Live as children of light.
This was our first service under the strict "confinement" laws of France, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our church secretary set everything in place and we had more than 25 people joining us for a Zoom service. It was a truly wonderful experience - as Jesus promised: where two or three are gathered together, there am I also.
We started the service with this prayer:
Lord God, as people across the world turn to you in prayer, we too come before you, linked by technology, but bound together by love. We come before you as people of hope, trusting in your love and light. May your faithful love support us, give us strength, and calm the anxiety of our hearts.
1 Samuel 16:1-13
The Gospel reading is really quite a difficult reading: it starts off well, with the healing of the blind man, but then it all becomes quite nasty – the blind man is rejected for his stalwart faith in Jesus as a Prophet and healer, his parents refuse to back him up for fear of the Pharisees, and difficult questions are asked. I think today is not the day to start unpicking the threads of this story too much, but just to say that John only refers to seven of Jesus’s miracles, and each one leads into a discourse where Jesus gives an image of himself, using the phrase “I am…”
Following this sign, Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd”, and talks about how he guards and cares for his sheep, but also the sheep from other flocks. But that is a sermon for another day.
Today I want to look at what we can take from our readings for our current situation. The Covid-19 virus is sweeping the world, thousands of people are dying, millions of people are infected, and probably billions are in lockdown, or facing lockdown conditions in the near future. This will leave us separated from those we love, worried for those who are vulnerable, or for those who are missing out on education or on work. And it is human nature to look for someone to blame…
Bound by the beliefs of the time, which were that maladies came upon us as a result of sin, the disciples wanted to know whose fault it was that the man was blind. “Who sinned?” they asked, ”This man or his parents?” The reply that Jesus gave was astonishing for them…he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day.
Currently people are looking for a scapegoat for this virus: why did it start? Who can we blame? Is it the Chinese culture that is at fault? People are calling the virus by other names to distance themselves from it, to say “We’re not to blame here, other people are…” And it leaves us with a choice
We can join in with the chorus of accusing voices and finger pointing, or we can say We may not understand why this is happening, but this is the situation now. Let us do the works of him who sent us. Let us be the light.
You may remember that Father Rob, our former Rector, would sometimes quote Fred Rogers: When I was a boy, and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say Look for the helpers. There are always people who are helping.
Yes, that is good advice. But Jesus asks more. He asks us to be the helpers. Be the light. Work the works of him who sent us.
Of course, being a law abiding citizen, I am not suggesting that any of us should break the stringent conditions set upon us, but there are still ways we can be light to those around us. You are more imaginative than I, and you know your neighbours better than I, but here are some suggestions:
· Bake some cakes for a family in lockdown – hang them on the door knob and let them know what you’ve done
· Drop encouraging notes, or pictures painted by your children, into people’s post boxes.
· Display a rainbow picture, painted by your children (or yourself!) with “This too shall pass” in your window
· Thank the pharmacists, GPs, cashiers in supermarkets, delivery workers…those who are still putting themselves at risk for us…
There are many things we can do to be the light. And for ourselves? Trust in God.
It may not feel like it, but he IS in control of this. We cannot see it, but there IS a purpose in this. Trust in God.
When Mike sent me the draft for the service, I noticed that the Psalm was the well-known, and well-loved Psalm 23, that reminds us that even though we are walking in the shadows, God is always with us, like the Good Shepherd. I was ready to congratulate him for choosing such an apposite Psalm, when I realised it was, in fact, the Psalm appointed for today. How appropriate! How right. What a reminder.
We need to show firm and solid trust in God. Even if we are living in dark and difficult times, God is with us. He still calls us to be his children, to trust him, as the sheep trust their shepherd. He calls us to work his works, to show his light.
And what better words to end on, than the words of Paul from the epistle reading: Live as children of light.
We finished the service with this prayer:
We are not people of fear; we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety; we are people who protect our neighbours' safety.
We are not people of greed; we are people of generosity.
We are your people, Father God, giving and loving
Wherever we are, whatever it costs, however you call us, for as long as it takes.