Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A)
22 March 2020
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The gospel set for today is strangely apt and yet it strikes a chord that spells fear, not hope.
Jesus is in Jerusalem and he encounters a man who has been blind since birth.
Note the very different attitudes of the key characters in this story:
JESUS NOTICES A BLIND BEGGAR
HIS DISCIPLES WANT PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLANATIONS
JESUS ADDRESSES THE NEED OF THE PERSON
BECAUSE COMPASSION GIVES GLORY TO GOD
THE RELIGIOUS EXPERTS REJECT JESUS’ CREDENTIALS
THE PARENTS OF THE MAN WANT NO MORE FUSS
THE HEALED MAN SEES CLEARLY
AND NOT JUST WITH HIS EYES
We can also notice that Jesus was clearly not under the current COVID-19 health requirements when he spat on the ground and made a paste from the dirt …
Fast forward around 2,000 years and here we are on the edge of a whole new way of being church, worshipping God and serving others.
We have never been in this space before.
Easter is just around the corner and almost certainly there will be no public church services during those most holy days.
Passover will be scaled back for Jews.
Ramadan will be quiet and subdued for Muslims when the daytime fasting ends.
Some of us have experienced part of this in our lives due to illness or other life events that have kept us away from church for a time. But we always knew that church was happening, and that people of faith were gathering for worship, learning more about their faith, and getting organised to make the world a better place for everyone.
The pause button has been pressed.
So, what do we have left during these weeks when not just church but so many other aspects of our lives will be so very different from anything we have experienced before?
Let me unpack that around four (4) key words:
Faith is something that seems to be in short supply these days.
People who strip the shelves of household supplies and food are demonstrating a profound lack of faith in the capacity of our system to sustain us as it does in normal times.
People who pack our beaches and ignore the advice to maintain safe social distances are also showing their deep lack of faith. They do not trust the health authorities. They do not believe the government. They have no faith in science.
These are not normal times, but we can respond to these times with faith rather than fear.
We can be people of cautious optimism and quiet hope.
We can do all this because we are Easter people.
We do not deny the tragedy and the evil of Good Friday, but we affirm that light conquers darkness, love defeats hatred, hope destroys fear, and life overcomes death.
Faith does not halt the pandemic, but it stops us falling apart as our routines dissolve around us.
Faith nudges us to look beyond, to the love which at the very centre of the cosmos and which came to us in the person of Jesus.
Faith is practical hope; not whistling in the dark but lighting a candle to shatter the deepest darkness.
As people of faith we are community, the Body of Christ, those called together to make a difference in the world.
For as long as any of us can remember, our community has been grounded in gathering around a table, the Table of Jesus.
But that table is out of reach for a while.
We are going to find other ways to build and sustain community.
One part of that is the technology which has transformed our lives, and which now allows us to gather without being in the same place.
We have online communities and we can make better use of them.
But we also need to make the phone calls and knock on the doors of isolated people.
Make list of people and find ways to check on them. Make a list of 10 names and pray for those people every day. Maybe give them a call. Check how they are doing.
If you have concerns for them, let us know and we shall try to make contact as well.
Download the Cathedral app.
Join the next few Dean’s Forums as Zoom meetings!
Get onto Facebook and join the Grafton Anglicans private group. Share your thoughts. Ask questions. Reflect on what is happening. Explore the Bible. Begin to imagine what church will be like on the other side of this pandemic.
We are a resilient community and we shall come out of this stronger than ever.
Some people are going to be hurt by the pandemic.
Many people will become ill and some will die. Some of us may die in the next few weeks.
Businesses will close.
Jobs will be lost.
Some essential household items and certain lines of food are still going to be hard to get.
But we do not hoard.
It is against the very essence of being people of faith to hoard.
We share what we have and give when we are asked.
It seems impossible to feed 5,000 people with five bread rolls and a couple of small fish, but God can use what we share to make a huge difference in the lives of others. And especially in those in most need.
Instead of worrying about how we will survive as a church with the OpShop closed for several months, let’s begin to imagine what an impact we can have on people as the OpShop becomes a community hub where they find the help they need. And indeed, in some ways, the food they need for each day.
Give us today our daily bread.
We shall be gentle with each other and act out of compassion.
Recently we sang the beautiful modern hymn, “A Spendthrift Lover is the Lord” by Thomas H. Troeger:
A spendthrift lover is the Lord who never counts the cost
Or asks if heaven can afford to woo a world that’s lost.
Our lover tosses coins of gold across the midnight skies
And stokes the sun against the cold to warm us when we rise.
As people of faith, we reflect the generosity of God in ourselves and in our own actions, and we are going to need generosity as we navigate the weeks and months ahead.
Generosity is as much about openness as it is about funding.
Indeed, generosity is the very opposite of the hoarding which has been so evident in the past few weeks.
It is natural that when we fear that there may not be enough of something to go around, we are tempted to grab what we can before it runs out. We panic buy. We hoard. We are selfish. Other people get hurt.
As people of faith we know the generosity of our spendthrift lover.
We trust the endless capacity of God to bring good out of evil, and life out of death.
We have no deep fear that life lacks what we need to thrive.
Give us today our daily bread.
So we have no need to hoard.
We can share what we have without fear.
And that unlocks a chain of compassionate generosity that turns our world upside down.
As a Cathedral, we will pay what we need to spend, and we will share what resources we have. Even if our reserves are exhausted, God will provide all that we need and then some.
Give us today our daily bread.
We may have less coming in, but there will still be lots to go out.
As generous people, we can keep our hearts and our minds open to those who need our help.
In among all the strangeness of the coming weeks, hold fast to these four key words:
Faith – Community – Compassion – Generosity
Finally, embrace this opportunity for a change of pace. Let’s all slow down for a bit.
With that in mind, let me close with a poem by John O’Donoghue
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
© John O’Donohue. Excerpt from his books, To Bless the Space Between Us (US) / Benedictus (Europe). Ordering Info: https://johnodonohue.com/store