Jesus Wept. So Can We.

Hi Friends,

It is hard to believe, but this is week three of our virtual worship.  I actually moved my livestream home this week.  I am still preaching through the lectionary Lenten texts.  This morning was the story of the resurrection of Lazarus.  I think it is fitting right now that we are reading stories of miraculous healing and resurrection – we all need the reminder and reassurance that we will be redeemed.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 29, 2020

John 11:1-45

Jesus Wept.  So Can We.

This story has always perplexed me.  In fact, I think every time I have preached it up until this point, I have given a disclosure that, as both a Christian and as a pastor, I really wrestle with the whole bodily resurrection thing.  There are elements to this story that – now more than ever – do not necessarily make sense on a scientific or physical level.

I mean, the truth is, I think we are all praying for a Lazarus type of miracle right now.  And yet, the news just seems to be getting worse and scarier as the days go on and it is becoming harder and harder to hold fast to Jesus’ reassurance to Martha in this story that she needs to believe.

And yet, for some reason, this story is bringing me an odd sense of comfort right now – and I think there are two reasons for this.

Jesus’ words to Martha are ones I have spoken at every funeral, memorial or burial service I have ever presided over.

I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

As strange as it sounds, these words bring me comfort right now.  First of all, because I have said them so many times, they are familiar to me.  And currently, we are living in a world that is anything but familiar.  We are all trying to navigate this time and space of the unfamiliar and I think little pieces of normalcy are a good thing.  In fact, I would encourage you all to seek out little pieces of normal every single day, even if you find it in the smallest things.  These are the things that will help ground us and steady us as we seek to find our new normal.

Truth be told, I think a lot of these pieces can be found in our faith – through scripture, prayer and music.

The second reason Jesus’ words are bringing me comfort right now is because when I say them after someone has died, I do so as a reminder to their loved ones that their story is not over yet; that our faith is not grounded in death, but in resurrection.  And so, reading them in the midst of the chaos we are living in today reminds me of this same promise – that our story is not over yet.

That resurrection is coming.

Our faith is not defined death, but by new life; not by darkness, but by light; not by our brokenness, but by God’s ability to make us whole again.

So – let’s talk about this morning’s scripture.  It comes from the Gospel of John, which, to some extent, is a little bit of a continuation of last week’s reading, the healing of the blind man.  The healing of the blind man can be found in the ninth chapter John and this morning’s reading, the rising of Lazarus is just two chapters later, in John 11.  In between these two stories, Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd and then is rejected by the Jews.

To some extent, not much time passes between Jesus’ miraculous healing of the blind man and his even more miraculous (and almost incomprehensible) raising of Lazarus.  And to me, this sort of reinforces the point that Jesus is all in right now.  He is not holding anything back – he is fully revealing the Glory of God and the light that shines in this world, even if the world is pushing back.

Jesus knows how this story is going to end – he foretells his death and resurrection over and over and over again.  And so there is a sense of urgency to what he is trying to do and what – and who – he is trying to reveal.

Our story begins in the village of Bethany where three siblings – Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus – live.  Lazarus is ill, so Mary and Martha – who had encountered Jesus previously in the Gospel, send Jesus a message to let Jesus know that Lazarus, a man Jesus knows and loves, is sick.  Jesus does not travel to see Lazarus right away; and by the time he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has already been dead for four days.

Mary and Martha are visibly – and justifiably – upset by the passing of their brother.  They are weeping and, when Jesus sees them weeping, he begins to weep, as well.  Then Jesus goes to the tomb; he asks to have the stone removed and then calls for Lazarus to come out.

And Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

Let’s back up for a moment.

When Jesus approaches the village of Bethany, Mary stays at home and Martha goes to greet him.  Martha says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus responds to Martha and says, “Your brother will rise again.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

There is not a doubt in Jesus’ mind how this story is going to end.  In the same way that he keeps foretelling his own death and resurrection, he knows that this is not the end of Lazarus’ story.  He knows that Lazarus is going to be resurrected to new life; he is confident that when he calls for Lazarus to come out of the tomb that he will, in fact, walk out on his own.

And yet, here is the part that is really resonating with me right now.

When Mary arrives and, like her sister, says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She is weeping while she says this to him – and so are the Jews who had been consoling her in her house and then followed her to meet Jesus.

And rightfully so, right?  Their friend – Mary and Martha’s brother – a person they all love very much – has died.  If ever there is a time to weep, this is it.

But here is the part that speaks to us today – when Jesus sees their pain and sadness and mourning and sorry, he, too, begins to weep.

Hear these words from the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35:

Jesus began to weep.

Jesus – a man who knows and has seen miraculously healing take place, who, not long before this moment healed a blind man with the simple substance of dirt and saliva – began to weep.

Jesus – the Good Shepherd – began to weep.

Jesus – the Word, the beginning, life – the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness – began to weep.

Jesus – the light of the world – began to weep.

Jesus – who knew how this story was going to end, who knew that Lazarus was going to walk out of the tomb resurrected to new life – began to weep.

Jesus – who believes in the hope of resurrection – began to weep.

He weeps over the sadness of this moment – over the brokenness of the world.

I love this passage because we see Jesus’ humanity walking parallel with his faith.  His weeping is not a failure of his own belief or a sign of his weakness, but a testament to his humanness.

It is important for us to remember, now more than ever, that our own weeping is not a failure of our belief or a sign of our weakness, but a testament to our humanness.

We are getting ready to enter week three of our social-distance-essential-only-sheltered-quarantining.  It is strange to think that, when this started three weeks ago, I not only heeded the recommendation of the Southern New England Conference to suspend our in-person worship, programs and activities for two weeks, but I cautiously extended the time frame an extra week to include this Sunday.  At the time several of my colleagues were taking things one week at a time, some of them even chose to meet in person that first Sunday, while taking CDC-recommended precautions for social distancing.

My how things have changed.

As strange as this sounds, I think we are all starting to settle into a really bizarre new normal.  And I think there is some good that comes with this.  For example, we used grocery pickup for the first time this week and it made me feel better about the whole food supply chain and our access to food and other essentials during this time.

(It also made me wish I had not stocked up on so many snacks ahead of time because now there is just a lot of junk food in my house that I am trying to resist, but that is another point for another day.)

But I also think that there is a new wave a secondary grief that has come – and is still coming – with this new normal.  We are not only mourning the loss of the world as we knew it, but also the things we were looking forward to and our expectations for what our lives might look like in the coming weeks and months.

And I am talking about the little things as much as I am talking about the big things.  Of course there are big and serious concerns about everyone’s health, safety, job security and finances right now, but I also think people are just really bummed that they have had to change their plans.  Vacations have been canceled, events have been postponed and people are just missing hanging out with one another.  And while we are all doing the best we can to connect in other ways and make the most out of it, it is hard not to grieves the layers of loss that comes with this.

It is okay to weep.

After all, knowing how the story was going to end, Jesus wept.

It is okay for us to weep now, too.  To grieve.  To give ourselves a moment where we fall apart and have a little pity party.  To feel sad about things we are missing out on or expectations that we have had to change, even though we know there are a lot of other bigger problems we should probably be worrying about.

Jesus wept – it is okay if we weep now, too.

We are human, after all.  And even though we believe in resurrection – we believe that light will shine, that light is shining – we believe that we will get through this and that we have not been abandoned – we, like Jesus, are facing our human brokenness in a real and vulnerable and devastating way right now.

It is okay for us to weep.

It does not make us less faithful, it does not mean that we have given up.

It just means that we are human.  And that we are going through something that is hard right now.

But remember Jesus’ promise throughout all of this.

I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Resurrection will come.  Light will shine.  One day we will walk out of our home likes Lazarus came out of the tomb and shed the bands of this social-distance-essential-only-sheltered-quarantining and we will all rejoice together when that happens.

And we can be confident that this will happen and that God has not abandoned us and still be sad right now.  Jesus wept – it is okay for us to weep now, too.

Friends, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself during this season of life that we are in.  It is okay to be human – to acknowledge your vulnerability and your emotions and your brokenness.  To give yourself a moment to fall apart.  To know that your grief – whether it be over something big or small – is real and validated.

And then let God meet you in that moment.

And remind you of the hope of resurrection.  And of the light that is shining in the midst of this darkness.

And through our grief and our sadness, be like Martha, say through our grief and our sadness, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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There Is Still Light

Hi friends,

It is hard to believe that only a week has passed since our first virtual worship service.  It feels like a lifetime has gone by, with information and and situations changing so quickly.  We have extended our suspension of in-person worship, activities and programs through Sunday, April 5th (per Governor Baker’s orders) and will reassess and likely adjust as that date gets closer.

We are working to get everything online at the church.  If you are interested in supporting us financially while our in-person worship in suspended and we aren’t collected offerings in worship, you can do so here.

Here is this morning’s sermon – I hope it brings you peace and hope. <3

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 22, 2020

John 9:1-41

There Is Still Light

***

OPENING PRAYER

Holy and most gracious God, we know that, even in the midst of the chaos of our world today that you are still with us.  That you hear our cries.  That you are holding us tightly in your embrace.  That you are giving us strength, wisdom and peace.  Be with us today as we gather, though it may look different than we originally thought it would. Unite us, near and far.  Fill us with hope in your promise – your promise that we are not alone, that that resurrection is real and that your love always wins. Amen.

***

SCRIPTURE
John 9:1-41

A Man Born Blind Receives Sight

9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4Wemust work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ 9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight19and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ 28Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

RESPONSE TO SCRIPTURE
This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God!

 SERMON

On Thursday night, Bruce asked me how I was doing and I told him I feel like I go back and forth between being completely calm about the whole situation and being completely hysterical.

I mean, ideally I would find a place in the middle where I could settle for a little bit, but I just do not really think that is my personality.

The truth is, I think, like so many of you, my emotions are all over the place.  I have been using a variety of different coping mechanisms to get me through this time, including sarcasm, which became apparent to me when I was reading this week’s scripture about Jesus healing the blind man with mud and thought to myself, “Well, I wonder if they have tried that yet.”

The strange part about writing a sermon in the middle of a global pandemic is that all of my usual commentaries and other research materials seem so irrelevant right now.  I read everyone’s thoughts on the scripture I am preaching on and there is nothing written about how it relates to social distancing or remote working and schooling or the proper way to wash your hands.  There is nothing in these reflections about how to deal with the fear that comes with the virus, itself, and also the financial ramifications, the chain of supply and other medical issues that cannot be dealt with right now.

No one talks about how to proclaim the Gospel when we cannot even be around other people to do it.

One of the commentaries I use a lot is called Feasting on the Word.  In the world of biblical commentaries, it is relatively “young”.  I think they began releasing it in 2008.  It is based on the lectionary; it offers four different perspectives on each of the four verses every week.  It was explained to me at one point that one of the motivating factors behind its publishing was the fact that preachers and authors and teachers really needed a commentary that was published in a post-911 world; that the world changed so much on September 11th and there was a real need for resources that reflected the world in that moment and what people were going through then and not prior to it.

I think that is why I now find myself struggling with the resources that I have.  The world is changing – profoundly – right now.  We are living through a pivotal moment, not just in our country’s history, but in our world’s history, as well.  And that is scary, because we do not know the trajectory of this or even how long until we mitigate this situation and can begin to put the pieces back together.

And so, fear aside, it is just strange to be living life right now.  I find myself watching old television shows and wondering why everyone is just hanging out together and going to stores like that is an okay thing to do.

History is being written right now – and relevance is a strange thing.

But do you know what is still relevant?  The Gospel.  I read these words of scripture and I think to myself, wow, these words have stood the test of time.  They have remained steadfast through every pivotal and transformational moment in history.  They have been through wars, plagues, upheavals, schisms, recessions, crucifixions and resurrections.  These stories and their lessons and the light that shines within them have this incredible ability to speak to whatever we are going through.  Including this.

Including this.

This morning’s reading comes from the Gospel according to John.  It is the story of Jesus healing the blind man; it is a powerful message of divine and unexplainable healing that I think we all need to hear right now.

Jesus is walking with his disciples; they had just left the temple where he had been teaching.  The part I find fascinating about this story is its location in the Gospel, itself.  In the prior chapter, chapter 8, Jesus is teaching in the temple near the Mount of Olives.  One of the things he teaches is that he is the light of the world.  He says in chapter 8, verse 12, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

And so it is one thing to say that, right?  For Jesus to proclaim this truth that he is the light of the world and that everyone who follows him will never walk in darkness but have light.

But now Jesus is showing people what this means.

Jesus is showing people just how bright this light is.

Jesus is showing people just intensely this light is going to transform their lives and change the world.

As Jesus is walking with his disciples, they encounter a man who is blind – he was, in fact, born blind.  The disciples, assuming this man’s blindness was some sort of punishment for something, ask Jesus if the man sinned or his parents did.  Jesus responds by saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

In other words, this is not about this man or this blindness, but about God’s power to heal.

Now, let me be clear – I am NOT saying that all of this is happening in our world today so that God’s works might be revealed.  I am a firm believer that we live in an imperfect world and things happen that are out of our control and very often these things are devastating and fully reveal the depths of our brokenness.  And that is where we are today.

But I also believe that God’s works can be revealed in the midst of this brokenness.  If you think about it, they already are.  They are being revealed in the people who are working on the frontlines – who are bravely leaving their homes when the rest of us are being told to stay – so that we have access to things like healthcare, food and other essentials.  They are being revealed when the most vulnerable are being cared for in creative, yet still life-giving ways.  They are being revealed when we, as the church, find ways to come together, even though we are apart, and lean into one another – and our faith – during these challenging times.

Despite the uncertainty and the anxiety and the fear we all feel right now, I think we can still agree that God is with us and that we are not alone and that there is a light that is shining in the midst of this darkness.

And that light comes from Christ.

After Jesus says he is the light of the world, he spits on the ground and makes mud with his saliva – and then spreads that mud on the man’s eyes (of course my first instinct is, “Don’t touch his face!” but, of course, they were not in the middle of a Covid-19 outbreak).  Jesus then instructs the man to go and wash the mud off in the pool of Siloam.  When the man returns, he can see.

Now, there is a lot going on in this story, crucial points that I think set the stage for what is going to happen later on in the Gospel.  You have Jesus healing on the Sabbath, the Jews not believing that the man had been born blind, but now could see, the formerly blind man being questioned and then driven out of the temple and, finally, the Pharisees confronting Jesus.  Each and every one of these points would make a fascinating sermon.  But today I want to focus on the healing, itself.

Because I think that is a message we all need to hear.

We need to hear a message of healing.

We need to believe that healing is possible.

Jesus not only gives this man his sight, but he also, quite literally, puts light in his life.  Jesus says to the man and to his disciples, “I am the light of the world” and then he shows them all what this means.  He takes someone’s world that is physically and tangibly dark and then shines light into it.

And he promises that he will continue to do the same for all who believe in him.

Which includes us today.

Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Friends, remember that we are resurrection people.  We are living on this side of the resurrection; we know that this story does not end with darkness and death, but with light and resurrection.  And so while we know that Jesus is not physically with us right now, we also know that, in fact, Jesus is here in this world.

And that he is the light.

And that his light is shining in this darkness.  His light is brighter than the virus, itself, it is brighter than the uncertainty our world is facing right now and it is brighter than the fear and anxiety we are all feeling.

Imagine for a moment walking through life and not being able to see anything and then suddenly, in an instant, witnessing the world in bright, vivid and three-dimensional color.  Imagine the grace you would feel in that moment – the awe, the hope.  Imagine the power you would be overwhelmed by.

And then remember that that power is still very much at work in our world today, even though we are living through scary and unprecedented times.  Remember that the light of Jesus is still shining brightly, even though we are walking through a dark moment.  Remember that healing from all of this might not be found in mud, but that it can and it will be found.  We do not know when or how, but remember that this story – this story of Jesus miraculously healing a blind man – has been recalled and shared and read for over 2,000 years.  For centuries upon centuries, this story – this story of healing – has walked people through their darkest moments, shining light and giving them hope that healing will come.

In the moments when you feel weary – remember this story of healing.  In the moments when you feel strong – remember this story of healing.  In the moments when feel overwhelmed by what is happening, put down your phone and then remember this story of healing.

In this pivotal moment in our history, we need to hold onto this story – this story that has stood the test of time, this story that has declared hope in healing and this story that shows in bright, vivid and three-dimensional color just how brilliant and powerful Jesus’ light is.

And friends, the world needs to see this light right now.  The world needs to believe in this light.  The world need to trust that this light will never be extinguished.

And that healing will happen.

I sent out a pastoral note on Thursday afternoon letting the congregation know that we are heeding the orders of Governor Baker and have extended our suspension of in-person worship, programs and activities through Sunday, April 5th, recognizing that the CDC has made longer recommendations that we will re-asses and likely adjust as this date approaches.  In this note, I reminded everyone that this is a marathon and not a sprint.  We do not have to have all of the answers right away and it is okay if we adjust our plan as we go along.

Today I am going to use that same metaphor, but in a different way.  This is a marathon – it will be long, arduous and taxing.  But I want you to remember two things:  1. We are not running in the darkness of the night – there is a light that is shining that is illuminating our journey, a light that can never be extinguished.  2. Remember that every day that goes by, we are one day closer to be on the other side of this.  I do not know how long it will take or what it will look like when we get there.  But I do know what thing for certain – that light will still be shining when we get there.

Two more things:

First of all, this is my weekly reminder to take care of yourself – physically, of course, but also mentally and emotionally.  Step away from the news if you have to – reach out to a friend or family member if you are starting to feel isolated.  Find whatever pieces of “normal” you can find right now.  This will be your light in the days and weeks to comes.

Second of all, as resurrection people, we tend to focus on the good news in the bible – stories of healing, hope, light and love. The bible is full of stories, prophecies and poetry where people, just like us, walk through dark and scary moments in their lives, feeling the devastations of human brokenness and crying out desperately to God.  And while I think sometimes, as Christians, we think we are not supposed to grieve or ask questions because it means that we are somehow not faithful enough, the truth is, we do not have to choose between our very real and human emotions and responses to tragedies and our faith.  To grieve and question where God is in all of this is not a failure of our faith, but a testament to it.

I would encourage you to lean into scripture during this time.  It many ways that we could never have fathomed, the hard scriptures speak clearly to what we are going through right now.

And they have stood the test of time.

They have remained steadfast.

And they do not change the truth and the grace and the hope that Christ’s light is shining through it all.

Take care of yourselves this week.  I love you all.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Hope In God’s Promise

In these times of social distancing, I am grateful for the ability to connect with people through online presence.  While it does not replace in-person community (and I know there are those who do not have access that we still need to call!) it was cool to “gather” with my people this morning and to feel like we were still together, in a way.

Here is my sermon. We did a livestream from our closed Facebook group so we were able to share prayer requests.  For privacy sake, I edited that part out!

Love you all – stay safe.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 15, 2020

John 4:5-42

Hope In God’s Promise

I have really enjoyed, over the past year-and-a-half, wandering away from the lectionary and participating in sermon series – whether they were scripture-based (where we looked at a big block of scripture linearly) or thematic (where we picked a theme and then used various scriptures to touch on the different topics within that theme).  It really has allowed me to elevate my preaching in such a way that ties it together from week to week.  With a few exceptions here and there, really this is the first time in my nine years here that I have been able to create this much continuity in worship.  It does not necessarily feel like we are having individual worship services in a vacuum every week, but that there is a continuum.  We are building on something every week, using lessons from prior scriptures and sermons to support and enhance what we are thinking about that week.

A few weeks ago, I was starting to get nervous about planning for my maternity leave and what that would mean for worship.

(Little did I know that would be the least of my problems.)

From a worship planning perspective, it is certainly much easier to preach from the lectionary – there are countless resources available that contain notes on the scriptures, liturgy (like calls to worship, prayers of confession, etc.), children sermon ideas and hymn suggestions.  Putting together a cohesive worship service is – dare I say it? – much easier when I am preaching from the lectionary, as opposed to preaching through the lectionary and have to find all of that stuff in different places (or, in a lot of cases, create it myself) and then put it together.

Full disclosure, I opted for sanity and decided to work smarter, not harder.  I decided that, during this time of transition in my life, it made sense to step back into the lectionary so that worship was still strong and cohesive, but it would be manageable for me, amidst the rest of the craziness happening

Again – of course, I did not realize, at the time, just how much craziness there would be.)

I also assumed it would make for a smoother transition for someone coming in to cover my maternity leave.

So three weeks ago – on Transfiguration Sunday, our big Mardi Gras celebration – I became a “lectionary preacher” again.  And yesterday, as I was trying to gather my thoughts for today’s sermon (friends, they never talked about how to preach during global pandemic in seminary) I thought back to my sermons over the past three weeks.  The crazy thing is that, even though I did not intend for this to happen (and I certainly did not know what was going to unfold in our country this week), the three sermons that I have preached over the past several weeks – even they were not necessarily “connected” – have built on one another and prepared me – prepared us – for this moment.

Three weeks ago, on Transfiguration Sunday, we were on the mountaintop with Jesus and I focused on Peter’s words to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”  We reflected on why, too, it was “good for us to be here” – to be the church, to gather as a community, to know that we are not alone.

Two weeks ago, we were in the wilderness with Jesus and we believed, even though it seemed hard, even at that time, that God is with us when we, too, are in the wilderness.

And last week we held in sacred hope the truth that this world – this messy and imperfect and chaotic world – is the world that Jesus came into, the world that God believed was worth saving.

And so, friends, this morning, I want to carry these messages with you as you meet Jesus at the well.

Remember that it is good for us to be here.  Even though “here” is not necessarily “together,” it is good for us to be here.  It is good for us to be gathering in this virtual space, to be connecting in a way that we are able to and to be worshiping God even though we are scared and anxious and not really sure what the future will hold.

Remember that God is with us in this wilderness that we have found ourselves in.  That we have not been abandoned.  That there are angels with us, no matter what they might look like – whether they look like a friend who texts us an encouraging message when we are at the end of our rope or a neighbor who runs errands for someone who is high-risk and should not be out and about or a fellow patron who lets you have the last roll of toilet paper at the store.

Remember that this is the world that Jesus came into.  This world – this messy and imperfect and chaotic and currently facing a global pandemic world – is the world that Jesus came into, the world that God believes is worth saving, the world whose story is scary right now, but not over yet.

And friends, I am not saying all of this because I was at a loss for words today and just decided to recycle old content.  I am saying this to remind us all that God has prepared us for this moment.  Our faith grounds us in a way that gives us strength, courage, wisdom, clarity and patience.  Many of us think that we have no idea how we are supposed to handle what is happening in our world right now, but I truly believe that our faith will carry us through in so many different ways.

Now let us all pick up our empty buckets and meet Jesus at the well.

On Friday morning, I could not help but note the irony of this week’s lectionary passage.  I was not at Jacob’s well with an empty bucket, but I was at the Swansea Target with an empty shopping cart.  Like the woman in this story, I had gone for what I thought I needed – physical sustenance – but came away with far more than that.

For so many reasons, this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is an unlikely one.  He is a man and she is a woman; he is a Jew and she is a Samaritan.  There are real and cultural reasons why these two should never have even acknowledged one another and yet, here they are, talking about what it means to drink of the living water.

Again, the woman comes to the well for water – but she leaves with far more than that.  She leaves with the promise that she can drink of this living water and never be thirsty again.  She leaves with the hope in salvation.  She leaves knowing that she can worship God in spirit and truth.  She leaves proclaiming the truth about Jesus, with so many other Samaritans now believing in Jesus because of her testimony.

She shows up, just looking for water – and leaves with the promise that something so much better is coming.

But friends, remember it does not happen right away.  She has to wait.  She has to hold onto that hope.  Resurrection does not happen as soon as she walked away from Jacob’s well – in fact we are still at the very beginning of the Gospel, in chapter four.  It is going to take some time.

But just because the promise is not immediate does mean that it is not true.

And I feel like that is where we are today.  Because now we have to wait.  We have to wait in this moment of uncertainty and this moment of fear and this moment of anxiety.

And yet, this promise is still true for us.  This promise that we can drink of this living water and never be thirsty again.  This promise that we have hope in salvation.  This promise that we can worship God in spirit and truth – even if we are doing so virtually while practicing social distancing during a global pandemic.  This promise that we, too, can proclaim the truth about Jesus, with others believing because of our testimony.

Friends, while it might look different than it has in the past, now is the time to do church.  Now is the time to hold fast to our faith.  Now is the time to believe in what we cannot see, to shine light into the darkness of the world and to believe that God will make order out of this chaos.  Now is the time to, like the woman at the well, leave our empty buckets behind and go tell the world about this promise.

And then show the world what it means.

Our lives have been turned upside down – and the scary and unsettling part right now is that we are not reacting to something that has happened and is in the past, we are living through something that is still happening and we are unsure how long it will last.

But remember, we are still encountering Jesus – I really do believe that.

I mentioned that I found myself at Target on Friday with an empty shopping cart and the need for physical sustenance and came away with far more than that.  Now – did I come away with shelf-stable food, personal hygiene products, paper towels and a new Paw Patrol DVD?  Yes.  Yes, I did.

But I feel like I got more out of my shopping trip than that.  Because I saw the kindness of strangers, as everyone helped one another (from a safe distance, of course!).  I saw patience in the eyes and actions of people shopping – and gratitude for those who were working.  I heard people wishing one another good luck.  No one was pushing or shoving or complaining.  No one was judging other people’s reactions or responses. Everyone was just sort of in the mutual place of trying to prepare for something we do not understand.

Even though we were strangers, we were all in this together.

And while we may have all left the store with full hearts, I know I, personally, left with hope in the promise that we are all going to get through this together.

This hope has only gotten stronger over the past two days as I have witnessed people on social media or reaching out to me about ways that we can all help one another through this pandemic.  People have offered to run errands for their neighbors who are the most at-risk, to donate food to the food pantry and to send cards to the elderly in assisted living with restricted visitation policies.

One of the podcast hosts that I listen to said on social media yesterday that this is hard and isolating, but also super uniting and I thought there is such profound truth in that.  Because we are literally all going through the same thing right now.  All around our country, all around our world – we are united right now.

And so now we have to leave this “space” – this virtual space – and hold onto the same hope that the woman at the well did.  Hope that resurrection is coming, even if we have to wait for it.

So, my friends, I want to remind you all to breathe.  To take care of yourself – physically, but also emotionally and mentally.  Stay educated, but also know your limits and step away from the media coverage if it is starting to be too much for you.  Go outside – get some fresh air.  Reach out to someone if you are starting to feel isolated and anxious.

And then let us do church.  In a way that is safe and accessible – let us take care of the most vulnerable during this time.  Even if it is just sending a card or picking up the phone and calling some of our older members who do not have internet access – that WILL make a difference.

And pray.  Pray for health and safety.  Pray for wisdom and guidance.  Pray for patience and encouragement.  Pray for strength and relief from the loneliness you might feel.  Show up at that well with an empty bucket – maybe looking for one thing, but open to receive another.

Because you never know when you might encounter Jesus.

Friends, during these trying times, do not let go of God’s promise to us.

It is good for us to be here today.  To remember that we are not alone in this wilderness, that God believes that our world is still worth saving and that God’s promise is real, even if it is not immediate.

Thanks to be to God!
Amen.

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