A Letter to the Church in Bethesda…or The Sermon that Isn’t a Sermon; Rev. Dee Ledger, September 6, 2020

Sisters and brothers, this is a sermon that really isn’t a sermon.  It’s more of a love letter, more of a virtual hug.  It occurred to me that we’ve been in this pandemic now for 6 months—6 months of uncertainty, 6 months of monumental changes to which we are all still adjusting, and 6 months of increasing unrest in our nation, world, and increasing violence.  It is time, I think, for a bit of reflection, given that we are now entering into another season with the start of school and new schedules for many of us.  When I look out my window, or cuddle up with my cat, or tend to the new cherry tree in our front yard, I realize that nature has its own rhythm, intelligence, and needs.  Those needs do not seem to revolve around a pandemic of Covid.  Instead, Nature’s needs reach towards sun, sustenance, and life.  And maybe that is the reminder for all of us this day:  whatever our worries, the rhythms of nature remind us that life continues, Creation breathes and grows, even in midst of times such as these.

You do not need me to tell you today that all Creation is your neighbor. We may simply look out our windows to see evidence of that.  Remembering that Creation is our neighbor has been the practice of this church, both to intentionally consider Creation as neighbor and to partner with it.  So, today’s service is but a reminder to keep up those practices which honor Creation and to tread lightly on the Earth, whatever that may mean for your specific family circumstances.

However, that being said, after having spent the last several months dealing with a virus that refuses to go away, you may truly need some encouragement this day for the marathon that we are, even still, running.  In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we are urged to love our neighbor as ourselves and to wake ourselves from sleep, but many of us may be wide-awake already, not sleeping enough already, and not loving ourselves—or caring for ourselves very well, given the stress and strain that the pandemic has wrought.

Those of you who have been struggling these past few months, I want to honor your tenacity in this day-to-day fight to survive, and even thrive.  Yes, perhaps some of us have been snacking more, or sleeping less, or not taking proper care of our mental, physical, or emotional health.  Perhaps we’ve had a glass too many or have started a bad habit that we thought we had kicked long ago, or have been cranky with those we love, or even maybe a bit mean-spirited.  Maybe we’ve sinned more that we admit, have sworn under our breath at other human beings, or just “tuned out” when the news and morning madness was just too much to bear. If so, God’s forgiveness is close at hand.

Even if you haven’t lived up to the expectations that you may have set for yourself, here’s the thing that I am hoping that you will hear in this sermon that really isn’t a sermon, but a pep talk.  You have made it 6 months through this pandemic and you’ve done some incredible things.  You’ve entirely changed your day to day life to accommodate mask wearing, social distance, and increased social isolation.  You have figured out how to work online, worship online, play online, do school online, and meet with relatives on-line.  Those of you who are parents are managing, increasingly, to work online and manage childcare in ways that we—as a society and culture– never imagined we would have to do.

In midst of these changes, many of you have learned new things: perhaps you’ve learned to cook or bake more, you’ve tended a garden, given away plants from your balcony, learned to Zoom and connect through FB, and tackled some long neglected projects, including repairs and renovations.  Maybe you’ve picked up or delivered groceries for a neighbor, learned how to navigate telehealth, gotten to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, and bloodwork, despite temperature checks, cancellations, postponements, and delays.  Some of you have welcomed new life—children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.  Some of you have been downsizing and relocating to be with relatives, and at least 3 families have packed up all their things and moved into a new home—after attending open houses, home inspections, and closing on a house, all in a pandemic and socially distanced!  It’s been crazy out there—and yet, you have gotten up and gotten up and gotten up, again.  There is a Japanese proverb that goes, “Nana korobi, ya oki” which means “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” Some have managed to vacation with social distancing, orchestrated stay-cation or car-trips, figured out how to re-create yourselves in the middle of closures, restrictions, and shortages of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, goodwill, childcare, and a mid-week, in person, happy hour with close friends.

You’ve had to say goodbye to loved ones without the ability to sit and cry at the bedside; you’ve voluntarily quarantined yourselves and loved ones, taken extra precautions, and mourned without the benefit of end-of-life rituals as you knew them.  You’ve relinguished singing in aggregate for love of your neighbor, but have continued to make music safely with others and your God.  You’ve found ways to creatively reach out to those who are suffering in isolation, connected through facetime and skype, and found work-arounds for most things done in-person or on-location.

Financially, you’ve dealt with reduced hours, layoffs, unemployment and pay freezes, and cuts to your benefits and to your family’s bottom line.  You’ve shifted roles—spouses and partners doing things differently for the sake of the family and for the sake of your sanity.  Here at the church, you’ve navigated forming a reopening plan, proposals to use the church grounds, and led church through Zoom meetings and late-night conference calls. You’ve showed up for marches and demonstrations, kept the faith, and challenged the authorities that needed to be challenged.  You’ve paid bills working without the benefit of a fully funded budget and you’ve still managed to gather consistently, albeit electronically.

Friends, six months into this pandemic, we may find our own personal energy lagging or our minds overwhelmed with “what ifs.”  “How long, Lord?!?” we cry.  Yet, today, I want to remind you, me, and all of those listening that you’ve done some special and terrific things these past 6 months and done them under circumstances that have been difficult, burdensome, and disheartening.  You’ve showed up when you didn’t think you could manage another meeting or gathering, rallied to meet challenges and blessings of this moment, found ways to pass the time constructively and creatively, and met this day, this moment, and this life as we know it, full-on.

There are times to invite scripture to challenge and nudge us to fulfill our calling as Christians and to be better stewards of our time and our being on this earth.  But today, please know that you are a blessing as you are, as you have been, and as you will yet be in this moment.  Today, please know that the things that you have seen during this time are known; the range of emotions that you have experienced are felt and shared; and that you are doing the best you can with this particular moment as you are.  Today, please imagine God embracing you, encouraging you, and comforting you, for you ARE enough to meet this moment.

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