We are uploading Grace Church sermons or epistles on a weekly basis, even during this time without in-person services.
29 March 2020: John 11:1-45. Fifth Sunday of Lent. Fr. Ed Greene provided his sermon for this week.
Fr. Frank Strasburger was to be the Presider of the Holy Eucharist this Sunday. This message brings his sermon (Sunday’s Lessons) he prepared.
Epistle for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2020
When today’s service was canceled and I realized I was off the hook for a sermon, I couldn’t help feeling that failing to communicate with you at all was not a reasonable option at a time when the isolation that has been forced on us all by COVID-19 leaves us yearning all the more for connection. I could just go ahead and write the sermon, of course, and send it out. But for me, sermons are a kind of conversation. Though all but the preacher usually remain silent, there’s an intuitive dynamic between preacher and congregation that energizes a sermon, and as a result, I find most written sermons unsatisfactory.
So I’m using instead the form St. Paul used when being physically present with the congregation wasn’t possible. I’ll still refer to today’s lectionary, but the epistolary form enables me to be a bit more personal and informal as well as to respond more directly to our current situation.
The lessons for the Fourth Sunday of Lent in Year A are I Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41, and Psalm 23. (I’ve appended them for your reference.) In the reading from Samuel, God tells Samuel it’s time for him to anoint a new king. At first glance, that sounds appropriate for a parish’s first Sunday after the departure of our rector, until you dig a little deeper. Ted Gaiser, thankfully, is no King Saul, who started out well enough but whose paranoia got the better of him, leading him to squander God’s blessing. As far as I know, God is still pleased with Ted, whose ministry here enriched us all with his superior preaching, his personal faith, his administrative skill, and his missionary spirit. We will miss him dearly, and I deeply regret that the corona virus forced cancellation of Ted’s last Sunday and the thanksgiving celebration that would have followed it. I trust we’ll find a later date to say thank you and urge you all to communicate with Ted personally.
Just as Ted is not King Saul, I think it’s fair to assume our next rector will not be King David. But more importantly, as much as we may be tempted to focus on calling a new rector, that’s not our chief job right now. There’s a reason beyond simple logistics that the Church intentionally leaves an interim period between the last rector and the next: the interim time is a season in itself for a parish—a time for self-examination, for assessing the vitality of the congregation’s adherence to our mission, for confessing where we’ve gone astray, and for renewing our faith in the Resurrection. If we don’t do all of that before we call a rector, we run the risk of remaining in the institutional ruts we’ve carefully if unhelpfully crafted for ourselves, and we’ll be unprepared to receive whatever gifts that new rector brings us. The Ephesians lesson says it well: “Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord….” No easy task, to be sure; we’ll need to listen openly to one another and be painfully honest with ourselves.
The Gospel for today is that ironic story of Jesus’s cure of a blind man, but it’s every bit as much about the blindness of all the people in the community who were so reluctant to believe what Jesus had done that they actually convinced themselves the blind man hadn’t been blind at all. Typically turning things upside down, Jesus’s intent is to show not just that the blind man sees but also that all of thee supposedly sighted people in the story are actually blind. As we plunge into this interim period for Grace Church, let’s let this lesson guide us. Frequently the blind have no idea they’re blind—so those blind doubters could be any of us. It’s worth asking, “Am I missing something? Is what I think is true necessarily true?” How do we tell? One hint is that most of us get defensive about the things we think we’re sure of but down deep aren’t so sure of. Take a look at how that crowd behaved as they insisted Jesus couldn’t have healed a man blind from birth. The more loudly and senselessly they object, the more their insecurity shows. The truth frightens them—it undermines the world they thought they knew. So they fight it—and the harder they fight, the more obvious is their blindness. Let’s vow as a congregation, then, to try to shed our blindness and be open to new ways of looking at things.
In fact, the world around us has given us no choice. We’ve all been thrust into this new “adventure” called COVID-19. Change has happened and continues to happen at a dizzying pace. Health and livelihoods are at risk, so much of what we consider normal in our lives has suddenly stopped, and, worst of all, we have no idea how long this will last. Our bodies require social distancing even as our souls yearn for the warmth of community. Particularly for those of you who live alone, please reach out; stay in touch. Inertia can lead to isolation and the awful fear that we are alone. The whole point of our being a congregation—our being the Body of Christ—is to bear witness that we are not alone. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.” Sometimes, God seems far away. But all of us are just a phone call or an email away—and who are we if not God’s messengers of love to one another ?
I heard journalist David Brooks say last week that, as he researched earlier pandemics, he found they tended to bring out the worst in people—fear, cowardice, acquisitiveness, xenophobia, willingness to scapegoat, the tendency of many to fold in on themselves and become preoccupied with their own needs and losses in willing ignorance of the needs and losses of others. He theorized that the reason people were so reticent, in its aftermath, to talk about the 1918 flu, in which substantially more people died world-wide than in all of World War I—over 50 million—is that people behaved so badly while it was happening. Let’s learn something from that.
Fear is our enemy. But how do we get the better of fear as potentially fatal disease laps at our doorsteps and threatens all those we love, as the economy collapses about us, as our leaders seem so often to respond powerlessly at best and cluelessly at worst? How, when we need one another most, do we bear our enforced distance from one another?
At the core of our faith is the simple but powerful reminder that love casts out fear. When fear takes hold of you, will yourself to love. When you ache with loneliness, devote yourself to healing someone else’s loneliness. When the future scares you, fill the present with the care of others. When love fills every cell of our being, there’s no room for fear. And the great thing about love in the time of corona virus is that love doesn’t require physical presence; it crosses all boundaries of time and space and breaks free of whatever quarantines to which we’re subject.
May you stay healthy, my friends; if you become ill, may you be healed; and above all, may the Holy Spirit fill you all with light and love.
15 March 2020: John 4:5-42. Third Sunday in Lent. Sermon given without parishioners, as the church was closed due to Covid-19.
8 March 2020: John 3:1-17. Second Sunday in Lent.
1 March 2020: Mark 4: 1-11. First Sunday in Lent.
23 February 2020: Matthew 17:1-9. Last Sunday after the Epiphany.
16 February 2020: Matthew 5:2221-37. Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany.
9 February 2020: Matthew 5:13-20. Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
2 February 2020: Luke 26: 22-40. The Presentation of our Lord.
26 January 2020: Matthew 4: 12-23. Third Sunday after Epiphany.
19 January 2020: John 1:29-42.Second Sunday after Epiphany.
12 January 2020: Matthew 3: 13-17. First Sunday after the Epiphany. Sermon by The Rev. Stephanie Batterman.
5 January 2019: Matthew 2: 1-12. Second Sunday after Christmas.