This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat, rector of St.Luke’s in the Meadow, Fort Worth, preached at the Diocesan Morning Prayer service offered via Facebook Live from St. Luke’s in the Meadow on Sunday, March 22, 2020.
March 22, 2020
The Reverend Karen A. Calafat
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
St. Luke’s in the Meadow Episcopal Church
Good Morning! I am glad you tuned in today. There is something powerful about being together even when we are physically apart. (Or practicing “physical distancing” as our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry describes it. For we are still being “socially close” while “physically distant”.)
If you haven’t already, perhaps you could join us by lighting a candle today as a reminder and symbol of Christ’s light that cannot be confined, contained or quarantined.
In some strange, perhaps providential way, our Gospel reading seems to speak to our current circumstance. As Episcopalians, we follow a Lectionary with assigned readings for each Sunday spread over a 3-year period. The assigned Gospel for today, the 4th Sunday in Lent, is John chapter 9, usually referred to as “Jesus heals the blind man,” or ‘the man blind from birth.’
The reason I say this is a providential reading for today is in the disciples’ question to Jesus: Who sinned? Who sinned that this person was born blind? Him or his parents?
That’s what they wanted to know.
It’s what we want to know, too, isn’t it?
Who sinned? That bad things happen to good people?
Who sinned? That a young person’s life was cut short?
Who sinned? That a loved one was diagnosed with cancer?
Who sinned? That Corona Virus, COVID 19, is threatening people’s lives and livelihoods literally around the world?
Who sinned? Whose fault is it?
Where is God in all of this chaos and fear?
Did God cause this pandemic? Does God care?
I have heard and seen those questions in a variety of places the past week. We, like the disciples, want to understand.
We want to know where to put blame.
We want reasons and explanations.
We are generally not comfortable with ambiguity and unknowns. We want answers.
But Jesus doesn’t answer their question. Instead, Jesus reveals relationship. Jesus doesn’t stop speaking at the end of Chapter 9 but continues all the way through Chapter 10. Now, I am not going to read another 20 verses to you but will sum it up like this: Jesus is the Good Shepherd. It is relationship that Jesus offers. Relationship with one who loves us in good times and bad; who watches out for our well-being; who remains with us in all circumstances – suffering when we suffer and rejoicing when we rejoice.
Jesus doesn’t satisfy the disciples need to know. Instead, he remains with them in the unknown. Blindness did not happen because the man NOR his parents sinned.
We live in a world where sometimes very bad things happen. We live in a world where unexplainable tragedy strikes.
We live in a world where some things cannot be explained – they just are.
That is the truth.
We may never understand COVID-19 or why it is happening. We can however see threads of God’s presence with us in it and through it.
That is where God is – right in the middle of the messes of our lives. God is present in love, compassion and transformation. It may be too dark for us to see in the moment, but over time, God’s light guides us through all darkness and challenge.
Yes, the stock market is a disaster and people are hurting from that. Yes, many are out of work due to this mess.
Yes, the stores are out of toilet paper.
This is a very challenging, unknown, blinding experience for us. But rest assured, God is with us through it all. We can glean from Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question that either it was the wrong question or that the answer didn’t matter. What did matter was the relationship that was developed with Jesus – the Good Shepherd.
Psalm 23 is the psalm about the Good Shepherd – also providential in that it is the psalm our Lectionary assigns for today – a psalm often quoted at funerals or at the bedside of someone who is ill, bringing a sense of comfort, familiarity and assurance.
Let me close with a reflection of the 23rd Psalm written by Steve Garnaas-Holmes for our current life circumstances.
Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
In this time of fear and uncertainty
we look with anxiety to the future.
But the Good Shepherd leads us
into the present moment.
Anxiety is an invader from the future.
The Shepherd of our Souls offers us
courage and comfort in this moment.
Follow the path into the present.
The green pastures may be distant
from this shadowed valley,
but they are greater than you know.
You fear the smallness of your vision.
Meanwhile the Shepherd of our Souls is here
with us, leading us, right now.
Behold this moment. Behold the love.
Look till you see beauty. Stay till you know.
It is not protection from the future,
but the presence of the Shepherd,
even in the darkest day, that is our peace.
Trust that peace. Follow that shepherd
into this moment. Be present.
Stop and breathe, and breathe again.
No matter what happens in the future
God is here, with you, now. Be present.
Indeed, God is with you. God is with you in your homes and God loves you. God knows your fears and uncertainties as they are simply part of being human.
Do not to get bogged down asking – Who sinned? Or despairing over who is to blame. Instead, simply be. BE and practice relationship – practice loving God and loving your neighbor (from a distance, of course – with a wave, a phone call or an email.) And while you are at it, love yourself and let God love you, hold you, and shepherd you through these unnerving challenges.
Be present. God is with you.