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Sermon for Sunday 22 March 2020

First Reading                              Isaiah 42:14-21

14For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant. 15I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. 16And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. 17They are turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in carved idols, who say to metal images, “You are our gods.” 18Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! 19Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? 20He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear. 21The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.

Psalm                                                Psalm 142

1 I cry to the Lord with my voice; to the Lord I make loud supplication. 2 I pour out my complaint before him and tell him all my trouble. 3 When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path; in the way wherein I walk they have hidden a trap for me. 4I look to my right hand and find no one who knows me; I have no place to flee to, and no one cares for me. 5 I cry out to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land f the living.” 6 Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; save me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. 7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name; when you have dealt bountifully with me, the righteous will gather around me.

Second Reading                         Ephesians 5:8-14

8… {F}or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Gospel                                             John 9:1-41

1As {Jesus} passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The 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 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22(His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He 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?” 28And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. 35Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”


Grace, mercy and peace to you this Lenten season from God our heavenly Father and from Jesus Christ, our comfort and peace.

            To say we’re living in an unprecedented time is probably an understatement.  This is a time of uncertainty, a time filled with anxiety and a time when many people are angry.  In order to slow the spread of the Covid-9 virus, our government has order closings, limited the number of people that can gather in one place and in California, has ordered citizens to stay in their homes.  Some folks I’ve talked with are in denial.  They say that this Corona virus pandemic is all blown out of proportion.  And there may be some truth to their argument. 

Consider that the 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history.  It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian (relating to birds) origin.  In the United States, it’s estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus.  Or, consider that in February 1957, a new influenza, dubbed the “Asian Flu” which was first reported in Singapore, killed an estimated 1.1 million people worldwide and 116,000 in the United States.  And then there was the Flu pandemic of 1968.

The 1968 pandemic was caused by influenza A and was first noted in the United States in September of that year.  The estimated number of deaths was 1 million worldwide and about 100,000 in the United States.  And finally, in the spring of 2009, the H1N1 virus manifested itself and it took almost 18 months for the World Health Organization to declare the pandemic was over.  During that timeframe, the Centers for Disease Control estimated there were 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths in the United States due to the H1N1virus. When you look at the medical difficulties of the past century, our current situation, at this point, doesn’t seem to warrant such a strong reaction.  However, when you consider what is currently going on in Italy, maybe there is reason to react.  And our nation has reacted, and this has caused a great deal of inconvenience, confusion and difficulty and a wide range of emotions.

As I watched the Governor’s update this past Tuesday, I was surprised at the mandates coming from the briefing.  It was during this briefing that I learned that gatherings of 100 or more are forbidden; it’s considered a misdemeanor and law enforcement will be looking for violations.  That gatherings of 50 and less is what’s being encouraged, and that the President has strongly suggested that that number be moved to 10 or less.  Additionally, the Governor has ordered all restaurants, and bars to be closed, although drive thru service can continue.  Of course, proceeding all this, was a run on the grocery stores.

It all began with paper products, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.  Just a little over two weeks ago, people began to panic and purchase certain items in bulk.  This caused others to react and do the same.  Within hours, stores were emptied of toilet paper, then other paper products and cleaning supplies.  Then came the hoarding of food. 

On Wednesday, Terry and I stopped by Walmart to get the ingredients needed to help a homebound friend and a good many of the store shelves are now empty, not only of all the aforementioned items, but also many of the staples like rice and beans, noodles, soups, canned meats and most of the other canned goods.  However, let me be clear, there was still plenty of food.  No, there might not be the selection you’re accustomed to, but we, at this point are not in danger of starvation.  I’d also like to say that many of the employees were restocking the shelves as fast as they could.  And yes, the initial hygiene, cleaning and paper products I mentioned before are still scarce.  The truth is, people are scared, not only of the virus, but also of shortages that we ourselves have caused by panic buying.

This hoarding and panic buying have now created a second problem.  With people currently panic buying and hoarding food stuffs and non-edible goods, how will anyone be able to purchase a few extra items for those who need it?  Agencies like Dallas High Shoals Christian Ministries are in dire need, but the folks who normally support them can’t, because there’s nothing available to share.  And even if you made a monitory donation, where would they go to buy what’s needed?  And the problem of feeding the poor has been made worse by the mandated closing of restaurants and other gathering establishments.

The snowball effect of this order is that many people who live on a limited income anyway, are now without an income.  These folks have now found themselves in need of assistance from agencies like Dallas Christian ministries and of course these agencies are out of donations, so they’re unable to help out.  It’s a vicious cycle that continues to perpetuate itself.  And then there is the problem of how long this will last.  People don’t like dealing with not knowing.

Generally speaking, we as a human beings hate the unknown.  When all this started, two weeks was what people feared.  Those who may have been exposed were asked to self-quarantine.  This seemed like a terrible inconvenience.  Add to this the fact that the government is now talking not about weeks, but months, of disruption.  The problem is, no one can give us an end date, understandably, and this is causing a great deal of anxiety.

Terry was sharing with me her experience when I was suddenly deployed to the Middle East in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm back in 1990.  At first, they told her I would be home in a month.  Next, they told her I’d be home by Thanksgiving, then Christmas.  Finally, they admitted they didn’t know when I’d be able to come home.  Now take into consideration that when I left for the Middle East, Terry was 8 weeks pregnant.  When I finally was able to come home, Leanna was 3 weeks old.  The unknown creates stress, and that stress, if we’re not careful, can cause us to act in seemingly irrational ways.

The question we need to ask is, what can we do in this situation to reduce the stress associated with the current situation.  First, don’t overreact and don’t spread misinformation; get educated.  Listen to the experts.  Rule number one is Facebook is not the end all authority.  I’ve personally seen where the same person has shared or reposted completely contradictory information.  Please go to verifiable and reputable websites for your information.  Both the CDC and WHO have the most current and accurate information available.  And if you don’t want to go to a government website, you can always get the latest information on the NALC website, (theNALC.org).  Also, we must bear in mind that the government and health officials are learning new facts every day, so things continue to change as we learn more about this situation.  Second, understand the reason for the restrictions and do your best to work within those restrictions.

Now let me be clear here, I’m not saying we need to figure out loopholes and try to skirt the mandates.  What I’m saying is, that if we learn to work within the restrictions, we can still live our lives; look for the positive.  For example, the kids are out of school.  Use this time to renew your relationship with your children.  Get involved with their secular and sacred education.  The teachers are working hard to continue your child’s education even under these difficult limitations; support your teachers and work with your children to help them keep up with their studies.   Also, since there is all this extra time at home, please use some of that educational time for their spiritual growth.  I guarantee, it’ll not only help them, it’ll also help you and the entire family as well.  Next, recognize the things we cannot change.

First, you and I can do very little to speed up this process.  Accept this and let it run its course.  Our participation in helping stem this pandemic is, that we all can take added precautions to ensure we minimize getting sick ourselves.  One of the major concerns driving all these restrictions is overwhelming our medical resources.  This is the reason for the recommendations of additional handwashing, the closing of restaurants and other areas where people gather socially and the call for the social distancing. 

It’s a fact, if this were to turn into a full-blown outbreak, it’s quite possible that people would die because there simply aren’t enough resources, like ventilation equipment, to help everyone.  Again, look at what has happened in Italy.  Staying healthy and taking reasonable additional precautions will go a long way in keeping the impact of this epidemic to a minimal.  But there’s one more thing we need to do, trust God and pray.

As I was sitting in our pastor’s weekly pericope study, two of the psalm readings came to mind.  The first was from this week’s psalm.  Psalm 142 is a lament psalm and speaks to our current situation.  “I cry to the Lord; to the Lord I make loud supplication.  I pour out my complaint and tell him all my trouble.  When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path…I look to my right hand and find no one who knows me; I have no place to flee to, and no one cares for me.  I cry out to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”  Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; save me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.  Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name; when you have dealt bountifully with me, the righteous will gather around me.”  The psalmist knew where to turn in his time of need.

There are at least 14 other places in the Bible, where the writers encourage us to look to God in times of trouble, for “He is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble” (Ps. 46:1).  But more than that, He is the One we can go to when things are beyond our control and we can be assured that He is greater than anything in this world.  He must be, He created this world and He can fix anything we break in it.  The second psalm that came to mind was our psalm reading from three weeks ago.

Our psalm reading for the Second Sunday in Lent came from Psalm 121.  The psalmist asked, “I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?”  You see the hills the psalmist was referring to were the hills surrounding Jerusalem.  These were the places where the pagan temples were built to false gods and idols.  King David knew that there was no help to be found in those places; this is why he answered the question by saying, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

You see David knew and had witnessed God’s hand not only in his life, but in the life of the Jewish nation.  He was constantly looking around and recognizing God’s protection and provision which enabled him to place his trust in God.  God had protected him from Saul, from his own children and from his enemies.  David knew first-hand that God was able, that’s why he further wrote, “He will not let your foot be moved and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep; The Lord himself watches over you; the Lord is your shade at your right hand, So that the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe.  The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth forevermore.”  David knew that God was watching over His children and that He cared for them.  And because we too are His children, we can be assured that He will preserve us, protect us and watch over us as well.

Yes, these are difficult and troubling times, but we don’t have to allow ourselves to be overcome by fear, anxiety or doubt.  Yes, we have things we can do, and we must be careful to do what we can.  God gave us minds with which to think and the ability to reason, so we can separate the good information from the bad.  We have responsibilities, and we need to do our best to fulfill those responsibilities.  However, once we recognize the things we can do and the things we have no control over, we know we have an all-powerful God that we can turn those things, which are out of our control, over to because we know who can and does watch over us.

Even in these troubling times, thanks be to God that we have the privilege of proclaiming with the psalmist, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  “The Lord himself watches over [us].  “The Lord shall preserve [us] from all evil; it is he who shall keep [us] safe.  The Lord shall watch over [our] going out and [our] coming in, from this time forth forevermore.”


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