I am back after ten weeks on maternity leave. Here is my sermon from this morning. No podcast this week, I forgot to hit record on my audio! I’ll get back in the swing of things. But I did include the audio.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
June 28, 2020
How We Can Welcome Others Now
When we – meaning you all and me – last met, it was Easter Sunday, we were quarantined, so we gathered in our virtual worship space, and we were proclaiming this really hard, yet powerful truth that we are resurrection people and that even when all seems hopeless, God is not finished.
And so here we are, ten weeks later – and we are still somewhat quarantined, gathering in our virtual worship space.
And we are still proclaiming this really hard, yet powerful truth that, despite this virus that has completely turned our world upside down, we are resurrection people.
And that, even when all seems hopeless, God is not finished.
God is not finished.
It is strange to come back from maternity leave under “normal” circumstances. I remember coming back after Harrison was born and feeling like everything had changed. I felt as though you all had experienced different things over the time that I was gone and certainly I had completely changed as I entered motherhood. I was not sure how we were going to come back together in our journey of faith and shared ministry.
It feels even stranger to come back this time, because we are all sort of in this holding pattern of life during covid. I am “back” to work, but still mostly working from home, while taking care of my children. Sunday worship, for the time being, remains what Harrison so sweetly refers to as, “Home Church” – meeting in this virtual space. In some ways, other than taking over the kitchen counter with my laptop and books during the day, it feels like not much has changed now that I am “back” to work.
And yet, a lot has.
First of all, when we last gathered together, we were barely into what turned out to be a cold and snowy spring. Now it is summer – the days are long, the sun is hot and our gardens and our yards are full of beautiful flowers and fresh vegetables.
Second of all, our state is slowly re-opening, so we are moving around a little bit more than we were at the end of March and beginning of April, albeit in masks and maintaining appropriate distance from other people.
Our country has been through a lot; certainly the murder of George Floyd served as a catalyst for new support of and education surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, which gives me a lot of hope for the future of racial reconciliation in our country, however we still have a long way to go.
And finally, as much as I hate to say this, we are thinking longer term about what church is going to look like until there is either a vaccine or a more effective treatment option for covid19. I think when I stepped away back in April we all (either naively or optimistically) assumed I would be returning to the sanctuary, not to Facebook Live.
And yet, here I am.
Unfortunately church gatherings are ranked in the very high risk category when it comes to spreading the virus and, as Christians, we are called to care for one another, particularly the most vulnerable among us. One of the ways we can do that is by not re-entering the sanctuary too soon. When everything shut down in March, we quickly moved what we could online and kind of paused everything else at the church. Currently we are discerning how to safely resume some of the ministries and business we paused and also how to more efficiently reach people online.
So – it has only been ten weeks and yet a lot has changed, both in our reality of the day to day and also in our perspectives, as well. It is strange to think about what else might change between now and when we are finally able to gather again in person and resume some semblance of normalcy within our community. Certainly, for better or worse, we will not be the same people that left worship on March 8th.
But here’s the thing: We go through a lot of different seasons in our lives and we do change along the way. Like I said, when I came back from maternity leave after Harrison was born, I was worried we had all changed and I was not sure how to bring us back together. I know that, right now, we are all changing in different ways, as well.
That being said, what has not changed in all of this is this call – this call to proclaim the Gospel, to hold onto the hope that God is not finished yet and to believe that the way we live our lives still matters, despite the fact that we are living them a little bit closer to home these days.
So let’s look at how this morning’s scripture reading is telling us to live our lives.
We are in the Gospel of Matthew, which is the first book in the New Testament. Jesus is speaking to the disciples here. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus had gathered the twelve disciples and given them the authority to cast out unclean spirits and to cure all diseases and sickness (which I think hits a little bit closer to home these days). Jesus is essentially sending out the disciples to do the work that he has started, just as we are called to do today. Jesus is telling the disciples not only to proclaim a message of love, hope and healing, but to live it out in real and tangible ways.
And like I said, this call remains the same today. While we are living in a different world today than the one Jesus commissioned the disciples in – and, quite frankly, a different world than the one we were living in six months ago – this call remains the same.
Jesus warns, however, that this will not be easy. Our passage picks up at verse 40 this morning, but earlier in the chapter, in verse 16, immediately after Jesus gives the disciples this authority and commissions them outward, Jesus said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.”
In other words, Jesus is warning the disciples that the journey will not be an easy one. Jesus is asking them to do a hard thing – he is commissioning them to proclaim the Gospel in the midst of hard and challenging circumstances.
The same is true – very true – today. Jesus is asking us to do a hard thing – to proclaim the Gospel, this Good News, in the midst of hard and challenging circumstances. I would argue that Jesus is asking us to do a hard thing and, quite frankly, we have never really been asked to do a hard thing like this before. Certainly we have all experienced our own personal trials and tribulations, but as a country – as a world – in our lifetime, we have never been asked to do a hard thing like this before. We have never been asked to proclaim the Gospel amidst this kind of global uncertainty and instability.
And yet Jesus knew.
Jesus knew that it was not going to be easy.
Jesus knew that the world was going to be turned upside down over and over throughout the generations. Jesus knew that there would be global uncertainty and instability. Jesus knew that there would be pandemics. Jesus knew that there would be a need for radical racial reconciliation. Jesus knew that he was asking his followers to sometimes defy the odds stacked tall against them and not only believe, but also proclaim to others that love is real and that hope is still worth holding onto.
Guys, this is when we have to lean into our faith.
And it is hard. It is really, really hard.
But we have spent our time as Christians studying scripture and worshiping God and praying together not just so we can be faithful when things are easy, but also when things are hard.
This brings me to the heart of what Jesus is asking us to do in this morning’s passage. Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” In other words, the Christian faith is not just about a personal journey, but one that needs to be shared in community. We need to welcome others – we need to extend a hand of hospitality to them, sharing our faith, encouraging them in their own faith and helping them in their times of need.
And this is not an easy thing to do right now, because we cannot gather as a community – we cannot physically welcome people into our building and we cannot serve them the way that we are used to.
But there are other ways to welcome others – to welcome them in Jesus’ name.
Like I said earlier, we are thinking longer term about what church is going to look like in this time of covid, certainly throughout the summer. I do think that, to some extent, we moved what we could online back in March and put everything else on hold “until quarantine was over” thinking that, in a few weeks, we could get back to normal.
Well, we know now that it is just not that simple. So now that I am back from maternity leave, I want to not only discern but also live out how we can still be church during this time of social distancing. I want to welcome others in Jesus’ name. I want to share this Gospel – this faith – that gives my life and our community so much meaning and purpose. I want to meet the needs of others, however we safely can. I want to show people that this story is still very much still worth telling, even now.
Friends, Jesus is asking us to welcome others in his name and right now that is not an easy thing for us to do. But we are people of the resurrection who know that that God is not finished yet.
And I believe that despite these impossible circumstances we can continue to write a meaningful chapter in the narrative of our faith that can and will change the world for the better.
There are so many ways that we can continue to do church during this time of social distancing. We can love one another and check in with one another. I know you all are doing such a wonderful job of that already within our community. While the weather is nice, we can even try to plan outdoor visits so we can see one another. We can worship and pray together, continuing to gather in this virtual space and also nightly in our Facebook group for prayers. We can serve the community. We can seek justice, showing love and support for our black brothers and sisters by persisting in the work of the Black Lives Matter movement. We can take care for the most vulnerable among us, particularly those within our community who are particularly susceptible to complications from covid. We can use this time to learn and grow in our faith, to educate and challenge ourselves, to hear other voices and to understand other perspectives.
Jesus says, when we welcome others into our lives, we are welcoming Jesus and the God who sent Jesus into this world.
And we all need to welcome God into our lives, now more than ever.
As we prepare to leave this virtual space today, I pose to you this question – how will you welcome others as Jesus welcomed you in your own life?
Friends, it is wonderful to be back with you all. There is still so much work that we need to do – and that we can do – together.
Even though it is hard right now, God is not finished yet.
And neither are we.
Members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church – our work continues. The world needs Church and the church needs you. Let us continue together on our journey of faith and shared ministry.
Thanks be to God!