Will you join me in prayer? Bless O’ Lord this word proclaimed and we who hear it. That as we gather together for worship in our homes, away from one another, we would be reminded, that through the gift of Baptism, we are bound together regardless of how distant we may feel. Restore us in this time of need. Fill our souls with your Spirit. Lead us through this time of darkness. Amen.
So I thought I would begin my sermon this morning with a moment of confession. Ya ready? I have spent entirely too much time on Facebook over the course of the past week. Maybe you have the same confession.
The truth is, and if you know me well, you know this to be true… I’m not a big technology/social media person. Yet amidst this COVID-19 pandemic and its’ subsequent quarantine and order of “social distancing”, like many of you, I have felt the need to stay connected in whatever way I can. So, until we can be together face to face, Facebook it is.
As I scrolled through my feed this past week, I came across a post from an unnamed source inviting people to pray for their pastors. It read something like this; “Your Pastor has never pastored a church through a pandemic before. When he opens, people are going to say he should have closed. When he closes, people are going to say he should have opened. When he does not shake hands, people are going to say he needs faith. When he shakes hands, people are going to say he’s foolish.” And this is the part I really want you to hear; “Every pastor believes that they pastor the most amazing group of people. Remember this: No one wants things to go well at church as much as your Pastors.” Maybe you’ve seen this post for yourselves. I share it, not for sympathy, but because, it spoke to some of where I am personally in this COVID-19 time… No doubt it hit Pastor Mike in a similar way.
The truth is, we, Pastor Mike and myself, have never pastored through a pandemic. Nor have we been trained to pastor through such times. As with all things, regardless of what decisions we make or what we do, there will no doubt be some criticism. But far more difficult that any amount of criticism we may receive, is not being able to gather together with all of you for worship, the most amazing group of people.
Our assigned Gospel for this weekend brings before us the whole of John chapter 9 where we read of Jesus healing a man who has been blind from birth, giving him sight for the first time in his life…
A miraculous healing, no doubt… but too… and maybe even more importantly, a story that offers us insight into the character of God… that offers us some insight into how God is present in in our lives, in the midst of personal hardship and adversity.
Jesus and his disciples are walking along when they come across the man blind from birth. In seeing him, the disciples look to Jesus and ask why… “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
So, Jesus answers; “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” As the NIV translation reads; “So that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
If you watched my “bible study” with the kids posted on our Facebook page yesterday, amidst the goofiness, you heard me describe that in the world of church, this question of why asked by the disciples, is one of theodicy.
The question of why bad things happen, and of God’s presence and purpose amidst the bad. Of why God, creator of heaven and earth… our light and our strength… The Great Shepherd… our deliverer, redeemer, and savior… would allow the things of suffering and evil to exist in our lives and in our world…
For the disciples; “Why was this man born blind? Because of his sins or his parents?”
For us; Why did our loved one have to die? Our baby born still? Did our relationship have to end… that person we loved so much now our enemy? Why did our child or grandchild become possessed by addiction? Did that young person take their own life? Where was God when…? Why would God let this happen?
In the midst of this COVID-19/Corona virus pandemic, we find ourselves asking why in ways we never have before.
We certainly are in the Geib household. Two little ones at home, unsure of when, if ever, school will open again. Diabetic parents and grandparents at higher risk of infection and unable to be with them. Christina’s work closed, as many of yours have been, worried about what life on one income will look like.
Then, the countless people who make up our family of faith here at St. James… all of you… who we love and miss and can’t be with…
In all of these things and more, the past days and weeks have been ones of fear and anxiety, uncertainty and unknown. That have left us, like the disciples, asking why God would allow this to happen… It is a time, as Pastor Mike began his sermon from last week, in which; “Every day we have been presented with a new challenge…”
But too, and again I want to quote Pastor Mike’s sermon from last week, it is a time; “to see a deeper understanding of what life means for us… to be more deeply grounded and secure in our faith… to be guided by our faith in what we say, how we say it, how we hold ourselves and respond to each other…” Beautifully said…
It’s important for you to know that your leadership at St. James is here for you and at work. This past Wednesday our elected Congregation Council gathered together in conversation via phone. We are blessed to have Katy Clowney on staff to set up things like this and the countless other things she does for us. If you haven’t yet, please take the time to let her know how much she is appreciated. As well of the rest of our staff and lay leaders here at St. James who have been working diligently in attempts to hold us together during this time of need.
As Council began our meeting, our Council President, Dan Bringman, asked each person to spend a minute or so sharing how things are going for them…
As you would guess, to the number, one by one, individuals shared fears, anxieties, concerns, and new challenges; Parents with health concerns who they are unable to visit… children and grandchildren far away… worries about having enough food and supplies, and about financial insecurity as more and more places of business close their doors…
And too, they expressed concerns for the church; For those home-bound members and for those in nursing homes and hospitals… for how long it will be until we can gather together for worship… for what all of this will mean for the financial stability and vitality of St. James…
Concerns that can quickly turn into questions of theodicy. Why would God allow this to happen? Why would God allow something to happen that keeps people from working, that keeps them from providing for their families? That keeps God’s faithful people from gathering together for worship?
The truth is, in these and the many other questions of why God allows bad things to happen, there is no one clear answer.
But what if Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question of, why the man was born blind, give us, at the very least, some insight into our own questions of why?
“So that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” So that the work of God might be displayed in our lives…
Through his words in today’s gospel, Jesus is clear; God does not allow bad things to happen to us as some form of punishment for our sins or the sins of others. While we may never get clear answers to the many questions of why, one thing is clear; God is present in all that we face.
That even in the worst of times, the work of God is displayed in our lives… A truth expressed maybe no more clearly than in our assigned Psalm for today, Psalm 23.
That, while, we do at times walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil, for the Lord, our Shepherd is with us… protecting us by rod and staff, leading us to abundant grass and riverbanks of still waters, and restoring our souls by the very breadth that gave us life.
“But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed… As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
As we journey through these challenging and complicating times remember that even amidst total darkness, the light of the world breaks through. And what better time than the season of Lent for this to be our focus?
For even the darkest of days of human history, Good Friday, was followed by the brightest, Easter… the day when through the grace and mercy of Christ, God’s light shattered darkness forever by destroying the power of sin and death by the promise of eternal life.
May the light of Christ shine brightly in your lives throughout this time of darkness and restore your soul amidst whatever fears and anxieties you have. May your eyes be opened to God’s presence in and around you. For God is with you and so are we. Thanks be to God. Amen.
~Pastor Andrew Geib