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Below is the text for this morning’s sermon.
Rev. Sarah Buteux
May 24, 2020
“Into the Great Unknown”
Ascension Sunday, Year A
It’s been 68 thousand days since the shut down began and I don’t know anyone who feels like they are just crushing it anymore, if they ever were. I know a lot of us went into this great pause thinking we’d use the time well. I think a lot of people thought they’d use this time to re-organize their closets, learn to bake bread, finally paint the spare bedroom, get in shape, or write the next great American novel.
But I don’t think that’s happening, except for maybe the bread. I think we’re all eating a lot of bread. I confess that even I have this niggling suspicion – coupled with a vague sense of guilt- that I should have learned French by now. I have no idea where that’s coming from or when I would have had time to do that. But it’s still there.
And yet most people, far from learning a new skill or tackling some complex project, are really just doing their best to hang in there. Everyone I talk to is just doing what they can to get through the day. Actually, a quick look at what people are searching for on-line, gives you a much more realistic picture of what we’re up to these days.
(And spoiler alert: no one’s searching for: “How to install crown molding.”)
Instead what we really want to know is:
“How to cut men’s hair at home,”
“How to make rice krispie treats,”
“How to solve a Rubic’s cube,”
and “what to binge watch?”
This week “How to make a facebook avatar?” cracked the top ten list of pressing things people in quarantine need to know now.
So yeah, like I said, when it comes to using this time well, no one’s exactly crushing it. If the next David Foster Wallace is out there, he’s probably spending all his time eating homemade buckeyes and playing Fortnite.
And I get it. This is hard.
I know single people are losing it because they feel so alone. Families, couples, and roommates are losing it because they are never alone. “How not to hate the people you are quarantined with” is another remarkably popular search right now. People are worried about losing their jobs if they haven’t already, or how they’ll ever find a new job if they already have. Glennon Doyle, one of my favorite writers of all times, confessed this week that she hasn’t written a thing since this started.
And I confess that, in addition to not learning a foreign language, I also find myself in these increasingly dark places, questioning whether I’m really cut out for this whole pastoring/parenting during a pandemic thing. (As if there was some class I forgot to enroll in but now I’m being forced to take the final anyway).
The self doubt was particularly bad last Saturday. A little voice in my head was telling me that the time had come to resign. “Better to quit while you’re ahead,” it whispered, “because you don’t know what you’re doing and you know you’re not doing enough.”
Maybe you’ve heard that little voice too, taunting you in the wee hours, slyly suggesting that you don’t matter … no one cares, that you’re not enough or maybe just too much, that no one would notice if you disappeared and yet somehow you’re still taking up too much space, your work doesn’t matter, you can’t make a difference, we’d all just be better off without you….
All this uncertainty in the midst of such prolonged isolation can lead us to some pretty…you could say, “dark places” but I’m going to go ahead and say, “demonic places.” Because there is no way those little voices dragging us down right now are coming from God.
I was really thankful, after such a rough night, to hear Todd’s words of encouragement last Sunday. In his sermon he reminded us that Jesus – in the very same conversation where he revealed how thoroughly his disciples would fail him – how they were about to betray, deny, and abandon him- promised to abide with them forever, no matter what. Jesus assures us that he will never leave us or forsake us no matter how badly we foul things up. I needed to hear that last week. And maybe you did too.
It made me realize that I didn’t want to quit. What I really wanted was to run away because I was afraid, afraid of failing, failing the church, failing God, failing my family, failing all of you. And if I fail you then I guess some part of me is convinced that I’ll have to go. In which case, might as well skip the painful humiliating part where I let everyone down and just skedaddle.
I told Todd that I feel like I‘ve been thrown into a game, like some,“obscure and complex variant of poker (being played) in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.” That’s actually how Terry Pratchett describes life in the beginning of his classic, “Good Omens.”
Only this isn’t a game, or even a novel. This is life. And I need to figure out how to do all this and do it well because it feels like the whole world, or at least all the people in my world, are depending on me to come through. Teachers, caregivers, parents, therapists, business owners, managers…actually on some level, I’m pretty sure that no matter who you are or what you do, you’re all feeling that kind of pressure too.
But where do you begin when you’re already feeling tired and disoriented? Where do you start when all you really want is for the adventure to be over and everything to go back to normal? How do you pace yourself when you have no idea how long this will last and you’re sick of feeling like the only adult in the room? You know? That feeling you get when decision fatigue has settled in and you just wish someone more competent and patient and knowledgeable and good would come back and take over?
(Show Picture of Obama)
I know. I miss Obama too. But this is actually the part of the sermon where I need to pivot and talk about the scriptures and you know, Jesus, so let me just say that all those feelings you felt while sitting on your couch watching Obama give his commencement address are probably very similar to what the disciples were feeling as they stood on the mount of Olives listening to Jesus.
He’s been with them for the last 40 days: forgiving, healing, laughing, and teaching, breaking bread and fishing, walking through walls – I think just to mess with them – promising them great spiritual power and telling them all about the kingdom of God. It’s been so great having him back. But now, for whatever reason, he’s going on about how he’s about to leave them, and they’re not ready.
They don’t know what to do or what to say. They don’t know how to keep up the good work or move things forward. If Jesus goes up, the bottoms going to fall out.
And they are just so tired. They’ve already been through so much. These guys are totally ready for the adventure to be over.
All they really want is to settle into some new version of the promised land where the good guys have won, the bad guys have been sent packing, there is a decent king on the throne and everyone can now live in peace and harmony with a chicken in every pot and a donkey in every barn.
So they ask: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” Make Jerusalem great again? Put everything to rights so we can finally settle down, live long and prosper?
It’s a perfectly reasonable question. In their shoes that’s exactly what I would want too. And I imagine they weren’t any happier with the answers they were given by their leader then we have been.
When can we go back to normal, Jesus?
There’s no going back, but hey, you got this.
What do you mean, we’ve got this? Where are you going?
I’m going away.
Well then when are you coming back?
God alone knows.
Well then what do we do now?
That’s what I said.
And then Jesus achieves lift off and he’s gone.
Luckily the angels are more than willing to tell them what not to do.
“Guys, don’t just stand there looking up.”
So they all head back, back to that upper room where they’ve been hiding out these past 40 days, back to that room they’ve been renting for so long they’re probably thinking of picking out curtains and signing a lease. Peter and John and James and Andrew and Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, the other James, the other Simon, and the other Judas, they decide to wait it out together…stick it out together.
They decide to take care of each other though this time, draw the circle a little bigger. (You’ll notice that the women – who have been there all along – are now getting a mention, as if Luke is finally catching on to the fact that they’re important to the story too.)
The disciples devote themselves to prayer as they wait and wait and wait…until all of a sudden…but that’s another story, the story Todd gets to tell you next week. For now…for now they are stuck right where they are in that place God’s people have always been…that space between the promise and it’s fulfillment, the already not yet, that liminal space between our longing for God’s will to done here on earth and our willingness to make it so.
There they are, trapped within those four walls, turning his words over and over again in their minds. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.”
Think about that, for a moment. Jesus gave them this momentous charge and then basically sent them to their room. They need to figure out how to do this and do it well because the whole world depends on it, but they’re also not allowed to leave the house.
“You will be my witnesses… even to the ends of the earth!” It sounds so big and so grand and so very, very important. Not the sort of thing you want to screw up. But it wasn’t. At least not at first. Their witness started small because it had to. A new faith that would go on to reshape the entire world started right there in that upper room with a handful of men and women practicing how to be good to one another while they waited things out together.
And I think that’s good news… good news for those of us who are stuck where we are too. We can’t do any great things right now, only small things with great love. But those small things matter. Those small things set the stage for better things to come.
You know what got me out of my funk last Saturday? An email. An email from a person I invited to church 6 years ago telling me that he’d finally “come.” Thanks to the invitation of another member, he’s been watching our services on-line and finding them meaningful. All it took to silence the hellish voice in my head was a few words of affirmation, and I was back on track.
This past Friday, Betty Huston, a longtime member of our church, passed away at Rockridge. Thankfully, mercifully, her daughter was able to be with her as she died. Her son wrote to tell us the news and said, “In looking through Mom’s recent correspondence we found a lovely note from Rev. Joanne Graves a (member) from your church who knew (mom) and my father …”
I’ve gotten one of those notes too, and it’s a treasure. I thought of what a comfort that little card must have been, not just to Betty in her last days, but to her family. You could say, “it was just a card,” but it wasn’t just a card. It was a sign. A sign that Betty was loved and remembered. Evidence that she mattered to her church; that in the end, she was not alone.
Last Friday, someone new to our church let me know that their computer was down and they had lost their way to participate in all we are doing. Within 24 hours, our incredible administrator Melinda had a working laptop in that person’s hands. Just a computer? No, more than just a computer. That laptop is a lifeline, a way to stay connected, a means of grace.
Doryne’s masks, a word of encouragement shared at vespers, payers offered up, candles lit, a sermon that hits home, the calls we make, the texts we send…it may not seem like much right now, but all of it is a witness…a witness to the love God has placed within us, a love that still has the power to heal the world.
Little acts with great love. That’s how the kingdom comes, because that’s how the kingdom always comes. Like a little yeast in the dough or a mustard seed in the garden, it is the smallest acts of kindness that can make the biggest difference.
“Far from establishing a kingdom wielding the world’s power,” Sean White says, “Jesus promises a community empowered to bear witness.”
Hidden away in their little room, the disciples claimed that power, and so my friends, can you. Thanks be to God. Amen