Dear Siblings in Christ:
This week’s lectionary text from the Gospels (John 9:1-41) seems strangely ironic. Jesus encounters someone who is blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples get into a conversation about the person and assume – as most would have at the time – that their blindness is somehow related to a sin they or their parents committed. Jesus suggests that, actually, the blindness is all so God’s abilities can be shown. So, Jesus spits in the dirt, makes it into mud, spreads the mud on the blind person’s eyes, tells them to wash it off, and they can see.
You’ve got to be kidding me. During a pandemic defined by social distancing, self-isolation, hand-washing and hand-washing and hand-washing, we have a story where Jesus SMEARS SPITTY MUD INTO SOMEONE’S EYES. At least he tells them to wash afterward. I hope it was for, at least, 4 rounds of Happy Birthday. With soap.
But, still, they could see. They could see for the first time in their life. Before the spit and the mud and the washing, they were blind. Now, they could see.
This is the first time in our lives that any of us have had to face something like this. I’m not saying that there wasn’t sickness, illness, insecurity, and suffering. Most of us have had at least some of that and some have had to face significantly more – sometimes unfairly – than others. However, this is a case where the scale of it all is unfathomable and although there will likely be some who may make it through nearly unscathed those few will be exceedingly rare.
However, as we wash away the spit and the mud, we’re starting to see some things we haven’t seen for a while or, maybe, never. My neighbor across the street is a health care professional. We’ve never talked that much but, now, every time I see her pull away I say a prayer for her. We live next door to an elderly couple who have been in poor health off and on. All our neighbors are keeping an eye out for them these days. Another neighbor has a couple of kids and, yesterday, my son and their daughters were yelling back and forth checking in as only those under 8 years old can do. I see our artist neighbor; the man on the corner who’s always kept his eye the neighborhood; the folks up on the hill from us; and on and on. I knew these people were there but I see them differently these days. I see them.
As we wash away the spit and the mud we start to see how much our relationships with one another matter and we’re beginning to deeply understand that we’re only going to make it through this, together. In the weekly calls we’re hosting in the conference about worship, pastoral care, and administration and finance we’re turning to each other as experts of this moment. Different folks who have learned a little more about this or a little more about that offer what they have in a generous stone soup sort of way and we all know more after the call than before the call. It ends up that the world needs more of what we can offer and share in more ways than we imagined.
As we wash away the spit and the mud, we have started to see the community value of our buildings beyond their value to our congregations. We’ve usually shared them as we could but we’re seeing they’re needed for a new purpose these days. Hospitals and health care centers see a time when they will be filled to overflowing. Homeless shelters see that they do not have the capacity to provide healthy social distancing in their facilities. Many of you have started to reach out to your counties to let them know you’re willing to have your church buildings used to take in the overflow and more of you have the capacity to do so. I urge you to consider this (and let me know when you reach out). One of our camps, Pilgrim Firs, is under consideration for this right now and N-Sid-Sen is available as an emergency staging area if needed. This is one of those times when the call to “Be The Church” can’t be confused with merely the possession of a church building.
As we wash away the spit and the mud, we’re starting to see the fragility of institutions as a means of control and the value of institutions as the distributors of relationships and resources. Although there are some exceptions, most institutions and businesses are not throwing up walls of self-protection and claiming ownership of the resources we shared with them but are opening the doors and figuring out ways to distribute and wisely use the resources they protected in case of a time something like this.
As we wash away the spit and the mud, we’re finding the vision to see us through this moment. The days ahead will be hard and we’re going to be changed. But, with God’s help, we’re going to make it.
We’re going to make it.
We’re going to make it.
——–Follow me on Twitter @denton_rev
Visit my blog at https://centeringout.blog/
Rev. Mike Denton Conference Minister of
Pacific Northwest Conference of
The United Church of Christ
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