I could never have imagined writing a weekly email to St. Edward’s under these circumstances. The coronavirus has caused things to change so rapidly and severely that it’s almost hard to catch our breath. Yet here we are.
Americans are traditionally such a positive and “can-do” bunch of people that it’s extra hard for many us to not be able to go out and take obvious, concrete actions in this crisis. It’s hard to just hunker down.
But it’s good to remember that Christians are actually supremely well-equipped to deal with difficult circumstances. Our world-view doesn’t assume that things will always go well or that people will always make the best choices. Instead it offers us a longer vision and reminds us that this is God’s world, that adversity is always part of Christian living, and that prayer and ministry to others are always the way forward.
In the meantime, as your pastor I encourage you to do things to keep up your own spirits. Take an appropriately “social distanced” walk if you can. Make a special effort to love and enjoy the company of those in your household. Use the telephone and internet to speak to those you care about, taking every opportunity to see their faces and hear their voices when you can. During this time of enforced isolation, reach out to others in every way possible. It will be good for you and good for them. God would approve.
Readings For Sunday, March 22nd – Fourth Sunday in Lent Year A 2020
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
The Response: Psalm 23
Dominus regit me
1 The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
The Epistle: Ephesians 5:8-14
Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. 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. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
The Gospel: John 9:1-41
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
Optional parts of the readings are set off in square brackets.
The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission.
The Collects, Psalms and Canticles are from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979.
From The Lectionary Page: http://lectionarypage.net
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A 2020
The Rev. David Bateman
Among our readings for this Sunday are two wonderful stories. From the book of the prophet Samuel we have the selection of David to be the future king of Israel, a well-known story many of us learned as children in Sunday school. And from the Fourth Gospel we have the tale of the healing of the man born blind, a narrative which some think may be the most artistically crafted and well-told of any in the New Testament. The anointing of David is in the Lenten lectionary as part of the series of major events in salvation history that we have been listening to this season, such as the creation, the calling of Abraham, and Moses leading Israel through the wilderness. The healing of the blind man is in the lectionary now because Lent and Easter are the time of year when we hear parts of the Gospel according to John that would otherwise get left out of a three-year cycle.
Despite their both being good stories, however, they are not very much alike. The casts of characters bear little resemblance to one another, and the kind of action taken by God is quite different in each of the tales. Perhaps we should simply say they are different narratives that just happen to be read today for different reasons, and leave it at that. Which one appeals to you more, the story of a crafty God tricking king Saul and fooling everyone at Bethlehem, or the story of a blind man who turns out to be pretty good at arguing with the Pharisees?
Or to ask it in a different way, which tale do you prefer, the one in which God vindicates the underdog at the expense of the authorities, or the one in which God vindicates the underdog at the expense of the authorities? Yes, you read that correctly. Because, you see, when we ask it that way, all of a sudden the differences between these two passages disappear. David is the youngest of his brothers and the family sheep-tender; that makes him the person of least importance doing the job with the least status. Compare him to the disabled protagonist of the gospel story, a nameless and sightless grown man who is so disbelieved that his parents are asked to speak for him. Furthermore, God hatches a clever plot to exalt the boy David and fool the king at the same time, while in a similar way God uses the healed blind man to make fools of the Jewish leaders.
But it is not enough that we merely recognize what is going on in these two episodes. We also have to be aware of the way we hear the stories, to notice what sort of ears we tend to listen with, for there is a great spiritual danger waiting here for people just like us. This is because the most natural thing in the world is for us to focus on David with the beautiful eyes, or on the blind man who does so well under cross-examination. Given our choices among the different characters, we are tempted to identify with the good guys, to put ourselves in the shoes of one of the more admirable people. And yet if the contrast is between the nobodies and the establishment, between those who lack status and voice and privileges versus those who are respected and listened to and are part of powerful institutions, then, realistically, where do you think most of us in this congregation and in the Episcopal Church are going to fall?
Honesty requires us to see that these two stories are aimed, in a very crucial sense, against people like us. Here, as in countless places throughout the Bible, God is exhibiting a bias — a clear prejudice, if you will — in favor of those who are ignored or small or in need. Because the balance is so often tilted against them, God actively takes their part; whenever there are sides, God takes that side.
This serves as a good reminder as we endure the crisis surrounding the coronavirus and COVID-19. Now that most of us have taken care of our basic needs and hunkered down at home to ride it out, it’s time to think of others: the people who are losing their jobs & paychecks, the people who are getting sick, those who are already homebound & on their own, and those who already were on the margins for whom things can only get worse. God is on their side, and we must, in our own limited ways, strive to be on their side, too.
There are many good reasons for making sacrifices and giving things up in this season of Lent, but one reason we might not always think of has to do with that other side that God is on, and the people who are part of it. The people on the other side spend much of their lives being deprived and doing without against their wills. When we voluntarily deny ourselves something good, we share a small experience of solidarity with God’s favorite people. It doesn’t mean that we have completely changed sides or even that we fully understand that side, but it does mean that we choose to care, that we want to be connected, and that we are trying hear what God says and see what God is doing. When we talk about seeing and God, though, we should talk about a Who instead of a what. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
Even though Lent is now half-way over, it’s not too late to take on a small Lenten sacrifice or to see your existing disciplines with new eyes. “Therefore it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, … and Christ shall give you light.’” Amen.
Links to Sunday Worship Webcasts:
Sunday, March 22nd | 11:00 AM High Altar Webcast
St. Thomas Church – NYC Festal Eucharist
Washington National Cathedral
Sunday, March 22, 2020 | 11:15am
This event will be broadcast online due to concerns related to the coronavirus. The Cathedral will be closed through May 16.
Join us for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on the Fourth Sunday in Lent.
Links to Useful Resources for Prayer and Stewardship:
LENTEN MEDITATION, MARCH 20, 2020
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
- Ephesians 5:1-2
Without fail, on my children’s birthdays, family friends arrive at our home with a tower of homemade cards and trinkets. Carefully drawn and colored pictures, Perler beads melted into new shapes, delicately folded origami animals, rainbow loom bracelets in favorite colors. Each created treasure is as unique as its recipient and the relationship shared with its creator. This abundant outpouring of love is so personal and thoughtful.
These friends began creating their gifts with their whole hearts since they were able, though over the past five years the cards have become more ornate and the handmade gifts a bit more complex. Yet the spirit of it remains the same. As I revel in the love poured into these personal, fragrant offerings, it makes me reconsider the meaning of the gifts I send with a click of the button and two-day shipping.
Children are able to imitate God without making it hard. They share art, remember favorite colors and create things that honor the beauty they see in the person they are celebrating. It’s holy and it’s simple. And it’s so easily forgotten as we grow older.
- Emily Rutledge is the Children, Youth and Family Minister at Church of Our Saviour in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a mother of two.