Church of the Ascension
March 22, 2020, Lent 4
Homily by Rev. Posey Krakowsky
We had two long stories in our readings today — 1 Samuel and then from the Gospel of John, The Man Born Blind
Bishop Mary Glasspool did a short video reflection on the 1 Samuel story, encourage you to watch it. Here is the link.
She reminded us that this story shows us God adapts.
God works with us and among us — God is able to change plans.
Things do change, situations do change, leaders do change.
But what is not changeable is God’s concern and love for us.
And God’s loving presence among us.
God is in this with us, no matter what.
This parade of the sons of Jesse — made me laugh, because I hear God saying, “Nope, not that one,” “Nope, not that one,” and it made me think of God’s persistence. God is saying to Samuel: keep on looking, keep on looking. Keep on going deeper. God asking Samuel to continue to look for new things — for what Samuel does not expect.
God affirms that God is working for the people in this situation. And that God chooses to do so in ways we do not anticipate — and most often, through those in the margins.
David is a shepherd — he is the lowliest of the brothers. Very much on the margins.
In our situation right now — who are our heroes? I was talking to my nephew yesterday, and his partner is a UPS driver — totally a hero right now in this situation. How about the teachers, creating online curriculums so quickly? How about all of the health care workers, doctors, nurses — in the front lines of this fight? How about the shelf stackers at grocery stores — the checkout folks? How about the caregivers still helping our elders in nursing homes? None of these are glamorous professions. But each and every one so vital for all of us right now.
Our gospel story from John also focuses on God’s revealing works in someone at the margins. To me, the man born blind is a much longer version of the healing story of the blind man in Mark.
Mark = Cliff Notes
John = Tolstoy’s rewrite.
Or perhaps Shakespeare’s rewrite, since it reads like a play for sure, with different characters and scenes.
John fills out the backstory of this healing story in a powerful way.
As soon as the man is introduced, people start asking questions.
The disciples asking questions, neighbors asking questions, Pharisees asking questions. The man’s parents are interrogated. The man himself is asked questions, and when his answers do not satisfy the townspeople, he is driven away from the town.
The whole passage is quite chaotic — moving locations, changing participants — we can imagine it all happening in different parts of the village, clusters of folks standing around and talking. Except for the standing close to each other and talking, all of that seems very familiar right now, doesn’t it?
This story is a classic example of how we humans react when faced with something new and unexpected — 1) we ask a lot of questions 2) we try to assign blame.
We ask questions because we genuinely do want to know what’s happening. And when we don’t get clear answers, then we assign blame because we are afraid.
It’s a way of reassuring ourselves — to say, “Oh, that’s okay, I’ll be safe, because the reason that person got it is because they did such and such.”
We humans like to find patterns, and we like to solve puzzles, and we like to be in the know. We humans really do not like it when life feels random.
We like to be able to say, “Ah ha! If only I do such and such, then it will all be totally okay.”
But sometimes, there is no correct, definitive answer. And sometimes, there is no one sure source of blame. That’s the situation we are in right now.
There is no doubt that mistakes have been made by people who were supposed to protect us and have our interests at heart.
But in a macro sense, this is not a situation where we can assign specific and targeted blame for the larger problem facing our world right now.
So when we ask “why is this happening to us?” It helps to look at this story. Because the response from Jesus is that when we do that, we are asking the wrong question.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus says.
translation: you can’t blame anybody for the fact that he was born blind.
Instead: Jesus says, “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
In other words — focus on how God is acting and making things new in this situation, not on finding blame for the calamity.
Focus on how God is choosing to work through that which seems most frightening.
Also in this story — important to notice that the healing comes from something very personal. Jesus – making mud with saliva, rubbing the eyes.
Not only is Jesus using dirt — the very dust of which we are made, but the whole healing is very up close and personal. It’s very direct. It involves touch. It involves speaking, it involves bodies.
This healing story is telling us that God works in and through us in our very flesh. Like the doctors who are treating us. Like the UPS drivers who are bringing us food and supplies. Like the teachers who are continuing to teach us. Like the caregivers still at their jobs. Like all of us, committing to staying home and helping stop the spread of this virus.
I know that we all feel like that kind of personal connection is precisely what we are missing right now, and we are, we are, we are grieving that sense of face to face, hand to hand, very personal connection right now.
But don’t forget that we Christians have a vocabulary for this kind experience. We are in exile. We are feeling that loss and grief very sorely.
But in that grief, God is pointing us to look deeper.
We have been thrown out of the place and patterns we are used to and forced to make new ones. Scripture tells us — over and over — that it is precisely in these kinds of situations, these times of journey in the wilderness, that God shows up for us most vividly.
Which brings me to our beloved 23rd Psalm. Last year when I was in the Holy Land, we were taken to the Wadi Qelt desert, where the road runs from Jericho to Jerusalem, and we saw with our own eyes what a wilderness that landscape is. Barren, rocky, dangerous, steep, almost no vegetation. People travel down in the valley where the river runs when the weather is not so dry.
This Psalm reminds us— that even and especially in that most forbidding of places, God is with us, God is faithfully and intimately connected to us. Even in the desert, even in the wilderness, where we are very much afraid that we will lose our lives. Even in the Valley of the Shadow of death.
We are seen, we are known, and we are loved. God is with us.
I’d like to end with a prayer from the Celtic prayer book:
through the violence of these days.
in all your ways.
in troubled times
let holiness be your aim.
burn like a flame.
God speed you!
God lead you,
and keep you wrapped around His heart!
May you be known by love.
in a world of greed and lies.
through heaven’s eyes.
God hold you,
and keep you wrapped around His heart.
May you be known by love.
Celtic Daily Prayer
Here is a link to the scripture for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.