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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

Saved

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

The first vase of water in our Lenten desert journey.

These days many of us are praying to be saved from the Coronavirus.  

Stores are selling out of hand sanitizer as people try to save themselves from infection. 

We greet one another with a nod or I saw a video of people in Japan shaking “feet”. 

Cases are multiplying rapidly across the United States and even here in Connecticut. 

Households are stocking up on basic goods in the event of a quarantine,  

Which are happening in more and more areas. 

The fear is fed by great uncertainty and a degree of powerlessness. 

We can, and should, wash our hands more thoroughly  

We can limit contact with others. 

And yet, the rapid spread across the world leads me to wonder  

if most of us will be infected and our bodies forced to fight it off. 

Such prospects strike fear into many,  

especially those whose health is not strong at the moment.  

We can attempt to find the silver lining or look on the bright side – 

The great majority of those infected do indeed fight it off and are stronger for it.  

And yet, who is to say we – or someone we love – will not be able to fight it off? 

Such uncertainty and powerlessness spark panic at worse and anxious caution at best.  

The Coronavirus is not the first thing in our lives which invokes uncertainty, powerlessness, and fear.  

Will I get a job and be saved from poverty or homelessness? 

Will I find a partner or friends and be saved from loneliness? 

Will I have children? Will I have grandchildren? 

Will I have enough resources to retire? 

Will I be cared for when I am unable to do so on my own? 

Where will I go after I die? 

With each of these scenarios, as with so many illnesses,  

We have limited control.  

Our actions can, perhaps, take us part of the way. 

The rest of the way is left up to factors beyond our control. 

At such times we often turn to prayer. 

We turn to one more powerful, one we believe or hope is in control. 

A popular prayer at such times involves a bargain with God – 

I’ll go to church every Sunday if you save me from the Coronavirus. 

I’ll give all my savings away to charity if you get me that job. 

I’ll be really good if you give me eternal life.  

The trouble with bargaining is that God isn’t really that into it. 

Our God is not transactional.  

And it is a good thing God is not interested in a bargain, for  

If God was transactional, we would never be able to pay the price. 

God’s gifts – wholeness, love, eternal life – they are simply too great for us to earn through volunteer hours or acts of kindness or money in the offering plate. 

It’s like being at Chuck E Cheeses or some arcade – 

You know, where you play games and win tickets or points to exchange for prizes at the end.  

As a kid, I would work so hard at those games, trying to win as many tickets as possible.  

But, whenever I got to the prize counter, I would almost always want a prize that was way more tickets than I had earned.  

God’s gifts are like the HUGE teddy bear worth 100,000 tickets at the prize counter. 

All our hard work can get us maybe 74 tickets which basically buys us the cheap temporary tattoos and a finger trap.  

We can’t earn enough tickets to “buy” God’s love or God’s grace or Eternal Life. 

Moreover, there is a huge ongoing debate about how to win tickets anyway. 

Some traditions say you got to pray this way, dress like that, and avoid every vice there is in order to win God’s approval.  

Some say you can’t eat this and others say you should. 

Some say dancing is a sin and others, thankfully, say dancing is a holy endeavor.  

We don’t even agree on how to win tickets to God’s love and eternal life.  

Back in the Middle Ages you could pay money to get your deceased loved one closer to heaven. While that practice of indulgences is no longer a thing, trying to use money to win God’s favor is still a spiritual trap for those with wealth.  

In fact, this idea of winning God’s gifts through proper prayer, proper actions, and the like has a long history. 

So if you find yourself bargaining with God when you are afraid, you have good company. 

However, the father of the Protestant Reformation, the one who ignited a whole new way of thinking that eventually lead to our very own United Church of Christ, spoke of a God that wasn’t into bargaining: a God of grace.  

In the early 1500s Martin Luther read and preached on today’s scripture from Romans (Romans 4:1-5, 13-17)

What he saw clearly was that Abraham was made righteous, good with God,  

Not by his actions –  

not by circumcision, nor by leaving his home, nor by following God’s law  

Abraham was made righteous and saved by God, based on his faith. 

Saved, Justified by Faith alone, not works. 

Martin Luther looked deeply into scripture and saw a God that did not give the gift of eternal life, health, wholeness, or anything else on the basis of works, but on the basis of faith.  

Justified by Faith alone, not works.  

Is the statement that would define the Protestant Reformation 

This truth is proclaimed loudly, although in different words, in the popularized verse of John 3:16 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son  

that all who believe in him will not perish,  

but have eternal life.  

The great gifts of God – eternal life, love, wholeness – are given not based on the number of works or tickets we have acquired, but on the basis of faith. 

This is not to say our actions do not have consequences.  

Please, do not go coughing your germs on everyone  

and proclaim that God will save us if we just believe.  

To believe in Jesus Christ is not simply a nice thought that will ward off evil. 

Belief in Jesus is not some magic wand. 

However, when we truly believe in Jesus, our actions will necessarily change. 

To believe in Jesus is to believe that God would come and dwell with us in our human suffering. 

To believe in Jesus is to believe in a Divinity that is not lightyears away, but among us and with us. 

So when we truly believe in Jesus, 

We trust that God is with us and we are strengthened to face the tumult of the world, 

For we have a constant companion and friend who is right there with us.  

To believe in Jesus saves us from isolation and separation. 

To believe in Jesus is to believe that God loves the world enough to be present with us. 

To believe in Jesus is to believe in a Divine love that transcend every barrier – 

Every social barrier, every emotional barrier. 

So when we truly believe in Jesus,  

We are less afraid of reaching out to others,  

Even those across barriers. 

To believe in Jesus saves our world from discord and hate.  

To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe God breaks through not only social barriers,  

but even the barrier of death. 

To believe in Jesus is to trust that God is with us, loving us, through this life, through death, for all time.  

To believe in Jesus saves us from perishing –  Saves us from destruction and death. 

To believe in Jesus is to trust that even when our current bodies no longer breath, 

God breathes eternal life and love into our souls. 

We are saved, here and now and forevermore.  

On one hand it sounds simple – 

Just believe you will be saved! Just believe and you win the huge teddy bear! 

And yet, faith is more difficult to grasp. 

In Mark 9 the father of a boy with an unclean spirit cries out to Jesus,  

“I believe, Lord help my unbelief!” 

Jesus does heal the boy – even with his father’s paradoxical faith.  

Our unbelief – or even simply our shaken faith – can be strengthen with the spiritual practices that have built up disciples for centuries

  • Reading or remembering stories of faithful people in scripture, devotionals, or in conversation with friends 
  • Practicing gratitude and generosity often open our eyes to the work of the Divine 
  • Taking time to pray – sitting or walking, singing or speaking – time to talk with God, even if you are unsure God is listening 

In AA they say all you need to come to a meeting is the desire to be sober.  

I believe the same is true for God – 

We need not be unwavering in our belief in Jesus – I know few who truly are -Rather, we are asked to simply have the desire to believe in Jesus.  

Perhaps that desire for faith in God’s love is the first step, 

 Or maybe our God is gracious enough that the simple desire to believe in Jesus is enough. 

While fear, uncertainty and powerlessness whirl around us, 

May we strengthen our belief in Jesus,  

trusting in God’s presence and God’s love through it all, 

Trusting that we will be saved one way or another,  

For God is indeed with us. 

While we should still wash our hands, let us not be afraid, but rather turn to God in prayer. Amen.  

Into the Desert…Lent Begins

Ash Wednesday Worship 2020

By Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar

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

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

Invitation to Confession 

Tonight we come to be reconciled with God.  

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

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

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent,  

Traditionally a season of repentance, 

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

Most churches will give disciples ashes  

– dirt to symbolize our humanity. 

We recite the words,  

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

The ashes symbolize our mortality –  

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

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

Imperfect, fallible, mortal humans. 

There is a separation between God and humanity. 

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

and humanity is on the other. [Point] 

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

Perhaps fear keeps us from acting in love. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever separates us from our spirituality, 

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

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

made of dust and fallible.  

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

Without naming our failings or struggles,  

we might begin to think of ourselves as God, 

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

Such false divinity sets us up for increased suffering. 

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

What struggles do we wrestle with? 

What vices break connection and distance us from love? 

On your paper you may share your confession with God. 

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

However you want to express your sin, 

Your struggles,  

what it is that is keeping you from the Divine, 

What is breaking connection  

and distancing you from love.  

After you have finished writing,  

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

Add your sin to the sins of others –  

for we are not alone in our struggles. 

You may tear up your sin,  

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

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

Time for Private Confession  

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

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

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

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

Like people throughout time,  

we have fallen short of what we could be. 

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

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

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

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

Words of Assurance 

Read 2 Corinthians 5:20b-21 

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

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

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

When Jesus died on the cross,  

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

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

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

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

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

We are no longer separate.  

This is traditional atonement theology,  

upheld by many Christian traditions. 

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

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

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

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

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

For on the cross, Jesus, God incarnate,  

experienced the worst of humanity. 

He suffered betrayal, desertion, physical agony.  

Whatever suffering we are going through;  

we can trust that Jesus can understand. 

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

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

But God is there beside us,  

bringing us healing and comfort.  

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

Eating with strangers, practicing hospitality,  

Living simply and giving generosity, compassion, service, 

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

These acts of love connect us to God –  

the bridge across the divide of sin. 

Jesus crosses over our sin and connects us to God – 

Jesus bridges the divide by being the ultimate sacrifice. 

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

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

We enter these 40 days of Lent  

as a time to journey with Jesus across the bridge, 

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

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

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

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

So close that not even death can separate us. 

So may we go into this night,  

Forgiven and made righteous in God.  

May we walk into Lent,  

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

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

Benediction 

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

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