The Gospel of John sometimes mystifies me. We have been hearing these mystical-miracle stories each Sunday during Lent. There is much controversy about John’s Gospel, when it was written, who wrote it and why, and why it differs so much from the Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus uses more common language, short simple statements that go straight to the point. The author or authors of John’s Gospel dare to try to describe mysterious things like the incarnation and divinity of Jesus, the divine Logos, the Word that was with God and that is God. Jesus tells us that the man was not born blind because his parents sinned, but so that the works of God could be revealed in him. He tells the Samaritan woman that the water he gives will become a spring of water gushing up to new eternal life, and to Nicodemus, that no one can enter the kingdom without being born again of water and the spirit. I read these passages with a childlike faith, loving the beauty of the words, not really trying to make sense of them and simply believing that Jesus truly is God, man, the bread of life, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life. I try not to make sense of it, but to hear something new.
This morning I’d like to share some thoughts about waiting.
Here’s what I know about waiting:
#1. Waiting is hard.
#2 Waiting is something I’m not very good at. I don’t like to cue up, I’m impulsive and I’m usually in a constant hurry. I can remember being anxious to graduate, then to get that great job and then to retire. (My Mother called this “wishing your life away!”) and..
#3. I know that miracles can happen during the waiting, especially if we wait with hope and keep faith, that the Holy Spirit will help us make something new of the waiting. These are confusing times. There is so much happening that we don’t understand. Someone said that God is not interested in making sense; God is interested in making something new.
How long did the whole House of Israel have to wait? They waited until their bones were dry and rattling. They felt their hope was lost and that they were cut off completely, but they were not. They finally let the breath of the 4 winds blow upon them, and they lived and stood on their own feet.
The Psalmist cries out to the Lord…”I will wait, I will get my hope from God’s word, where there is mercy and redemption, as the Watchmen wait.”
In Biblical terms the 4th watch, from 3 to 6 am comes from the ancient Romans’ way of dividing the military guard hours.
My many years of night shift nursing taught me some things about watching and waiting, most especially that important things can happen in the darkest hours, or perhaps that we can more easily tune ourselves in to those important things. Our hearing and all of our senses are more acute. We are removed from the usual distractions of our light-filled hours. This dark stripped down time can help us to see and hear more clearly. I loved Barbara Brown-Taylor’s book “Learning to Walk in the Darkness”, she says that darkness is divine and that it is where God dwells. In Isaiah 45 we hear “I will give you hidden treasures in the darkness”.
Sometimes Jesus is the Lord of urgent action in the brightness of daytime. He is swift to reach out his hand to save a drowning man, he restores sight to the blind man and he feeds thousands of hungry people on the beach, but in today’s Gospel story, the last miracle story before his own passion, death and resurrection, Jesus shows us how to wait.
In the midst of his own grief over the loss of his dearest friend Lazarus, the Gospel writer tells us: 1st; Jesus waited. He was greatly disturbed and deeply moved, he did not hide his grief and he wept. He raised his eyes to God and He spoke a prayer of thanksgiving, praise and hope, that the Glory of God would be revealed in this dark hour. Here is our great teacher, again, showing us how to be human.
All of Lent is a waiting, and next week, on Palm Sunday, we are privileged to begin waiting and watching with Jesus as he begins the final leg of his journey to resurrected life.
What might come of our present waiting? What is the new thing that God will reveal to us? My 2 year old grandson Zooms in for story time with his nursery school teacher and classmates every morning, and some of our older parishioners are using computer skills that they never could have imagined using. Kids are getting to know their parents in new ways and a teenager in Northampton figured out how to make plastic face shields for healthcare workers on his 3-D printer. We witness many acts of Love every day. What new thing will be revealed for us in our waiting?
I pray that we might tune our senses more acutely to the breath of the 4 winds, to the silence of the 4th watch and to the Word of God, that God’s glory will be revealed to us in our time. Amen.
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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Understandably, Nicodemus was more confused than ever. He asks: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).
Maybe Nicodemus’ questions are literal, but given he is a high-ranking Pharisee, I would hope it is safe to assume this guy is pretty smart. I think the question he is really asking lay underneath: Why in the world would we want to be born anew?
The culture that Jesus and Nicodemus are immersed in is one that places a high value on the wisdom that comes with age. Why would anyone want to give up a lifetime of wisdom to begin anew? To give up the earned respect and perceived power from a lifetime of living, would be to risk that maybe we had actually gotten some things about the kingdom of God wrong.
How often do we wish we could tell our younger selves something important we have learned later in life? Or how often do we actually acknowledge that we got something wrong? I imagine we all know at least a few highly functioning adults who will go to incredible lengths to avoid admitting they might actually have been wrong about something. Why in the world would anyone want to be born anew if they had to sacrifice the power, the respect, the wisdom of a long life?
Since the “you” Jesus uses in today’s gospel is plural, we know his answers to Nicodemus are not just directed at him. They are directed at anyone curious about the kingdom of God, both then, and now. Jesus is telling us that if we want to see the kingdom of God, if we want to even begin to grasp some aspect of heavenly things, we have to start over. And not just once. Rather we meet our faith anew every morning. Again and again, our whole life long.
It is a little bit like our vision. Many of us at one point had 20/20 vision, but instead of our eyesight improving with age, with the accumulated experience of sight, we often see less well, and things become blurry. We need glasses to make things clear and crisp again. Following and understanding God does not get easier with time and age, unless we are willing to be born anew. Then we will see our faith through new eyes every single day. In other words, Jesus is asking us to go to the optometrist and spring for a pair of glasses.
Because crazy things will happen with the correct prescription; with a faith that is new every morning. We will look outside and we will begin to see how God is inviting us to steer the brokenness of creation back towards God’s desire for creation.
It’s when we notice that, maybe we were actually wrong to deny climate change.
Maybe, we were wrong to treat brown and black people as less than white people.
Maybe, we were wrong about assuming a woman’s place is in the home.
Maybe, we were wrong to believe gender and sexual orientation are a checkbox, instead of a spectrum.
Maybe, we were wrong to believe the only way God could save the world was to murder his only Son.
Maybe, we have been wrong about a lot of things.
What are we not even clued into that we are wrong about today?
If we do not look to God anew with fresh eyes we may miss God altogether.
Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). The Son of God is trying to get our attention, trying to help us wake up. How fresh and new are the eyes of our faith? Is it time for some new glasses?May God open the eyes of our hearts, this day and everyday. Amen.
Meet our preachers
Lay Preacher, Faith Community Nurse
The Rev. Jane R. Dunning, Priest Associate
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Do you want to get together to talk about your spiritual life or learn more about our community? Contact us and we will find time to get together.