This is the sermon the Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner preached at the online Morning Prayer service livestreamed via Trinity Episcopal Church’s Facebook Page, as the diocese does church differently in response to the coronavirus crisis.
The Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner
Trinity Episcopal Church – Fort Worth, Texas
Sunday, March 15, 2020
Year A – Third Sunday of Lent – Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
I speak to you in the name of the Living God: Holy Trinity, ever One. Amen.
Good morning, brothers and sisters in Christ! It is a privilege to be with you this morning. In good times and bad, in times of chaos and times of calm, we are God’s Church, the body of Christ, and thanks be to God that Facebook Live helps us come together in mind and spirit, even when we must fast from gathering togethering in person.
It’s a strange and difficult thing to have our lives upended by this pandemic. Lots of things we thought we knew, lots of things we thought we were going to do . . . halted or changed overnight.
In the midst of this upheaval, the Collect – the prayer that focuses our hearts and minds in worship today – is one that is so appropriate it’s as if it might have been written just for THIS day of care and concern, of fear and floundering. In the worship leaflet you can get on Trinity’s Facebook page, you can find this prayer at the top of page 8. In The Book of Common Prayer, you can find this prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent on page 218.
I invite you to join me in this prayer now . . .
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
If we haven’t already realized it, this prayer lays it right out there for us. We are living in a time when we desperately need the God who created us and who loves us to KEEP US because we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. Sure, we can keep calm and wash our hands. Sure, we can stay at home to slow down the rate of disease transmission. But that’s pretty much all the power we have. We need a God who is Father and Mother, a God who calls us each by name and who knows us so intimately that she knows the number of hairs on our heads. This God IS our God. This God is Emmanuel, God WITH us, right now in the midst of the challenges to our bodies and our souls.
God is keeping our bodies every time we remember to wash our hands and take our vitamins. God is keeping us by being present with us in our homes day by day, encouraging our hearts through the words of Scripture, and funny memes on Instagram and texts from friends. God is keeping us by staying with us in the valley of the shadow of death, when we are ill and uncertain. When we’re in quarantine or self-quarantine, our friends and family can’t be there, but GOD REMAINS. And God provides.
Two of the stories we just heard from Scripture are stories of God’s provision for our needs, body and soul. In the reading from the book of Exodus, the Israelites who have recently been delivered from slavery are journeying through the desert. And they have no water. And they’re scared. And they’re thirsty. And even though they complain against Moses rather than remembering to ask the God who just delivered them from slavery for help with a little water, God provides. God provides AGAIN for their bodies.
In the reading from the Gospel of John, we hear the other story of God’s provision. This time, it’s Jesus – God with skin on – who asks for help with a physical need, a drink of water on a hot day. And as the story unfolds we see how intimately physical needs and spiritual needs, the giving and receiving of help and hope, are intertwined.
One of the most frightening things about this pandemic is that, for many of us, life was running right along. We felt in control of our days with our calendars and to-do lists. Now, things are not going as planned. We find ourselves in uncertain territory. We find ourselves in need – of healing in the midst of illness, of encouragement in the midst of fear, of meaning in the midst of upheaval.
The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a story about the needs of body and soul. It’s a story of what can happen when the normal order of things is interrupted. It’s a story of vulnerability – Jesus needing a physical drink of water, a Samaritan woman thirsting in her soul for something she cannot even name, much less find. It’s a story of bravery in the midst of that vulnerability, bravery that leads the Samaritan woman to discover things about herself, that she is loved by God and that she can help others know the love of God, too.
During this season when the normal order of things is interrupted, we have an opportunity in our vulnerability to know and to share the love of God in new ways. Will we be brave?
There was a powerful and sobering column by David Brooks in the New York Times this week. The title of the column is “Pandemics Kill Compassion, Too.” Brooks points out that there’s a reason we don’t talk much in our society about pandemics. There’s a reason that many people – at least until this past week – didn’t even know there was a flu pandemic in 1918 in which 675,000 Americans lost their lives. Just think about that. That’s more than 12 times the number of people – 53,000 – who died in battle in World War I.
As a culture, Americans emerged from the flu pandemic of 1918 with grief and weariness, but also with spiritual and moral fatigue. People knew that, in many cases, people who didn’t have to die did die because they didn’t help their neighbors. They were too afraid.
Fear is understandable and natural. If we’re honest, most of us have at least some fear in the midst of this pandemic. The question is, where is that fear going to take us?
I invite you to consider that our fear can take us beyond washing our hands and stocking up on Clorox wipes and soup. We can let our fear take us into the arms of our loving, liberating, life-giving God. This is our God, the God who keeps us, the God who longs to teach us more and more that we are loved. The God who longs to help us become more and more to be loving, to be God’s hands and feet and voice and heart in the world.
May it be so. Amen.