It is crazy to think that we have been worshiping online for an entire year. In many ways it feels like it has been longer than that, but in other ways it feels like no time has passed since I composed that email to the congregation letting them know we were suspending in-person worship. I reflected a little on this anniversary this morning. Here is my sermon, as well as the video to worship.
Peace, be with you friends – there is light at the end of the tunnel!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 15, 2021
One Year Later
I went down something of a rabbit hole this week.
The weeks leading up to the anniversary of the shutdown have felt a little bit like when 9/11 rolls around every year; it seems as though we have been in this national state of “what were you doing when” as we approach and reach significant milestones. News anchors and podcast hosts have been recapping the year. Our Facebook memories keep popping up reminding us of the last time we did certain things (or at least the way we were used to doing them). I actually had a picture pop up of Harrison and Samantha and me standing outside of the Sadie Perry Room before worship that popped up this week that kind of took my breath away; because I remember that moment like it was yesterday and yet in some ways it seems so far away. Bill and Wendy talked about our final in-person worship service and then our first virtual worship service and 9:00 prayer time when they led prayers on Monday night. And on Wednesday, while I was preparing for evening prayers, I re-read the last sermon that I preached in-person and the first sermon that I preached in virtual worship.
Unexpected, but not surprising, the last sermon I preached in-person was actually on this very text that we are looking at this morning. The reason I say unexpected, but not surprising is because we are in the season of Lent and so, year-to-year, there is overlap with these Lenten texts in the lectionary; it is not surprising that we would look at the same – or similar – stories right now. It was unexpected, however, because, in so many ways – good and bad – life feels vastly different than it did a year ago. It was unexpected to be reflecting on this passage of scripture in order to get ready for today’s worship service and then pull up last year’s sermon – a sermon preached at the very beginning of this time of great chaos and angst and unknown – and realize that these were the same words we were reflecting on. It feels very full circle.
The Gospel has not changed. Our world has changed; but the Gospel has not changed.
This morning’s scripture reading, like our scripture reading from about a year ago, comes from the Gospel of John. It contains, I would argue, one of the best-known passages of scripture, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
This is one of those passages of scripture that sounds so beautiful in the King James Version of the bible – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” These words are just so poetic and beautiful and powerful.
When I reflected on these words a year ago, I talked about the fact that this was the world that Jesus came into – this messy and chaotic world. At the time, very little made sense to us, but that was okay, right? Because this scripture says “everyone who believes in [Jesus] may … have eternal life,” not, “everyone who understands what is going on may have eternal life.”
Looking back, I really do believe that we needed to hear those words in that moment. Because we were entering a season where our faith in God through Jesus Christ was the one thing that could not be taken away from us; in fact, it was arguably the thing that carried most of us through.
So here we are, one year later. I think many of us still need to hear these words as we pass this one-year milestone. Because much is still up in the air about the vaccine rollout and what life is going to look like in a post-covid (or, at least, mostly-post-covid) world; there are still many unanswered questions. And it has been a really hard year; we are all exhausted. We need to be reminded that our mess of a world was and is so deeply loved by God that Jesus came to save it; that, even a year into all of this, our world is still worth saving.
But there is more.
Something really cool happens with the lectionary this week that I think relevant and necessary right now.
Last year we looked at this passage in the context of John 3:1-17. This year, the lectionary has us looking at this passage in the context of John 3:14-21. Meaning we still see John 3:16, but this iconic passage is at the beginning of what we are looking at instead of the end.
Last year when we looked at this passage, it was almost as if the passage led us into John 3:16 and that was where we landed.
And we needed to, right? We needed to land on John 3:16 so that we could sit there for awhile and really lean into our faith in Jesus. We needed that throughout the past year.
But this year – this is where we start.
This is our starting point; this – John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” – is where our passage begins and then Jesus continues on to tell us what that means for us.
And friends, I think now, a year into the pandemic, at a time where vaccines are rolling out and we are trying to get things open again, we are ready to keep going and see what’s next.
This is how the passage continues:
Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world.
But those who do what is true come to the light.
Jesus says that what comes next is light.
Jesus gives us this promise – that God sent Jesus into the world to save the world and that all we have to do to receive eternal life is to believe in Jesus.
But it does not end there. Then Jesus gives us a charge; a charge to believe in the light, a charge to love the light and a charge to do what is true and to bring that to the light.
Friends, if you are like me, you are probably wondering, what’s next? When can I travel again? When can I host dinner parties again? Will my children be able to go back to school full-time? Will I feel anxious when it is time to get back out into the world? What is the world going to look like? What has changed? What will go back to “normal”?
I do not have answers to most of these questions. But I do think it starts with this charge, this charge to be the light. I think the answer to the question, what’s next, starts with this charge from Jesus to believe in the light, to love the light, to do what is true and to bring that truth to the light. I think the next steps in re-opening the world have very little to do with the phases of reopening and everything to do with all of us boldly shining light into a very dark world.
I think for an entire year we have been desperately holding on this light; we have been holding it close to us, perhaps because we were afraid it might go out if we held it too far away or just because it was comforting to us, it was like a security blanket that we gripped tightly when it felt like everything else was slipping away.
But friends, now it is time to shine that light into the world. It is time for all of us to extend that light into the darkness. It is time for us to celebrate that light, to love that light and to honor that light. And it is time for us to share that light, to bring all of our lights together so that we can conquer the darkness.
It is time for us to do what is true – to love one another, to care for one another and to lift one another us – and then bring that into the light.
Our world is so very broken right now. But we have something that can heal it. We have this incredible faith that can and will bring healing and peace and wholeness. We need to bring this into the light; we need to share with the world that this kind of healing is possible. We need to demonstrate that the Body of Christ is ready to do the work that is necessary to bring about restoration.
When we first started to realize that covid was not going to be a quick here-and-gone thing and that the world was going to change in real and significant ways as a result of it, I was scared, because I did not know what we would be left with. And, in many ways, I still don’t.
But I know what I have.
In fact, I know what we all have.
And I know that, together, our light is going to shine brighter than we could ever have imagined.
And that it will make a difference.
One year ago we needed to be reminded that our faith in God through Jesus Christ would carry us through the darkness of what was coming. Today, even though it is not over yet, we celebrate that is has, even in those moments when it was really hard. And today we accept the charge to get up and carry that light forward.
Because the world needs it.
Friends, it is time to break through the darkness and be harbingers of light.
Thanks be to God!