Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
22 March 2020 – Lent 4 – Year A
Eph 5: 8-14 – Ps 23 – John 9: 1-41
Good morning everyone.
It is good to see of all you today in what some are starting to call the new normal. As some of you know, I was abroad recently, returning from Europe last Saturday, and have been in self-isolation since then. Deborah also crossed the border to the US’ and so is also self-isolating. And after the decision was taken by Corporation to close the Cathedral in line with government advice, we have all had to learn very quickly how to do things differently and develop new models and ideas for pastoral and liturgical ministries.
And step by step, we like all those who have access to technology and the internet, are discovering the blessings and curses of technology: blessings in that suddenly, in this time of global emergency, human creativity and ingenuity is running riots.
Of course, businesses have been using videoconferencing for a long time – I remember using very clunky systems in my early business career 30 years ago, when we walked into videoconferencing suites with reverence. The technology has spread. Some people are organising cyber aperitifs or cyber meals to bring together family and friends, all sitting in front their screen in their own homes with their own food and drinks, and yet able to take part in conversation that remind us of the importance of human interaction, especially in times like these.
Others are imagining ways of organising children’s birthday parties, providing home schooling, whatever is important to maintain a way of life that has structure and meaning, and will allow humankind to thrive.
Someone sent me a meme yesterday, one of those photographs with a witty tagline which circulate round the internet. It pictured someone who looked glamorous and persuasive, with a glint in his eye and teeth worthy of a toothpaste ad. The tag line: ‘And just like that, we were all televangelists’.
Today, whether you are a seasoned professional used to working with videoconferencing software, or whether this is the first time ever you sit in front of a screen to talk to others gathered from many places, today we have all become televangelists – not in the way that is sometimes understood to mean a Christian who embraced the airwaves in order to make a fortune in the name of Jesus but, instead, as people whose world has changed in the space of a week and who now have to interact with others online, mediated by camera, microphone and screen.
Here at Christ Church Cathedral, we are keenly aware of the isolation and the separation that the COVID-19 situation is creating among people. Whether we like it or not, scientists tell us that we have a chance to beat this pandemic if we all isolate, if we reduce physical social actions to the minimum for a while, thus stopping the spread of this potentially deadly virus. And the scientific message has been one which has been difficult to accept.
Because taking it seriously is forcing us to image a way of being Christian which is radically different to what we knew so far. Gathering in buildings is forbidden, leaving the building open for people to come and pray is dangerous in spreading infection, human touch could facilitate transmission, the sharing of bread and the communal cup are currently out of bounds: all the symbols and sacraments that have traditionally incarnated the presence of Christ among us have suddenly been taken away from us.
And so we have been left bereft. Bereft not only for a world which may never ever be the same after the experience of this disease, but also bereft of the signs and comfort of the presence of God which sustain us.
For the blind man of our Gospel passage this morning, the world was about to change. An encounter with Jesus transforms his life by giving him the gift of sight when until now he had been blind. While some around him blamed his blindness on the sin of his parents or even on himself, Jesus does not think that that question is important. For Jesus, what is important is how God’s work might be revealed through him. And so he proceeds to open his eyes, as a sign to the world: ‘We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work’.
Following this, we heard the story of the ongoing questioning of that man in order try and establish by what authority his sight had been given him back, and whether Jesus’s act of healing is of God or not.
And the ex-blindman argues powerfully for Jesus: ‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing’.
Friends, the human family has been blind for a long time – or we were able to see and chose not see – and this time of testing which we are undergoing may be the necessary catalyst for a much deeper Lenten reflection on the ways in which we live and how God is present in our lives and in our hearts.
I do not believe that God sends plagues to test humanity, because that would be a travesty of the loving God I know and who has been present in my life. I believe that God is with us as we seek to respond to them, and that Jesus, the Light of the world, is asking of us today that we metaphorically go to the pool of Siloam that our eyes may be open.
Note that, in this story, Jesus does not ask whether the blind man wants to be healed. Instead, Jesus give him back his sight and the arguments that ensued are all with those who are stuck with world or religious views which they are not willing to change.
We need for our eyes to be wide open to see how the threat of the spread of painful death by a virus has managed to ground most of our planes and curb our travel in ways that the cries of climate change activists never managed.
We need for our eyes to be wide open to recognise all that has been of God in the world, but also all that has been human construction unworthy of God’s unconditional gift of love to us.
We need for our eyes to be wide open to see the continuing needs and struggles of God’s people around us, and the power and financial differentials that, now as in the time of Jesus, scar God’s world.
We need for our eyes to be wide open in order to see the suffering that we can impact by our action – in bringing comfort to the anxious, in ensuring that all are looked after in our communities, in making sure that we do not take or buy more than we need, in sharing of our resources where we can.
We need for our eyes to be wide open to recognise the presence of God amongst our community, whether we are gathered in our beloved Cathedral building or whether we meet across cyberspace in this new way. And to know that, even if we are not able to break bread together, we are in a spiritual communion with one another and with God, and we can look forward to the day when we will once again be reunited at the feast of the Lord.
Where two or three are gathered, I shall be among them, says Jesus. And with technology and the connectivity that we have, Jesus is with us always.
In these times of darkness for the world, we are encouraged to live as children of Light, for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.
Doing what is pleasing to the Lord at present includes following the scientific advice of physical distancing, that we may not imperil others in seeking to fulfil our own needs. But we are not to be socially distant, and we need to try new ways through which we can interact socially without danger.
So, ensure that you are in regular telephone contact with family, friends, and neighbours, join in the virtual coffee mornings and afternoon teas that we are organising online, come to our prayer rooms, and if you have other ideas, comments and suggestions, please let us have them. And pray earnestly in your own room.
Jesus says: ‘so long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’. Let us ensure that we, as the Body of Christ, live up to the task that Jesus gives us today and always.