The Rev. Linda Spiers – March 22, 2020

Today’s gospel reveals healing through mud. Through mud a blind man came to see. Jesus saw a man blind from birth.  “Jesus spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). 

I Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41  The Rev. Linda Spiers

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Year A – March 22, 2020 St. John’s Episcopal Church

Today’s gospel reveals healing through mud. Through mud a blind man came to see. Jesus saw a man blind from birth.  Jesus spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent).  Then he went and washed and came back able to see.”  (John 9:6-7).  How could it be that Jesus has done the impossible?  Healing a man blind from birth?  Not unlike the Samaritan woman, this blind man learns from his encounter with Jesus. He came back. The man repeatedly witnessed to his healing by telling his story and came to an understanding of who Jesus is.  Like the Samaritan woman the healed man gradually came to know Jesus in his life.  He hears Jesus before he sees who Jesus is in his encounter.  Trying to explain what happened, he said to the Pharisees, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  (John 9:25).

What happened?  What did you do?  What did he do?  How do you explain what was done to you?  Why was it done?  Why did the Pharisees need to know every detail?  The blind man lived in a different world before his encounter with Jesus—he lived in a world different from those who were giving him the inquisition.  No one could really understand what happened.  “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

Sometimes you and I encounter a sign that reveals a little more about who Jesus is. We see the world in a particular way. Then something happens and we see the world in a new way or a renewed way. Our eyes are opened as if we had been blind and now we see differently. Those events become the stories of our lives—the stories of our confession about who Jesus is—the stories the world needs to hear.

We’re living in times that we have never seen before. The COVID-19 coronavirus is unfolding before our eyes, bringing fear and anxiety and sadness and pain and disappointment and sorrow and isolation, among many emotions. It’s bringing sickness and death at rates that are unfathomable throughout our world, in our country, and in our state. The news is horrifying, and we’re learning how to adhere to the practice of “physical distancing”. As our Bishops wrote in their update of Friday, we in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut are practicing “physical distancing with social and spiritual closening.” We’re finding ways to stay connected, even though we now have to be apart from in-person worship through Sunday, May 10. That’s a long time for us to be apart. The news of that was emailed to you Saturday morning. We will continue to provide live-streaming of our services and join others as we can in our Southeast Region to share live-streaming and recording of daily office services.

Holy Week and Easter will be very different. Our Bishops are working with our Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and our Camp Washington Executive Director to live-stream services, making it possible for us as a Diocese to worship together in that most holy time. There will be much more to come on those plans. It is difficult for us to be apart physically and we will find ways to stay connected. Our eyes are being opened to a new way of being church and a new way of living.   

Yesterday I was on a 4-hour Mission Council zoom conference call with our Bishops and ECCT staff and other elected members of the Mission Council. The Mission Council is the body that tends to the business of ECCT between Conventions. Part of our time was spent on Governor Lamont’s Executive Order that outlines the restrictions on workplaces for non-essential businesses and not-for-profit entities that will take effect on March 23, at 8 p.m. until April 22. From that discussion has come the update we received last night where our chancellor Brad Babbitt has clarified what this means for us in parishes. It means our St. John’s parish office and building will remain closed and employees will work from home using telecommuting procedures to the maximum extent possible. Our sexton Craig Larson is willingly keeping his normal schedule of cleaning and disinfecting our physical space, as we believe that cleaning is vital. He is an essential worker by the Governor’s order. Treasurer Howard Tuttle and bookkeeper Dayle Larson will continue to keep our bills paid and our finances in order.

We’re to continue using innovative ways to share regular worship using online technology with no more than 10 in-person worship leaders, standing six or more feet apart. Today you see that there are only five of us leading worship. Parishes are to follow “physical distancing” and healthy and safe behaviors to avoid the spread of COVID-19 as they continue ministries with/to 12-step communities and those who are food and housing insecure.

Our eyes are being opened to a new way of being church and a new way of living. We will find ways to stay connected with God’s help and the help of each other.

I think of the familiar story of Helen Keller in her book The Story of My Life when she first discovered language.  She said:

“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered.  Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.  That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!  There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could be swept away.

I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me…. I learned a great many new words that day. I do not remember what they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, teacher were among them—words that were to make the world blossom for me, “like Aaron’s rod, with flowers.” It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my crib at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”

Helen Keller found light in the midst of her blindness with new words.

Jesus healed the man born blind and then there is a lot of conversation around him. The neighbors, the Pharisees don’t recognize him after the healing. “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” (John 9:8). I wonder why they didn’t recognize him after knowing him for years. His parents wanted him to answer for himself the question: “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” (John 9:19). Perhaps the parents were afraid to answer, not knowing what might happen to them. To the man the neighbors and others asked, “How were your eyes opened?” (John 9:10).

The blind man, now sighted, experiences the saving grace of Jesus. He sees Jesus after his eyes are opened. He calls Jesus a prophet. He proclaims Jesus to be from God. He calls Jesus “Lord” and worships him. He is not only changed physically with the ability to see; he is transformed to know and believes who Jesus is when all the others could not.

The story reminds us of the importance of both seeing and hearing. Our eyes and our ears are essential. Jesus brings light into our lives in moments of great darkness and in moments of light. This blind man’s story reminds us profoundly of the healing power of Jesus and also of the presence of Jesus in lives that may be darkened. Jesus stands with the blind man, now sighted, even when the others in his life did not. We’re invited to keep our eyes and our ears open to all that’s around us—to the healing that may be happening in us and to the healing that is happening in others, knowing that Jesus stands with us!

In these dark times of COVID-19 coronavirus, this story of the blind man being healed and given his sight brings hope. Helen Keller’s story brings hope as she, for the first time, longed for a new day to come. In the Letter to the Ephesians we also hear about light and are reminded that we are called to “live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (Ephesians 5:8-9). Live as children of light in this time of darkness in our world.

Our sisters and brothers in our Companion Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney in the Scottish Episcopal Church, along with many churches in Scotland, will be holding a National Day of Prayer today at 7 p.m. Aberdeen time (3 p.m. our time) for all affected by COVID-19. They invite all of us in our parishes to join them and light a candle saying together a prayer for the world. If you can, let’s join them at 3 p.m. by lighting a candle in one of our windows “as a visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, the source of hope in this life.” I close with that prayer, which you have in the Bishops’ update of Friday—a link for which was included in yesterday’s St. John’s eNews blast.

Let us pray.

For all that is good in life, thank you.

For the love of family and friends, thank you.

For the kindness of good neighbor and Samaritan stranger, thank you.

May those who are vulnerable, hungry or homeless, experience support,

May those who are sick, know healing,

May those who are anxious or bereaved, sense comfort.

Bless and guide political leaders and decision-makers, with wisdom,

Bless and guide health workers and key workers, with strength and well-being,

Bless and guide each one of us, as we adapt to a new way of living.

And may the light shining from our windows,

across road and wynd, glen and ben, kyle and isle,

be reflected in our hearts and hands and hopes.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

God bless you all.