St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly
Fourth Sunday of Lent
22 March 2020
1 Samuel 16.1-13
You lead me to follow love’s way…. ©Suzanne Grimmett Who is to blame?
When human beings become frightened or anxious, where there is suffering or when things we love are lost and what we value most is unavailable, we have a tendency to look for who is responsible. A focal point for anger can be a relief to over-charged emotions.
Of course we have already seen this at play in the coronavirus crisis. The blaming and scapegoating has found many targets, with some wanting to blame nations or cultures, and others keeping their anger reserved for politicians. Some may look for a spiritual cause and I have already seen all manner of horrors from online preachers who are sure this is some kind of divine punishment.
This is an age-old human response, as evidenced by the reading today; ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
Jesus response is revealing;
‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
The God revealed in Jesus the Christ is not a God who visits suffering and infirmity on vulnerable humanity to punish or make a point, but one who infiltrates every tragedy of the natural world with the potential for hope and quietly occupies every space of human darkness with an unquenchable light. Our God is the God of possibilities and potentialities, whatever the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is our call to recognise that innate impulse to blame and judge others as being at the heart of human sin, and to hear instead the insistent call to hold all peoples and all life together in compassionate love. Perhaps this is the great potential of a pandemic that affects everyone- to help us to see that there need be no one to blame, no enemies, no others- just us.
As the people of God, we are people who know what it is to be loved. The purpose of love is not just that we feel comforted or reassured. Rather, the movement of love is always transformational. We are facing a very real and present threat for which there can be no scapegoat to blame and where no one nation, group or individual will be left unaffected. Love will save us, but not in the sentimental sense of a comforting emotion, nice idea or wishful fantasy. As we pray and as we listen, we can rediscover at this time that love is the greatest power on earth, having a force as real as gravity to bring justice, healing and hope. It is this love of God working in us that will enable us to be transformative light-bearers in our communities at this time. Even in our own blindness and limitations, in this time of anxiety we will be invited, like the man born blind, to testify to the light that we see and by which we see everything else.
Perhaps we are unsure if we are ready for such a challenge. I think we all feel inadequate in our faith a lot of the time. If we are asked why we go to church, we might feel we fail to answer well, even though we love our faith and our faithful communion together. Sometimes when we experience our own troubles and trials, we might find ourselves full of turmoil and unbelief. To be facing one of the greatest human challenges of our age without being able to meet to strengthen one another and to gather around the table together each week is painful.
So I think we can be grateful that the lectionary gifted us today with the 23rd Psalm. This is often a psalm used at funerals, but it is as much a powerful psalm for living as it is a comfort in the face of death. It is a psalm that sings about the truth of God’s relationship with us as enduring and unfailing, where God’s loving kindness isn’t just there when we want it, but is relentlessly pursuing us. Far from making light of difficult times or telling us to just put a positive spin on things, this psalm names the darkness clearly. It does not say “I will fear no evil “as though evil is an illusion. It does not say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, it’s all good.” There is no promise that believers will skirt around troubles and trials or be in any way exempt from suffering, grief and loss. The promise that is there is that God will never leave us or forsake us. No dark time will last forever and the comfort of the presence of Christ will lead us and guide us to times of rest and restoration. Nan C Merrill translates the promise in the psalm as;
You bring me to green pastures for rest,
And lead me beside still waters
Renewing my spirit;
You restore my soul.
You lead me in the path of goodness
To follow Love’s way.1
We can follow love’s way not because we talk ourselves into being more courageous or discipline ourselves into being more spiritual. We follow love’s way because Jesus, the good shepherd, goes before us. If we get lost in these times, love will relentlessly pursue us and draw us back. If we are afraid, Jesus will be there, inviting us again to the table that is always set before us, reminding us of our place in the family. We will always be at home whenever we remember that nothing in this world can keep us from the love of God in Christ.
I found this prayer by Kate Compston which captured the uncertainty I was feeling at how much has changed, including our sense of who we are, and our anxiety about what the future might hold. It expressed for me something of the way this time is an invitation to seek God in the physical vulnerability of this crisis and simplify our lives so we can focus on what matter most. And it reminded me that we need to stay tuned in to one another’s stories and acting out of compassion for one another as we navigate these days, even though we may be physically separated. So let us use Kate’s words to pray together;
O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
In familiar territory
In my sense of belonging,
The norms of my culture
The assumptions built into my language
The values shared by my society.
But now you have called me out and away from home,
And I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.
Pitch your tent with mine
So that I may not become deterred
By hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
Toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
Toward a wisdom not based on books
Toward a strength not bolstered by might
Toward a God not confined to heaven
But scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised….
Help me to find myself
As I walk in others’ shoes.
Amen. (Kate Compston)
As we walk this time together, may we be know that goodness and loving kindness pursues us through even the darkest valley and that we are, and will be, forever at home in the presence of such love.
1 Merrill, Nan C. Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, (Bloomsbury, London: 2007) p 38.