My moment of recognition was this past Thursday. I was in my study at home and trying to focus and get some work done and all of a sudden, I was completely engulfed in sadness. It just hit me and I was overcome with emotion and I just wept. Perhaps you have had a moment like this, where it all kind of hits home.
Because it all rolled in slowly: first we heard of a virus that was far away and then that it was coming here, and then our schools closed, then that closure was extended, then our national borders shut down, all non-essential tasks completely stopped and now most in-person life has been shuttered.
Waves of grief come as we realize what we have lost and are losing and I think I was stunned and couldn’t process it and all of a sudden it just hit.
We are grieving the outbreak of this pandemic and those who could contract it, and we grieve not being able to be together, and we grieve what it brings out in us: desires to horde, anger that we have seen at supermarkets as people’s emotions can’t be contained, feelings of being depressed, feelings of not being able to do anything to stop what’s happening.
In all this – God sees you.
God is present with us to lead us through the dark valley. God is in the midst of the city to be its light. God sees us and God has compassion on us.
Our gospel lesson is rich today…and also long…but I believe we could have read only the very first verse. We could have simply read: “As Jesus walked along, he saw the man blind from birth.” And I could’ve said, “This is the Gospel of the Lord” and you could’ve said, “Praise to you O Christ” because Jesus sees the man. There is gospel in that.
Jesus says, I see you. I know you. You are mine. You are loved.
Many people…most people…had seen this man, nothing but a beggar, decided who he was, nothing but a drain on society, come to believe that he was inconsequential, so that they had ceased to look at him.
Jesus SEES him and knowing who Jesus is we could say – the whole story is written in that verse.
God sees you, brother and sisters.
I can’t see you…I just see a phone on a tripod and you can’t see one another…although you can message each other and connect through social media…but God can SEE you and he showers his compassion, his care, and his love on you…and God will rescue us.
And, in the midst of it all, Jesus invites you and me to be apart of the works that he is working in the world…and right now I think that is the work of the church, our work, is the work of connection…shining the light of Jesus Christ into the world…
I hope you have seen glimmers of the light of Jesus Christ even in the midst of all this…
In Rio De Janero this week the statue of Jesus, “Christ the Redeemer” with open arms was displayed with all the nations of the world as a witness to how God sees and cares for the world he has made.
We have seen Italians, where the virus is so bad, come out on their porches at 6pm to sing and dance together. To connect.
We have seen the story of Idle Hands Bakery giving out free bread even though the owner doesn’t know how he will support himself or his workers.
Two distilleries in Richmond have stopped making spirits and are instead using their machinery to make hand sanitizer because there’s not enough to go around.
I have seen you connecting with one another…
I received a beautiful handwritten letter from a friend in the congregation. His family is writing old fashioned paper letters as a way to connect with people.
Two brothers, pretty close in age, I don’t know that they fight but my kids do…built a multi-hole putt-putt course in their home as a way to connect…
Our online devotions are so wonderful…even though your pastors clearly aren’t tech savvy…good medicine as a friend calls them…because they give us all a way to connect and pray together.
Our council had the idea to take pages from our directory so that every member is contacted in the coming weeks…so we can pray with you, find out how you’re doing and check in.
The work for the church ahead of us now is staying connected…even creating connections.
Jesus and this man born blind in John’s gospel are connected…
About everyone else is practicing social distancing of the heart…and missing the miracle…
The disciples are too busy asking technical questions
The neighbors have watched too much CSI and are busy playing detective
The pharisees are too busy clinging to their authority and power and privilege
But this man born blind but given sight by Jesus have a connection with one another.
And through this ongoing connection, the man’s faith grows.
We hear his witness to Jesus grow and his words about Jesus become more exact and trusting as he is questioned again and again.
First, he calls him “the man Jesus”
next he calls him a prophet, showing a growing awareness of Jesus’ identity
next he says he is “from God” (now we’re getting close to the truth),
and finally he calls him “Lord” and says,
“Lord I believe you are the Son of Man” and he worships Jesus.
Through our connection with Jesus, his light illumines our understanding of who he is and our connection with him grows.
We are a lot like this blind man — our eyes have been opened in the last two weeks.
And I have to say personally, I had always assumed that going from being blind to being given one’s sight would be wholly wonderful.
Think of all the delightful things you can see with your eyes, look at the faces of the people you’re with, think of how sight allows you travel, marvel, read, and take in the creation of God.
But this week I happened upon a book by Annie Dillard, who lives in Roanoke Virginia, called Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in which she talks some about people who were formerly blind and then given their sight…
She writes about when surgeons discovered how to perform safe cataract operations, and how, full of hope and excitement, they ranged across Europe and America offering their operation to men and women of all ages who had been blinded by cataracts since birth. As they went these doctors collected accounts and histories and the patients’ perceptions.
One patient called lemonade “square” because it pricked on his tongue as a square shape pricked on the touch of his hands.
One newly sighted girl saw photographs and paintings, and asked, “‘Why do they put those dark marks all over them?’ ‘Those aren’t dark marks,’ her mother explained, ‘those are shadows.
All these accounts help us imagine what it might be like to be given sight for the first time. But he also writes about a phenomenon I wouldn’t have expected…
In general, she writes, the newly sighted see the world as a dazzle of color-patches. They are pleased by the sensation of color, and learn quickly to name the colors, but the rest of seeing is tormenting difficult.
The mental effort involved in the reasonings involved in color and shape proves over-whelming for many patients. It oppresses them to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable. And a number of people who had been given their sight closed their eyes for comfort and didn’t want to open them again.
In the last two weeks our eyes have been opened and it has been overwhelming and tormenting difficult to realize how fragile we are.
We are realizing how dependent we are on medicine, food, and healthcare systems that are out of our hands. We have wondered will the economy and will the structures of the world hold up under the weight of this shutdown. We have seen our vulnerability and our powerlessness.
But much of the world lives this way everyday…I have become aware of many schools near us where 100% of the students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch; where classes can’t go online because families don’t have internet access. There are many people who don’t have access to trustworthy medical care and medicine, much of the world lives from day to day.
The veil has been lifted for us that we need God. Much of the time we are able to live with the illusion that our technology, our creativity, our ingenuity, our work ethic can save us.
Our eyes are opened. We cannot save ourselves. But we have a God who is determined to save us. Our God promises us daily bread…Just as he has rescued us in the past, he will rescue us again…
This is not unprecedented. God rescuing us. God lead Israel through the wilderness and gave daily bread, God brought the exiles home, God raised Jesus from the dead, God sent the Spirit to scatter the seed of his word across this globe.
God is faithful.
God is at work in this world and it is good news that we have a savior, who doesn’t socially distance himself from us, but walks among us and sees us.
We don’t have a God who hordes the good stuff, but shed his light of love freely on all.
We have a God who doesn’t quarantine himself away from us, but comes among us in the everyday stuff of our life.
Just as Jesus healed the man born blind with dirt and spit, he took on the flesh of humankind, to die a painful, shameful, sad death on the cross.
This same Jesus, who is now living through the awesome power of God to rescue, is determined to be with us in this and he sees you.
God sees you grocery store workers…overwhelmed by the long hours trying to get food to people. And God sees you sister and brother whose company has had to let them go.
God sees you healthcare workers…putting yourself at risk to care for the most vulnerable. And God sees you moms and dads…finding a way to teach your children and work remotely.
God sees you…older members of our communities, isolated and feeling lonely for human contact…and God sees you… young people with your questions about the future…
God sees you faithful followers of Christ at Epiphany and beyond… so let us persist in living in the light of Christ and let us persist in connecting with one another, encouraging one another, and reaching out in love to one another in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.