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Bubonic Reformation & COVID-19 Reformation

John 8:31–36
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 (Read the whole passage)

A sure sign for Lutherans that the end of the church year is just around the corner, is the Sunday when we break out A Mighty Fortress, put out the red paraments and vestments, and remind ourselves from whence we came – Reformation Sunday. 

And here in 2020, we are 503 years on from the commemoration of the day when Martin Luther went to the church in Wittenberg where he nailed to the door his 95 Theses regarding the sale of indulges and the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. While some might argue the Reformation was already on its way, this moment is often remembered as the spark that began the period of great change in the way Christians around the world would gather, worship and ultimately understand salvation and faith. 

And interestingly enough, the reformation also took place during a plague. The bubonic plague had been cropping up around Europe for decades and in 1527 it came to Wittenberg. Martin Luther wrote to a friend with some advice about how to minister and care for his people during that time. He said, 

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

So it seems that Reformation and pandemic go hand in hand. And with all that we as the church have endured and adapted to during the past months of the COVID-19 Pandemic,  one might wonder if we too are experiencing a reformation of sorts, a transformation in the way we gather, worship and ultimately understand salvation and faith. 

As we sort out just what is going in our world and in our community faith, it is perhaps appropriate that today we contemplate the Reformation. On this day, we remember Martin Luther standing up against the injustices of the pope and the church – the selling of salvation, the abuses by church leaders, the exploitation of the faithful. We remember that our faith and our beliefs are important. Important enough to die for, important enough to defend. 

But on Reformation Sunday we also remember the division that change caused. We remember those who died as a result of the the protests of the Reformers. We remember that between 125,000 to 250,000 people died in the peasants war that was inspired by Luther’s writings. We remember that after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door the church in Wittenberg, Christianity was split from 2 denominations (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) into as many as 25,000 today. And these divisions have caused violence, chaos, oppression, abuse, suffering and death for 500 years.

Reformation Sunday is day of two realities. Of promise, hope and freedom, contrasted by division, conflict and oppression.

Today, as you notice the red paraments that adorn the chancel you may know that red is one of the 5 liturgical colours, but only used a handful of Sundays each year. Red is the colour we use to symbolize the Holy Spirit. The changing, transforming, reforming work of the holy spirit among us. Red is used on Pentecost when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples, red is used for the spirits call names in the ordination of clergy and today Red is for spirit moving in the reformation Reformation. 

And Red is also used to remember martyrs in the church. 

The red reminds us of this mixed experience of Reformation. A moment of change and hope and renewal. A moment of struggle, suffering and death. 

Our observance of Reformation speaks to our time. It speaks to great change we are undergoing from how we worship, gather and build community as a church, to our understanding and attitudes of race, racism and oppression, to the re-working of our social safety nets, to how we will care for a suffering climate. 

And it speaks to the suffering and struggle that is still ongoing. To those who are sick and dying during this pandemic, those who giving every ounce of strength to care for strangers and their community, in hospitals, schools, grocery stores and so many more places. To how this moment has exposed the vulnerability of poor who are both most affected by the virus and who are forced to work the front lines our society in order to make ends meet. 

Fittingly, Reformation Sunday is about all of these things and more. About the conflicting experiences of division, conflict and war that accompanied the Reformation, as well as the striving for justice, the proclamation of grace and mercy, the hope we have in God’s promises. 

God’s promises like we hear Jesus utter today, promises like, 

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

And if there is anything to remember today it is that. 

Even as Canada and the world struggles with this pandemic while considering the opportunity for radical change. Even as Reformation Sunday demands that we recall hope and the struggle: the gospel proclamation of Martin Luther and the reformers, the bold declaration of grace through faith alone, that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and that this belief is important enough to stand up for contrasted with the division, conflict, violence and suffering caused by the reformation. Even as these realities of both 2020 and 1517 sit with us, they are ultimately still the second most important things today. 

Because even Reformation Sunday it is still about what each Sunday is about for Christians. 

Today is firstly about Christ. 

Today is about God and God’s mighty deeds among God’s people. Today is a reminder we simply cannot save ourselves on our own. 

Just as in today’s Gospel readings the Jews said that as descendants of Abraham they were slaves to no one (even though they had been slaves to the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and now Romans). Just as Martin Luther declared that he and we we were not slaves to law and freed by God’s grace (even though he was threatened by the Pope and others). Just as we try to declare ourselves slaves to no virus or pandemic restrictions (even though cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise)…

We are still slaves to all of those things. We still must mask and social distance. We are still declared unrighteous by the law. We are slaves to fear, fear for our safety, fear of losing more, fear for being forgotten by God. 

No matter what our leaders declare, no matter the bravery we display, the sacrifices we make, the peace we try to uphold. We simply cannot save ourselves. We simply cannot free ourselves. 

We are slaves to sin, slaves to suffering, slaves to death, and there is nothing we can do about it. 

But that is why today is ultimately about Christ. 

Today is about the promise that God gives to slaves. To those enslaved by sin, those enslaved by suffering, to those enslaved by death. Today, is about the promise that God gives to us. The promise that despite our condition, despite our slavery, that God is showing us mercy, God is giving us grace, God is making us free. Free in the son. 

And this promise of freedom comes to us first in baptism. In baptism where we drown and die to sin, and where we rise to new life in Christ. 

So it is fitting today, that of all the things that Reformation might have us consider, the good and that bad, the hopeful and depressing… that the most important truth is God’s promise given to us first in the waters of baptism. The promise we belong to God, and that God’ names and claims us as God’s children. That no matter what befalls us, plague or war, violence or hate, suffering or tribulation, that God’s promise for us will hold: 

That God is our Mighty Fortress
That God is our Refuge and Strength
That God is redemption from sin
That God is freedom found in Christ
That God is our God and we are God’s people. 

And this promise is a powerful act of defiance against fear and violence, against oppression and powerlessness for us to proclaim this gospel truth today. That this gospel proclamation, that this reminder of what is central in our chaotic world, that our worshiping together in faith is an act of hope. That God is passing on through us, through the Body of Christ, this hope and this promise of grace to the world. 

Even while we are slaves to sin, to suffering and most of all to death, we pass on our hope for the future. A future promised by God in the midst of slavery. A future given by grace and mercy, even though we are dead. A future found with New Life in Christ. 

Even enough for the dogs

GOSPEL: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”… (Read the whole passage)

Six months ago yesterday – March 15th – was the last time that we gathered in-person for worship. At that time, we imagined a few weeks of lockdown and then a return to normal. Six months later, social distancing is still a thing, lockdowns and restrictions of various degrees are sill  in force. And this pesky little virus continues to overtake our attention. Even as protests over police killings continue to erupt, even as political scandals make headlines, even as hockey resumes only to disappoint (sorry Winnipeg and Edmonton and Toronto), even as Tornados tear through the province, even as a woman of colour is historically named to the ticket of an American presidential candidate… the coronavirus still is the most important issue in our world. This month case numbers are rising, and the daily death toll remains tragically high. Many stress over going back to school and going back to work. Six months of the world still turning with all of the usual turmoil and historic events, that by themselves would make 2020 a memorable year… and the Coronavirus pandemic has gripped us all that entire time putting everything else in the back seat. 

Throughout this summer we have been hearing the story of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. Today, we finally her the last story of our Genesis wanderings. Sarah and Abraham’s great grand-son Joseph, who had been sold into slavery because of the jealousy of his brothers, has risen to power in the court of Pharaoh. And when famine comes into the land of Jacob, his family and herds, he sends his sons to find help in Egypt. There they meet Joseph, though not knowing it is him, and Joseph plans to recuse his starving family by bringing them to the abundance of Egypt. 

This story of Joseph rescuing his family may not seem on the surface to have much to do with the story of Jesus that we hear today, as he encounters a persistent Canaanite woman who is advocating for her sick daughter. And yet how Jesus and the disciples came to be standing in gentile territory to be annoyed by the persistence of Canaanite woman is deeply connected to the Israelites picking up and moving into Egypt at Joseph’s direction. 

For you see, soon after the story of Joseph, we start Exodus and story of Moses and the Israelites slavey in Egypt. As foreigners living under oppression, God promises Moses and God’s people that he will deliver them to the promised land. When the Israelites escape Pharaoh and Egypt, they wander the desert for 40 years only to eventually settle in the land of Cana. The land of Canaanites. 

Centuries later, as Jesus and the disciples stand in gentile territory, annoyed by the presence of this gentile woman pressing Jesus for a miracle, they have forgotten that their ancestors were themselves granted reprieve and salvation by a foreign nation. They once were a lost people wandering the deserts only to come to the land they were now in, as outsiders looking for hope and promise. 

Instead, the disciples insist that this Canaanite woman be sent away, as she is an unclean outsider and foreigner, unworthy of their attention. And at first, Jesus almost seems to agree with his followers. 

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He declares. 

That doesn’t sound like the Jesus we usually hear from in the gospels. 

And still the woman presses Jesus. He responds in a most un-christlike manner comparing her to a dog stealing food meant for children. 

This does’t sound like the caring and compassionate Jesus we usually know and hear in the gospels. Yet, there is also something about Jesus’ response to this woman… something almost comfortable. 

The disciples probably felt like they finally understood what was happening and weren’t clueless. Jesus was falling in line with how they understood the world, with how they expected the rules to be followed, with how they saw the boundaries between peoples, nations, tribes and religions. 

And there is a certain guilty comfort and security that we probably don’t want to admit. Because we too know what our first instinct is in similar situations. We too like clear distinctions and boundaries, we like knowing who is in and who is out. And finally Jesus is giving us some clue about who can be counted out from God’s love… even if we don’t actually know any Canaanites personally, we do know that we aren’t them and they aren’t us. And feels like we are on the inside. 

That first thought, that first instinct, that first reaction to set the boundary, to call some people worthy and others not… that is what is getting us, the whole world, in heaps of trouble these days. From the new, almost daily uncovering of racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic institutions, to the way we police and protect our world, to the way we engage in political discourse. This first thought and instinct has led us to create bloated city police departments across the continent. It has given way to racist attacks against the first woman of colour named as vice-presidential candidate for a major US party. It is why the Canadian Museum for human rights (of all places) needs to hire a new CEO to fix racism and sexism in their workplace. It is why here in Manitoba there has been so much shame heaped on those in our community of who have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Whether we like it or not, we are those disciples asking Jesus to send that Canaanite woman – and her troubles – away. 

We are human beings whose first instinct is to set the boundary and do our best to make sure no one crosses it.  

We are people simply casting about for some certainty in a difficult and chaotic world, even if it sometimes comes at the expense of others. 

But then just as Jesus has put her down and in her place, the Canaanite woman makes one final appeal for her daughter. 

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Surely by this point our hard hearts have been exposed, the disciples’ annoyance with this persistent Canaanite woman, our first instinct to set the boundary and keep the undesirables out are revealed. 

Would the disciples still want Jesus to send her away at this point? Would we?

Whether we know the answer or not, Jesus responds. 

Jesus responds and he is back to his compassionate if not scandalous self. 

He commends the woman for her faithfulness. A gentile, a woman, a Canaanite of all people… full of faithfulness. 

But Jesus doesn’t just open up a spot on the edge of the kingdom of God, he doesn’t just do the bear minimum for her. 

Jesus opens the Kingdom wide, Jesus expands the space for this woman to be more than just a charity case, more than a forgettable instance of healing. Jesus commends the woman for her faith, for her insistence on proclaiming her trust in God. Jesus elevates her to the level of disciples, to those tasked with going out and proclaiming the word, to preacher and proclaimer of the good news. In one short line this woman, seeing the need of her own daughter and discerning God’s presence in her midst, proclaims the coming of God. 

She proclaims that God has enough for all, enough for the down trodden and lowly of the world, enough for even the dogs. 

And we cannot help but wonder if Jesus was holding our first thought, our first instinct up for us too see. To show us just how cruel a world is that makes distinctions about who is in and who is out to determine who has access to God’s mercy. To see the cruelty of turning a person in desperate need away because they didn’t belong to the right tribe, the right political party, practice the right religion, work in the right job, come from the right country, speak the right language, bear the right colour of skin. 

And after holding up our first thought for us to see, Jesus holds up God’s first thought about us. God who chooses to be revealed in the most unlikely of places. In the Canaanite cities of Tyre and Sidon, through a Canaanite woman pleading for the healing of her daughter. In this gentile, this woman, this brand new follower of Jesus, God preaches the gospel of grace and mercy. 

God’s first thought is the good news given for us, for all of us, for the most unlikely of us. The grace of God given even to the dogs eating the table scraps from the floor. 

God ’s first thought is to use methods and people we would never expect to preach the gospel of mercy and grace. God gives us the promise of mercy anew in church structures built on Facebook, Youtube and Zoom. And God has given us all the people and more that we once hoped would come back to us – but not how we imagined. God proclaims the good news for us and for the world with new voices that we wouldn’t have heard from within our walls and boundaries.

And so here we are in this August of pandemic… and all too often our first thought turns us to set boundaries and declare some to be on the outside of God’s love. And yet God is surprising us in the most extraordinary ways, by sending us the most extraordinary people to proclaim to us the good news of God’s mercy, given in such abundance that even the dogs have enough. 

And through this Canaanite woman, through these unexpected means of pandemic realities, God is preaching the good news to the world in new and unexpected ways. Six months ago, back in Egypt it all seemed so unimaginable to us… and here we are in Cana and God is revealing to us a promised land that we have yet to fully understand… but where the Good News is given anew for us and for all, even for the dogs eating table scraps.

Lazarus, COVID-19 and the Thing we are All afraid Of

The sermon starts at about 23:00 mark

GOSPEL: John 11:1-45

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

Today is the final Sunday in the season of Lent. This means we stand on the precipice of Holy Week. And unlike the predictions of some world leaders out there, we will NOT have full churches on Easter Sunday. 

In fact, the calendar may say that Lent is ending, but it feels like our wilderness journey is just beginning. The school and public services closures that were predicted to last weeks, are now being planned for months. Business are shuttering their doors, the economy is suffering even as the government plans significant supports for businesses and employees alike. 

And then there is the truly grim news, reports of more and more confirmed cases of COVID-19. Followed by equally hard to hear news of deaths resulting from the illness.

Our Lenten journey began in the wilderness with Jesus, then moved to the nighttime with Nicodemus. Then into the daylight with the woman at the well, followed by the blindman last week. 

Today, Lent gets a little more real. We have been headed here since Advent and Christmas, but we have been able to skim over the real issue for weeks. The themes and images of Lent:  desert and fasting, existential questions in the night, social isolation at the well, a community in chaos around the blindman who could now see… they have all skirted the real issue. The real issue that we face today and that will confront us through Holy Week. 

It is of course the thing that the whole world has been thrown into chaos over. It is the real thing that all the social distancing measures are about, the real reason why we are trying to flatten the curve. 

In fact words the words Coronavirus and COVID-19 have become euphemisms, words that hide the real thing we are talking about. 

Jesus says it out loud to his disciples as they plan to go to to Bethany. 

“Lazarus is dead.”

Death. 

Once you make the connection it is unmistakable. Nearly every time you hear the word coronavirus or COVID-19 in the news, replace it with the word “death” and you will be able to see what the panic and fear is about. 

But it isn’t just physical death. It is the death of what once was, of what we used to be. The world has changed, and we can feel it. Things won’t go back to what the once were, this won’t be just a little 3 week enforced staycation… this is a game changing moment for all of us. 

I once heard an Old Testament scholar describe his experience of receiving a cancer diagnosis. As he sat in his doctor’s office and received the news, it felt like the soundtrack of his life was turned off. All of his dreams, hopes and plans that filled the world around him just disappeared. And there was nothing, silence, emptiness. 

Modern people he said, “fill the sky with ourselves.” We loom large in our own little existences. And God…God is far away. 

Yet, for the ancient people of the Old Testament, they didn’t see themselves in the same way. They were small. God was big, God filled the world.

And yet these days our soundtracks have been turned down, if not off completely. We have been compacted into our homes. Our hopes and dreams and plans put on hold, or (Hashtag) #cancelled. 

We are being made small by a thing that we cannot see, but that we know is there. 

As Jesus makes his way to Bethany, Martha comes and meets him on the road. And her soundtrack had almost certainly been turned off by the grief she was experiencing. Her life put on hold by the death of her brother. But perhaps more significantly, I wonder if her experience of God was turned down too. With her brother dead and buried, the God of Life that was supposed to fill the world probably seemed distant or not there at all.  

Martha says something that many of us may probably feel. 

“If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

She wants to go back. Back to the before time, back to when the soundtrack was on. She wants her brother back, she wants her own life back. And she knows that Jesus, that this one sent by God, could have done something. 

Jesus and Martha talk, Jesus promises her bother will rise again, but Martha doesn’t hear it the way Jesus means it. She knows the promises, but they seem far away. Something for later, not something that matters in the present moment, not when there is a fresh body in the grave. 

Then Jesus meets Mary on the road. She too knows that Jesus could have done something, yet she seems more resigned to the moment, there is nothing left for her but grief. And so Jesus joins her as he can, weeping with her even knowing what he is about to do. 

There is something so very tangible about this scene from the Gospel of John. Those who have grieved a loved one already know it. But as we all face the uncertainty of pandemic, as the days and hours slow to a crawl and the world becomes more and more silent… we know in a new way what that walk to Bethany was like. 

We might want our soundtracks to fill the sky again, or we might be resigned to our unknown fate with nothing to do but weep. 

But we are are walking to Bethany today, and will keep walking for the foreseeable future… 

Yet, even as God feels far away or gone altogether… Jesus does not abandon us to the silence. 

Even as we feel small and compacted, surrounded by silence and fear, Jesus doesn’t leave us to wither. 

But Jesus doesn’t just show up at the end. 

Jesus walks the Bethany road with these grieving sisters. 

Jesus walks our down our road of social isolation and pandemic with us. 

And Jesus speaks the promise of God to Martha, the imminent promise of new resurrection and new life… even though she cannot hear or comprehend it. 

“I am the Resurrection and the Life”

Words spoken to Moses in burning bush, words spoken to disciples fearful of the storm. 

And Jesus weeps with Mary, because the experiences of this life cannot just be glossed over with a happy ending. They change us, and so God weeps with us, God sits with us, feels with us, loves us in the midst of all the things of this life. 

Jesus doesn’t just skip to end, but walks the road with these sisters, with his disciples, with us. 

And only then, once they have walked the road Bethany, once they get to tomb, Jesus shows Mary and Martha that the promises of God are not far off. 

And still, as Martha protests because she can still smell death in the air. 

And still, as we can hear and see the news, as we feel small and helpless… 

Jesus shows us that the promises of God are not far off. 

Jesus has stone rolled away.  

Then with the same voice that spoke over the waters of creation, 

the voice that speaks over the waters of baptism, 

with this voice Jesus calls the dead man from his grave. 

“Lazarus, come out!”

And out walks death itself.

“Mary and Martha, come out!” 

Except it isn’t death. 

“My beloved children, come out!”

It is life. 

And the promises of God are revealed.

This isn’t going back to the before time. This is the new thing that God is making after. 

This is the promise that is revealed on the third day. This is the empty tomb discovered by the women early on the first day of the week. This is what comes at the end of the walk to Bethany. 

And we are still on our walk to Bethany. 

We are still looking back to the before time. 

Yet Jesus declares that I AM’s promise of resurrection and life are closer than we can comprehend. 

And we are weeping, resigned to an unknown future. 

Yet, Jesus weeps with us, neither abandoning nor forsaking us, but showing us God’s love poured out for us.

And today, Jesus promises, that our Bethany road, our COVID-19 road, our road of life will come to an end too. 

And Jesus will call out to us, 

My children, come out!

And we might see and hear and smell and feel like death. 

But New Life will surprise us, the God of Resurrection will surprise us, 

By filling our skies anew, not with our own hope, dreams and plans,

But with the grace, mercy and love of God that meets us on the way.

Amen

Worship in the age of COVID-19 – Coming Together to Stay Apart

***This sermon can be viewed as a part of streaming worship on my congregation’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/sherparkwpg. ***

The Sermon starts at about 20:30 mark of the video

GOSPEL: John 9:1-41

...6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 (read the whole passage)

Okay…

So if you are feeling like this is a little weird raise your hands. It’s weird to be watching me on your phone, tablet, or computer, rather than sitting here in church, in your favourite pew with family and friends. 

It is weird for me too. Weird to be standing in a empty church, having worship with what feels like myself. I am talking to my phone like it is a person. 

But here we all are, on our own or with just immediate family. And for most of us, we probably haven’t spent much time with others during the course of the past week. The last 10 or so days have felt like the world has been turned upside down. It started two Wednesdays ago, I was watching the Oilers play the Jets (cheering for the Oilers, of course) when it was announced that the NBA had suspended its entire season. There was this feeling that things were going to change. 

Today, so many places are closed, public spaces, private businesses, schools and churches. Stay home as much as possible is the advice, the instructions from our leaders and public health officials. 

And so we are doing it for the sake of one another. We are staying home in order to keep our neighbour safe. Because any one case of COVID-19 might just be like a mild flu, or uncomfortable few days. But it can be deadly for the most vulnerable among us, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised. And too many of those cases at once can overwhelm the health care systems, as it already is in places like Italy. 

And so we stay home, and stay away. As as I like to put it, we are coming together to stay away. 

We are moving our social interactions to the phone, texts, emails and online. Someone tweeted a few days ago, “I didn’t expect to be giving up this much for Lent.”

And it is like a Lenten Fast… one that I hadn’t even really imagined was possible only 3 weeks ago when Lent began. We are fasting from in-person community, fasting from each other. 

Here in the church, we are fasting from the body of Christ. Fasting from being part of this community that gives us our identity as we gather week after week for worship. 

And we are also fasting from the Body and Blood of Christ. Not by our choice, but fasting none-the-less. It is weird how the Body of Christ that is the church is all mixed in with the Body Christ that is the Bread and Wine. Fasting from one means we fast from the other. 

So we look forward with joy to the time when we will gather, in-person, again to received one another as the body of Christ and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ – which is all mixed together into one. As my liturgy professor liked to say, “Swirling around the Cup are your siblings in the Body of Christ.”

As we continue our lenten journey in this new experience of worship, we have come a long ways. From the Valley of Ashes, to the desert with Jesus, to Nicodemus asking questions in the night, to the Samaritan woman at the well. Today, we hear the familiar story of the nameless blindman. 

The blind man who wakes up one day only to have Jesus stroll into his life, and turn his sight on. Instead causing a celebration in his community, it throws the people around the blindman into chaos. They want to know who did this to him, who just changed his fortune, his role and place in the community. You see as a blind person, he was the charge of the community to care for. It may have been pitiable, but he had a place in the social order. 

But Jesus threw that out window. 

And the religious leaders are angry, his parents are frightened, the community confused. 

Of course it isn’t about the man’s blindness. It is the disruption he represents to his community. If he could wake up one day and have his place in the world changed like this, could it happen to the rest of them?

This story takes on a whole new way of describing our world right now doesn’t it?

We are communities in chaos, communities wondering about what might happen to us, if we might wake up one day to find our world just tossed out the window. 

And in the midst of this chaos, it is hard for us to slow down and listen. The people around the blindman don’t really stop to hear his story, they want to know what or who caused this seemingly arbitrary change of fate. They are worried about comes next for them. They are seeking to find some way to control this agent of change. 

We are worried too about what comes next for us, and that makes it hard for us to slow down and hear each other’s stories. We are only looking for the data, the information that might give us some control over the forces of our world that affect us, changing everything we know. 

And interestingly the community in chaos stays in chaos, even at the end of this story. The blindman receiving his sight has changed them forever. 

But then Jesus comes back. 

He finds the blindman, or formerly blindman, again. 

Now remember the man had been blind from birth. Even as he was questioned by his community, he wouldn’t have known who he has talking to. Maybe he recognized voices, but he wouldn’t have known who, or even what, it was that he was looking at. 

So when Jesus comes back, he slows down. He asks the blindman what he believes, what he knows. And then he introduces himself. 

The very first person that the blindman comes to know by sight is Jesus. Because Jesus slowed down enough to know the blindman… first at the beginning and now at the end. 

In this new mode of existence, new way of being in the world, the first person that the blindman knows is Jesus. Even in the midst of the chaos of the community, even as people are fearful and panicking about what may come next, Jesus comes back for the formerly blind man, comes back to continue the transforming work of bringing the gospel to life. Not because the blindman had newly functioning eyes, but because this man now knew the Messiah, the one sent by God to save. 

And so it is with us. 

Even in the midst of our community chaos, even as we don’t know what might come next for us. 

Jesus is coming back for us. 

Even as this world terrifies us and we don’t feel like we recognize anything anymore. 

Jesus is coming back for us. 

Jesus is coming back for us, but also doing what Jesus has always been doing in us. Helping us to see anew, just who God is and where God is at work. Doing the work of transforming us for God’s new world. 

Jesus is helping us to see that new life comes in unexpected places, opening our eyes to know that even in the midst of the chaos, that new life comes into being, that Messiah is working to transform us and this world. 

So yeah, today is a weird day. 

The beginning of something we haven’t see before. And we don’t know what is coming next. 

But Jesus is strolling into our lives as well, right when we lest expect it. And Jesus will introduce himself to us, letting us know that he is the first person we will meet in God’s transformed world. 

Letting us know that we are not left on our own, but brought into the Body of Christ, scattered today, but still at home in God.

Amen

The woman at the well, fleeing deadly plagues, and the era of social distancing

GOSPEL: John 4:5-42

5[Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (Read the whole passage)

In 1527, Martin Luther wrote an open letter entitled “Whether One May Flee a Deadly Plague” as the Bubonic Plague passed through Wittenberg. In it, he gives detailed advice on how to care for oneself and for our neighbours in a very difficult and trying situation.

He wrote: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person I shall go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

As you many of you have likely read, the letters coming from Bishops and from myself are not new ways of churches addressing a situation like the one we are facing with the outbreak of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The Church has been here before, many times over the past 2000 years.

And yet, there is something eerie and disconcerting about our Lenten journey this year. Usually, as spring encroaches on us, and we enter into this season of Lent, the wilderness is a primarily spiritual one, one of devotion and practice, prayer and personal piety. Yet this year, over the past days and weeks, we have entered into a Lenten wilderness of a wholly different sort. A social wilderness, a time of enforced distancing and isolation.

I cannot help but see a connection between where the world seemed to be last Sunday, or at least where we seemed to be last Sunday as we heard the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, with questions that one would only whisper in the dark to today. Today, where we meet Jesus in the middle of blinding noon day sun. The light has been flipped on revealing to us the Coronavirus and the widespread panic, fear and hysteria that come with it.

As we hear this story of the woman at the well on this third Sunday in Lent, we see a woman who seems almost familiar to us in the midst of our situation. A woman who has come to the water well alone, in the middle of the day. She seems to be practicing social distancing, maybe even self-isolation. She has come to fetch water at a time when no one would be at the well. Women normally come to the well first thing in the morning and again in the evening, and they came together. It was a social event.

Yet this woman is at the well alone, in the middle heat of the day. As we discover, her story, her circumstances are tragic or difficult. She has been married five times, and now under the care of one who is not her husband. Now, don’t make the mistake of reading some kind of impropriety into this woman, the punishment of adultery was stoning. A woman married 5 times, was almost certainly a victim of tragedy. A woman who had had 5 husbands die, or who could not produce children as a proper woman should. And the fact that she was with one who was not her husband likely meant that she was being cared for by the brother of her deceased husband who was probably already married.

She was dead weight in her world. An extra mouth to feed, a cursed wife whose husbands kept dying, a cursed woman whose body would not let her become a mother.

She was at the well alone, not by her own choice entirely. She may have felt like a cursed person, but the rest of the community around her almost certainly agreed.

Sounds familiar these days doesn’t it.

Cough and people stare at you with distain and fear. Happen to have some toilet paper from a shopping trip a week ago in your front entry, and dinner guests look at you like some kind of hoarder (that may or may not have happened at our house). Get back back from an international trip, and you are now required to self-isolate like a pariah.

Even in regular life, circumstance easily defines us. Lose your job, and you are an unemployed burdensome statistic. Spend time the hospital, and you become a body in a bed in a gown. Become a public official or celebrity, and you become the larger than life persona that you portray in your work.

We know what it is like to be defined by our circumstances, to become only some event, to be only some job, to be only some characteristic that is but one part of our lives. We know what it is to make the people around us that.

But Jesus just strolls up to the woman at the well in the middle of the day and asks for a drink.

When no one even wanted to go to the well with her, Jesus asks her for a drink.

It is so shocking that the woman cannot believe it. Here she is, a woman, a Samaritan, a social pariah and this man, a Jew, a rabbi comes and asks her for a drink.

So Jesus offers her a drink! Of course he does!

He says that she should ask him for living water.

Jesus refuses to be defined his circumstances. He refused to define this woman at the well by hers.

Instead, he offers his real and true self. He offers the incarnate God made flesh, the source of all life found in the waters of baptism.

And then he sees the woman, even though knowing her circumstances, her five husbands, and current living situation, her social isolation… he treats her as a human being, as a person needed dignity and respect, needing love and care, needing the gospel.

Jesus breaks through circumstance, and sees the woman as she truly is.

Sounds like just what we need these days too.

As our world and communities succumb to fear and hysterics, as we begin to see one another as simply the circumstances that surround us, as we retreat further and further away from ourselves, Jesus continues to break through to us.

Jesus breaks through to see us as who we are, to see the real us beyond our circumstances, beyond our fears and anxieties, beyond our disease and isolation. And Jesus is breaking through to us in the ways that Jesus has always done – in Word, Water and Bread and Wine.

But also in these days to come, in phone calls and texts between neighbours and friends, in groceries drop offs and mail pick ups by those who can do those things for those who cannot. Jesus is and will be breaking through to the real us, as we comfort one another in this time of heightened fear and anxiety by the care that we show for another, by helping us to see beyond circumstance to ways in which we can be good neighbours and good siblings in Christ.

Today, we worship not knowing if we will gather again next week, or for a while after that. And yet the church has been here before. This is not out first plague and it won’t be our last.

And so Jesus reminds us that we do not stop belonging to one another, we do not stop belonging to God. Jesus reminds us to break through circumstance, and to see and care for another, as we are able.

And here on this third Sunday of this extraordinary Lenten journey, Jesus strolls up to us in our moment of social distancing and self-isolation and ask for drink of water, knowing that what he has to give and what we will need is the water of life.

Amen.