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Date Posted: March 14, 2020

Third Sunday in Lent

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves.” John 4:42

A few weeks ago, China’s problems seemed far removed from my life here in Gainesville, Ga. And now, even as I write this homily, I am aware that by the time Sunday arrives, these thoughts will be posted online rather than shared from the ambo in the nave. Things have moved at such a pace, and my earlier “eye-rolling” has moved toward a recognition that I have a civic as well as a Christian duty to mind how my presence might threaten the welfare of others. Now, as the Samaritans said to the woman at the well: I have heard it for myself … and it is closer…much closer…than a rumor out of China.

Wanting to support the pre-school teachers with all their work around keeping the little ones safe, I focused our Chapel lesson this week on the difference between being “afraid” and being “cautious.”

We started with being afraid, and they immediately quoted to me stories about Jesus telling folks NOT to be afraid. Hoping to move them toward the nuances of “caution” I asked them to tell me some things that we SHOULD be afraid of, things that even Jesus would want us to be afraid of.

Hands shot into the air with ready answers. Here are the top three things that five-year-olds are afraid of:

  • A total zombie apocalypse
  • Dinosaurs

And my personal favorite:

  • That our hands would forget to hold on to our arms! (Which specific fear dear James Wilkins thoughtfully articulated to me by showing me his hand, and its proximity to his arm and then looked at me as if to say: You get this, right?”)

I confess that I almost didn’t get the lesson back on track and moving toward “caution”; i.e., the caution we should exercise so that we remain healthy, using the image of a yellow caution light that demands that we slow down and look around us. I couldn’t get past the simple truth that, after zombies and dinosaurs, our single greatest fear ought indeed to be that we would forget during times like this that we are absolutely connected to each other and useless without that connection.

Jesus’ use of human anatomy to teach us about the body of Christ is brilliant. What we have realized in the past few days is that we are literally inextricably interconnected. And individual autonomy must always be balanced against the welfare of the whole community.

Instead of our constant race against each other with our eyes only on who we are trying to catch, we must be equally mindful of our friends who are running their own pace behind us. The whole group needs to get across the finish line.

We must slow down and look around us.

That is so difficult to do when we are frightened, panicked. But, we have to; otherwise, we’ll trample each other to death scrambling for safety.

This is the very situation in our first lesson today (Exodus 17:1-7) of Moses and the 600,000 refugees leaving Egypt and on their way to the Promised Land. Imagine being in the desert wilderness, no map, apparently lost, and finally so incredibly thirsty that you actually begin to think that it would have been better for you if God had never rescued you!

That is panicked, my friend.

So, here is the antidote, maybe not for the virus but for the symptomatic anxiety that accompanies the fast-breaking news of its spread:

We must practice coming before God in “spirit”” and in “truth”. (John 4:23)

Coming to God “in Spirit” is to claim that our access to God is by way of the Spirit’s channel, this gift that moves in random merciful swaths across time and throughout life, and which promises to pray on our behalf when we don’t even know the words to pray what is deep within us.

Coming to God “in truth” is to leave aside pretense, in particular, the pretense that there is anything we can actually control beyond our choice to believe and to take a single step at a time.

If we step back and look at that posture, the posture that Jesus says is where God seeks to meet us, then what we see is a confession that we are powerless over most of life and that this powerlessness can even extend to our capacity and ability to pray.

Now, at first, none of that feels like it would offer much comfort in the face of anxiety. But, think about it. Isn’t anxiety just a bodily response to feeling like we are up against something that we cannot fix?

As with so many things, the cure is the cause reframed.

Truly, a lack of imagination is more likely to kill us than a virus. And that is something we can collaborate together to manage. Many of you have offered to help Stuart and me check on folks during this time. And some of you may be surprised to start getting calls from folks at Grace just to see if you’re ok or need anything.

Even in the face of the “caution” to refrain from touching, we must remember that we are the body of Christ, not Christ’s dismembered body parts. Let us prayerfully consider how to make sure our hands don’t forget to hold on to our arms, now and always.

Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Park
Lent III
March 15, 2020