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March 22, 2020
 

Dear Saints,

Thanks to everyone who was able to join us for our services this morning! If you would like to watch the services, you can find them by clicking the following links:

8:00am Morning Prayer Service
10:15am Morning Prayer Service with Music

If you have any trouble with the link, please let me know. You might notice that there are a few points at which our internet connection was slow or cut out, which is something we will work on this week. 

I'm also posting my sermon below if you prefer to read it instead.

Blessings in the rest of this day and in the coming week. 

In peace,
 

Andria+
priest@allsaintspdx.org

The Rev. Andria Skornik
March 22, 2020
Sermon on John 9:1-41


What Can God Do?

Whose fault is this? Why is this happening? Who can we trust

All of the questions from this morning’s gospel make it feel like being dropped into a mess of confusion: The disciples who see a blind man and want to know if it was his fault or his parents that he was born blind. The townspeople who can’t come to terms with his miraculous healing. The religious leaders, who, in witch hunt fashion, track the man and his parents down wanting to know who did this? How did it happen? And how this person could be of God if it happened on the Sabbath.


Whose fault is this? Why is this happening? Who can we trust?

It all sounds a bit like some of the questions we’ve heard this last week. With the devastating impact of COVID-19 we’re a week into various distancing measures. Thousands have lost jobs and many more will soon. The numbers of illnesses and deaths keeps jumping by the thousands overnight. It’s a nightmare that many of us never imagined.

And it’s left people going in circles with questions; wondering who’s to blame. Is it the country in which it originated? Leaders who have been slow to action? People who are not taking it seriously? People who stand to gain or are taking advantage? It’s left questions about who we can trust: if we’re getting the information we need and if those in power are making the right decisions to keep us safe? And sometimes it’s that fundamental level of questioning, asking why? Is this some sort of punishment or plan? How did we go from one minute seemingly having it all to the possibility that it all could be taken away?

With all that’s going on, it’s understandable that we would have these thoughts. And it’s okay if we find that we are angry or scared. That’s an entirely appropriate response given the circumstances. Asking questions is also important for understanding the virus better for its prevention and treatment.  And right now staying up on information can be a matter of survival.

But there’s a difference between these productive questions and the frenzy that we see in our story -- in the townspeople and Pharisees -- and in what many of us are experiencing right now. 

At least, it’s something I can see in myself. I know there’s a point where I’m staying informed, processing it all, and trying to make peace with the things I can’t change. Which are all good.

But there’s a difference between that and this shadow side of it. Where I’m searching for new info like an addict. Finding myself consumed with anger. Where my anxiety makes it impossible to fall asleep. Where I’m grasping for a kind of control that isn’t available right now. I can see myself in those poor disciples and Pharisees. Why is this happening? Who is to blame? Who can I trust? 

And as I’m realizing more every day that negative cycle that I get caught up in isn’t helping me. It doesn’t free me, heal me or give me peace. It hardens my heart, making it harder to love the neighbor and enemy. It keeps me in a state of panic, which science shows isn’t good for health.

It takes my attention from whatever beauty and joy in this precious life is mine to cherish.    It takes my energy away from blessing the world as God has anointed my hands and feet and heart to do. 

But Jesus shows us how to live a life freed from all this. To  get past the egos desire to control things that can’t be controlled, or finding answers when there aren’t any. Because all of that stuff gets in the way of what we really need to be looking at, especially in challenging times. 

Like that this is painful. That we are scared. That we miss the way things were. That we don’t know how long it will be this way. That things may never be exactly the way they were. But then, maybe it helps us see also that some things will never change, that God is with us even right now, and that just as death is part of the cycle of life, so is resurrection. In fact, it’s being preached by things budding and blooming all around us. It’s these things that scare us the most that we need to come to terms with. Because that is what frees us. It’s in descending into the depths of our existence — the hardest parts — that we transform and transcend them. 

Another way Jesus helps us get beyond the negative cycle is by replacing the questions we tend to rush in with with a better question. In our text, when the disciples ask whose sin caused the blindness, he says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” It’s great in that he detaches the blindness from sin. But it almost sounds like he’s saying God made the man blind so Jesus could come along and do this miracle -- something we could never imagine that a loving God would do. 

But there’s another translation that I think puts it much better.  Here Jesus says to the disciples: “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.” It’s not saying that God causes suffering. But that God can use everything -- even the worst of things -- to bring about good. If we reframe our situation, as Jesus has, rather than getting stuck in the cycle of negativity, we’re instead putting our focus on God’s generative, restorative, productive action that we get to witness and take part in. What would happen if we let that be our question: What can God do?

Maybe we’d see that God can help us find quiet and peace. God can bless the world through us. God can help us face death. God can take care of those we love. God can give us a future and a hope. God can use this pandemic -- as an occasion to bring the world together. God can restore us and make all things whole. 

If we step back and look for what God is doing, there’s so much to see. I thought one writer for the Atlantic put it well, though, in slightly different terms. He writes, "The worry and unease about COVID-19 feels so inescapable that Americans can easily miss the sheer beauty of what is unfolding across the country right now... It is a collective act of almost unprecedented community spirit... The many act to protect the few—an almost tribal, communitarian instinct that is all too rare in modern life. The most isolating thing most of us has ever done is, ironically, almost surely the most collective experience we’ve ever had in our lifetimes."

Surely this is an example of what God can do. Where else are you seeing it? Around you? In you? 

In closing, I’d like to offer a poem that was written in the last week by Brother Richard Hendrick, a priest in Ireland, that helps draw out some of the many possible examples of what God can do and is doing in this present moment.

 

Lockdown

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But, 
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other 
across the empty squares, 
keeping their windows open 
so that those who are alone 
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know 
is busy spreading fliers with her number 
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples 
are preparing to welcome 
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able 
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.

I hope we can find some of the peace, freedom and healing that Jesus is guiding us in, and let our many questions give way to the one real question: What can God do? What is God doing right now? And how do we join God in that every day?

 

 

Influential Sources

- The Inspiring, Galvanizing, Beautiful Spirit of 2020
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/inspiring-galvanizing-beautiful-spirit-2020/608308/ 

 - The Message translation of John 9 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+9&version=MSG 
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