This is the manuscript, i.e. the plan, for the sermon I preached today, March 22, 2020, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Today was an unusual and very much grace-filled day. Gathering with the congregation remotely, via Zoom and Facebook Live, presented unique challenges with technology and my significant anxiety and lack of confidence when in front of a camera. And yet, as she often does, the wildly wonderful Holy Spirit entered into our community and words, some of them wise, were spoken. If you are interested in hearing what was said after you read what was planned, you can do that here.
The lectionary for today is found here.
My daughter did not hear until she was about a year old. Born prematurely, the connections between brain and auditory nerve were a bit slow to develop. As a result, she learned about the world using her other senses in ways that were remarkable to see. One day, when she was about six months old, I took her into my office for a bit. We were in a conference room with what looked to the rest of us like plain blue chairs. One of my colleagues noticed that Kathleen seemed positively transfixed looking at the back of the chair. It was then that we noticed that the blue of the chair contained a small pattern, and that it wasn’t a flat blue. In fact, there were teeny tiny flecks of reddish brown. Those of us who had spent hours and hours and hours in that room, on those chairs, had never noticed the pattern of the fabric of the chairs. Kathleen, six months old, there for probably the second or third time, saw the things we could not see.
The Gospel today speaks of a similar lack of vision and new way of seeing. Jesus performs the miracle of healing. He heals the man blind from birth, using mud, saliva, and the instruction to wash in a particular pool. This, in and of itself, is a remarkable story. But, quite frankly, I have come to be less “impressed”, if you will, by the miracle stories themselves.
Now, before you start wondering what kind of theologian you called to be your rector, let me explain. I am not at all surprised that Jesus cured blindness and leprosy, that he cast out demons and raised people from the dead, fed thousands with a bit of bread and fish, and turned water into wine. Jesus,
though both human and divine, was the incarnate God, after all. And I, for one, see no limit on what God can do, believing fully those wonderful words of Jesus’ that we read in Matthew (9:16) and Mark (10:27): “…for God all things are possible.”
What impresses me most in this Gospel story, is how, once again, Jesus performs a miracle, changes one person’s life so completely, and then, without any sense of exploitation, uses that person’s experience, to teach others what they need to know, to say things we need to hear.
This story is, on its face, about a miraculous physical cure, but, my friends, it is about so much more than that. A colleague said it well: “God’s glory was always at work in him [the blind man] but people missed it because they couldn’t see beyond his blindness.” (Jose Reyes at Fresh Start, 3.21.17)
This story is, in a nutshell, about how God cannot be contained by our blindness, nor defined by our vision.
God is God, and God will be who God is whether we see it or not, whether we can imagine it or not.
An important message for all of us is the invitation in Jesus’ curing of the man’s blindness. It was an invitation to that man and to all in his community to look deeper, to look differently, at their faith and understanding of God. God with them. God in them. God at work in their lives and in the world.
This was- and continues to be- an invitation to set aside the things we think we see, the things we think we know, to see ourselves, our neighbors, and the world as God sees us and them and all of creation,as Go d knows us and them and all of creation.
It is a message for all time. It is a message for this particular time. At a time in which so many have died and tens of thousands more are ill, we need to know the presence of God.
At a time in which so many are afraid, afraid of what they know and what they don’t know, we need to know the presence of God.
At a time in which our normal ways of living, of being together, are necessarily restricted, we need to know the presence of God.
Jesus was drawn to physically touch the blind man, which is something we are largely prevented from doing in this time. Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus was drawn to be with, talk to, and touch people who were outcasts and known sinners, children, all manner of people. Today we are prevented from gathering together for something as profoundly simple as our weekly worship.
What are we to do? How are we to be? Do we even know?
The simple answer to that third question is, “yes and no”. We know that it is critically important – quite literally save-a-life important – that we make huge changes to how we live our lives each day. We know for today what those changes are, just as we reasonably and with some anxiety, perhaps, question whether what we are doing is enough and whether or not we’ll have to do things differently tomorrow. It is so hard to see the future, even the future of a couple of days, in the midst of such turmoil and uncertainty.
How can we know who we are when we don’t recognize our lives?
Today’s Gospel is invitation to remember that who and whose we are does not change, no matter what the human condition throws our way. God’s vision is not our vision. Jesus sees deeply into our hearts and continues to love us into new life no matter what the human condition throws our way. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and working in and through all of God’s people, in all times, in all places, without ceasing. And that includes in this scary, surreal time of coping with the coronavirus and Covid-19.
We have a unique (and hopefully never to be repeated) opportunity to expand our vision, to do our best to see as God sees, to love as Jesus loves, to feel and celebrate the Holy Spirit at work in the world. This is an invitation to be part of the miracle of a transformed life, a life in which we know in new and deeper ways that God’s presence in unwavering and unconditional.
That is no easy task. Whether it is one by each, as the community of the faithful that St. Stephen’s Church, or the Church writ large, this can feel daunting. Accepting this invitation from God and living it faithfully in all aspects of our life requires rethinking the way we understand relationship with each other in community.
How do we maintain connection with people we no longer see face-to-face? How do we take care of other when so many more of us are in need of immediate care, some whose ability to provide for basic needs for food and shelter may be in jeopardy? How do we trust in God when the ways and the places we are used to seeing God aren’t so clear anymore.
We continue to look, with the same perseverance six-month-old Kathleen had when she was exploring a world she could not hear. We remind ourselves that we are so very much more than our daily routines, our usual ways of gathering, and our fears, anxieties, and grief. We remember in any way we are able that we are beloved of God whose vision is not our vision, whose presence with us in not dependent or conditioned upon our daily routines, our usual ways of gathering, or our fears, anxieties, and grief. God can and God will work in us with the same love with which Jesus cured the blind man.
Copyright 2020 The Rev. Paula J. Toland