  

Today, the water of Jesus’s nourishment,  

has provided the nutrients for the palm branches to live. 

As we begin our Holy Week journey, we remember the great sacrifice Jesus would make – 

And how that sacrifice allowed love and life to grow in the desert.  

(add palms to one vase) 

On Palm Sunday the people offered – sacrificed – what they had to bring glory, laud and honor to Jesus. 

They offered what they had out of love for Jesus – and out of hope for the salvation he would bring. 

We have been asked to sacrifice much this Lent – far more than most years. 

We aren’t just sacrificing chocolate, we are sacrificing the joy and pleasures of going out and about – 

To the movies, to restaurants, to concerts, to worship, to parties, to game nights, to the barber shop.  

Some of us on the front lines are sacrificing our health by serving the basic needs of others.  

As I studied more deeply the Palm Sunday scriptures, 

I saw some spiritual tips for this unprecedented time of sacrifice in our collective lives.  

On the first Palm Sunday, people sacrificed what they had.  

They took the cloaks off their backs and broke branches from the trees nearby.  

We do the same this day with our homemade palms and offerings. 

Sacrificing what we have takes on new meaning in our current context. 

We have been called – or forced- to be more resourceful. 

One person remarked to me,  

“I need some spinach, but I’ll wait to go out. I’ll make do without.” 

Sacrificing what we have has forced us to become more creative and more innovative – 

Whether it’s in the kitchen, making palms from newspapers, or sewing homemade masks. 

As we make sacrifices during this time it is important to remember that God beckons us to look at what we already have and to give what we can. 

Jesus was pleased by the offerings of the people on that first Palm Sunday. 

He did not chide them for not bringing him a velvet carpet or neglecting the trumpets. 

He was honored by the humble and resourceful gifts they gave. 

As we make sacrifices during this time,  

May we give what we can – not more, not less 

And trust that our simple gifts are more than enough.  

When we give what we can – not so much that we deplete ourselves,  

But not so little that we hoard and deprive others – 

When we give what we can,  

We are in fact helping our community live in this desert time, 

Spreading resources so all have enough to live.  

(add palm branches to vase) 

Palms added to the vases as symbols of life growing from the nourishment and sacrifice of Jesus.

On the first Palm Sunday, people sacrificed in hope of salvation.  

They sang out “Hosanna!” which means “save us” – but in this context it is paired with  

“blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” – 

So the Palm Sunday Hosanna is both a plea for salvation and a belief salvation is coming. 

The people offered their sacrifice of coats and branches, 

in hope and trust that Jesus was bringing salvation.  

When we make sacrifices today we are doing so in hope and trust that salvation is coming. 

We stay home and wash our hands, 

because we believe it will save us from the worse of this pandemic.  

Nurses, drivers, and grocery store clerks are working, 

In hope of bringing healing to our world.  

Keeping an eye on the hope can help us when the sacrifice weighs heavy. 

Whether you are out on the front lines or  

At home in quarantine, 

Everyone is making sacrifices that are difficult emotionally, mentally and physically.  

When we make these sacrifices with our eyes on the hope of salvation, 

We can be strengthened in our efforts. 

We have learned this in the sacrifices we have made in other ways – 

Perhaps trudging through homework in order to graduate and get a good job; 

Perhaps by caring for a child or grandchild in order to love deeper; 

Perhaps by sweating through a hard workout in order to stay physically healthy.  

Now many of us are called to sacrifice as never before – 

May we do so in hope and in trust of the salvation Jesus has showed us. 

When we can keep our eyes on the hope of salvation, 

We are helping our community live in this desert time,  

By lifting the spirits and perseverance of all.  

(add palm branches to vase)  

Jesus shows us salvation in a way that was unexpected and still may make us uncomfortable. 

Jesus shows us salvation not through a mighty warrior king, 

But through a humble servant on a donkey. 

On the first Palm Sunday, people sacrificed for a humble king, a carpenter riding on a donkey.  

The humility of Jesus reminds us that our sacrifices today may not garner the great praise and fanfare we would like. While some in the crowd praised Jesus, we remember that many stood in the wings, asking who this man was, and plotting his death.  

Jesus did not need empty praise and worldly glory –  

after all, when Jesus was tempted in the desert, 

 he rejected the devil’s offer to rule the earthly kingdoms.  

Jesus trusted God and in doing so eventually became the eternal king of all.  

Given the chaos of this time,  

our sacrifices today may not be given the attention or publicity they deserve.  

This is part of the reason I am asking people to share God-sightings.  

My hope is that in sharing the ways God is working we will be lifted up in hope. 

Even so, the fear and uncertainty of this time will leave many of our sacrifices unnoticed. 

Too often check-out cashiers are subject to the overwhelmed anxiety of shoppers. 

Too often deliver people, nurses, and doctors are asked to work overtime amid supply shortages.  

Jesus’s humility shows us that our sacrifices are made not for our own glory,  

But to show the power of love and community – the power of God – during this time.  

Whatever sacrifices we are each called to make, 

May they be made humbly, for indeed all of us are sacrificing.  

When we give out of compassion and care, not out of pride or desire for a reward, 

Our sacrifices are met with the sacrifices of others, 

Together bringing healing, salvation, and life in this desert time. 

(add palms to vase) 

May we sacrifice what we have in humble praise of a humble king, 

For in doing so we can allow love and life to grow.  

Paper palms were made by church members this year.

When You Feel Like Crying


Pastoral Reflection 

by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar delivered on March 29, 2020

Jesus Wept. 

Read: John 11: 7- 44 

Even though he knows a miracle is to happen,  

even though he knows goodness is going to come,  

Jesus weeps. 

He doesn’t brush off the suffering and fix it right away, 

He pauses to be with us in the midst of our trials. 

In previous weeks I spoke about this time as a Desert Time – 

Void of normal comforts. 

A desert time of wandering towards the Promised Land of healing and wholeness. 

So we have this altar space with sand and desert colors. 

In previous weeks we spoke about ways God nourishes us in the desert – 

Through the water of grace and healing spit – each week filling a vase of water. 

This week our nourishment in the desert comes from the tears of Jesus.  

[pour water] 

When we are in a time of trial, a desert time before we have reached the Promised Land, 

Nourishment can come with tears.  

A good cry can provide the heart with a cleanse, a release of pain for a time. 

A good cry can help us acknowledge the difficulty of the time. 

Sometimes during trials we are told to “be strong” or “you’re so strong” – 

Yet, it is often at the very moment we don’t feel strong at all. 

A good cry is an acknowledgement that we don’t have it all together, that we are not in control, 

That we may not be as strong as others think or say we are. 

A good cry is, in essence, an act of submission to a powerful God – 

A good cry is a way of saying,  

“God, I don’t got this – please, help.” 

In this scripture we see a God who comes down from heaven, embodied in Jesus, and sits with us in our tears.  

While our hearts maybe breaking or scared or weak,  

Jesus is there to comfort us, to cry with us,  

and eventually show us the miraculous glory of God.  

So let us pause to share with Jesus our trials, our fears, our losses at this time.  

Prayer:

Jesus weep with me. I am upset about ______. Lord hold me and help me feel your presence. Amen.

Spirituality of Staying Put

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar

March 29, 2020

Read: John 11:1-6

Jesus stayed where he was for two days.  

The best thing, at that time, was to stay put. 

Eventually Jesus would go and be with Lazarus,  

but first,  

he stayed home. 

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.  

Miraculous Nourishment in the Desert

Sermon by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar

March 22, 2020

Scripture: John 9:1-12

Sermon Part 1: Spit 

As a pandemic sweeps across the globe, we certainly need some healing. 

The lectionary Gospel story this week is one of many Jesus healing stories. 

The source of healing however, is rather gross: 

Spit. Mud and Saliva.  

In the ancient Greco-Roman period spit and clay were actually popular in healing stories, 

But in our modern world we know that spit carries germs and illness. 

Thus we cover our mouths when we cough and may wear a mask if sick. 

Our human spit can carry germs that can make others sick.  

Yet, Jesus uses his spit to bring healing to the man born blind. 

Jesus is God incarnate, the Divine One among us – 

So in an odd way we could consider the spit of Jesus to be Divine Water.  

While spit is usually gross, Jesus is able to use it for good.  

God often takes what is gross or less valuable and uses it for good. 

God called a little shepherd boy to be King of Israel. 

God took the littlest brother Joseph, the one whose brothers all despised him, 

And used him to save the whole family.  

Jesus included prostitutes and tax collectors in his ministry. 

God often takes people or situations that look gross and transforms them into something great 

As we wander through this desert time, God will nourish us and bring healing – pulling goodness out of grossness.

As we seek healing during this time – 

Healing from coronavirus, healing from fear, healing from panic –  

We would do well to look at how God brings healing –  

Healing may come in unexpected and unconventional ways.  

Maybe we find healing in connecting with loved ones in more intentional ways, 

Even if those ways are virtual or on the phone. 

Maybe we find healing in new coping strategies,  

now that many of our “go-tos” are not available. 

Maybe we find healing in a new perspective or view of our lives. 

Let’s hear now what happens to the man born blind when he is no longer blind and certainly has a new perspective on his life after an unexpected healing.  

ScriptureJohn 9:13-34 

Sermon Part 2: How to Spit 

The Pharisees seem to have missed the miracle of the man receiving sight.  

They are so preoccupied by their fear, that they miss the bigger picture of healing. 

The Pharisees discount Jesus because he broke a holy rule to not work on the sabbath, 

And in doing so they seem to miss the point: 

Jesus has done a miraculous healing. 

When the blind man points out the obvious – uh, I can see, this guy Jesus must be from God – 

Well the Pharisees discount the man born blind too – 

They keep to their view that he is a sinner and kick him out. 

The Pharisees are so afraid that Jesus is going to take away their power or change their lives, 

That they latch on to small things and miss the big miracle. 

The Pharisees are not the only ones who act foolishly in fear. 

In fear people are hoarding toilet paper and Lysol wipes. 

In fear people are fighting in grocery stores, forcing police to stay on the scene. 

In fear people are pointing fingers and blaming nations and leaders  

and anyone not responding as they are.  

Fear keeps people looking selfishly, narrowing on their own interest 

And missing the bigger picture. 

During the desert time of this Coronavirus pandemic,  

It is easy to let fear run the race, 

Yet Jesus is nourishing us by asking us to look wider than fear and see the big picture.  

[Add Water to Vase] 

In this desert time I find myself forced to think big picture about essentials. 

What do I really need? Do I really need to take that trip out? 

Is it worth risking my life? Is it worth risking the life of someone I love? 

With so many activities wiped off the table,  

I need to be far more intentional about what I do and who I talk to. 

No one is expecting to see me in yoga on Monday morning – 

So if yoga is important to me, I got to prioritize it. 

This desert time is in fact the perfect time to step back and look at our lives. 

What is important? What is essential? 

Instead of getting caught in fear and nit-picking, 

We have an opportunity to reconsider our priorities.  

More than an opportunity, we are forced into making new decisions about what is important to us. 

I hope each of us will keep our focus wide and not get stuck in the fearful tunnel vision.  

While the Pharisees were stuck in fear, the man born blind was able to see the big picture.  

Let’s listen now to the conclusion of this miracle where the Jesus concludes his response to the question of “who sinned?” 

ScriptureJohn 9:35-41 

Sermon Part 3Why Spit 

In times of great suffering humans tends to look for where to place blame. 

Scapegoats are common and have detrimental impacts on minorities.  

Often we humans wonder, why are bad things happening?  

Who sinned that this would happen? Who is to blame for the suffering? 

At the very beginning of our scripture today, 

Jesus responds by proclaiming that the man born blind was not a result of sin, 

But that God’s glory may be revealed. 

It is not about “who sinned”, not about who to blame, 

But about what God is doing.

In this miracle story, Jesus refocuses the question. 

He redirects our focus: 

Away from the blame game  

And towards God’s glory. 

Instead of pointing blame, 

Jesus points to God’s goodness.  

In this desert time we can be tempted to get caught up looking at all the sand, 

And miss the nourishing water God is providing. 

[Add Water to Vase] 

May our eyes be open to God’s work around us; 

For God has a habit of doing good even when the world is spinning in chaos.  

May we look for God’s blessings in unexpected places; 

For God has a habit of using gross or undervalued people or situations for good.  

May our vision not be fearfully narrow, but hopefully wide; 

For God has a habit of working big miracles.  

Online Church Meeting Thursday Night

Faithful Congregation,

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.

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