Gardeners of a Diverse Creation

Sermon preached by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on June 7, 2020

A number of people have asked me this week, “What can I do? What can we do?” 

As peaceful protests continue to rage and a pandemic continues to lurk, 

We wonder how on earth we are to be.  

In this first chapter of the Bible we learn a lot about our first call as Beloved humans created by God, created in God’s own image.  

While the rest of creation is deemed good by God, 

Humanity alone is made in the Divine image. 

So then, what do we know about the Divine at this point in the Bible? 

As Rev. Brooks proclaims in his book, “Cathedral on Fire,” 

The very first verses of Genesis show us that in the beginning,  

God is a gardener – 

A gardener tending to creation, nurturing life in all its diversity.  

Then if we are made in the image of God, 

We too are called to be gardeners, nurturing life in all its diversity.  

In fact, in both verse 26 and 28 God explicitly calls humanity to care for creation. 

Made in the image of God, 

We are called to be gardeners, 

Tending to creation, nurturing life in all its diversity.  

On a literal level this means caring for our environment – 

Recycling, reducing our use of single-use products, avoiding plastics and fossil fuel use, 

Divesting our money from environmentally unsustainable companies,  

especially fossil fuel companies. 

However, being God’s gardeners tending creation, nurturing life in all its diversity, 

Involves a commitment to social diversity as well as ecological.  

In the 27th verse of the first chapter we hear, “Male and female, God created them.” 

This is not just the New Revised Standard Version or Common English Translation of the Bible being gender inclusive. The original Hebrew text also makes a point of including male and female. Distinct variations of humanity.  

We are not to read this as restricting humanity to two genders though. 

When we read God separating water from dry land, we understand that God created not just the oceans and the dry plains, but marshes and beaches and everything in between.  

So too we understand God created humanity in a rainbow of genders and sexualities, 

Just as God created birds, fish and animals in a variety of types – 

Forever evolving into greater diversity and intricate beauty. 

Our call to be God’s gardeners of this diverse creation includes nurture of both ecological diversity as well as social diversity.  

On an ecological level we can support local farmers, water the church’s community garden, plant a variety of plants or simply try different foods to support a rich array of plants in creation.  

Those gardeners among us know that nurturing ecological diversity in the garden means weeding or thinning out plants – excuse me if I don’t get this metaphor exactly right – but I know that some plants will take over a garden – like mint. Which is fine if all you want is mint. But, God’s creation is intentionally diverse. So sometimes we weed out the fast growing mint so that the tomatoes have space to breathe.  

When we think of social diversity we may look at how certain groups are over represented or given extra space to spread, while reducing the space available for others. For example, media has improved over the years, but wealthy whites still get the majority of the limelight. Likewise, politicians, those who make laws, are overwhelmingly white men.  

If we are to answer the first call upon humanity to be God’s gardeners of the diverse creation, we must examine how we nurture diversity in the environment and in our society.  

For example, nurturing the social diversity of God’s creation means proclaiming that Black Lives Matter and working for racial justice until black and brown people are respected and treated with the same dignity as white people in America. That they have the space and security to breathe.  

Nurturing the social diversity of God’s creation means celebrating Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Pride month, using the pronouns a person identifies with, not assuming families only look one way, and advocating for protections for transgender people disproportionately targeted for violence. 

There are many ways to nurture the diversity of God’s creation in humanity


But I caution us to not jump to generalizations such as, “just be nice to everyone.” 

Obviously be nice to people, but how we show compassion and solidarity is going to differ depending the history and background of the person we are trying to be kind to.  

A cis-gender man who looks male does not need legal protections to use the bathroom, he already has that basic right. However, a transgender man does need legal protections when in comes to bathrooms because transgender men are often targeted and harassed, even killed, for using “the wrong bathroom.” So advocating for legal protections around bathroom use is a concrete way to show love to transgender people and nurture the beautiful diversity of God’s creation.   

A white person can safely assume a sales clerk isn’t going to follow them around a store, whereas centuries of stereotyping often leaves a black person wondering if the sales clerk is trying to help or is following them around watching for shoplifting. A sales clerk who knows this history will monitor their actions so as not to inadvertently cause undo stress.  

To answer our first call as humans to be God’s gardeners, nurturing the diversity of creation towards greater life, we must be attentive to the history specific community have experienced and practice compassion and advocacy based on rectifying the injustices experienced.  


After humanity was created,  

“God blessed them and said, “be fruitful and multiply.” (V. 28)  

As Louise so eloquently spoke about, God’s creation is intended to last and continue on. 

Some people are “fruitful and multiply” by having children, 

Others care for children or teach others a particular skill. 

Some multiply love in the world through social justice or charity work. 

Some are fruitful in their generosity of resources, time, and gifts. 

To be human is to pass on and multiply the blessings we have received.  

If you grew some great tomatoes, share them. 

If you have some privilege, whether it is white privileged, heterosexual privilege or male privilege, work on ways to release some of the privilege so there is space for others to breathe. In the meantime, use your privilege to speak up when a marginalized group is put down. After all, it should not always fall to those marginalized to educate those with privilege.  


Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the conversation God has before creating humans. 

V.26 “ Then God said, “let us make humanity in our image…” 

Notice the plural pronouns for God.  

God could be talking to angels in heaven, some commentators claim. 

God could be trying to use a gender-neutral pronoun, 

Similar to how my sibling Florence uses they and them pronouns. 

Or God could be using the plural pronouns because God is triune- 

That is God is three persons in one: 

Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit 

The Trinity.  

In fact today is Trinity Sunday in the liturgical calendar.  

So if humans are created in the image of God- 

The triune God, 

Then we are created to be in this intimate community- 

United in diversity, 

As God is united as one in the diversity of Creator, Christ and Spirit.  

Indeed, if we are to be God’s gardeners, nurturing diversity in creation, 

Then we can only do so by being united in diversity ourselves, 

As God is united as three in one. 

This is why I found the images of protesters and police kneeling together and praying together so very moving. United in a repulsion over the murder of George Floyd; United in a desire for racial justice. This has not been the scene across the nation, and is not meant to imply our work is done, but the communities in which those with great power and privilege-the police- knelt down with protestors who are feeling so very fed up with racism – those communities have seen peace and courage-willing will see the most peace.  

Such peace and unity comes when those with privilege and power kneel down and allow space for those once marginalized to breathe. Let me emphasize this point, unity and peace is not what happens when the disenfranchised are quieted and cease protesting. That’s just oppression put back into place. Unity and peace is what happens when those with power kneel down and allow space for those once marginalized to breathe.  

Police kneeling with protesters is symbolic and merely a first step towards real, concrete action, but still, when I first heard of it, I immediately thought, ”communion.” That is what Jesus showed us how to do. Jesus, a man who bowed down to wash the feet of his disciples. Jesus, a man who died a shameful death of a criminal in order to be with the least of these.  

Jesus showed us over and over again that peace and God’s justice comes in the uniting in diversity.  Jesus gathered a diverse group of people together and regularly ate with them. 

This group did not always agree. 

This group did not come from the same social status, 

Nor did they all have the same access to wealth, 

Nor did they all have the same physical abilities. 

Jesus gathered a rag-tag bunch of people together and ate with them. 

The act of eating together was so important, 

That on the eve of his death he commanded his disciples to continue the practice in his memory. And so we do so this morning…

service continues with the holy sacrament of Communion…to read the entire service click here.

To view the slideshow of hymns and scriptures, click here.

Solid as a Rock?

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:2-10 

Sermon: “Solid as a Rock?” by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on May 10, 2020

Rocks and Minerals on Pastor’s home altar

There is a lot rocks can teach us about being grounded during this uncertain time. 

Could you raise your hand if you are familiar with the idea that Christ is our cornerstone? 

Jesus Christ is the capstone or cornerstone – the who connects us, guides us and grounds us. 

As a cornerstone or capstone in a building or bridge might do,  

Jesus is key to who we are as a people. 

As Christians we look to Jesus for guidance and comfort in our lives.  

Jesus strong like a rock – strong enough to overcome death and despair, resurrected on the 3rd day. 

Jesus sturdy and dependable like a rock – always present, always there to hear our cries. 

Indeed, during these uncertain times, leaning on Jesus, our rock, can ground us. 

Specifically, offering to Jesus our burdens and fears in prayer can be grounding and freeing.  

If Jesus can carry the cross and descend into hell and still come back to life, 

Then surely Jesus can hold whatever worry we carry.  

Talking to Jesus, our rock, can calm us and ground us in God’s eternal promise of love. 

In today’s scripture we read that Jesus is not the only one to be compared to a stone.  

If Jesus is the cornerstone, we are the stones that make up the walls of God’s temple. 

In v. 5:  

“You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple”  

We are living stones. 

Living stones intended to build up the spiritual temple. 

the realm of God; the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Living stones for the building a better world – 

A world where all have enough, 

A world where all know they are loved.  

Living stones for the building of life-giving community, 

Especially in this day of social distancing. 

To build up the spiritual temple we must be living stones – adaptable, moving. 

We have a role to play – an active role. 

Indeed taking action to help can ground us in community and meaning.  

We can be building blocks in a larger story – a better world for all.  

“You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple.” 

We often think about rocks as static, rigid, never changing – 

Yet rocks change like everything else. 

Rocks in house foundations can shift and crack over time. 

Ocean waves smooth rough rocks.  

Planet Earth is essentially a huge rock that has been transforming over millions of years. 

Plates shift to form mountains and valleys.  

Lava cools on the surface into rocks, 

Water and air and wind sand down stones into new forms. 

Sand over time with water and wind becomes sandstone. 

Limestone recrystallizes upon metamorphism into marble. 

Rocks that seem never-changing actual have and will change.  

Solid but not static; even rocks transform. 

We are called to be living stones –  

living means moving, continual transformation. 

Solid, but not static. 

During this pandemic time, striving to be solid like a rock – that is sold, but not static – 

Can ground us.  

When the world around us is spinning, 

It can be tempting to stick firmly to the familiar.  

When quarantine first started internet articles urged people to keep a familiar routine. 

Routines can certainly soothe and help – 

CJ can tell you I’m all for routines, especially my morning breakfast routine. 

While I’ve kept to some routines – I still have my morning devotional time with God, 

Other routines have changed – I switched to writing my sermon on Friday instead of Monday – as Monday felt too early in this rapidly changing world.  

I’ve found that this quarantine time is not helped by rigidity – 

This is a time that calls for some flexibility and grace. 

The stress of a pandemic can pop up at unexpected times or in unexpected things – 

Some days may just feel blah for no specific reason. 

To be grounded during this time may take a degree of flexibility – 

A willingness to let go and be transformed. 

Perhaps practices that once were grounding no longer are – or even possible – 

We are called to be living stones, finding strength anew. 

In my introductory study of rocks it seemed to me a number of changes originated in the context of extreme heat and pressure transforming minerals into new forms. 

Now is certainly a time of extreme heat – our society is under extreme pressure to transform quickly.  

Businesses, organizations and churches that survive this time will be those that adapt, 

That transform into something else in this new world.  

Personally, we have each needed to adapt in order to have strength in this time. 

Our spiritual practices may have adapted too.  

Jerry was telling me about a rock garden up in Maine.

It is a community rock garden filled with beautifully painted stones, 

Many with motivational words or images. 

The practice of this garden is that you bring a stone to add, 

And take a different stone when you leave.  

So too is it with our spiritual practices – 

Perhaps there is a practice we put down for now  

And pick up a new practice that fits for us in this time.  

In fact, research has shown that pursuing a new activity right now can give us energy and hope – a sense of moving forward, instead of being stuck. 

As such, CJ and I took up an online zumba class.  

We may find the spiritual strength in this time has more to do with our ability to transform – to pick up a new rock – than it does is remaining rigid.  

“You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple” v.5 

Strong, but not rigid. 

Like a skyscraper that is built to sway in the wind – for if it was too static it would break. 

So, may we adapt and bend as needed, that we might be as strong as a rock, leaning on the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Amen.  

Christ is With Us

Sermon by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar 

April 26, 2020

When two disciples are fleeing from the chaos and pain and fear of Jerusalem, 

Christ shows up. 

So too is Christ is with us in our grief, in our shock, in our fleeing from pain. 

In the cleansing comfort of tears, 

In the kind listening of a friend, 

In the new understanding gleamed, 

Christ is with us in our pain. 

When the two disciples are on the road Christ shows up even though they don’t realize it is him. 

So too is Christ with us when we don’t even realize it until after the fact. 

When a heartache somehow clears the way for a deeper love, 

When a lost opportunity leaves space for a better one, 

When deep growth and love emerges out of brokenness, 

Christ is with us when we look back and see he has been alongside – or carrying- us all the time. 

When the two disciples sit for a meal together,  

Practicing hospitality, blessing bread and giving thanks, 

They see that the stranger is indeed Christ. 

So too is Christ with us when we extend hospitality, break bread together, give thanks for what we have. 

When we offer what we have to help others, 

Be it time, toilet paper, money, masks or groceries.  

When we connect with one another  

Be it over zoom or telephone or email or FB or handwritten note 

When we give thanks and practice gratitude, 

Be it with a simple prayer or gratitude journal 

When we extend hospitality, connect and give thanks,  

We are bound to something greater, our hearts are filled,  

and we see that Christ is with us in the small great everyday connections. 

When the two disciples return to Jerusalem to tell the others the Good News, 

They learn they are not the only ones who have witnessed the Risen Christ. 

The other disciples quickly tell them,  

“The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon.” 

Now, you might be wondering – 

Wait, I thought it was the women who went to the tomb. 

You are right.  

All four gospels report that the women are the first to the empty tomb. 

Jesus appears to Mary and the women on that first Easter Sunday morning. 

Simon Peter sees the empty tomb after the women’s report –  

But the only Gospel account of Simon Peter encountering the Risen Christ takes place days after the first appearances.  

It occurs up in Galilee and includes other disciples too… 

So that doesn’t quite line up with today’s scripture in which the disciples say, 

On that first Easter Sunday, 

“Jesus appeared to Simon” 

However, there does appear to be a tradition that Jesus did appear to Simon Peter on that first Easter Sunday. In the letter to the Corinthians (1 Cort. 15:3-7) Paul states that Simon Peter (called Cepheus by Paul) does see the resurrected Christ – but Paul gives us no details on the encounter other than it came before Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples – which was the evening of the first Easter Sunday. The tradition that Jesus appeared to Simon Peter makes sense because Simon Peter became the leader of the early church.  

So, if it is true that Jesus appeared to Simon Peter on Easter Sunday – 

As the disciples report in today’s scripture and Paul later points to – 

Then the Resurrected Jesus was doing some serious traveling on that first Easter Sunday. 

First at the tomb and then with the women, 

then with Simon Peter, then with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, 

Then back in Jerusalem in the locked upper room where he shows his wounds to all but Thomas. 

Given the number of reports, 

It is possible the Risen Christ was in multiple locations at the same.  

After all, when the two disciples started their journey to Emmaus,  

They had not heard the account of Jesus appearing to Simon Peter – 

They had only heard of the women. 

This leads me to believe the appearance of Simon Peter was at the same time as Christ was walking with the two disciples on the road.  Perhaps Christ was in two places at once.  

In any case, these resurrection stories highlight that 

Christ’s presence is not limited by time or space – 

Christ is not limited by the time restraints us humans deal with.  

Sometimes people worry that their needs or concerns or joys are too small to  

“take up God’s time.” 

Sometimes people hold back on sharing their joys or concerns with God, 

Thinking they are not as important as others, 

Especially when others are suffering greatly. 

Yet we see in these resurrection stories that the Risen Christ is not bound by earthly rules of time or space…Christ is with us, beyond time, beyond space… 

Christ can hear our little prayers and big heartaches with full attention. 

Christ is eager to hear our prayers – 

Whether they are shared before a meal, 

In the shower, 

Or spoken only in our minds. 

The Resurrection itself shows us that Christ is always with us –  nothing can separate us from Christ – 

Not death, nor life, nor heights, nor depths,  

Nor a cross, nor a government, nor a virus, 

Nor denial, nor fear, nor guilt,  

nor anything else in all creation 

Can separate us from Christ. 

Christ is always with us, always available to listen and sit with us through whatever we are going through 

So let us take comfort, share with Jesus all the ups and downs, all the feelings, big and small. 

Christ will walk with us and help us see. Amen. 

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:

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.  


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.