A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Lent 4 ~ John 9:13-34
Well, here we are. Quite a time we find ourselves in. There’s no sense pretending this is just another Sunday – it ain’t! Obviously this is very different. I mean, I’m standing in this big space and there’s only two of us here. I’m really hopeful that many of the folks who usually participate in this place are currently participating at home. (Hi everybody!)
And if you happen to know of someone who wants to participate but they’re having technology challenges, or they just can’t do the tech thing, then first, maybe you can help walk them through it – I mean, you found your way here, so you already know the Way!
(I know it’s early in the sermon for the big guns but gee, that sounds like evangelism to me!)
Or please call the church or email me and let us know so we can try to reach out to them with different resources.
Because, for now, and maybe for a while, certainly longer than we’d like, this is the only way we’re doing our Sunday worship at Faith United. Getting together is not currently an option. I wish I could say when it will be, but there’s just no way to know. It’s beyond our control. So the best thing we can do is to find ways to do important things differently. Like this morning – like this live stream, which you can also watch on demand on YouTube.
And, coincidently (or is that God-incidently?), that’s kind of at the heart of today’s gospel reading. No, not the live streaming part – the part about how the best thing that faithful people can do is to find ways to do important things in new ways.
There’s a recurring joke in church-land that says the 7 deadliest words in church are:
We’ve never done it that way before!
Well, guess what. That’s kind of our life now. We’ve never done it this way before.
We’ve never encountered a virus threat like this before.
We’ve never had to cope with self-isolation like this before.
We’ve never had to have every church in the country close up their doors to in-person gatherings and find new ways to be church before.
We’ve never had to physically distance ourselves like this before. (I know the term is social-distancing – but conceptually I prefer the idea of physical distancing and socially connecting!)
We’ve never had to do so many aspects of church online, or in alternative ways before.
We’ve never had to think so hard about how to stay in touch before, because we have this great physical space here that’s the hub of our community of faith’s life.
We offer worship and programs and ministries, and people flock to the place, and we interconnect.
But now it’s not easy.
Now it’s hard to do the things we didn’t think twice about before. And it’s making us reflect deeply on what we value.
As soon as you threaten to take something away – especially something that you almost took for granted because it was so deeply ingrained in your rhythms – something like being at church – when you take that away you begin to realize just how special to you it was.
And it will be again.
We’re nearing the end of the Season of Lent, and Holy Week is just around the corner.
We won’t have our regular palm parade – we’ll do it differently.
We won’t have our usual highlight of the year, for me, Maundy Thursday potluck with the chaos of serving ‘family style’ at the tables, and worshipping in the midst of our meal – we’ll do it differently! I’m envisioning people setting up a smart phone or a webcam in their dining room and we’ll all eat at home together, and worship together, via technology. It’ll be something else! But, we’ve never done it that way before.
We won’t get to turn the chairs in our sanctuary to face the stained glass window and focus on the cross together on Good Friday – except we will – because we’ll figure out a way to do it.
And then the big one – Easter Sunday. Our biggest, holiest, most spiritually important day of the year. The reality is we won’t yet be back together by then. So we’ll celebrate resurrection differently. I don’t know how yet. For now it’s kinda one day at a time.
But I know this – whenever we do get to come back to this place as a fully gathered in-person expression of the body of Christ – it will feel more Easter-y than we’ve probably ever felt before!
But we’re not there yet.
For now, everything’s kinda different.
It’s really important to remember that this is just a season – it’s not forever. Seasons come and seasons go. We live through them, and live into the next one. Some seasons we anticipate with delight and expectation – in other seasons we experience dread and disappointment. Seasons change. Look outside your window. You’re seeing it right now.
And in this season of God’s church, we’re finding ways to do things that we’ve never done before.
Tomorrow morning at 10:30 we’ll be meeting for our weekly scripture discussion called The Porch. Obviously, we won’t be meeting in-person. We’ll be using an online meeting platform called Zoom. We’ve never done it that way before! It’ll feel weird, and awkward, and we’ll have glitches, and the technology will probably work for some and not for others, and then we’ll figure it out, and within a couple of weeks we’ll be using it like we use a phone.
This is our new reality for a while. For a season.
But it’s not like we’re the first people to ever experience the disequilibrium of “we’ve never done it that way before.”
And, as is so often the case – most people don’t choose to do things differently on their own.
Most times change is thrust upon us. Like now.
And now we finally get to the scripture passage for today.
A man born blind is healed by Jesus (John 9:13-34), and when they hear about it the Pharisees freak out.
Because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, and well, “we’ve never done it that way before!”
That seems to break the rules – it changes our conventions – it’s a new way to express faithfulness – we’ve never done it that way before! And if it were up to the Pharisees they wouldn’t be doing it now!
But wait a minute. The old way served its purpose and made sense for its time, and maybe future times too. But this new way, this changing of the conventions, this altering of the forms, this creative new style of expressing faithfulness, wasn’t driven by a desire to overthrow the old way, or to say the former practice was wrong.
In truth, it’s nothing more than the Spirit rising up in a sacred moment and finding expression in new ways for new days.
This is something that our current crisis has created an abundance of opportunities for – and everywhere I look I see people of faith rising to the challenge.
A few days ago I had coffee with our Council – online. We gathered not for business, but to get everyone connected. It was lovely. And it was way outside the comfort zone of some of our members. But because they are people of faith they simply leaned into it and dared to venture into the unknown, together – because that’s what’s required these days.
These same people, who on Monday night solemnly, thoughtfully, and faithfully chose to offer leadership by suspending all our in-person gatherings for the next while, met online on Thursday and there was laughter, and kidding around, and genuine caring for one another. People of faith rising to the challenge even though we’ve never done it that way before.
My usual online social-media discussion groups among clergy are overflowing with ideas, and innovations, and offers to help and support one another.
Ministers are sharing, collaborating, and resourcing together. We’ve never done it that way before! – And it is a thing of beauty – it’s stirring my heart – the Spirit is definitely moving!
And even more important than all that – we’re praying together! Our Moderator, Richard Bott, has set up a daily prayer gathering for clergy. I’ve attended every day I could. It makes a difference. We always say it – “We are not alone” – well, we’re realizing it’s actually true!
While we are doing this live stream worship there are hundreds upon hundreds of my ministry colleagues who are doing the same thing, all over the country. Each of us striving to offer bold leadership to continue to be church in our own communities of faith, as best we can.
But we’ve never done it that way before.
If you’ve tuned into this broadcast, or if you’re reading this online, you already have the technical capability to access all kinds of interesting faith resources.
Look on our church website, follow our Facebook page, watch our Twitter and Instagram feeds, go through our worship archive on our YouTube channel – there are all sorts of things that are there and are still coming out as we go – things for children, things for adults, ways to continue our faith journey.
We’ve never done it that way before.
I imagine that encountering Jesus and his spiritual revolution was pretty disorienting and upsetting for those Pharisees.
Doing things that you’ve never done before can really throw you for a loop.
Or maybe it can revolutionize your faith.
Maybe it can be an opportunity to embrace a new way of being church, and maybe as we collectively lean our way into it, and love our way into it, we just might find ourselves blessed in the midst of the weirdness – of the wilderness.
After all, that’s been our theme throughout this season of Lent.
Well, my friends, we’re certainly there!
We have been ‘wildered’ – whether we like it or not. (Not).
It’s a wilderness like we’ve never known before.
But we’ve learned that the wilderness is a place and a time for spiritual transformation and renewal – if we can open ourselves to it.
I guess we’re going to find out. It’s not academic anymore. We’re living it.
But we’re not living it alone, even though we’re practicing physical distancing.
We are not alone!
We’re in this together, and we’ll love our way through it together.
At the end of the scripture passage we read, the Pharisees were certainly bewildered, but instead of opening themselves to a new possibility in this imposed wilderness they simply refused to see, and refused to embrace a new way for a new day. They could not get past the idea that we’ve never done it that way before. Pity.
As for the man who could now see – a metaphor for being able to ‘see’ spiritually, to be awakened, to be able to understand and perceive God’s Kingdom and God’s Way – they threw that visionary man out into the street – out of the church.
Sadly, we have done it that way before, too often!
And where did the now-seeing man go?
Straight into the company of Jesus.
And Jesus said, (I may be paraphrasing a bit), “I came into this world so that those who are open to it might see and do things in a new way – in God’s Way!”
And the Pharisees said, “But we’ve never done it that way before!”
And Jesus said, “Yup. It’s a new way, for a new day.”