Comfort My People
Speaker: Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
March 22, 2020
“Comfort My People”
The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
March 22, 2020
Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV
Even though our scripture today is from Matthew, I cannot help but think about the verse from Isaiah that says: “Behold I am doing a new thing”--for we are doing several new things today.
Allow me to set our stage for the coming weeks. First, we are recording Sunday’s service on Thursday in order to pull together all the various elements recorded at different times and places. Yes, Thursday is the new Sunday for church staff.
Second, if you regularly attend First Church, you might notice that we are combining the gathering litany, confession, assurance, and pastoral prayer into the gathering prayer--all for recording purposes and online viewing.
Third, I am filling in for one who was to be a guest preacher today. His sermon on creation care has been rescheduled for September the 27th.
Finally, I have never completed a homily by Thursday. I am a Saturday sermon-finishing type of preacher. I enjoy beginning the week with research on Monday, slowly reflecting, praying, and writing during the week, and editing on Saturday.
So, like many, we at First Church are experiencing life anew as we adjust to virtual connections during this time of COVID-19.
Not sleeping well has been become a newer trial for many. While I have always been a dreamer, I am currently having the same dream every night. I am in the angst filled 90s movie Reality Bites. I have joined the cast in the scene where they are dancing in the convenient store. Rather than singing, “My, my, my Sharona,” we are singing, “My, my, my, (you guessed it) corona. Clearly this pandemic is on my mind and even in my dreams. Perhaps yours, too?
After speaking and texting with many of you, I am aware that today, while akin to our familiar service, our worship is not a typical. We gather for comfort and connection.
In our scripture, Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” As my friend Charles says, “He doesn’t invite us to a church or institution, a denomination or a doctrine. Jesus says, ‘Come to me.’”
Knowing Jesus as love came down, love incarnate offered to the world, we can breathe and think about how we, too, incarnate this love of his as well as ours. For love is never in isolation. Jesus is saying, “Come to me. Incarnate love and live it. Choose relationship over doctrine.
We actually hear the same concept in the guidelines regarding public outings. Physical distancing is one way we let go of our American doctrine of “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want.”
Choosing relationship means we care enough to open our hearts and close our doors to prevent spreading the virus to our vulnerable community members. When we walk through town or buy groceries, we keep our physical distance but increase our community connection with kind words and acknowledging smiles.
In the later part of today’s scripture we read, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Now I don't remember actually seeing a cow until I was college age and went home with a friend from Tennessee, so the yoke is not a natural metaphor to me. However, the 1795 parsonage in which my family lives was once the schoolhouse on the Green. In the 1800s it was moved by oxen to Church Street. They were yoked, harnessed together to carry the heavy burden, to lift more weight than they could individually carry.
This text reminds of one of my favorite items in my prayer area. It is a cross that has many hands lifting it. Jesus invites us to join him, to let him help us with our burdens as we also bear one another’s. The weight is lighter when we carry it together. Of course, joining together for the joy, the task, the opportunity of living builds relationships of hope, connection, and love.
In the book of Hebrews we are told to not neglect “to meet together and encourage one another.” Currently we, the people, are working on ways to be creative, to meet in new formats, and help as we can. Some concrete ways to share burdens and bear up one another are making runs to the store for those who can’t get out; sending funds to those who serve in the food industry; calling, writing, checking in on others; praying for each other; restocking food banks; and living in hope.
Dear community, we are just at the beginning. A somewhat overused phrase is that we are in a marathon, not a sprint. We cannot fix everything today. Therefore, let’s slow down.
Many wonderful poems and writings are circulating right now and this one by Kitty O’ Meara speaks directly to our current state.
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.
And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
I am grateful to Kitty for the picture she painted.
May it be so.