A sermon offered on March 22, 2020, the last Sunday we were able to offer public worship before closing due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. The scriptures are 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, and John 9:1-41.
The sermon can be viewed HERE.
Some years ago, I was visiting Jerusalem with a group from my seminary. On one morning, we had some time by ourselves, and so I went back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the intention of simply hanging out for a while. I thought I could maybe find a quiet place somewhere in that holy space and simply absorb some of the spirit. I found a seat in an empty chapel and began praying. At one point, I opened my eyes and realized a couple of older, Orthodox nuns were had come in and were sitting near me. Then a few more people came in. And then I began to hear a tremendous racket. A verger was leading a procession right into this chapel—the verger had a great big pole and was smacking it on the floor as this long procession of monks and priests and other important-looking people walked right into the chapel where I was—where I was now trapped. I couldn’t go out the door I had come in, since there was a parade of people coming in. And yet I couldn’t see any other exit. There I sat, this tall guy wearing a bright red shirt and khakis, in the midst of this sea of black clothing, incense and worship in another language.
And yet, I felt invisible. It was as though no one even saw me. My presence there was so odd, so unexpected, so unreal as compared with what they ordinarily encountered in that space, that there was an aspect of invisibility to me. I leaned over to a woman near me and asked her, “Excuse me, how might I get out?” She ignored me. Then I asked louder, and it was as though I had broken some kind of spell. She looked at me with a look of absolute horror, but seemed to understand my question, and pointed to a the iconostasis, the screen covered with icons, and I so I got up and headed that way, saw a door and made my escape.
I wonder how often that happens in other ways in my life? How often am I blinded to what might be right before me because I don’t expect something new, or don’t quite recognize something that has changed, or perhaps don’t slow down long enough in what I’m doing to notice what is before me?
In the first lesson the prophet Samuel goes in search of a new king. The sons of Jesse are paraded in front of him, but none of them measures up, though each might initially look like a potential king. But it’s the one who’s out keeping the sheep, David, who is called. Samuel stops, looks and prays. And Samuel sees.
The Gospel about the man born blind is read on this Fourth Sunday in Lent, as we move with Jesus into Jerusalem. With Jesus, we attempt to sort out the various voices and appearances, the things that clutter up our vision and get in the way. And with the blind man who receives his sight, we are invited to stop, look, pray and see.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day can’t see because of several things blocking their sight.
They don’t think it’s possible to see healing from Jesus. They don’t expect to see anything new. They have firm ideas about what they might see, and so they’re not able to see anything different.
The religious leaders missed the work of God right before their eyes. But with eyes of faith, the blind man regained his sight, and many who followed Jesus had their eyes opened to the possibilities and promises of God.
Most of us are still bewildered by the changes in our world over the last week or two. A colleague out in Seattle is referring to this as the Great Time Out.
I grew up a little bit before people used the term “time out” as a way of disciplining a child, so when I hear the term, “time out,” it reminds me of the times we were kids and we’d be playing so hard that we’d just run out of steam. Sometimes, we’d be laughing so hard, we couldn’t go on. As I’ve aged, there, obviously, other things that make me want to take “time out.” Sometimes the new relationship needs a breather. Sometimes a program or a routine or a ritual benefits from taking some time out.
I don’t attribute blame to God when viruses or diseases or natural disaster happen. The 20thcentury theology Austin Farrer put it this way:
If an earthquake shakes down a city, an urgent practical problem arises – how to rescue, feed, house and console the survivors, rehabilitate the injured, and commend the dead to the mercy of God; less immediately, how to reconstruct in a way which will minimise the effects of another such disaster. But no theological problem arises. The will of God expressed in the event is his will for the physical elements in the earth’s crust or under it: his will that they should go on being themselves and acting in accordance with their natures. (God is not Dead, p. 87-88)
God has created creation to carry on being itself. And that means that you and I are to carry on being ourselves: our best selves, perhaps selves we didn’t even know we had within us, perhaps new selves altogether.
If we look deeply in this season—we will see new things. We will be healed. And we know God’s anointing, healing, touch no only on our eyes, but holding our hand, and enfolding our hearts.
May God continue to give us strength and keep us in faith and love. Amen.