Sunday worship, March 22
Posted by FirstPresbyterian Regina on Sunday, March 22, 2020
1 Samuel 16:1-13
“Blind, Lost, Uncertain, and Needing God’s Help”
You’ve been driving around the neighbourhood for half an hour already, and you still haven’t found the street you’re looking for. The houses and stores are starting to look familiar now, but you’re no closer to your destination than you were twenty minutes ago. The problem is that your spouse knows where he’s going… at least, he thinks he does. How long will it be, you wonder, before he gives in and asks for directions?
“What was that?” your grandmother shouts at you. “Where is your hearing aid?” you ask for the third time, and she finally understands the question – probably because you’re pointing madly at her ear. “Oh, I don’t need that thing,” she says, “I can hear you just fine.”
Your daughter just got her first pair of glasses. They were long overdue after almost failing grade nine because she couldn’t follow what was going on in class. She couldn’t see the board, missed most of the notes, and couldn’t concentrate because of the headaches she got from squinting so much. But she won’t wear them – the new glasses. She doesn’t like the way they look, you assume. But all she can say is, “I don’t need them. I can see without them.” What can you do to convince her? Somehow, the fact that mom needs glasses too doesn’t seem to help.
Sometimes it can be very difficult for us to admit that we need help. We want to be able to know the way, and to be able to hear, and to be able to see. We want others to think highly of us. We want the people we love to be proud of us. We want the people we meet to be impressed by us.
Our goal is to cover our flaws and to be seen by the world as smart, strong, beautiful, and competent. Almost everything around us in our culture encourages us to strive to become all those things – and if we’re not – to at least appear to be so. It’s all about image!
But everything that we read from scripture this morning leads me to believe that we are called to the opposite.
Samuel had the task of choosing a new king for Israel. Like anyone else, he was inclined to choose one of the attractive, tall, strong brothers – one of the ones that “looked” like a king. But the Lord directed him to choose David, the boy, the keeper of the sheep – the one who didn’t even come close to the image of a strong, powerful, wise king.
Throughout history, people have always placed a lot of value on strength and wisdom and status in society. We’ve honoured those people who have lots of money and those people that we consider beautiful.
But when Jesus came, he didn’t follow our human tendencies. He hung out with known sinners and was friends with people who were poor. He spent his time teaching fishermen and welcoming children. He used his energy on healing the sick – both in mind and body – because he loved them and saw value in their lives.
One day, when Jesus healed a blind beggar and restored his sight, the religious authorities didn’t like it very much. I don’t think they thought much of the blind beggar. He wasn’t their friend or their brother. He wasn’t a very important person in society.
They couldn’t see the value in his life. Nor could they see the gift of God’s Son among them. They figured that both the blind man and the healer were sinners – one because he was blind, the other because he broke the rules.
The blind beggar in the story was fortunate – not only because Jesus healed him and gave him the opportunity to see all the wonders of the world around him that he had been missing. But he was also fortunate because he knew that he was missing something. He knew that he couldn’t see. He knew that he needed help. He’d lived with that fact for his whole life – he couldn’t deny it or hide it if he tried. And so, when Jesus offered help, he jumped at the chance.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, thought that they had everything they needed. They had an authoritative, honourable position in society… They had God – at least, a very nice, clear set of rules to live by as God’s People.
Jesus said: “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”
The Pharisees thought that they already knew all that they needed to know about God and their place in the world. They weren’t looking for anything else. They didn’t think they needed anything else. And that’s how they missed Jesus, even though he was standing right in front of them.
When I first began to prepare this sermon, I thought that I would point out that the Season of Lent is a perfect opportunity to examine ourselves and admit that we are truly not the image of ourselves that we paint for the world to see.
Lent is a time to consider our lives and admit the ways in which we are blind to the presence of Jesus among us, to acknowledge the ways in which we are deaf to the cries of the poor and needy and hurting who need our help, to own up to the fact that we are wandering aimlessly through our self-absorbed lives, and we need Jesus to lead us on a right path.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and a lot of things changed. We’re still in the Season of Lent, of course. I’ve heard some people comment that this is the “Lentiest Lent they’ve ever Lented!” They haven’t just given up one or two things for Lent like chocolate or meat on Fridays, but many have given up leaving the house at all. And those who need to keep working during this time have given up social engagements, eating out in restaurants, meeting in groups, and many, many plans that we had made that we can’t do now.
The pandemic, with the illness, isolation, death, economic issues, job lay-offs, and other troubles it is causing, is a terrible thing. But when bad things happen, as people of faith, we are called to open our eyes and look for where God may be at work in the world bringing light, and hope, and love amidst the darkness and despair.
It is with eyes of faith that we will be able to see as God sees, to recognize the presence of Christ in our communities and in our world, and to find new and creative ways to participate in the good things that God is doing among us.
I have definitely seen God at work in the last couple of weeks – through the dedication, diligence, and care of public health officials and government leaders in doing their utmost to protect us all. I have seen God at work in the health care workers who are going to work every day, taking risks to their own health, and giving their utmost to care for those who are sick.
I have seen God at work in people helping each other out with various needs – offering to pick up groceries and supplies for those who need to stay completely isolated, reaching out to those who are vulnerable or alone with phone calls and messages of care and concern.
In the church world that I inhabit, I’ve seen God at work among faithful church leaders – both clergy and lay leaders – in adjusting to what is happening, finding ways to care and connect and keep everyone safe, and sharing ideas, and inspiration, and encouragement with each other.
But I also think that it’s not just a matter of opening our eyes to see. Jesus may be challenging us, like the Pharisees, to recognize our own need – to see that we don’t have all the answers, that we don’t have it all together, that we have much more to learn and transformation that needs to happen in our lives as individual disciples and as the church.
The Pharisees thought that they had everything they needed with the laws of Moses and their determination to follow them strictly. And it makes me wonder if sometimes we, as church, think we have everything we need when we worship together Sunday-by-Sunday in our lovely church buildings, and have our committee meetings, and our Bible study groups, and our various tasks to complete in “running” our churches.
Well, all that is suddenly gone, isn’t it? At least for a while, we won’t be doing a lot of those religious things that we usually do. And we are going to have to figure out what it means to BE the Church today in this different context.
We’re already getting a crash course in meeting together in different ways. We are learning new technologies for meetings, for worship, and for pastoral care. And we are discovering that we could be doing much more to provide pastoral care for one another on a regular basis. Just having the elders of our church doing a phone around to make sure everyone knew what would and wouldn’t be happening with worship today led to some great conversations, some awareness of pastoral needs, and some deep thankfulness for the connections made and care expressed.
I wonder also, if this experience will give us the opportunity to see things differently than we usually do – through the eyes of those who are vulnerable or isolated on a regular basis.
I mean, I know that many people are struggling with having to stay home. The extroverts are complaining most loudly, of course, but it is a challenge for many of us. Has it caused us to think of those who have to stay home every day? Those who are homebound due to illness, frailty, or mobility issues? And what about when you need something – like milk, or medication, or toilet paper – and you can’t just pop out to get it?
And if we are feeling vulnerable right now, because we’re not sure what’s going to happen with this pandemic, and we don’t know whether our health care system will be able to handle it, or how many Canadians will get sick or die before it’s over… Is it causing us to think of those who live with that vulnerability every day? Those who live in circumstances where health care is unaffordable? Those who live in places where there is no health care system to speak of?
I don’t think Lent is supposed to be a time of feeling bad about ourselves or punishing ourselves for our sins of commission or omission. But it is a time for self-examination, for turning in a new direction, and being transformed by the love, grace, and call of God in Jesus Christ.
The wonder of the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ is that God’s grace is a free gift.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”
But the catch is this – the thing the Pharisees in the story missed – It’s the part where we realize that we do need God. We do need the help of Jesus in order to open our eyes, in order to see differently, and in order to become the people God intends us to be.
Today, this morning, we are invited to admit that we are lost. We are invited to acknowledge that we cannot see in the dark and we need the light of Christ. May this Season of Lent (and this time of COVID-19) be a time when we acknowledge our need for God and reach out for Jesus’ help and strength and encouragement. And may God open our eyes and help us to see.