Sermon preached at St. John’s at Diocesan Center
by The Rev. Andrew F. Kline
March 22, 2020
Consider the predicament of the man born blind – through no fault of his own – the man who is healed by Jesus, but in such an interesting way that he does not know how it all went down.
And who after a wild ride with his relatives and the authorities, finds himself stranded by the side of the road on the way out of town, stigmatized and ostracized by his community. Familiar, isn’t it. Our predicament.
I immediately think of some glib expressions of saber-rattling faith I’ve heard in recent days. Not to mention the hand- wringing and blaming that is inevitable during this unprecedented time of crisis because of the Coronavirus. Distractions one and all. Let’s not lose sight of him, this man. While everyone is panicking, and arguing, and completely forgetting about what started it all, and what is the point, we will go looking for him, and God willing, find him again, just as Jesus did.
But first! What words we have of absolute comfort in the Psalm, the hymn of praise to the Lord!
1) The Lord is my shepherd.
2) I shall not want
3) Even though…. What? Fill in the blank. Anxiety. Stress. Sickness. Death. YOU are with me.
4) A Table in the Wilderness. Nourishment. Oil. Wine. Healing. Sustenance.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me – always and everywhere. And I will find home.
The summary of our faith in the 23rd Psalm? God provides. God guides. God protects. I shall lack nothing good. I am not alone. The Lord is my Shepherd. In answer to the eternal question, God does indeed set a table in the wilderness. We can expect more than just water from a rock, even manna from heaven!
The Lord is my Shepherd. We desperately need this picture, don’t we? As people of faith, this is what we would like to see. Something is about to break upon us like a terrible wave, and if we are honest, we are wondering whether we can keep our eyes fixed on the horizon.
And then, there’s how we feel. Even though our officials can helpfully tell us it’s Ok not to be OK, we Christians need to take stock, and prepare. What does this moment before the storm feel like? We look out on our streets and into screens that reveal upset, displacement, sickness, and suffering in the face of the unknown, an enemy we cannot see and do not fully understand.
Good thing for us we have this promise, which contains a prescription. The Lord is our Shepherd. And the Shepherd is on the move. Do you notice the miracle of the movement in the psalm? The Shepherd knows we might be stuck, we might be standing there looking up into the hills wondering where our help is coming from….
He raises his rod, his staff, he gestures… Just take a step back… or a step to the side, or yes, even, a step forward. Follow me.
“Jesus was walking along.” He saw a man born blind from birth. Maybe he even was holding a walking stick at that moment, a shepherd crook. Why not. He gets things rolling. He stooped down for some clay. He spit, he daubed, he gave a command. After taking this risk, perhaps thinking of us today, he practiced a little social distancing. He walked on. He stepped away. He practically vanished.
The apostle Paul was very much thinking of Jesus’ presence in his absence when he told us, almost as an afterthought: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” With Jesus, whether in the body or out of the body, there is always a way forward.
We know what it is like when we are not engaging our faith. Looking at the rising numbers of sick and dying. Perhaps an emptying bank account. The uncertainty of the life and livelihood that does or does not await us after all this is over. Stuck. Or moving without a lot of energy or direction.
How do we get unstuck? Simple images and rules of thumb are the most help. Visualize the space around you. Stand with your arm outstretched. Right across is your partner, your child, your neighbor, with their arm outstretched. We can come only so close. Keep our distance. Can we do this with a new body language? A grace that declares: you are not my enemy. Yet for now, we will keep a loving distance.
As hard as it is. It’s not about you. Move it. Move on. Walk away. Go inside. Shut the door. As much as possible, act as you are the problem, the one who could endanger the ones you love. A terrible truth. But the first move of authentic faith – at least for a few more weeks!
Walking faith is in constant dialogue and struggle with what we can see, standing where we are, what we can presently understand. Ultimately, faith is not opposed to sight, but supports and enlarges it. Take a few creative steps, trusting in the promises of God’s Word, and you see things in a new light.
I don’t know about you, but in these early days, I am seeing much more of my neighbors. Walking along. Outside outside in the fresh air. Waving at me. Family and old friends getting in touch. People going to extraordinary lengths to figure out what is essential, and keeping those essential services going.
Again, we are having to lean in, think a little deeper, get creative. As I am inevitably more and more online, we are getting pretty creative with their virtual hugs. I’m learning more than I ever thought I would know about infectious diseases. Did you know that certain heroes now stepping forward have been calling for years for us to pay attention, and to invest in a new the Manhattan project dedicated to discovering a universal vaccine for respiratory illnesses.
People of faith, the remedy is to take whatever step is in front of us. A movement of faith. The faith move. If we dare, now is the time to see the world differently. After this, everything will not only look different, it will be different.
Certainly, we will walk back into our homes and close the door. But that “walking faith” says, the door opens again. Peak your head out and see what is going on. Keep looking. Don’t look away. Reframe. Don’t forget the most vulnerable. Respect the supply chain. Pray for, support and cooperate with the first responders, the healers, the shepherds, the ones keeping the peace. For us here especially, I pray we will keep feeding our neighbors.
One last little reality check, given the need for faith when our sight only goes so far, our Scriptures remind us this morning that, alas, it is will always be the most difficult to see our ourselves. The man born blind is healed, but stranded by the side of the road, going nowhere until he sees the one sees him. It is interesting how John’s long tale of mistaken meanings and mistaken identity winds down with one final warning: Those who claim to see, but don’t believe, are the ones who are truly blind. Our sin and ignorance remains. Ouch.
Do yourself a favor. Don’t forget this story. Do not fear if Jesus seems distant. Stay humble. The Shepherd is out there getting us unstuck.
He sees each one of us. Jesus is walks by, we don’t even know he has healed us, and even as we don’t know what’s hit us – and there he is. Right there, spreading his table in front of us, anointing us with oil, and pouring us a drink.
He’s here. Today. Jesus is walking along. Jesus is at work. Tomorrow, especially when he seems to be nowhere to be found, he will circle back around. We are in this together, through famine, pestilence and plague. The faithful will continue to testify. Jesus will continue to show up.
You can bet on it. Go ahead. Make that your first step. Put your money, put your life, on the one who promises to lead in front, guide from behind, sustain on every side.
This move is the only thing that matters.
The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. We will not lack any good thing. With him, we can beat this thing, we can see it though, and, however long it takes, we will see anew.