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.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 15, 2020
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!