Pastoral Message

April 26, 2020
3rd Sunday of Easter
Seventh Sunday of Shutdown Due to Pandemic

From the Rev. Dr. Brenda M. Pelc-Faszcza, Pastor

And audio version of this message is posted on the church website,
https://www.cantoncenterchurch.org/music/recordings/sermons.html


SCRIPTURE READING    Philippians 4:4-9  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Rejoice[a] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[bLet your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved,[c] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[d] these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

 

REFLECTION            “A Small, Good Thing

 

                              Image result for fresh bread clip art

A message this week from the Rev. Don Remick
one of our current Conference Ministers,
contained an observation that
while we are past the initial experience of this shutdown,
we may not yet be at the equivalent of
a normal week’s “hump day” – its halfway point –
and that the ongoingness of this current experience
is taking its toll, psychologically.
He writes:

Everyone has been pulling together in community to meet the challenge of Covid for a long time. 

Being sequestered at home has lost some of its charm.

We’ve maintained our gumption and grit past our tolerance point.

The complicated layers of grief and worry are weighing us down. 

There isn’t a clear end in sight even as there is talk of ‘opening up’.

We’re anxious to get back to normal or onward into the new normal. 

We’re, frankly, tired.  (OK, we’re exhausted, physically, emotionally and spiritually.)

And we are ‘less filtered’.  We’re letting our guard down on our best behavior.
We’re crabby.

If you recognize any of that,
rest assured that you’re not alone.
Not only is this current sequestered state (while necessary)
not normal,
we are more and more surmising
that what was normal just a matter of weeks ago
isn’t coming back any time soon.
There will have to be a new normal for a while,
things we agree to abide by
in order to help keep each other and ourselves safe.
Since we’re not used to any real curbing of our freedoms,
this will be a new world.
And we may chafe under the burden of it,
even as we embrace its goal
of the greatest well-being for the greatest number,
including our own families.

As I’ve been thinking about this
and reflecting on my own internal experience with it,
I’ve noticed how much more salience
some small, ordinary things have taken on right now
in my daily life:
the first coffee of the morning,
a walk around the neighborhood,
a simple, good meal,
something engaging to read,
the plants in the yard sending up
the first green shoots of spring.
Yes, I’ve always had all of these things,
but have not always noticed or appreciated them
as much as I am now.
It can sound sappy, I know,
to say that little things can sustain us
while big things are burdening us.
But honestly, I think it’s true.

I also think it’s spiritual wisdom
to trust that we can live on small bits
of the ordinary goodness of life.
Jesus used images of small ordinary things –
wheat, yeast, seeds –
to parable about the Kingdom of God,
as though we need look no further than
the everyday world around us
to notice what is sacred,
and how very present it already is.
That’s the thing I’ve noticed shifting
within my own awareness:
a newly readied capacity to see
how very present the ordinary goodness of life
already is,
even in times of high stress.
Maybe especially then.
I’ve come to realize that it’s a matter of where I keep my attention.

One of my favorite texts in all of Scripture
is Philippians 4:4-9, the words of the Apostle Paul
in a letter to a burdened church,
not only because the message is so hopeful…

whatever is true, honorable, lovely, gracious, excellent, pleasing,
keep your minds on that….

but also because it’s so honest,
and here’s what I mean by that.
These words about trying to keep in view
what we know of the goodness of life
are written by one who also presently knows its suffering side:
Paul is believed to have been in prison
when he wrote this letter,
and he writes it to a young church
that’s struggling with persecution.
So the message he sends them
isn’t that we either have all the good things in life –
the true, the beautiful, the noble, the excellent –
or we have their opposite.
It’s that we are going to need to be able to see
the good, the true, the beautiful, the noble
in the midst of their opposite,
while we are also burdened, worried, in distress of some kind.
It’s not one or the other,
it’s one within the other:
it will be within some kind of trial, difficulty or need
that the ordinary goodness of life will be visible to us
and will have the power to sustain us.
I think that’s where we are right about now
in our collective experience of this pandemic
and how it might be changing our daily awareness.

There’s a beautiful short story, by American writer Raymond Carver,
entitled A Small, Good Thing.
I know I’ve shared it with our congregation before,
and it’s been speaking up in my mind this week.
It’s a story about a couple who have a son, about to turn 8 years old.
A few days before his birthday, they order a birthday cake
from a local bakery.
Then, the day before his birthday,
the child is tragically struck by a car and dies.
The parents never pick up the cake.
Over the next few days, they get calls from the baker,
with messages left on their answering machine.
He, of course, knows nothing about the death,
and is wondering impatiently why nobody’s come for the cake,
days after it was supposed to be picked up.
The parents are deep in grief,
and in those first days are pushing through the best they can,
exhausted by grief,
trying to take care of all the things
they have to take care of;
and they find each time they’ve been out and return home
that there’s been another impatient-sounding message
left by the baker.
They grow angry at him for bothering them like this;
in their grief they are kind of angry at everything,
which is one thing that can happen in us
when we are working our way through heavy, difficult things.
So, a day or two after the funeral,
when yet another message has been left,
they decide to go down to the bakery and have it out with the baker.
When they get there,
they tell him what has happened
and, although he could have had no way of knowing,
they scream at him for what has felt to them
like his insensitivity.
When the baker hears their story,
his heart opens to the couple in utter compassion.
He pulls up chairs, invites them to sit down in his shop,
and he brings them some fresh, baked rolls
that he has just made, and invites them to eat,
“because,” as he says to them,
“eating is a small, good thing at a time like this.”
And the couple realizes how hungry they are,
and that yes, eating is a small, good thing at time like this.
The fresh bread offered to them
becomes a reminding experience
of the ordinary goodness of life,
making its appearance in time of pain.

 

Small good things are appearances of grace,
they take a million forms, or more,
and so often we’re just not even noticing.
The writer Rachel Naomi Remen
says that most people “are given more blessings than they receive,”
and that she thinks of them like “airplanes circling a runway,
looking for someplace to land.”
In other words, the ordinary goodness of life
will not be evident to us
unless we’re willing to see it,
to let it land where we are.
That means that in those times
when life can get to feel overwhelming,
either because of a personal situation of our own
or because of a big collective worry and burden
we’re all carrying together,
if the enduring goodness of life is going to be evident to us
in the midst of everything,
we’re going to have to be intentional about letting that happen,
about being willing to see that way.
And about taking all the reminders of goodness that appear,
no matter how small or ordinary,
and honoring them as signs of the presence of God.
It is not for nothing that when Jesus teaches his community
about how to remember him and embody his life when he gone,
he gives them ordinary bread to share and says
“Here, remember me this way.”

So while important big and public efforts are in place
to help us through and beyond this pandemic,
there will also be important small things,
small, good things,
that will help carry us, and help us carry each other,
through life right now.
And those will matter enormously.
Think about what they might be for you,
in your own life.
Think about what small good thing you might be able to offer another,
to help them bear the load right now –
some food, a note, a call, an offer of help --
and know that it will not be small to them.

Beloveds, whatever is true, honorable, pure, gracious, lovely, excellent,
let’s do our best to stay aware of those things,
today and tomorrow,
and know that the God of peace is in them.


Joys and Concerns of the Congregation

Gary Adajian shares the joy of the birth of his first grandson, Andrew Jurus Adajian, on April 2, to son Jesse and daughter-in-law Allison.

Kristin Oswald shares the sad news of the passing of her mother, Sally Wadman,
of Covid-19, on April 20.  She was 87.

Debbie Poleyestewa shares the sad news of the passing of her aunt, Jane Jepsen, who had been in Hospice care since February.

Update on Rev. Brenda’s father-in-law, John Faszcza, age 90, in a nursing home facility and tested positive for the coronavirus:  per the updates the family is receiving, so far he’s doing alright.  Inquiries from our congregation have been much appreciated.

PRAYER

Loving God,
help us keep our eyes and our hearts open today
to every form your grace will take –
small and large, seen and unseen.
Help us in our hours of worry, or boredom, or fear
to trust the resilience of life,
our own, each other’s, and the world’s,
and to share our own selves in ways
that strengthen hope, that deepen faith.

May those who are grieving losses
know the comfort of your peace with them.
May those who are celebrating new life
know the deepest joy of that holy gift.
May those who struggle with daily challenges of whatever kind
be guided in wisdom and strength

May those who are working in jobs
that expose them to danger during this time –
medical workers, hospital staffs, grocery store workers,
utilities workers, delivery service workers, postal workers,
and all others who are unable to stay at home –
be safe and well, as they take care of the needs
of the rest of us.
We are so thankful for them and their strength.

And in this week when we have marked
the 50th anniversary of Earth Day,
and as we see images from around the world
of air and water now clean instead of dirty
because our factories and our vehicles are
temporarily inactive,
may we find a new common resolve
to work together for the restoration
of the health of our planet –
home to every beloved thing you have made.

All things we pray as Jesus prayed, that your will might be done
on earth as in heaven.   Amen.