We are now into our third season of coronavirus distancing, and the evidence of summer turning to fall is everywhere on my farm. The apples continue to drop, providing a steady diet for me and for my sheep, who love having the windfalls scattered across their pasture every morning. Only the youngest lambs are still lamb-like, and even they are getting big. The fields are greening up again as the rain returns. I do love the turning of the seasons.
And this year, this change of seasons is reminding me of how long we have been apart. Through spring and summer, and now into fall. I do miss being together in person with my faith community.
But in the meantime, I confess, I have loved the opportunity that this time has given me to experience on-line worship with other faith communities. Just this last Sunday before our worship service started I was able to jump in briefly to a service down in Long Beach, California, my home town. I have also dropped in to worship services at Plymouth UCC here in Seattle and at First Congregational in Bellevue.
And it’s not just on Sunday that I get to do my church hopping. Any day of the week, any time of day, I can “go to church.” I’ve worshipped with friends in Louisville, KY and San Jose, CA; and with strangers in London, England. They don’t even know I’m there. In this liturgical season of Covid, there are sermons everywhere.
This different way of worshipping has been both a grief and a gift of this time. I so miss the deep connections of gathering, singing, speaking, listening, and praying together, in person. And yet I love the connections of visiting the worship services of colleagues I was never be able to be with when we each were with our individual congregations at a specific time and in a specific place on Sunday mornings.
Maybe this is just a preacher-nerd thing. Maybe for most folks one sermon a week (or even less) is enough. But I am luxuriating in the fact that there are now sermons everywhere.
And of course, when I stop and think more deeply about it, I realize that has always been true. Not in the sense that I could browse the internet late at night to join some colleague’s on-line, already-finished worship service and be there with them even if their service is now ended and they have long since gone to bed. But in the sense that God is still speaking and my on-going task is to open my ears to listen. As St Francis is known for saying, “Preach constantly. If necessary, use words.” Although St. Francis probably never said that, and I actually love a wordy, well-crafted sermon, I do admit that, words or not, there have always been sermons everywhere for anyone who is listening and watching for them.
And that is a good thing. In these very difficult times, I need all the sermons I can get. I’m not saying I need to be “preached at.” As Mark Twain has observed, “No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.” What I am saying is that I do need a constant reminder to ground myself in the gospel of Jesus, which is, at its heart, the good news of God’s unstoppable and unrelenting love. A sermon can be, as some define it, “a long, tedious speech,” or, from its root, a weaving together and clarification of a deep spiritual truth. I am certain that in my several decades of ministry I have done the former. I also hope I have done the latter as well.
I suspect I am not the only one who needs such weaving together and clarification, such ongoing grounding and encouragement. So may you also, whenever you have the need of comfort or courage or compassion, find sermons everywhere.