Sunday, March 22, 2020

Lent 4: Wake up and see the blessings

Lectionary:1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41



Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an mp3 audio file.

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

My dear friends, we can’t gather in person today but, giving thanks for the technology of our age, we can gather virtually: one blessing among many being revealed to us in this time. As our bishops said in their most recent pastoral letter, “Keep awake.” Yes, we must keep awake so that we notice the graciousness of God who continually blesses us, and when we notice these blessings we can share them as good news, light in the time of darkness for so many.

This is basically the same message Samuel is hearing in today’s Old Testament reading. Wake up, Samuel. Stop looking back at what was. I know you grieve the loss of it, but look! I am sending you a blessing, a leader who will bring you forward into the life I choose for you, a life of peace and abundance.

A life so tenderly described for us in the 23rd Psalm where God calls our attention from the stresses of the world and invites us to come, to lie down and rest on the soft grass beside the still waters God has created for us. Once God has our attention, the calm begins to happen in us. Our breathing slows, our faces relax, the knots in our stomachs and chests release. We breathe deeply in - filling ourselves with the grace of God. Then we breathe out, releasing all our stress.

Now wrapped up in divine peace, we notice a beautiful table has been set for us, but not just for us. Also present are those who trouble us, but the divine peace within us keeps us from judging or questioning or excluding.

We sit together at tables covered in fresh, white linens. The flames of the candles on the tables dance in the soft breeze but never go out, and the tables are decorated with vases of fragrant flowers and herbs.

Sumptuous food is in the center of each table; and there are goblets of water and wine, already full, at every seat. It’s a family meal where no one is lonely, no one is left out of the conversation, and everyone has plenty to eat. Our cups are running over, and joy abounds.

Then, to prove just how much we matter God anoints our heads with oil - something usually reserved for kings and queens but is being offered by God to all. At that moment, when the oil touches our foreheads, we feel the power of God’s love enter us and course through our bodies like light breaking into darkness. The anointing reveals to us that all of us have been chosen by God to lead the world to this gracious place where everyone can be filled with the peace of God, where all are made one in the family of God.

This is what Jesus is demonstrating in today’s gospel from John. The man born blind would have been judged as cursed, punished by God for a sin someone else committed. But Jesus reframes the situation, revealing the blessing the others weren’t seeing, as if he were saying, wake up, and see the blessing.

This man was born blind. You have judged him, questioned his circumstance, and excluded him from your grace; but through him the graciousness of God will be revealed.

The ritual is simple, as were all of Jesus' rituals. He combines mud, the unglamorous substance of the earth with the life-giving water of Christ’s own self. Earth and heaven are made one in this outcast.

Go and wash, Jesus tells the man, and when he does, his sight is restored. By restoring his sight, Jesus also offers the man a whole new future. He has the potential for a job, a family, to be part of a community. His days as a vilified sinner are over - or are they?

The gospel story takes us to his community’s response to his restoration. They judge him, question Jesus’s revelation of God through him, and they exclude him again. The blessing God was giving them is rejected because the people wouldn’t let go of what was in order to receive the new life God was offering them.

We do this too. We’re subject to doing it now in this pandemic moment, which is why I’ve been asking everyone to watch for the blessings. Keep awake! God is always giving us reason to rejoice.

My vestments today are an outward sign of our commitment to that belief. Today is the 4th Sunday in Lent, also known as Laetare or Rose Sunday (hence the pink vestments). “Laetare” is Latin for “rejoice” and we pause our Lenten season to collectively lift up our faces to the light of Christ, rejoicing that he lives in us and we in him.

Throughout our long history, the church has gathered to ritually practice this reality through the sharing of Holy Communion, making present in our time what Jesus did in his: gathering his friends together for a simple meal of bread and wine. But in Jesus’ hands and by his prayers, that simple food became holy food, the food of life.

“Evermore give us this bread that Christ may live in us and we in him.”

Since the way we’ve always done it before has become suddenly unavailable we - the church and all of us who are members of it - have the opportunity to wake up and see the blessings God is offering us in this.

Last week, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well: “…the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth… God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

This hour is our version of the hour Jesus spoke about - and it is here. It is now. As we prepare to share our Holy Communion virtually, we do it awake, noticing the blessing that even during a time of quarantine God invites us to eat and drink of the holy food of Communion which makes us one body, one Spirit in Christ.

As we prepare for our virtual Holy Communion I offer this prayer, adapted from the prayer of St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696–1787):

Beloved Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the sacrament of the altar. I long for you in my soul, to know that I am in you and that you are in me. Though physically isolated from your altar and the sacrament of your Body and Blood, I receive you spiritually into my heart and the depths of my being. United with you, help me know that my life is hid with you, O Christ, in the heart of God. Amen. (Edited by The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle)


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