Pastoral Message From Canton Center Church
April 19, 2020
Second Sunday of Easter
From the Rev. Dr. Brenda M. Pelc-Faszcza, Pastor
And audio version of this message is posted on the church website here.
Messages from the Town of Canton this week about community needs:
The Canton Food Bank does NOT need anything other than eggs and toilet paper; those can be dropped off on Tuesday mornings.
The Senior & Social Services Office however is still accepting drop off donations of non-perishable food items and paper/cleaning products. Please contact Jessica Demeo at Jdemeo@townofcantonct.org or at 860-693-5811 to set up a drop-off time. You can also make monetary donations or gift card donations by either mailing to 40 Dyer Avenue, Canton, CT 06019, Attention Senior & Social Services, or drop it in the Drop Box which is affixed to the outside wall at the Senior & Social Services entrance at the Community Center. Thank you for your generosity!
Facebook Live for families: Sarah Pradhan, our Director of Faith Formation, has been doing Facebook Live time each Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m., with messages and activities geared to families with children (Canton Center Church Kids). Check it out!
Following the message below, there are Joys & Concerns of the congregation and a prayer.
READING FROM SCRIPTURE (lectionary) 1 Peter 1:3-9, in two versions:
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
The Message Version
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.
I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.
You never saw him [in person], yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.
REFLECTION: “BECAUSE YOU KEPT ON BELIEVING”
The Rev. Dr. Brenda Pelc-Faszcza
In the writings of the New Testament
are many words of encouragement to people in time of trial,
as the Christian communities of the early decades
By the time of these writings,
mid-to-late 1st century,
persecution was already a common experience for Christians.
It would be some 2 ½ centuries yet
before Christianity would become the official religion
of the Roman Empire and, from then on, favored.
it was decidedly not favored.
So we come across various words of encouragement
in the writings, both in the gospels and the letters,
for people whose main task is to persevere
when it’s hard to persevere,
to endure, to stay the course and keep the faith,
or, as we might say in modern parlance,
to “hang in there,”
in the presence of suffering and anxiety,
uncertainty about the future,
and deep challenges to their faith itself.
I’ve always felt, in reading those kinds of texts
that modern well-off Americans really don’t have much of a sense
of such experience;
they always seem like they’re words for other people,
not for us.
Certainly we ourselves don’t know religious or political persecution
in any direct way.
But in our world, and including in our country,
any who are living within systems of oppression,
whether economic or racial or other,
any who are living at the powerless margins of society
where there is little if any social safety net,
have always known something about the weight of suffering,
the trials of a life of constant need and insecurity,
and the enormity of the task of persevering
while things look bleak.
As many biblical interpreters will tell us,
we hear these (or any) texts quite differently
depending on where we stand,
whether we are generally in positions of privilege and comfort,
or in positions of oppression and need.
Our interpretive lens comes from our own experience,
it determines what and how we see.
Or, to put it another way,
“We see things not as they are, but as we are.”
It’s in this sense that new experience
that differs from our previous experience
has the capacity to open us,
to teach us and re-form us
if it makes us see more or see differently,
if it helps us glimpse something about what it’s like
in other people’s shoes.
Which is why even really difficult experience
can be so valuable.
In the Scriptural words we’re hearing today
there is an exhortation to a burdened people
to remember the long view.
Which is difficult when the short view
can feel like it will kill you.
And to remember that even though none of them have actually
seen Jesus in person (they’re living decades later),
they can nevertheless live inside their faith in him
(which, the author says, their suffering is refining)
and in the fellowship of the Jesus community
where there is always a long view:
a sense of enduring contact with that Reality
that is beyond, and more than,
the present moment or the present suffering.
It’s not that such faith simply ignores the present lot,
in favor only of a “yet to come ” –
as though the goal is postponed life --
but that it seeks to transform present experience
by remembering that God is already in it,
not just coming later.
To put it another way,
if suffering people are going to have the heart
to keep the faith now, to persevere through their suffering now
without becoming completely hopeless,
it will be because they see, feel and know a God
who is with them now,
and not just a hope for some future time or place.
“Because you kept on believing,” as The Message Version puts it,
“you’ll be alright in the end “–
and not just in the end, but also now:
to keep on believing in God’s presence and goodness
so that we’ll transform life in its present moment,
whatever that might be like,
toward its highest good, its best possibilities.
While this current pandemic
isn’t the same as the life-threatening persecution
that the early church experienced,
or that many other groups in history have experienced,
it can be life-threatening,
is definitely life-altering
and so might be as close as many of us have come
to living in the midst of a huge societal adversity
for any extended period of time,
especially if we are younger than the World War II generation.
This current experience is unsettling and frightening,
but precisely because of that
may bear a gift we shouldn’t minimize.
It can – hopefully will – make us reassess and re-evaluate
where our society needs to change for the better
to make it more equitable and just.
And where we might in our own personal lives
change for the better, too,
to keep us more conscious of how we’re all bound up
in each other’s welfare,
all the time and not just right now.
To feel “persecuted,” even by a viral pandemic,
to have any sense of threat against our life at all,
has a way of reordering priorities,
And when priorities have been reordered,
trivialities put in perspective,
and sight clarified,
we are far more able to persevere in hope,
far more able to be strong and brave and clear
about the life God calls us into,
than when we’re all confused about what really matters
and what really doesn’t.
For every moment of the day that I am disheartened
by the national politics of all this
or by the fear I can feel for the well-being of my family
and all others I care about (that would be you),
there is another glimpse in the day
of the utter goodness of ordinary people,
where my lens gets revised,
my sight gets clarified,
and I see God-in-us, God-with-us, God-for-us,
I see people compassionately risking their own lives to save others,
day after day pushing past the normal limits of human endurance.
I see people generously giving up their own government relief checks
to somebody else who needs them more.
I see food banks faithfully stepping up to serve many more thousands of people
than they normally do.
I see parents conscientiously home-schooling their children,
dealing with the stresses that can come with that unaccustomed role
even when you adore your children more than anything in the world.
I see people willingly going an extra mile,
offering an extra gift of themselves,
even when tired and spent,
proclaiming with their actions
that love is what we live on, ultimately.
These, to me, are ways to “keep on believing.”
They help me hang in there
and keep the long view as well as the close one.
And right now,
I don’t know what I’d do without them.
I hope that in your eyes and hearts, too,
there is plenty to help you keep on believing.
If we were in church this Sunday,
here’s a hymn we might be singing:
“In the Bulb There is a Flower.”
Joys and Concerns of the Congregation
Prayers for Alyssa, daughter-in-law of Peg and Earle Young,
who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
Continued prayers for all of those in essential services who
are going to work for the sake of the rest of us: health care workers,
pharmacy staffs, grocery store workers, utilities workers,
delivery service workers, farmers and all food producers,
Continued prayers for those who have other challenging situations in life
to deal with and are doing their best to cope.
Prayers for those with mental health challenges for whom the stresses of the
current situation are very difficult.
in this Easter season we remember the gifts of new life
as we see them in the spring landscape,
in the loving actions of generous people,
and in the stirrings of our own hearts
that long to embrace new beginnings.
Mindful of your love for us and for all of creation,
may we be strong and brave for these days,
patient with limitations that are for our common welfare,
generous of heart toward others,
mindful of those who are sacrificing much,
compassionate toward those who are ill or have lost loved ones
to this pandemic,
prayerful for our leaders,
open to our own learning,
and thankful always for all the forms your grace takes.
We remember and pray for those with all kinds of other needs, too –
the sick, the grieving,
families who have been unable to have funerals in these weeks,
those who are unemployed or fear they will be,
those working out difficult challenges in relationships.
Guide us so that we might be able to bring a compassionate spirit
to all we do, no matter our situation,
and so that together,
we can heal, recover and serve,
as we follow Christ crucified yet risen, in this world.
In this name and spirit we pray, Amen.