ANNOUNCEMENTS: All church events, all in-person gatherings are suspended until further notice. The church office will remain open during this time. Our hours are from 9:00 to noon, Monday through Friday. We will hold meetings and classes online using Zoom meeting software. We will probably do this for worship, as well. Please remember that we need you to continue to make your offerings! We still have to make our mortgage payments. So, if you are not suffering a financial hardship in these times, please remember to send your checks to the church office or make your offering online. Information for online donations can be found on our website.
Prayer of Invocation
Dear God, silence all voices within our minds but your own.
Help us to seek and be able to follow your will.
May our prayers be joined
with those of our sisters and brothers in the faith,
that together we may glorify your name
and enjoy your fellowship forever.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Prayer for Illumination
O Christ, by remaining faithful till death,
you show us the road to greater love.
O Christ, by taking the burden of sin upon yourself,
you reveal to us the way of generosity.
O Christ, by praying for those who crucified you,
you lead us to forgive without counting the cost.
O Christ, by opening paradise to the repentant thief,
you awaken hope in us.
O Christ, come and help our weak faith.
O Christ, create a pure heart in us;
renew and strengthen our spirit.
O Christ, your Word is near;
may it live within us and protect us always. Amen.
Good morning. Did you notice that the word “miracle” doesn’t appear in this story? Not at all. In the Gospel of John, this healing is called a sign. The signs all point to God; the signs demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, the embodiment of God’s love for the world. The signs demonstrate the abundance of God’s grace.
These stories from John’s Gospel all have a similar pattern. First, we hear about a problem. For instance, Jesus is at a wedding reception and the hosts have just run out of wine. Then Jesus performs one of the signs, like turning water into wine. And finally, there’s an explanation of the sign—a very long explanation in some cases.
This is one of those cases. It doesn’t take long to describe the healing; the story is mostly about how other people respond to the healing. They don’t respond very well, particularly the Pharisees. They don’t understand what has happened.
The story begins with a simple question, one of the disciples asks Jesus: “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” To most people in Jesus’ time, the man’s blindness would have been regarded as divine punishment for something, some sin. But Jesus says that the man’s blindness was not the result of anyone’s sin.
The disciples have a fundamental misunderstanding of sin. So do the Pharisees. They think of sin as a moral category, a bunch of bad actions. But that’s not how Jesus understands sin, not in the Gospel of John. In John’s Gospel, sin “is not a moral category but a category of relationship; to be in sin or to sin is not to be in relationship with God.”
Of course, the Pharisees aren’t capable of understanding the deeper meaning of this sign. They doubt that the healing occurred, but if it had, it’s still suspect, it’s highly questionable because Jesus performed this healing on the Sabbath, and faithful Jews were not permitted to work on the Sabbath. It doesn’t make sense to them. It’s fake news. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but in this story, the Pharisees are spiritually blind.
This is a story for our times. In this story, Jesus said that the man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. Beloved, I want to turn this question back on you: In this time of a global pandemic, how might God’s works be revealed in us? How can we be God’s grace in the world?
As I said last Sunday, I don’t believe that the Coronavirus, COVID-19 is a punishment from God. Diseases happen. And it seems that most people in our society are taking this very seriously. We are practicing social distancing so that we slow the spread of this disease. That’s a real challenge. It’s also an opportunity.
Beloved, we live in a world of social isolation. This was true long before the global pandemic of COVID-19. There are so many people cut off from loved ones, cut off from friends; people who have few healthy ways to practice community. As we practice social distancing—which is a healthy and necessary thing in this time—we understand a little more what their lives are like.
We take it for granted that we will see the members of our church family on a regular basis. Sure, we might not see everyone in church on every Sunday. But we know that sooner or later, we’re gonna get the chance to shake someone’s hand, say hello, and share a laugh or a hug. I take it for granted that I’m going to get to greet all of you, sooner or later.
We practice a lot of love for one another here in this sanctuary and in our church buildings. And in this sanctuary, you frequently hear me urge you to extend that love to the people who aren’t in this building on a Sunday morning. All of that has become so much more challenging in this era of social distancing.
Over the next couple weeks, the Deacons and the Elders of this congregation are going to start reaching out to all of you. They’re going to check in, to make sure that everyone is managing to get through this period of isolation. In short, they’re going to keep us all connected to one another. And they’re going to identify people in this congregation who need more care or more contact.
Of course, we can’t do this in person, but we can all pick up a phone, send an email, or even chat online. When you get one of these calls, I encourage you to share honestly and freely. If you’d like a call from me, please let them know. Or call the church office. I promise I’ll get back to you.
None of us have lived through anything like this before. Perhaps you’ve heard stories from family members who lived through the influenza pandemic of 1918-19. But hearing stories isn’t the same as living through it. It feels like we’re in uncharted territory.
It turns out, the Church has a lot of experience with plagues and pandemics.
Between the years 165 and 180 CE, a plague ravaged the Roman Empire. It might have been smallpox or measles; scientists don’t know for sure. It’s known as the Plague of Galen or the Antonine Plague. The pandemic began near Baghdad. It infected Roman legions, who then brought the disease home. It spread as far east as China and as far west as France. Perhaps five million people died. In Rome, at its worst, the plague killed 2,000 people a day.
Then, between the years 249 to 262 CE, another plague swept across the Roman Empire. Again, the cause is unknown, but this infection, named the Plague of Cyprian, claimed over 5,000 lives per day in Rome.
For most people, the typical response to a plague is to run away from the suffering, to run as far and as fast as possible. That was true in ancient times and it’s true today. But it turns out, during the Plague of Galen and the Plague of Cyprian, that’s not what Christians in Rome did:
Christians’ behavior during [these plagues] strengthened the vitality of the church’s witness. Christians’ seemingly irrational determination not to abandon their diseased family members and neighbors made them appear uncommonly virtuous. [Times] of risk and isolation call for active advocacy, compassion, and allegiance to one another. Otherwise, why call yourself Christian?
Don’t forget, Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire at that time. Christians were officially persecuted. Yet despite all those risks, Christians chose to care for friends and neighbors. That’s a powerful lesson for us.
I’m not urging you to run to CentraState and lay hands on anyone who is sick with COVID-19. Please don’t do this. Let the medical professionals do their jobs. We don’t have the power to restore sight or heal diseases, like Jesus did. We do have the power to connect with one another. So, after you get a call from an Elder or a Deacon, I encourage you to pick up the phone and call someone else. Share the love that you have just received. Reach out to someone else in this congregation. Even better, reach out to someone outside this congregation.
This pandemic won’t last forever. We will eventually go outside again. And worship in the sanctuary again. And go to Bible study again. And Session meetings. Wait, I don’t hear anybody cheering about that. Just kidding. Anyhow, eventually, we will return to our patterns. I believe that this is a strategic opportunity to engage with our church family and with the people outside of our walls. If we do this well, I think we’ll see a lot more people in the sanctuary on Sundays. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Responding to the Word
Prayers of the People
First, we lift up the Fusco family of Freehold. As many of you may know, several members of this family were stricken with COVID-19; at least four have lost their lives. Prayers for healing and wholeness for all of the members of this family.
We lift up everyone who is sick with the novel corona virus, the families of all who have lost loved ones in this global pandemic, and all the people whose lives have been upended by the disease and by the social distancing it has necessitated.
We have a prayer shawl for a baby named Jack. Jack is Nancee Hanley’s grandson and he was born 8 weeks premature. Prayers for health and wholeness for Jack, prayers for a release from anxiety for Jack’s parents, and prayers that God would watch over all the hands that care for baby Jack.
Finally, we lift up Jean Schellenger. Jean had a bad fall a couple weeks ago. She fractured two vertebrae in her neck and she also broke her right thumb. Fortunately, she doesn’t need surgery. Prayers for healing and wholeness for Jean.
The Lord’s Prayer
Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are called to be the Church, the body of Christ. We are called to participate in His saving work. Go forth and be instruments of God’s love and peace and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!
 Karoline Lewis. John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2014), p. 126.  Matt Skinner, “Coronavirus, John 9, and What the Church Is Doing Here Anyway,” retrieved from: https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5421