Lent 4 A 20
It was so good today that the lectionary gave us Psalm 23 to say/sing together. It is the psalm that we turn to when we are in any sort of trouble and we are certainly feeling beleaguered at the moment, aren’t we? We are in a strange sort of place where the enemy is invisible and very few of us even know anyone who has had this terrible virus, and yet we are all being encouraged to self isolate and our lives are being turned upside down. I was talking to a friend who said that it must be a little how the English felt in the Phoney War phase before the blitz started. With a bit of luck we won’t have the number of deaths that came about as a consequence of either the blitz or the Spanish Flu. But some in our society are fearful, and compliant, and some of us are not afraid and are consequently noncompliant, and some are just obedient to the authorities, but regardless we are all unsettled and upset, ‘cabin’d, cribbed, confined, bound in,’ to quote Shakespeare.
‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,’ well, I may be short of toilet paper, but I shall not want any of the important things, because the shepherd leads us to green pastures and still waters and restores our souls. This also seems like a big ask when we are so unsettled and upset. I don’t know about you, but for me the idea of Easter without our regular pattern of services seems very hard to bear. And yet, the promise of the psalm is still there, our shepherd will continue to lead us. And our shepherd will restore our souls.
But in order for this to happen we have to follow. A different way of saying this is that we must be Jesus’ disciples. I love that moment in the narrative that we read when the man born blind asks the pharisees if they too, want to become Jesus’ disciples. He has come such a long way on his journey to wholeness and real health, hasn’t he? He is growing in confidence in Jesus at every turn.
This wonderful story of the healing and restoration of the man born blind is full of promise for us. Here a man who would have been ritually unclean therefore unable to take part in the religious life of the Jewish nation, and was reduced to begging for his daily bread, is utterly and completely changed. It is the kind of miracle we sometimes see with modern medicine in third world countries. I don’t know if you are familiar with Catherine Hamlin? She died this week aged 96 and until very recently she was still operating in the hospitals that she and her husband Reg established in Ethiopia. They were specialist clinics for the treatment of fistulas. The incredible work that Catherine Hamlin did carried on the kind of healing that Jesus does here, the results of which is the total transformation of the lives of outcast and destitute people. We, ourselves, may not have such a dramatic story but there are people in this room who have experienced a healing that changed us for ever. Even without the drama of sudden healing we all have the story of a continuing process of being made whole, being restored to what God calls us to be, remade in God’s likeness- what the bible calls salvation. That salvation comes through discipleship. And that is the sign of God’s glory here, that this man, whose sight is restored, continues to walk in the light. He becomes a disciple and is reborn in relationship with God. And this story is all about relationships. There is the relationship between the parents and their son, the parents and the pharisees, the man and the pharisees. Then there are the questions about who the person who has been healed really is- is it him or not? And of course the relationship between Jesus and the man he heals, which is ongoing. I love that moment when Jesus knowing that he has been driven out, comes to him. The man has made his choice to be a disciple and Jesus responds to him with love. And the man chooses light. He eyes have been opened so that he can see the light but he still has to choose to dwell or abide there.
The discourse that follows the sign, in the next chapter, is all about discipleship cloaked again in the language of shepherd and sheep, just as in the psalm. Once you can see, you are called to follow.
This is a brief story but the man shows forth such growth in his relationship with the one who has called, healed and saved him. And we presume that he goes on in that growing into the likeness of God. And that is the same for us. We have all been called, and healed, whether suddenly or in a slow process. We have been saved and we shine with Christ’s light.
At this moment we have no idea of how long this pandemic will last, we have uncertainty about what will happen tomorrow, let alone next week, next month and even, next year. We have been told to prepare for the long haul. And at the same time we are Jesus’ disciples. Right now, at this minute, we are the light of the world. Now it feels hard to shine when we are cabin’d, cribbed and confined, but that is what we must do. We must be God’s people in the darkness that is corona virus. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ for others, and we normally are good at that as a group, but sadly we are not allowed to do much to help each other and our neighbours at this minute. What we can do is speak words of love and peace to each other, we can pray for each other and for all of those around us. And we can endure, staying strong in our faith, strong in our relationship with God and with each other.
Everything looks different from the perspective of a pandemic, but this story of healing and discipleship reminds us that God is always willing to heal and to save. We as a congregation are going to have to find different patterns to worship, and different ways of connecting to one another, but God is the same God who will prepare a banquet for us in the presence of our foes.
We are still the bearers of the same light, even if it is shining in different places.
And Jesus two great commandments have not changed. We are to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves even if we feel that our world is reeling.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
Rev. Roberta Hamilton