Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A
22 March 2020
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Prayer of the Day
God who made us all,
Our healers are exhausted. Give rest and strength to those who care for the sick.
Our children are bored. Grant extra creativity to their caregivers.
Our friends are lonely. Help us to reach out.
Our pastors are doing the best they can. Help them to know it is enough.
Our workers are jobless. Grant us the collective will to take care of them.
Our fellow parents are losing their minds. Bring unexpected joy to all in need.
Our grocery workers are absorbing everyone’s anxiety. Protect them from us.
Our elderly are even more isolated. Comfort them.
We haven’t done this before and we are scared, God.
But we know we can trust in you. Grant us this trust.
I am not telling you anything you don’t know when I say that this is a difficult time.
It is difficult because of the uncertainty we experience. And the uncertainty is brought on by the fact that none of us have ever lived through a pandemic before.
Protecting ourselves and and others remains a challenge as well as our task.
How bad is it going to get?
How is this going to play out economically, for each of us personally but also for country and world?
Yet the worst, I think, is the fear we now have of strangers and of going out.
How can we make it that social distancing does not become social isolation, especially for those who live alone or have other challenges as well?
The reading from John about the man born blind talks about that kind of separation of people, sinners and righteous, establishment and common people, and it is a story that ends with the excommunication of the man who was given sight. When the man born blind testifies to Jesus by saying about Jesus that if Jesus were not from God he could do nothing, the leaders respond by driving him out: “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. (v.34)
It is what the man’s parents tried to avoid when they were being interrogated by the leaders. When pressed about how their son had been healed and by whom, they responded: He is an adult, ask him.
There are few experiences more difficult than being excluded. It’s something I have always been sensitive to. Being the youngest in my family, I sometimes felt excluded from conversations. I experienced the same feeling through no one’s fault when I first came to Canada. Not every conversation was one I could participate in either because I did not yet understand our culture and history, or because I was lacking the language skills.
I also remember church communities that did not consider me Christian or Christian enough, and I remember how the pastor of my own church excluded his nephew from the Lord’s Table because he was gay.
Being excluded is a painful experience because it leads to a sense of loneliness and isolation. And so one of our challenges at this time is to look after each other, to call each other, to uphold the community we have in Christ, regardless of whether we come here on Sundays or participate in the service through YouTube.
The man born blind knows loneliness and social isolation in two ways. First, because his disability stigmatized him, as disabled and unable to fully participate in society, and being relegated to beg at the city gate, and secondly because he and his family were judged to be sinful and excluded from the community.
He would know loneliness again, if it were not for Jesus and the church who become his new community.
In the Gospel of John healing stories are always about more than the healing, they point to something else, to something bigger. And so while the healing is talked about throughout, only two verses in our long reading report the healing itself.
Here the story of the man being cast out from his community reflects the experience of the church for which John wrote this Gospel. They were people that had been rejected because of their faith in Jesus but had found a new community in Jesus and each other.
In the story of the woman at the well Jesus says that he is the I am, in which he not only claims to be the Messiah but references back to God’s identity revealed to Moses at the burning bush. I am is a crucial phrase throughout the Gospel of John, but it is a phrase not only about Jesus, but a phrase in which those he encounters participate in.
The man born blind grows in understanding of who Jesus is, first Jesus is a man named Jesus, then he is a prophet, then he is from God. The same progression of understanding occurs for the woman at the well.
When in the story of the man born blind the pharisees come to the man who formerly was blind to ask him if he is the man who formerly was blind, he does not answer, I am the man, as our English translation offers it, but he answers with, “I am.” Those who are touched by Jesus participate in the life that Jesus offers.
Jesus heals on the sabbath to restore creation. Creating and restoring creation is what God does. In living with God we participate in the life of God.
And so it is important for us amidst of the uncertainty around us to remember the one who is the I am in order to be rooted in God in these uncertain times, remembering that our life is in God, so that our life not be run by fear, thus being able to remember to care for our neighbour because God is love, and as john reminds us in his first letter, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11 and 12).
Prayers of the Church
Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
~ a brief silence ~
Lord God we give you thanks that you are from everlasting to everlasting and that your mercy has no end. Have mercy on us now, as we try to figure out what it means to be your followers in this time, as we seek physical distance yet emotional closeness, as we worry about our lives and the lives of others, help us to do our best while we trust in your presence and care. Hear us, o God. Your mercy is great.
We give thanks for all who work to keep us safe and well, those in governments, ministries, healthcare, and research. Those in grocery stores and supply chains, those who care for those who live in care, who are homeless, or lonely. Bless their work and their lives. Hear us, o God. Your mercy is great.
Safe us from living in fear, of each other, of these times, of the future. Grant us trust in you, and trust in our fellow members of the human family. Hear us, o God. Your mercy is great.
We give thanks that in the midst of our lives you reveal yourself as our God. You revealed yourself to Moses and the Israelites, to the woman at the well, to the man born blind, and to us today in our fellowship, in your Word, at the table here and at our table at home. Grant us eyes to see you and hearts to seek you. Hear us, o God. Your mercy is great.
Safe us from all judgment of others. Grant us reverence for one another so that when we do not understand, we give ourselves room for learning, and give others room for living. Hear us, o God. Your mercy is great.
We pray for all who are ill in any way, especially those most dear to us … and all we bring before you, spoken or silently …. Hear us, o God. Your mercy is great.
We give thanks for the communion of the church, the community of family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues, and we ask that you keep us safe and our communities close, in spite of all physical distance. Hear us, o God. Your mercy is great.
Into your hands, o God, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.