Rev. Heather Blais
In today’s gospel lesson, we encounter a community struggling with their own fear and anxiety as they face the unimaginable.
While out walking, Jesus observed a blind man. What question was burning on the disciples’ hearts, you ask? They wanted to know whether God caused the man to be blind because of his own sinfulness, or whether it was a consequence of his parents' sinfulness.
This question is rooted in fear. It assumes:
If we follow God and do everything just right, we will be okay.
If we choose ourselves over God and neighbor, there will be dire consequences.
Maybe even, eternal consequences.
This fear is the driving force behind the words and actions of nearly everyone in this story: from the disciples, to the religious leaders, the former blind man’s neighbors and parents.
However, Jesus does not get sucked into the whirlpool of fear, and instead reframes the question for the disciples. In The Message translation, Jesus said,
“You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”
Jesus then spat on the ground, mixing saliva with dirt to make a thick mud. Jesus then scoops the mud into his hands and approaches the blind man. Spreading the mud over the blind man’s eyes, Jesus instructs him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.
Then the unimaginable happened. The man who was once blind could now see.
His neighbors and religious leaders met this news with shock, fear, and anxiety. They were indignant that someone would break the laws surrounding the Sabbath, even to heal (because, come on, why couldn’t it wait a day?)
Yet what we know from witnessing the interrogation of the former blind man in today’s gospel, is that he regains much more than just his physical sight. The former blind man has encountered the Son of God, and it has awoken a much wider, a much more hopeful sense of God’s love and purpose in the world.
This story is not about who has sinned, and who is righteous. Nor is it about who has broken the law, and who has kept it. It is not even about who is to blame. This story is about Jesus calling us to wake up.
We are so attached to the fear, anxiety, scarcity and anger that is familiar. Our culture begs us to embrace this way of being. Yet when we choose to follow Jesus, we are choosing to be light in the world. We are choosing to be part of Jesus’ movement; to be a beacon of hope and love in an uncertain world. It is a calling that will lead to our transformation again, and again, and again. The kind of transformation that will turn our lives upside down and right back up. Just as it did for the blind man.
Much like the folks we encounter in today’s gospel lesson, we too are a community struggling with our own fear and anxiety as we face the unimaginable. None of us has ever lived through a global pandemic before. When we stare at it in the face, it is completely overwhelming. We are grappling with our grief, somersaulting from denial to anger, to bargaining, to depression, to acceptance; and often beginning the cycle all over again the next day.
We are beginning to grieve the missed birthday parties, book groups, Sunday brunches, art shows, concerts, anniversary celebrations, and weddings. Our hearts ache when we let ourselves fully feel the physical absence of our best friends, children, grandchildren, siblings, neighbors, and fellow church goers. This is particularly acute if you live alone.
We are now throwing our boundaries out the window as we juggle any variety of hats all at once: an employee who works from home, parent, teacher, caregiver, housekeeper, and more. Some are unsure if they still have a job, or whether there is enough money to pay the bills. The most marginalized members of our wider community find the resources they count on are closing left and right.
We are also grieving the traditions of our communal worship, the anticipation of journeying through holy week together, and the overwhelming joy of the empty tomb at Easter. We are postponing funerals, and we are facing the reality that there will be loss of life in our wider community as a result of COVID-19.
It is devastating. And it is crucial that we acknowledge and feel each of these feelings fully.
There is so much we do not know about what the days ahead will look like.
Let me tell you what we do know.
Today, we are all the blind man. Jesus has spat in the dirt, made mud, and holds us as he spreads the mud over the eyes of our hearts. Together, as the Church, we wash in the pool of Siloam, and the eyes of our hearts are opened. Church, we will continue to energetically embrace Jesus’ call to be the beacon of light, hope, and love of God in this world. We will keep being the Church virtually, for as long as it takes. We are in this together. Dear ones, we have long known that we are better together.
May the God which passeth all understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, this day, and every day. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
I was having a lovely time thinking and reading, considering and praying about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman. It is an incredibly rich story – Jesus’ longest recorded dialogue in the gospels, and much more. I had SO much I had to say about it. And then there was Covid 19. The Samaritan Woman needs to wait.
As I am sure you know, Heather, Ann, the wardens, Nurse Kathryn and I have spent considerable time this week working to figure out how to direct and support the parish in the midst of an outbreak that has now been declared a global pandemic and a national emergency.
They didn’t teach us how to do this in seminary.
We have been so very appreciative of the way the immediate community - including the parish leaders already named, as well as the staff, the Altar Guild, the Mission leaders and others - have calmly set themselves to figuring how to adapt their ministries to circumstances we had never thought about. Don’t you find it to be true that hard times often bring out the best in us?
And we’ve been grateful, as well, for the leadership and reassurance of Bishop Doug and his staff, who are guiding us through these turbulent waters.
In the midst of logistics and practicalities and composing emails this week, I have had several moments in which I’ve been struck by the faith implications of the present situation, and so I’d like to share some thoughts about what it means to be people of faith in the midst of crisis.
And then I’d also like to do just a bit of tying these thoughts in to the one of the lessons we’ve heard from scripture this morning.
There’s just no question that this Corona Virus is a very scary business. The transmission and mortality rates are awful. Probably all of us have loved ones in the high risk groups for whom infection can carry grave consequences, if we’re not in those groups ourselves.
I think it’s the unknowns – not knowing how bad it will get or how long it will last, or what the real impacts will be – that is the worst and most immobilizing part of this.
It’s very easy to succumb to feelings of desperation and panic. How many of you out there ran to the store to stock up on toilet paper this week? Raise your hands – no one else can see you.
Do you remember the story we just listened to about Moses and the Israelites? They were in the same boat, and they acted about the same way.
Having traveled through the Sinai wilderness after their dramatic escape from Egypt, they, too, found themselves frightened, facing a dangerous and unknown future. They were without food or water. They, too, succumbed to their fears. Without a Stop and Shop at which to purchase reassurance for themselves, they instead turned on Moses, blaming his faulty leadership for their problems:
“Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”
(Heather and I can count our blessings that these are not OUR parishioners.)
And here’s where we need to pay attention. Moses offered up his problems to God, and solutions unfolded. I think it’s important to notice several things about the way things played out.
So what does it mean to be people of faith in a time of health crisis?
Just as did the people of Israel, we already know the answers, and we have the tools.
But in the meantime we listen to our leaders, to the scientists and medical personnel, we must pay attention, and we must follow directions.
Right now those authorities are advocating “social distancing”. This doesn’t just help you and me to avoid catching the virus, but it slows the transmission, so that as it does spread – as it apparently will - it will not overwhelm our health care system.
Even amidst all of these caring and creative efforts, please take care of yourselves first – it’s no help if you wear yourself out attending to the needs of others and then need someone else to take care of you. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help YOU need.
And please, keep praying – for those who are ill, and for those who are afraid, for the medical folks taking care of the sick, and for the leaders making strategic decisions for our communities.
This is a scary place, but none of us are alone. We know what we need to do; we have the tools; we will get through it together. With God’s help.
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