(Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all of our church services are virtual. You may find this sermon and the service around it on the YouTube page for First Presbyterian Church of Pulaski, TN or on the church's Facebook page.)
March 22, 2020
First, I want and I must say “thank you.”
Thank you to our Session who has been facing this crisis with such inspiring courage. While they have had to weigh lots of factors, and there’s anxiety about what will come next, the safety of the congregation and the staff and everyone who uses this building was their first priority. That is why we are not gathered today.
Thank you to the leadership in our presbytery. They have facilitated Zoom meetings and other online groups so that folks from every church in the presbytery has a chance to share with one another, connect with each other, pray for each other, encourage and uphold one another.
Thank you most especially to all of you. I have heard nothing but words of support and solidarity and love from every person I have talked with. You take our call to love one another seriously. Right now, and for the unforeseeable future, the best way that we can love one another is to stay apart physically.
But the greatest thanksgiving, the thanksgiving that is first and foremost is our thanksgiving to God. God our Creator, God our Redeemer, God our Savior, our Advocate, our Hope. Thanks be to God.
My original intent for this season of Lent was to stick with the gospel readings – as I generally do in my preaching. This morning’s gospel reading from John is one where the first question asked is “Who sinned?”
Why was the man born blind? Was it because of his sin or his parent’s sin?
Jesus answers, it wasn’t about sin at all. No one sinned. Through this man born blind, God will show God’s glory.
For me, and I suspect for many of you, this leads to more questions. Did God make the man born blind on purpose? Has he spent his whole life on the outside, an Other, suffering and struggling from limits and attitudes that came with his lack of sight, just so God could use this one moment to show God’s glory?
Biblical scholars, such as Rolf Jacobsen, who know better than I, state that the way interpret “born blind” is not necessarily in line with the Greek. Being born blind is not specifically linked with God doing it on purpose.
In other words, God didn’t make the man born blind. God didn’t choose that this man would suffer. But out of that suffering, God’s glory would be revealed through Jesus not only healing him but restoring him to relationship.
Yet with all that being said, I’m sure that in the face of this pandemic, in the face of COVID-19, in the midst of our many anxieties about a future we can’t even begin to predict, some of us may be asking, “Who sinned?”
Why is this happening? Did God make it happen? Are we being punished? Are we being arbitrarily tested?
I don’t believe that God is trying to punish us through this pandemic. I don’t believe that God made it happen. I do believe that there are consequences for our actions, and that often what seems to be punishment or retribution from the divine is just God letting us experience those consequences. As a child, my parents let me experience the consequences of my actions; as a parent I have done the same with my own children. I’m sure you all have as well. I don’t think that God wants us to suffer. I don’t think that God makes it happen. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be accountable for the consequences of our actions or our inaction.
But remember, Jesus didn’t just give the disciples a theological lecture about sin using the blind man as an object lesson. Jesus revealed God’s glory by healing the blind man. And it was not just a physical healing. It was an emotional healing and a communal healing. As preacher and teacher Karoline Lewis pointed out in WorkingPreacher.org, Jesus always healed to restore relationship. The blind man was not only healed, he was brought back into the community. In spite of what the Pharisees did to him. He was brought back into right relationship. He was no longer an outsider. He was no longer an Other. God’s glory was revealed not just in the giving of sight, but in the giving of relationship.
So the question is, how will God’s glory be revealed in the midst of this suffering? I think it already is. I think it is in the truly heroic people who serve in the medical community. How many doctors and nurses are working triple overtime, exposing themselves and potentially their own families, not for a paycheck, but to help and to heal? How much harder will they be working in the weeks to come? What about that cashier at the grocery store, and the young man who’s bagging the groceries? They’re going to work. They’re putting their own health and the health of those they love at risk by being there. But they’re there. What about the pharmacists and the garbage collectors? They are all revealing God’s glory.
I think God’s glory is being revealed in the care shown to others in so many ways. Teresa posted pictures of the line of cars coming to pick up their Rural Food Delivery boxes yesterday. The line was endless, and people are scared. But those volunteers didn’t falter. They were there.
God’s glory is being revealed right now, right here, even in this empty sanctuary. I’m not talking about me standing here trying to preach through a different medium. I’m talking about the fact that every single one of you stayed home, complying with social distancing, because you care about each other. You love each other.
Maybe that is the greatest way that God’s glory is being revealed. We are being reminded in a way that is unprecedented in my lifetime, perhaps in many of our lifetimes, that the only sure thing we have is love. God loves us and wants, calls, desires, expects us to love one another. If we can focus on that, if we can see that that is our only certainty, then God’s glory is revealed.
I said earlier that I usually focus on the gospels, but I also want to lift up the 23rd psalm. What more fitting psalm could there be in these days than this one. It is a psalm of great comfort and reassurance.
The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want.
Like a shepherd with his sheep, he makes us lie down in pastures of green.
He leads us beside still and peaceful waters.
He restores our souls.
He leads us in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.
Even though we walk through this dark valley, in the shadow of death, we will not fear.
We know that God is with us. We know that God protects us and comforts us with God’s rod and staff.
God prepares a table for us, even as all that we fear surround us.
God anoints our head with oil and fills our cup to abundance. It is overflowing, pouring down.
We trust that goodness and mercy will follow us, every day of our lives, and we will live in God’s house our whole lives long.
Yes, there is no psalm more appropriate for these scary times. But truth be told, the corona virus could disappear tomorrow, and we would still live in scary times. We would still be surrounded with uncertainty. Ultimate control over what happens to us and to our loved ones would still be fleeting. That’s something that control freaks like me need to remember. We would still walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But as Rev. Tracy Blackmun said in a sermon I heard at Montreat last fall, the reason that there is a shadow in that valley is because there is a light somewhere.
The reason that there is a shadow in that valley is because there is a light somewhere.
There is a light somewhere. God’s light is there. The Light of the World has not left us or abandoned us. The love of God covers us. We are walking this valley together. Love is stronger than death. God is healing us from our blindness so that we can truly see it. God’s glory is being revealed right now.
Thanks be to God.