Laying Down Our Palms For Christ

Hi friends!

It’s so crazy to think that, back when all this started, our plan was to be back in church by this Sunday!  My office admin actually called me not long after we moved to virtual worship and asked if she should cancel the palms and I said no, that I didn’t think we would actually be back together by then, but that we would find a way to distribute them anyway.  Well – we opted not to distribute them.  Currently we are entering the worst of things in the northeast and the Deacons and I decided that it was more responsible for us to remind people to stay home than to give anyone another excuse to leave the house.  So we adorned our front doors with greens and had our kiddos cut palms out of construction paper and just worked with what we had this year!  If you get a chance, I would encourage you to at least watch the gathering music portion of the video – I included hosanna photos and videos people sent me with the music.

Here is my sermon, as well as audio and visual.  Stay safe.  Stay healthy.  Stay home.

Love you all.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 5, 2020

Matthew 21:1-11

Laying Down Our Palms For Christ

Palm Sunday has always been a little bit perplexing to me, as a preacher.  On the one hand (and under “normal” circumstances), it is a big celebration.  We hand out palms and parade through the sanctuary shouting, “Hosanna!”  We adorn the altar with palms and create the most beautiful representation of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  We sing hymns that only get dusted off once a year and wave those palms high in the air as we sing.

And yet, as people living on this side of the resurrection, we know that is not how the story ends.  We know that those shouts of “Hosanna!” turn into cries to “Crucify him!”  We know that Jesus does not ride off into a sunset but to Gethsemane, where he was arrested and later sentenced to death.  We know the eventually the palms that are laid down ahead of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem are eventually abandoned and replaced with a crown of thorns on his head while he is crucified.

Palm Sunday has always seemed like a little bit of a paradox to me.  Because even though it is, for all intents and purposes, a celebration – we know that things are about to get really hard.  When I preached on Palm Sunday the year after the Boston Marathon bombing (Bruce and I had been in Boston cheering on a friend running the race that day, she crossed the finish line right before the bombs went off), I compared my struggle over preaching the triumphal nature of Palm Sunday with the fact that I still, almost a year later, had a hard time looking at my happy and cheerful photos from early in the day of the race.

Because I knew things had gotten really hard after I took those photos – just like things are about to get really hard for Jesus.

In many ways, it feels like an even bigger paradox to preach on Palm Sunday this year because we are already in the middle of something really hard.  It feels weird to celebrate something when we are feeling the weight of something that is really heavy and when our entire world feels more broken than it ever has in our entire lifetime.

And so, first of all, I want you to know that it is okay to come into this space a little bit confused this morning.  It is okay to wrestle with the fact that we are celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem while also deeply grieving what is happening in our world today.

But I also think it is important to point out that Jesus knows what is going to happen when he parades into Jerusalem.  At this point, he has foretold his death and resurrection and, while his disciples do not understand, he certainly does – he knows things are about to get really hard.

And yet, he still lets this moment happen.  In fact, he creates this moment.

As Jesus and his disciples approach Jerusalem, he sends two of them ahead to go into the village and bring him back a donkey and her colt, telling anyone who asks, “The Lord needs them.”  The disciples do this and then spread their cloaks on the animals and Jesus sits on them and begins to ride into Jerusalem.  As he does this, a “very large crowd” gathers (which, let’s be honest, a “very large crowd” seems really strange to think about right now); some of them spread their own cloaks on the road and others cut branches from nearby trees and spread those on the road.  People go ahead of him and some follow him and they shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus knows what is about to happen – he knows things are about to get really hard.  And yet, it is still important to him that he gathers the Body of Christ; that he pauses for a moment, in anticipation of what is to come, and praises God.  The word, “Hosanna,” is an expression of adoration, praise or joy.  This is a moment for Jesus, even in anticipation of what is going to come, to joyfully praise the God who will not abandon him, to gather the Body of Christ in a moment in time when the world so desperately needs it.

And so this morning, our own 2020 stay-at-home version of a very large crowd has gathered to do just that.  To joyfully praise the God who we know has not and will not abandon us.  To wave palms, even though they may look more like pine branches or construction paper than the palms we are used to receiving on this Sunday.  To show up in God’s name and proclaim God’s goodness and grace, even though things are really hard right now.  To be the Body of Christ – the Church – in a moment in time when the Church is so desperately needed.

This past week, I agonized over whether or not we would be able to safely distribute palms this year.  Ultimately, however, the Deacons and I decided that, right now, as we are entering what appears to be the most critical stage of this virus in our country, particularly here in the northeast, it was more important for us to encourage people to stay home than to try to find a social distancing loophole just for the sake of tradition.

It felt like an easy decision, but also a really hard conclusion.  I talked last week about the waves of secondary grief that we continue to feel throughout this time and this was certainly one of those moments where I felt it.

But it also got me thinking – what do our palms represent?

We distribute palms on Palm Sunday because that is our tradition, because it is Palm Sunday, but are there other ways that we can honor this day?

I have two thoughts.

The first comes from what I have already had the honor of witnessing over these past three weeks – the ways in which people have continued to do the work of Christ in some of the most life-giving kind of ways.

The crowd that gathers with Jesus is laying down palms and cloaks as a sign of adoration and praise and honor – as a way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.  And so, while we cannot do this literally with palm branches this year, I have to admit, I am not really sure that we really need to.  Because over the past three weeks, I have seen a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and of a commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time someone drops off a donation of canned goods to the food pantry or makes a monetary donation to an organization working to ensure the most vulnerable have the essentials they need, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time an essential worker leaves for work – whether they are a healthcare worker, a first responder or an essential retail employee – they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time someone drops off a meal or runs an errand for someone who is high risk and really needs to stay home right now, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time someone makes a mask, whether it is for members of their family, someone in the community who needs one or for a local hospital or nursing home, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time someone calls their neighbor or sends someone a card, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time one of our Deacons logs onto our Facebook group to lead nightly prayers or someone from the church sends me a video for our story time or someone just thinks of – and starts to implement – a creative way to “do church” from afar, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

We are giving glory and honor to God right now, not by waving palms that we ordered weeks ago from a Christian supplier, but by living out the Gospel in real and tangible and hard, but also lifechanging ways.

By making sure the most vulnerable are cared for.

By holding one another in prayer.

By shining light into the darkness of this moment.

By proclaiming the bold and, admittedly, very hard right now truth that this virus is not stronger than God’s love and that it will not defeat us and that God’s love will win.

My second (and brief, I promise!) thought on what our palms represent and what Palm Sunday means to us, particularly this year, has to do with the fact that we are entering Holy Week and that the word, “Hosanna!” is used in other parts of the bible, in particularly the Old Testament, to mean, “Save us!”

Psalm 118 – which you all know very well, it is where the verse, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” comes from – is a psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance from enemies.  Verse 25 of this psalm says:

Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

“Save us” comes from the Hebrew expression, “Hosanna!”

And so, as the very large crowds gather and shout “Hosanna!” and lead Jesus into Jerusalem shouting, “Hosanna!” they are doing so as a way of offering adoration and praise, but also as a way of pleading for their own salvation.

And I think a lot of us are feeling that right now.

Hosanna.  Save us.

We are entering Holy Week in the Christian Church, a time when we remember the hard and toilsome journey Jesus took as he was arrested and then sentenced to death by crucifixion.  Holy Week is really where we put our own faith to the test – where we are reminded of the really hard parts of the story and are forced to wait for resurrection.  We cannot rush the story and we have to sit with the discomfort and the challenge of that.

In so many ways, it feels like we are experiencing our own kind of Holy Week right now.  We are traveling a hard and toilsome journey.  Our faith is being put to the test.  We are being reminded of the hard parts of being human, of the true depths of our brokenness.

And we, too, have to wait for resurrection.

But here’s the thing:  As difficult as this is, I truly do believe that, when we finally do experience resurrection, it is going to be so powerful and life-changing and overwhelming.

Hosanna!  Save us!

Friends, be assured that our cries are heard.  God has not abandoned us.  Resurrection is coming.

I am wishing you all many blessings as we head into Holy Week.  I have always said that the Easter Triduum – the three days between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday is a special time in the Christian year because it is the only time that we get to live out the story in real time.

But in so many ways, this year it feels like we are living out this story in real experience, as well.

And so now we wait.  We lean into our faith.  We trust that God has not abandoned us.  We cry out to God to save us, knowing that God hears those cries.

And, in the meantime (in ways, of course, that are safe and appropriate), we lay down our palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and our commitment to follow Jesus.

Because we know that resurrection is coming.

So have patience, strength and perseverance for the journey.  Give grace to those around you and make sure you give it to yourself, as well.  And await, with great anticipation and expectation, the resurrection that is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Jesus Wept. So Can We.

Hi Friends,

It is hard to believe, but this is week three of our virtual worship.  I actually moved my livestream home this week.  I am still preaching through the lectionary Lenten texts.  This morning was the story of the resurrection of Lazarus.  I think it is fitting right now that we are reading stories of miraculous healing and resurrection – we all need the reminder and reassurance that we will be redeemed.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 29, 2020

John 11:1-45

Jesus Wept.  So Can We.

This story has always perplexed me.  In fact, I think every time I have preached it up until this point, I have given a disclosure that, as both a Christian and as a pastor, I really wrestle with the whole bodily resurrection thing.  There are elements to this story that – now more than ever – do not necessarily make sense on a scientific or physical level.

I mean, the truth is, I think we are all praying for a Lazarus type of miracle right now.  And yet, the news just seems to be getting worse and scarier as the days go on and it is becoming harder and harder to hold fast to Jesus’ reassurance to Martha in this story that she needs to believe.

And yet, for some reason, this story is bringing me an odd sense of comfort right now – and I think there are two reasons for this.

Jesus’ words to Martha are ones I have spoken at every funeral, memorial or burial service I have ever presided over.

I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

As strange as it sounds, these words bring me comfort right now.  First of all, because I have said them so many times, they are familiar to me.  And currently, we are living in a world that is anything but familiar.  We are all trying to navigate this time and space of the unfamiliar and I think little pieces of normalcy are a good thing.  In fact, I would encourage you all to seek out little pieces of normal every single day, even if you find it in the smallest things.  These are the things that will help ground us and steady us as we seek to find our new normal.

Truth be told, I think a lot of these pieces can be found in our faith – through scripture, prayer and music.

The second reason Jesus’ words are bringing me comfort right now is because when I say them after someone has died, I do so as a reminder to their loved ones that their story is not over yet; that our faith is not grounded in death, but in resurrection.  And so, reading them in the midst of the chaos we are living in today reminds me of this same promise – that our story is not over yet.

That resurrection is coming.

Our faith is not defined death, but by new life; not by darkness, but by light; not by our brokenness, but by God’s ability to make us whole again.

So – let’s talk about this morning’s scripture.  It comes from the Gospel of John, which, to some extent, is a little bit of a continuation of last week’s reading, the healing of the blind man.  The healing of the blind man can be found in the ninth chapter John and this morning’s reading, the rising of Lazarus is just two chapters later, in John 11.  In between these two stories, Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd and then is rejected by the Jews.

To some extent, not much time passes between Jesus’ miraculous healing of the blind man and his even more miraculous (and almost incomprehensible) raising of Lazarus.  And to me, this sort of reinforces the point that Jesus is all in right now.  He is not holding anything back – he is fully revealing the Glory of God and the light that shines in this world, even if the world is pushing back.

Jesus knows how this story is going to end – he foretells his death and resurrection over and over and over again.  And so there is a sense of urgency to what he is trying to do and what – and who – he is trying to reveal.

Our story begins in the village of Bethany where three siblings – Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus – live.  Lazarus is ill, so Mary and Martha – who had encountered Jesus previously in the Gospel, send Jesus a message to let Jesus know that Lazarus, a man Jesus knows and loves, is sick.  Jesus does not travel to see Lazarus right away; and by the time he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has already been dead for four days.

Mary and Martha are visibly – and justifiably – upset by the passing of their brother.  They are weeping and, when Jesus sees them weeping, he begins to weep, as well.  Then Jesus goes to the tomb; he asks to have the stone removed and then calls for Lazarus to come out.

And Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

Let’s back up for a moment.

When Jesus approaches the village of Bethany, Mary stays at home and Martha goes to greet him.  Martha says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus responds to Martha and says, “Your brother will rise again.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

There is not a doubt in Jesus’ mind how this story is going to end.  In the same way that he keeps foretelling his own death and resurrection, he knows that this is not the end of Lazarus’ story.  He knows that Lazarus is going to be resurrected to new life; he is confident that when he calls for Lazarus to come out of the tomb that he will, in fact, walk out on his own.

And yet, here is the part that is really resonating with me right now.

When Mary arrives and, like her sister, says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She is weeping while she says this to him – and so are the Jews who had been consoling her in her house and then followed her to meet Jesus.

And rightfully so, right?  Their friend – Mary and Martha’s brother – a person they all love very much – has died.  If ever there is a time to weep, this is it.

But here is the part that speaks to us today – when Jesus sees their pain and sadness and mourning and sorry, he, too, begins to weep.

Hear these words from the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35:

Jesus began to weep.

Jesus – a man who knows and has seen miraculously healing take place, who, not long before this moment healed a blind man with the simple substance of dirt and saliva – began to weep.

Jesus – the Good Shepherd – began to weep.

Jesus – the Word, the beginning, life – the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness – began to weep.

Jesus – the light of the world – began to weep.

Jesus – who knew how this story was going to end, who knew that Lazarus was going to walk out of the tomb resurrected to new life – began to weep.

Jesus – who believes in the hope of resurrection – began to weep.

He weeps over the sadness of this moment – over the brokenness of the world.

I love this passage because we see Jesus’ humanity walking parallel with his faith.  His weeping is not a failure of his own belief or a sign of his weakness, but a testament to his humanness.

It is important for us to remember, now more than ever, that our own weeping is not a failure of our belief or a sign of our weakness, but a testament to our humanness.

We are getting ready to enter week three of our social-distance-essential-only-sheltered-quarantining.  It is strange to think that, when this started three weeks ago, I not only heeded the recommendation of the Southern New England Conference to suspend our in-person worship, programs and activities for two weeks, but I cautiously extended the time frame an extra week to include this Sunday.  At the time several of my colleagues were taking things one week at a time, some of them even chose to meet in person that first Sunday, while taking CDC-recommended precautions for social distancing.

My how things have changed.

As strange as this sounds, I think we are all starting to settle into a really bizarre new normal.  And I think there is some good that comes with this.  For example, we used grocery pickup for the first time this week and it made me feel better about the whole food supply chain and our access to food and other essentials during this time.

(It also made me wish I had not stocked up on so many snacks ahead of time because now there is just a lot of junk food in my house that I am trying to resist, but that is another point for another day.)

But I also think that there is a new wave a secondary grief that has come – and is still coming – with this new normal.  We are not only mourning the loss of the world as we knew it, but also the things we were looking forward to and our expectations for what our lives might look like in the coming weeks and months.

And I am talking about the little things as much as I am talking about the big things.  Of course there are big and serious concerns about everyone’s health, safety, job security and finances right now, but I also think people are just really bummed that they have had to change their plans.  Vacations have been canceled, events have been postponed and people are just missing hanging out with one another.  And while we are all doing the best we can to connect in other ways and make the most out of it, it is hard not to grieves the layers of loss that comes with this.

It is okay to weep.

After all, knowing how the story was going to end, Jesus wept.

It is okay for us to weep now, too.  To grieve.  To give ourselves a moment where we fall apart and have a little pity party.  To feel sad about things we are missing out on or expectations that we have had to change, even though we know there are a lot of other bigger problems we should probably be worrying about.

Jesus wept – it is okay if we weep now, too.

We are human, after all.  And even though we believe in resurrection – we believe that light will shine, that light is shining – we believe that we will get through this and that we have not been abandoned – we, like Jesus, are facing our human brokenness in a real and vulnerable and devastating way right now.

It is okay for us to weep.

It does not make us less faithful, it does not mean that we have given up.

It just means that we are human.  And that we are going through something that is hard right now.

But remember Jesus’ promise throughout all of this.

I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Resurrection will come.  Light will shine.  One day we will walk out of our home likes Lazarus came out of the tomb and shed the bands of this social-distance-essential-only-sheltered-quarantining and we will all rejoice together when that happens.

And we can be confident that this will happen and that God has not abandoned us and still be sad right now.  Jesus wept – it is okay for us to weep now, too.

Friends, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself during this season of life that we are in.  It is okay to be human – to acknowledge your vulnerability and your emotions and your brokenness.  To give yourself a moment to fall apart.  To know that your grief – whether it be over something big or small – is real and validated.

And then let God meet you in that moment.

And remind you of the hope of resurrection.  And of the light that is shining in the midst of this darkness.

And through our grief and our sadness, be like Martha, say through our grief and our sadness, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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There Is Still Light

Hi friends,

It is hard to believe that only a week has passed since our first virtual worship service.  It feels like a lifetime has gone by, with information and and situations changing so quickly.  We have extended our suspension of in-person worship, activities and programs through Sunday, April 5th (per Governor Baker’s orders) and will reassess and likely adjust as that date gets closer.

We are working to get everything online at the church.  If you are interested in supporting us financially while our in-person worship in suspended and we aren’t collected offerings in worship, you can do so here.

Here is this morning’s sermon – I hope it brings you peace and hope. <3

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 22, 2020

John 9:1-41

There Is Still Light

***

OPENING PRAYER

Holy and most gracious God, we know that, even in the midst of the chaos of our world today that you are still with us.  That you hear our cries.  That you are holding us tightly in your embrace.  That you are giving us strength, wisdom and peace.  Be with us today as we gather, though it may look different than we originally thought it would. Unite us, near and far.  Fill us with hope in your promise – your promise that we are not alone, that that resurrection is real and that your love always wins. Amen.

***

SCRIPTURE
John 9:1-41

A Man Born Blind Receives Sight

9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4Wemust work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 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. 8The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ 9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11He 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.’12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then 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.’ 16Some 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. 17So 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.’

18 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 sight19and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but 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.’ 22His 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. 23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

24 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.’25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27He 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?’ 28Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

RESPONSE TO SCRIPTURE
This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God!

 SERMON

On Thursday night, Bruce asked me how I was doing and I told him I feel like I go back and forth between being completely calm about the whole situation and being completely hysterical.

I mean, ideally I would find a place in the middle where I could settle for a little bit, but I just do not really think that is my personality.

The truth is, I think, like so many of you, my emotions are all over the place.  I have been using a variety of different coping mechanisms to get me through this time, including sarcasm, which became apparent to me when I was reading this week’s scripture about Jesus healing the blind man with mud and thought to myself, “Well, I wonder if they have tried that yet.”

The strange part about writing a sermon in the middle of a global pandemic is that all of my usual commentaries and other research materials seem so irrelevant right now.  I read everyone’s thoughts on the scripture I am preaching on and there is nothing written about how it relates to social distancing or remote working and schooling or the proper way to wash your hands.  There is nothing in these reflections about how to deal with the fear that comes with the virus, itself, and also the financial ramifications, the chain of supply and other medical issues that cannot be dealt with right now.

No one talks about how to proclaim the Gospel when we cannot even be around other people to do it.

One of the commentaries I use a lot is called Feasting on the Word.  In the world of biblical commentaries, it is relatively “young”.  I think they began releasing it in 2008.  It is based on the lectionary; it offers four different perspectives on each of the four verses every week.  It was explained to me at one point that one of the motivating factors behind its publishing was the fact that preachers and authors and teachers really needed a commentary that was published in a post-911 world; that the world changed so much on September 11th and there was a real need for resources that reflected the world in that moment and what people were going through then and not prior to it.

I think that is why I now find myself struggling with the resources that I have.  The world is changing – profoundly – right now.  We are living through a pivotal moment, not just in our country’s history, but in our world’s history, as well.  And that is scary, because we do not know the trajectory of this or even how long until we mitigate this situation and can begin to put the pieces back together.

And so, fear aside, it is just strange to be living life right now.  I find myself watching old television shows and wondering why everyone is just hanging out together and going to stores like that is an okay thing to do.

History is being written right now – and relevance is a strange thing.

But do you know what is still relevant?  The Gospel.  I read these words of scripture and I think to myself, wow, these words have stood the test of time.  They have remained steadfast through every pivotal and transformational moment in history.  They have been through wars, plagues, upheavals, schisms, recessions, crucifixions and resurrections.  These stories and their lessons and the light that shines within them have this incredible ability to speak to whatever we are going through.  Including this.

Including this.

This morning’s reading comes from the Gospel according to John.  It is the story of Jesus healing the blind man; it is a powerful message of divine and unexplainable healing that I think we all need to hear right now.

Jesus is walking with his disciples; they had just left the temple where he had been teaching.  The part I find fascinating about this story is its location in the Gospel, itself.  In the prior chapter, chapter 8, Jesus is teaching in the temple near the Mount of Olives.  One of the things he teaches is that he is the light of the world.  He says in chapter 8, verse 12, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

And so it is one thing to say that, right?  For Jesus to proclaim this truth that he is the light of the world and that everyone who follows him will never walk in darkness but have light.

But now Jesus is showing people what this means.

Jesus is showing people just how bright this light is.

Jesus is showing people just intensely this light is going to transform their lives and change the world.

As Jesus is walking with his disciples, they encounter a man who is blind – he was, in fact, born blind.  The disciples, assuming this man’s blindness was some sort of punishment for something, ask Jesus if the man sinned or his parents did.  Jesus responds by saying, “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.”

In other words, this is not about this man or this blindness, but about God’s power to heal.

Now, let me be clear – I am NOT saying that all of this is happening in our world today so that God’s works might be revealed.  I am a firm believer that we live in an imperfect world and things happen that are out of our control and very often these things are devastating and fully reveal the depths of our brokenness.  And that is where we are today.

But I also believe that God’s works can be revealed in the midst of this brokenness.  If you think about it, they already are.  They are being revealed in the people who are working on the frontlines – who are bravely leaving their homes when the rest of us are being told to stay – so that we have access to things like healthcare, food and other essentials.  They are being revealed when the most vulnerable are being cared for in creative, yet still life-giving ways.  They are being revealed when we, as the church, find ways to come together, even though we are apart, and lean into one another – and our faith – during these challenging times.

Despite the uncertainty and the anxiety and the fear we all feel right now, I think we can still agree that God is with us and that we are not alone and that there is a light that is shining in the midst of this darkness.

And that light comes from Christ.

After Jesus says he is the light of the world, he spits on the ground and makes mud with his saliva – and then spreads that mud on the man’s eyes (of course my first instinct is, “Don’t touch his face!” but, of course, they were not in the middle of a Covid-19 outbreak).  Jesus then instructs the man to go and wash the mud off in the pool of Siloam.  When the man returns, he can see.

Now, there is a lot going on in this story, crucial points that I think set the stage for what is going to happen later on in the Gospel.  You have Jesus healing on the Sabbath, the Jews not believing that the man had been born blind, but now could see, the formerly blind man being questioned and then driven out of the temple and, finally, the Pharisees confronting Jesus.  Each and every one of these points would make a fascinating sermon.  But today I want to focus on the healing, itself.

Because I think that is a message we all need to hear.

We need to hear a message of healing.

We need to believe that healing is possible.

Jesus not only gives this man his sight, but he also, quite literally, puts light in his life.  Jesus says to the man and to his disciples, “I am the light of the world” and then he shows them all what this means.  He takes someone’s world that is physically and tangibly dark and then shines light into it.

And he promises that he will continue to do the same for all who believe in him.

Which includes us today.

Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Friends, remember that we are resurrection people.  We are living on this side of the resurrection; we know that this story does not end with darkness and death, but with light and resurrection.  And so while we know that Jesus is not physically with us right now, we also know that, in fact, Jesus is here in this world.

And that he is the light.

And that his light is shining in this darkness.  His light is brighter than the virus, itself, it is brighter than the uncertainty our world is facing right now and it is brighter than the fear and anxiety we are all feeling.

Imagine for a moment walking through life and not being able to see anything and then suddenly, in an instant, witnessing the world in bright, vivid and three-dimensional color.  Imagine the grace you would feel in that moment – the awe, the hope.  Imagine the power you would be overwhelmed by.

And then remember that that power is still very much at work in our world today, even though we are living through scary and unprecedented times.  Remember that the light of Jesus is still shining brightly, even though we are walking through a dark moment.  Remember that healing from all of this might not be found in mud, but that it can and it will be found.  We do not know when or how, but remember that this story – this story of Jesus miraculously healing a blind man – has been recalled and shared and read for over 2,000 years.  For centuries upon centuries, this story – this story of healing – has walked people through their darkest moments, shining light and giving them hope that healing will come.

In the moments when you feel weary – remember this story of healing.  In the moments when you feel strong – remember this story of healing.  In the moments when feel overwhelmed by what is happening, put down your phone and then remember this story of healing.

In this pivotal moment in our history, we need to hold onto this story – this story that has stood the test of time, this story that has declared hope in healing and this story that shows in bright, vivid and three-dimensional color just how brilliant and powerful Jesus’ light is.

And friends, the world needs to see this light right now.  The world needs to believe in this light.  The world need to trust that this light will never be extinguished.

And that healing will happen.

I sent out a pastoral note on Thursday afternoon letting the congregation know that we are heeding the orders of Governor Baker and have extended our suspension of in-person worship, programs and activities through Sunday, April 5th, recognizing that the CDC has made longer recommendations that we will re-asses and likely adjust as this date approaches.  In this note, I reminded everyone that this is a marathon and not a sprint.  We do not have to have all of the answers right away and it is okay if we adjust our plan as we go along.

Today I am going to use that same metaphor, but in a different way.  This is a marathon – it will be long, arduous and taxing.  But I want you to remember two things:  1. We are not running in the darkness of the night – there is a light that is shining that is illuminating our journey, a light that can never be extinguished.  2. Remember that every day that goes by, we are one day closer to be on the other side of this.  I do not know how long it will take or what it will look like when we get there.  But I do know what thing for certain – that light will still be shining when we get there.

Two more things:

First of all, this is my weekly reminder to take care of yourself – physically, of course, but also mentally and emotionally.  Step away from the news if you have to – reach out to a friend or family member if you are starting to feel isolated.  Find whatever pieces of “normal” you can find right now.  This will be your light in the days and weeks to comes.

Second of all, as resurrection people, we tend to focus on the good news in the bible – stories of healing, hope, light and love. The bible is full of stories, prophecies and poetry where people, just like us, walk through dark and scary moments in their lives, feeling the devastations of human brokenness and crying out desperately to God.  And while I think sometimes, as Christians, we think we are not supposed to grieve or ask questions because it means that we are somehow not faithful enough, the truth is, we do not have to choose between our very real and human emotions and responses to tragedies and our faith.  To grieve and question where God is in all of this is not a failure of our faith, but a testament to it.

I would encourage you to lean into scripture during this time.  It many ways that we could never have fathomed, the hard scriptures speak clearly to what we are going through right now.

And they have stood the test of time.

They have remained steadfast.

And they do not change the truth and the grace and the hope that Christ’s light is shining through it all.

Take care of yourselves this week.  I love you all.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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