Well, this is a first. Because we are suspending our worship services to avoid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, we are using these pre-recorded services to lead us in worship, prayer, and praise. Feel free to leave a comment here or on our YouTube channel (just click the title in the video below to go to our page) to continue in our engagement with our community.
I mention the bulletin in the video, and that can be found here. Below the video is the sermon manuscript that is usually posted every weekend. These videos will go live at 10am every Sunday for the duration of the pandemic, but they will be available after that as well in case you cannot make that time. This is of course still very new for us and we are doing everything we can to provide you with as close to an in-person worship experience as possible with what is available to us.
Peace be with you through this time of uncertainty and anxiety.
Well, this was unexpected. If you told me a month and a half ago that in a few weeks I would be preaching a sermon through a camera lens, I would have told you that you were crazy. But then again, depending on who you are, I might’ve called you crazy anyway at anything you say. These are weird times, I tell ya.
We’re doing this of course because of this COVID 19 coronavirus has now been declared a full blown pandemic. I should say in case you didn’t know, that being classified as a pandemic relates only to how fast and far a disease spreads, and little to nothing to do with how severe or fatal catching the disease is. So all that means is basically that this virus has been making its rounds all over the world. And while the mortality rate thus far isn’t super high across the board, the fear for me with this is the worst case scenario, which is if everyone gets sick at the same time, then that mortality rate will have to rise because proper help can’t be administered to those who need it. It’ll just be a physical impossibility to care for everyone when everyone is sick. I mean, look at how hard it is to get toilet paper now, imagine trying to get medicine.
So, to stave off the spread of this infection, we’re doing this. Because this way, no matter how hard I try, I cannot infect you (ah-choo) and you cannot infect me and thus we can’t infect others we come in contact with. Well, we can, but we know that it wasn’t this church that propagated it. As another church in Richmond put it in their letter to their congregation, “we did this in consideration of the health and safety of our church members, and perhaps more importantly, for the love of our city, country, and the most vulnerable among us.”
To be honest, I didn’t want to react this way off the bat. I didn’t want to give in to what I was seeing as panic and hysteria. And especially I didn’t want to diminish our worship experience by changing things too much and not honouring who we are in terms of our baptismal theology and sacramental focus. But after reading more and educating myself on the situation, I guess it got to the point where we had to do what we had to do. We expect this pandemic to get worse and so we need to act responsibly even if it makes us uncomfortable. But I’ll be darned if I didn’t get some kind of sermon out of all this.
Still, it was a hard decision, and I am still blown away with how quickly this thing spread and how panicked so many people seem to be. I had a friend who is literally angry with China for not warning the world about this sooner. Because in his mind, if we were warned, then we’d be prepared. And if we were prepared, then we could have stopped this before it happened. And if we stopped it, well then I wouldn’t be here with just Justin behind the piano talking into a video camera.
I guess there is something to be said about that, right? I mean, when we expect something, there is no surprise, and when we are prepared, then we can control. And remember what we talked about last week around control?
If you remember, last week we had that story of Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, learning how being born again isn’t the physical thing it sounds like but rather a spiritual thing in seeing how little control we actually have regardless of what we may think. But then contrast that with this week’s story where we have a Samaritan woman who knows full well that she has no control of her situation but learning how that doesn’t define her. These two stories are back-to-back in the gospel of John and in our lectionary, and they seem like they could not be any more different from each other.
In one we have a teacher of the law, affluent and educated, intentionally approaching Jesus at night to just chill and chat. And then in the other we get this Samaritan woman not approaching Jesus per se, but randomly running into him during her menial daily tasks at the noon hour, the brightest and hottest time of the day. On the one hand you have a wise and respected man, and on the other you have an outcasted woman with what some would see as a spotty past. There is the approach at night when no one could see, hidden and in the dark; and then the random happenstance during the day when anyone could see, bright and in the open. There was the possible intention to have already-made presumptions confirmed, and the absolute unintention of anything but getting water.
And in the middle of it all, a surprising encounter with Jesus, unscripted and unexpected, that had changed their lives forever.
Nicodemus left confused but was changed as he ended up being a follower of Christ and was present at the crucifixion. The woman at the well spoke with disbelief and skepticism but ended up being the first witness to the Messiah in John’s gospel. Two situations, two exact opposites, two people that couldn’t be any different from each other, but one Christ, encountering them, changing them, and revealing to them and all people God’s love to the world. To all the world. Not to condemn for their pompous behaviour or questionable status, but to welcome them and save them to live in God’s eternal and glorious and somewhat infectious kingdom.
And this kingdom comes to us, all of us… completely unexpected.
Jesus encountered them in a way that wasn’t expected, in a way they weren’t prepared for, in a way that perhaps wasn’t even wanted. But it happened, and they were changed for the better.
Like a pandemic that sweeps the world and fundamentally changes who we are and how we operate, so God as the wind moves and blows where it does, often catching us off guard but always changing us for the better. It might not be comfortable, it might not be wanted, it might not even look like the better at the start. But the outpouring of God’s love, grace, and mercy will break down our tough exteriors and high strong walls and reveal to us peace, joy, and community.
And like a pandemic, God cannot be controlled. We can try to be prepared, we can try to direct, we can try to stop, but we are not in control. We can try to read “signs” and predict what the next move is, but God will move as God moves and welcome all whom God welcomes, whether we are along for the ride or not.
Let’s be clear though, I’m not calling God a coronavirus nor am I saying that it’s a good thing that the actual current coronavirus has taken over our lives and communities. I’m just suggesting that we don’t have control over our encounters with Jesus, so let’s just be open to them happening in and through us all.
Because we see throughout scriptures and in the lives of the saints both ancient and modern, the living God encountering them in these most unexpected ways. In the burning of a bush, in a soft quiet voice, in the planting of a tree, in the breaking of bread. In the joys of community, in an encouraging word from a colleague, in the helping of others, in the simple life-giving water that we all need daily. In a smile from a stranger, in the greeting of a friend, in the sharing of the peace, maybe even in a video we’re watching on the internet, God encounters us, dwells with us, and changes us in ways we couldn’t have expected.
So let’s not try to control God’s moving in and through our lives. Let’s not try to manipulate the Spirit to serve us. Let’s not try to tell Jesus how he can or cannot approach us, but instead let’s be open to God’s presence, God’s providence, and God’s peace. Let’s be open to the moving and leading and guidance of the Spirit. Let’s be open to Jesus encountering us in those ways we least expect but are undeniably Jesus inviting, welcoming, and loving us just as we are.
In this season of Lent as we navigate this pandemic in our country and abroad, may we see God encountering us and meeting us where we are, surprising us with new ways of seeing God’s grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God. Amen.