Mar. 22, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Mar 22, 2020 in Lent, Sermons

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2020

Notice how instead of seeking help for the man who’s blind, the first lines are about looking for where to put the blame for it? Blaming someone else means it’s not happening to us, and people do it to this day without realizing it. Would knowing one’s sin caused that blindness change their actions or opinion of him? His needs? Notice how they don’t recognize him as a man or neighbor once he is no longer blind? That’s all they saw was his blindness. Notice how discordant things feel between questioners and the one healed afterwards? As if the healing were a threat instead of a great blessing, they are more ill at ease with his sightedness than with his blindness and begging. Usually stories of Jesus’ healing are about restoring the person to community, this one sets him apart though. Notice that is the cost to anyone confessing Jesus to be the Messiah; being put out of the synagogue – putting them outside of the faith community. Finally, notice how antithetical it sounds to rub dirt in someone’s eye to help them see?! Even a small piece of dirt in my eyes pretty much ‘blinds’ me until I get it out – and between his touch and his saliva, Jesus actions here caused me to immediately think of the present imperatives of distancing, avoidance of touching faces, or getting droplets on anyone. Blessedly the gospel is nothing so literal as that, even if it does cross our minds in this context.

We can’t blame anyone for the Covid-19 virus, or attribute it to any sinfulness; it could have began anywhere, or if not this one it could have been a pathogen of another sort later on. Knowing who to ‘blame’ wouldn’t change how many are getting sick. We sometimes want a focus for our frustration I know, but look beneath the layers; what have we been blind to leading up to this? How are the most vulnerable usually treated or the most financially at risk supported? It helps no one to place blame. Bishop Greg has been in touch with hospital chaplains because outside clergy are barred from visiting the sick and dying. They say, “If you could see what we are seeing, and even more what we are expecting, you would STAY HOME!” It helps no one for people to keep ignoring protocols and risking contagion of self or others. There is however, an opportunity to let God teach us something in all of this. There is an opportunity to act out what we profess to believe. To keep our eye on the gospel showing us the Way of Christ, more avidly than we watch the news!

Watching for Christ in our midst and being that Christ to others changes everything. We see a great deal of good going on, acts of generosity and caring and self-sacrifice get dimmed by the reports of hoarding and escalating numbers, so let’s be people who look for how Christ acts through us and each other. One vulnerable woman says she looks forward to seeing a couple from St. Michaels who walk by each day and visit through the window. A downtown Jonesboro building owner tells his tenant businesses not to pay rent this month but instead to pay their employees. A bagpiper goes to one of our senior living communities growing weary of lock down, and stands in the middle of their courtyard and serenades them with a bagpipe concert! People lean out of windows in close neighborhoods and sing together. In Spain, Italy, Portugal, and the Netherlands people emerged at 10 p.m. one evening to give a roaring applause to the heroic work of health care workers. Museums offer free online tours, The Metropolitan Opera is streaming free operas each night until they reopen. Some of our families have organized tea time or happy hour with family members isolated across the country; certainly something they could have been doing for years, though mutual care and love moved them to do so now. One of our preteen members had her Girl Scout troop write cheerful cards of encouragement to another member of ours in the hospital. —Jesus utterly ignores the blame questions reaching out to heal and change another’s life. God writes straight with crooked lines.

Sure I would like to see Jesus arrive with a cure, even if it meant saliva and mud in our eyes! But physical healing isn’t the whole of what we need; he came for our salvation! So we still have to deal with all the concerns revealed by this virus; how we relate to each other, care and connect, put others’ welfare ahead of our acquisitiveness, and how we can cease to see the label or disability instead of the person. I hope finding a ‘cure’ doesn’t keep us from living into these gifts and lessons we’ve received. We renew our commitment to this every week as we share in worship, coming each as individuals and then finding ourselves have become one body.

We are used to seeing this altar in person, the bread and the wine before us, and today you see it on a screen and yet we still know that they are real and tangible. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) says, “That is what the evidence of your eyes tells you, but your faith requires you to believe that the bread is the body of Christ, the cup the blood of Christ. In these few words we can say perhaps all that faith demands…Our eyes see the material form; our understanding, its spiritual effect.” As we find that even regathered in this atypical way, we are still the Body of Christ—so according to Augustine, “it is the sacrament of yourselves that is placed on the Lord’s altar, and it is the sacrament of yourselves that you receive…Let your mind assimilate that and be glad, for there you will find unity, truth, piety, and love.”

Remembering how bread is made from not one but many grains, and we are likewise gathered into one body. The same is true of the wine; the juice of many grapes are mingled and become something that cannot be taken apart. We have sometimes used Augustine’s words for the invitation to Communion on Wednesday nights; “Be, then, what you see, and receive what you are.” (Sermon 272: PL 38, 1246-1248) Even if we are not in this room  receiving from this same loaf and cup, we are one in Christ and are become part of this sacrament ourselves, this hallowed sacrament of peace and unity on his altar.

Our reading from Ephesians today speaks of how we were once in darkness but in the Lord we are light, and he quotes a hymn; “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” “The dead” is not referring to those who have died, rather to the darkness of their lives before Christ’s light shined on them, before they ‘awoke.’ I noted earlier how the man healed of blindness was more separated from his present community after healing than before it. The one healed literally enters Christ’s light anew, an entry into a new community, not of the darkness of his questioners and Jesus’ accusers, but of light.

We ourselves see things in new ways by his healing and light. Even as we see the bread and the wine in the online world of the livestream service, we move from what we see there to being one with Christ, being that body ourselves, from seeing to being. I’ve been exchanging emails with Mother Ann about this, and she highlights our theology with some of Augustine’s words;

“Be, then, a member of Christ’s body, so that your “Amen” may accord with the truth.” (Ann+ asks) —isn’t that the essence of Communion? All have entered the church as individuals, like separate grains or grapes, and yet they unite as prayers in the blessing of bread and wine. All are active in generating the Real Presence they have come to receive: “It is the sacrament of yourselves that is placed on the Lord’s altar, and it is the sacrament of yourselves that you receive.”

Jesus heard that they had driven [the man] out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.”

May we rejoice to join in faith, saying ourselves, Lord we believe!

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

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