Mar. 8, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Mar 8, 2020 in Lent, Sermons

The Second Sunday in Lent

March 8, 2020

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by dark of night—and we all recognize how the gospel of John uses the metaphor of Jesus as the Light which shines in our darkness. Often, we assume this is referring to his not yet being public in his following of Jesus, or his unwillingness to accept the rigors of discipleship. As we put ourselves into this scene, I wonder if perhaps the darkness was more like confusion or uncertainty, fear of trusting something so very bright, so to speak. We also are wrestling with various darknesses—most notably right now the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) virus; it’s spread and devastation to so many. We come here as Nicodemus did, seeking the light of Christ at a time of fear and spiritual darkness. We do it hearing ever increasing numbers of people infected or dying and we hear the precautions so constantly I know we can all recite them now, and so we try to do what’s prudent. We  hear of the dramatic increase of the virus’ effect on certain groups of people; those without insurance, those who cannot take time off work to stay home or they won’t be paid, those who work in hospitals or nursing homes where they are constantly exposed, or those who are living on the streets or in shelters. Suddenly constant hand washing and elbow bumps don’t sound so bad. That’s the darkness of risk we are living in, and we know that countless others who face even greater risk, and so we come here to share in the Light of Christ. To ask as Nicodemus did, how can we be reborn at this juncture? Amidst this dark pandemic?

Our answer is in our inclination today—to turn to the Light, to Jesus’ words, and remember that we too are born of the Spirit, we are children of that Light. Nicodemus was drawn to this light just as we are, and he brings his fear, confusion, and seemingly absurd questions to Jesus because he sees something he wants in his life. We do too. Whether you are praying and listening in this sacred space this morning or reading this and saying your prayers quietly at home, you are faithfully seeking the Light, and in faith we will share God’s light with others because we know it is more than a passing flash; it is life-giving.

Nicodemus struggled with Jesus’ words about being born from water and the Spirit, and maybe thought what Jesus had was something he could learn or pick up and take with him as a new tool in his leadership role, or that Jesus was like a rabbi sharing esoteric wisdom with an eager student. I doubt he expected to hear it didn’t work that way, that Jesus would speak of a whole new life which he would have to enter into wholly, as someone born all over again. He’s thinking surely, he misunderstood—so Nicodemus keeps asking. Finally, Jesus connects it with a scripture Nicodemus understands; Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness at God’s instruction, so that those bitten by the poisonous ones could look up at it and live. This time it isn’t a snake God heals with, and it isn’t about recovery from a deadly bite. It’s Jesus himself who is given and lifted up, and this whole-self belief is about eternal life. That is what we’re Baptism-born into as Christians.

It means we not only believe, but that believing leads how we live and act, how we treat others, serve others. Episcopal Relief and Development helps with various epidemics and crisis all over the world, and I encourage everyone to look at to see all of what the church does around the globe. They post this guide:

A Faith-based response to epidemics

Our role in responding, as churches, dioceses and compassionate Christians, is to:

  1. Combat fear with knowledge in order to encourage preparedness and decrease stigma.
  2. Maintain operational continuity and continue worship life in the case of potential quarantine and disruption.
  3. Show God’s compassion and care to those in our communities who are affected.

These are general guidelines; decisions should be made in collaboration with Church leadership and health authorities, based on local practices and safety concerns.

Combating fear with knowledge means keeping informed and acting on that information thoughtfully, not re-actively. Our news cycles are great at keeping us up to date, but constant monitoring can be depressing and overwhelming, even isolating. Take healthy blocks of time away from it. Do your Lenten meditation booklet! Remember that this virus can infect anyone, not just people from specific countries, not just people in lower income ranges, and people who are careful will still get it sometimes. Stigmatizing helps no one.

Continuing our worship life is something I hold very dear, and we will continue to do so unless the risk is so great a closure is mandated, (but please pray at home if you are especially vulnerable and know that we will miss you and pray for you). Prayer is one of the things we do best, and to do so in community is a great gift and stirs our faith. I’ll admit I was initially dismayed at Bishop Rickel’s requirement that we celebrate Communion for now by distributing only the bread and not the wine. The common cup, as we call it, has long been known to not promote contagion for those who drink directly from it, and intinction actually increases your risk. However, our bishop is setting this standard rather than keep revising and increasing steps as the number of people affected grows, and this puts us on the side of caution since there’s much we don’t know about this virus. Also, I’m pleased it assumes that we will continue to gather for worship! This decision helps us remember that receiving this sacrament is fully sharing in Christ’s body and blood whether we receive just the bread or just the wine, because Christ cannot be divided, and the intention with which we receive it matters. Augustine wonderfully said, “It is not that which is seen that feeds, but that which is believed.” (Saint Augustine, Sermon 112.5, ~ 400 c.e.) I commend to you our psalm this week—it is not only my personal favorite, but one we might say daily to remember God’s presence with us in all of this.

The last piece of guidance offered in the Faith-based response to epidemics is that we continue to “Show God’s compassion and care to those in our communities who are affected.” This is more important now than ever, as I’m already seeing how incredibly isolating this is for people. In the days and weeks ahead please really think of those who might be staying in because they are at greater risk. Pray for them, call them, email them. Reach out and make contact, let them know you care and that they can call you too. Be community even if we cannot do so face to face— that’s part of how the Spirit works and this is how we can share Christ’s light. Can you make a donation to Issaquah Community Services or to the Foodbank? The needs will be significantly higher as people living on the edge get sick and cannot work or risk losing their housing. If you find you are one of those who have to take cover and stay home, think of some actions you can take that are generative; reaching out by phone or email to others, writing, learning, cooking, art in some form, read one of the gospels, organize those countless beautiful photos — think creatively of things that bring you close to God, that bring joy to the beloved person God created in you. Don’t just tune in to the news all day, think more of being the Good News.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 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.” —Martin Luther was quite right, that is the whole gospel in a nutshell!

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm
and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to all
who wait or work in uncertainty.

Bring hope that you will make us the equal
of whatever lies ahead.
Bring us courage to endure what cannot be avoided
for your will is health and wholeness;
you are God, and we need you. Amen.

Adapted from the New Zealand Prayer Book

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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