March 22, 2020, remotely for COVID-19

SCRIPTURES, HOMILY AND PRAYERS

FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT

Remotely, due to COVID-19.

The Collect

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Old Testament

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

The Response

Psalm 23

Dominus regit me

1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Epistle

Ephesians 5:8-14

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake! 
Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

The Gospel

John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he 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. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

HOMILY

 

I Can See Clearly Now

 

On the First Sunday in Lent the scriptures invited us to journey into the desert with Jesus to face ourselves, to take stock of our priorities and where necessary to reorder those priorities so that they more closely conform to God’s will for us, namely,  “to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” Given the pandemic there could not have been a more fitting or timely message to begin Lent 2020.

 

On the Second Sunday in Lent, in the encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus, the scriptures raised up for us the metaphor of being “born again” of the Spirit, that we might move from living our lives in fear to living our lives in the freedom from fear that faith in Jesus makes possible.  Again, choosing faith over fear is to embrace our best ally in the midst of all this uncertainty.

 

On the Third Sunday in Lent, in the story of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well, Jesus uses the image of “living water”, to speak of the gift of joy, borne of release from shame, that comes as a result of our opening ourselves up to being loved with “a love beyond all telling”.  Yes, whatever has happened and whatever may happen can in no way diminish the awesome truth that we are deeply and eternally loved by God, who ever holds us in the palm of His hand.  Of this is borne that joy that the world cannot give, nor even a death-dealing pandemic take away.

 

This morning, on this Fourth Sunday in Lent, the continuing theme of repentance, conversion and renewal is reflected in images of darkness and light, blindness and sight, in the wonderful story of the cure of man born blind.   He is unnamed because, in truth, is not his name the same as the one by which each of us is known? Once lost, but now found. Once blind, but now I see. The invitation in today’s scriptures is to recognize that a time of crisis is also a moment of opportunity. It is a time of Amazing Grace in which we can discover and uncover new ways to hold each other in love even as we honor the directives for social distancing.  

It would seem that this story told by John, like others in his gospel, has a song within it. When I listen to the story, I remember that song, by Johnny Nash, released in in 1972, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.” 

The words fit pretty well with the scene portrayed in the gospel. We have a man suddenly given sight, rejoicing that he can now see! The song speaks of the “rain” and the “dark clouds” now being gone, the “obstacles” now visible, have thereby becoming “avoidable”. There is the overwhelming feeling that, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day!” Doesn’t that song just fit this story?! 

It strikes me that the present crisis can provide an opportunity to become more aware of the obstacles that may get in the way of our seeing clearly.  Once identified and named they can be put aside and when the sun returns our rejoicing can be that much more robust. Yes, this year we will celebrate Easter, whenever we become able to do so, by our being freed to gather together again to celebrate the Eucharist, with an Alleluia that will spring from the deepest part of ourselves, that place where hope never dies.  

In the gospel story, no one, other than the blind man, wants to celebrate with him.  Nobody else seems to see it as a “bright, bright, sunshiny day!” They all, for various reasons, seem to be in a dark, very dark, unhappy place.  

First, the neighbors who have always known him as the “blind man” don’t even recognize him. Their response raises the question of how well, how clearly and how deeply they ever really saw him? Did they ever truly see him for who he was, or was he always just the “blind man” identified only by his outward disability? Did they ever see him as a person or only another one of those many beggars?  Did they ever see him the way Jesus saw him?

Do we see the other person as God sees them?  Do we see the young black man as a criminal-in-waiting or as a victim of white bias and unacknowledged racism? Do we see the refugee in flight for his life as a potential terrorist or as one terrorized by forces of political oppression?  Do we see the undocumented immigrant as a murderer, rapist, drug dealer or law breaker or as one injured by both the broken economic system that he has fled for survival, and a broken immigration system that willfully remains incapable of giving him safe harbor?  

Again, do we see the elderly in need of health care as leeches on the common purse or as claimants of a basic human right?  Do we see the poor a as lazy slugs, or as people, who in their day-to-day struggle for survival, are left no choice but to buy food rather than health insurance? Lastly, do we see women as objects to be manipulated and used by men or as subjects of their own power and destiny?   

After the blind neighbors, come the blind Pharisees.  Their focus is the issue of Jesus working on the Sabbath. They miss the bigger picture because they are preoccupied with obeying the law. And they are blinded by their need to paint Jesus as a lawbreaker and not see Him as an agent of God’s compassion and mercy.  Do we assign more value to laws, even patently immoral laws, than to the requirements of justice and mercy? When law is evoked to justify the inhumane treatment of those seeking asylum and our undocumented neighbors, does not the law become a hiding place for acting out our own worst and even evil impulses, and does not this appeal to law simply give license to that cruelty that is borne of legally premised self-righteousness?  The Trump administration’s public charge rule, which makes it harder for immigrants to obtain a green card when they receive government benefits, went into effect two weeks ago. The rule discourages immigrants from using Medicaid, and potentially leaves these people without access to that health care which they might otherwise access in response to the virus — which is particularly dangerous both for themselves and for all during a time like this.

In the Torah, the divine command to protect the “ger” (translated “resident alien”) is repeated no less than 33 times.   This number far exceeds any other command given in the Torah.  To be a faithful, law abiding Jew one has no option but to protect those without the power to protect them selves.  Natural born Jews and gēr/sojourners were to be treated the same under Jewish law. Christians face the very same challenge to their integrity as disciples of Jesus. 

Lastly and most astonishing of all are the blind man’s parents. Even they, when faced with the possible condemnation of the powers that be, retreat into the darkness of fear from going to their son’s defense. Their response when asked about him is, “He is of age; ask him.”  They throw him under the bus.

Like the others, they are unable to see the awesome thing that has just occurred before their eyes.   Do we live from place of fear, parallelized by all the unknowns and what if’s or does our faith allow us to hang out on the edge taking those thoughtful risks that life invites and often requires?  In these days of intense fear will we allow ourselves to take those judicious risks, within the bounds of the wise admonitions defining social distancing, to be there for others in ways that can make a difference?  When I shop for food for my family, can I not do a parallel shop for another family and drop that food at their doorstep? If I receive a check from the government that I do not need because I have not personally been financially impacted by this crisis, will I donate this money to those who live without any social safety net?  Radio Kingston has launched a GoFundMe campaign to provide essential resources to the underserved in our community. The Kingston Interfaith Council is contributing $2,000 to this appeal. I would encourage each of us to respond as we are able.

Yes, these days the world has become a potentially frightening and even terrifying place.  We can so easily allow ourselves to go to a place of terror and to be overwhelmed by fear. 

Yes, a miracle happened or as John names it, a “sign” has been given. Yes, a sign that points to something beyond itself, to a truth that we are supposed to see and take in. 

Here John seems to be saying that the institutions and people that are supposed to help us see clearly, that are supposed to give us vision, often fail us – that the community, our governing authorities, our religious leaders, even our families, can be stuck in darkness. They can lead us into self-centered ways of being where we ultimately care only about ourselves and are unable to empathize, to understand, to sacrifice or to give of ourselves for others and thereby unable, also, to share in their pain and in their joy. 

Such is the present global and seemingly expanding neo-fascist climate that has been foisted upon us by those who refuse to see the signs of God’s work in this world and choose instead the blindness of their self-deceit and self-interest, and the lies they compulsively tell so as to increase their power and control over others.  I hope we were all appalled by Trump’s recent bid to bribe a German pharmaceutical company to produce a vaccine and give the U.S. exclusive rights to it. The message: only Americans matter and the rest of the human family be damned.

In John’s story of the man born blind, like in his story of Jesus turning water into new wine at the wedding in Cana; like his story of Nicodemus meeting Jesus in the dark of night to learn about being born anew; and like his story of the woman of Samaria at the well who learned about the new, living, flowing water that Jesus was able to offer; here again we are given a sign, that, those who have eyes to see, may see. 

The truth that John is trying to tell his community, trying to tell us, is that disciples of Jesus have something quite precious to offer the world.  That there is a light available to all people and it is known in the person of Jesus. 

But sometimes we get wrapped up in things that distract us from our first purpose – which is to witness to a “new way of seeing”. We are not to see as those neighbors in the gospel story, as those Pharisees, and those parents, but to see rather, as God sees. 

When we do so, and only when we do so, do we find ourselves transformed and made whole.  And we become the first beneficiaries of the miracle we would effect for another. And together with the other, whom we see and love as God sees and loves, we bathe and dance in the light and joy of that bright, bright, sunshiny day.  And we see clearly, even now, when all appears so dark. 

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna                                                                                                              March 22, 2020

LITANY IN TIME OF CRISIS 

God the Father, 
Have mercy on us.

God the Son,
Have mercy on us.

God the Holy Spirit, 
Have mercy on us.

Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.

 Most merciful God, we come to you in this time of anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19. As the sorrows of our heart and mind increase, we beseech you to save us from all trouble and fear. Cast away all works of darkness. Be our rock, a castle to keep us safe. For the Lord is our stronghold and sure defense, and he will be our Savior.

For all who have died: receive them into the arms of your mercy, grant them eternal peace, and surround those who mourn with your healing grace. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those directly infected with the virus: help them recover in good health and restore them in body, mind and spirit. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those at high risk of infection, especially the elderly, those with underlying illnesses, the marginalized, and the poor: keep them healthy and free from all sickness. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those in quarantine, the shut-in, and the infirmed: help them find peace, keep them in good health, and renew their mind and spirit. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all hospitals, doctors, nurses, and staff: protect them as they minister to the sick, relieve all stress, and provide the resources and space to meet the needs of all the infirmed. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For first responders: guard them from all harm, and grant them strength and courage as they respond to all calls for help. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For service industry workers and those forced to work as their community shuts down: keep them healthy, bestow the resources to best care for themselves and their families, and assure them in times of financial and medical anxiety. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those experiencing financial loss and uncertainty of resources: have mercy on them, alleviate any fear, and provide for them daily bread and wage.  
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the leaders of this nation and the world: help them make sound and safe decisions to best secure the future of our planet.  
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all schools, students, teachers, administrators and school staff: as schools remain open, keep them healthy and in good spirit to learn; as schools close, feed those who will go hungry without guaranteed meals and shelter all students have no place to live. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all scientists and those working to find a cure: inspire them towards your truth, and help them discover and disseminate a vaccine and cure. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all media and journalists: protect them from all harm in their reporting, and move them to be a vector of truth and certainty, and never fear or panic. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all places of worship: embolden them to be beacons of hope and love, and help us to gather however and wherever we can – be it in person or online – to give you praise. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the leaders of our church: help them minister to their flock; fortify them to be faithful pastors, to persevere in prayer, and to build up the family of God in new and creative ways.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the young: spare them from harm and fear, and keep them a joyful sign of your love and light. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all parents: build in them strength and fortitude for the time ahead, and give them the words and witness to be wise counselors and compassionate caregivers. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

For calm amidst the storm: as the waves toss our boat and we wonder “do you not care?”, remind us to not be afraid, that with you all things are possible, and that even the wind and sea obey you. 
Lord, hear our prayer.

Stir up in us a spirit of compassion and tenacity for the time ahead. 
Amen.

Move us to check-in with loved ones at high risk of infection and those in quarantine. 
Amen.

Ease our fear and anxiety, that we may share our resources rather than hoard them, and extend a helping hand to those in need. 
Amen.

Inspire us to share the Good News of your love and hope. 
Amen.   

All this we ask through your son Jesus Christ our Lord: healer of the sick, ruler of the tempestuous sea, and Savior of the world.  
Amen. 

Officiant: Lord, have mercy.
People: Christ, have mercy.
ALL: Lord, have mercy.

 

PRAYER OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNION 

 

Lord Jesus, may all that is you flow into me.

May your body and blood be my food and drink.

May your passion and death be my strength and life.

Jesus, with you by my side enough has been given.

May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross.

Let me not run from the love which you offer

But hold me safe from the forces of evil.

On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.

Keep calling to me until that day comes

When, with your saints, I may praise you for ever.

Amen.