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Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent - Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

Posted on March 22, 2020 by Kathy Miller

Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent

John 9:1-41

Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

March 22, 2020

via Zoom


One of the nice things about Zoom is we can see each other, so I’ve got a few questions and I’d like you to raise your hand if your answer is yes:  Do you remember where you were when we landed on the moon? Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down? Do you remember where you were when Kennedy was assassinated? Do you remember where you were when the Challenger exploded?  Do you remember where you were on the morning of 9/11/2001?


These are just a few of the times which have marked us.  We remember how they brought us all great sadness or great joy; how they connected us to each other and reminded us how wrapped up in each other’s fate and well-being we are.


This is certainly one of “those times.”  With several more weeks recommended of social distancing ahead of us, this is a time which will certainly mark us.  A time about which, in the future, we will say to each other “do you remember when Covid-19 first showed up and we all had to stay home?  Do you remember when everything closed?  Do you remember where you were and what you did?”


And we will remember for different reasons. Some of us will remember the weeks our kids stayed home and we grew in our clarity of the important work our teachers do.  Some of us will remember because our businesses and our livelihoods were affected.  Some of us will remember what it was like to be doctors and nurses and other health care workers in this difficult time or what it was like to work in the grocery stores or hand out food at the schools.  If the statistics bear out, some of us will know someone who had the virus and some of us may know someone who died from it. So, while we hope and pray that this time will be short-lived, that we will be able to look back at it as an anomaly, a time of a few weeks where we all had to make adjustments, big and small; we know that even in that best-case scenario, this time will leave its mark. 


And what often comes with times like these is the sentiment “I cannot imagine.”  In response to every tragedy or challenge, many of us at some point, say the sentence, “I cannot imagine.” When Covid-19 came on the map in China, and they began quarantining people, many of us watched or read the news and thought “I cannot imagine.”  And now, as social distancing gets more and more enforced here in the US, we need our imagination about that less and less. Still there are things we may say “I cannot imagine” about.


In her new book, Untamed, Glennon Doyle points out there are two different tones with which we say “I cannot imagine:”

“The first tone is one of humility, awe, softness, gratitude.  There is a quietness about it.  A There but for the grace of God goI quality.”


This is the kind of “I cannot imagine” we may be using right now to say “I cannot imagine what it is like to be an ER or ICU doctor right now.  I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to shut down my business or be afraid I will lose my job.  I cannot imagine what it must be like to be worried for a parent who has started coughing.”


Doyle goes on to say: “The second tone (of I cannot imagine) is different.  It is one of dismissal and judgment.  There is a definitiveness about it.  A Well, I would never quality.  We invoke that tone like a spell, like a clove of garlic around our neck worn to distance ourselves from a particular horror in case it’s contagious.  We look for a reason, for someone to blame, so that we can reassure ourselves that this horror could never, will never happen to us.”


Today we might use this tone for statements like: “I cannot imagine why those other countries didn’t do something differently.  I cannot imagine why those stupid kids won’t stop going out on the beach in Florida.  I cannot imagine why our politicians cannot figure out better solutions.  I cannot imagine why people are hoarding things.” 


The first “I cannot imagine” is what people say when they actually are really trying to imagine.  It is an “I cannot imagine” rooted in empathy and love.  It is said with a sense of tenderness and really trying to see things through someone else’s eyes.


The second “I cannot imagine” is rooted in fear.  A fear rooted in our own anxiety or anger or loneliness or our own uncertainty about how things will turn out.  This kind of “I cannot imagine” is about pushing people away and making them so different from us that we don’t have to try and understand them at all.


The way we say, “I cannot imagine” makes a huge difference.  Which, is not a new human thing because we see this all over the scripture reading today.


The people in the blind man’s village “cannot imagine.”  First there are the ones who cannot imagine this healed man is the same man they’ve known all these years as the poor blind boy.  Then, there are those who accept it is the same man, but they want to see and question the man who did the healing because they cannot imagine someone who could do this. The Pharisees aren’t so concerned about the actual healing. They cannot imagine someone called a Rabbi would dare to heal someone on the Sabbath - dare to break the rules.  And the man’s parents cannot imagine risking what others will say if they go around telling this crazy story of healing. 


All of their “I cannot imagine’s” are rooted in different kinds of fear.  Fear they were wrong about this man deserving his blindness.  Fear of someone powerful enough to heal like this.  Fear of someone who would break the rules.  Fear of being ostracized even more. 


And this is perhaps one of the greatest differences between Jesus and other humans.  Jesus doesn’t succumb to fear.  Jesus lives in the world but is not afraid of it.  Which means Jesus is able to see so much others don’t.  What Jesus cannot imagine is not healing, not feeding, not being with the people who are marginalized.  Jesus cannot imagine seeing others without love.


And, we friends, are not Jesus, but we are trying to be his followers. And that means, always, but maybe especially in a time like this - a time filled with uncertainty and anxiety and unknown, we, followers of Jesus, are asked to choose love over fear.  It isn’t that we aren’t facing legitimate dangers.  No one is saying we should stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine. 


In a sermon, this week Nadia Bolz Weber said:

“Faith in God does not bring you safety…

Danger still exists. 

And by that I mean, danger is not optional, but fear is.  

Because maybe the opposite of fear isn’t bravery.  Maybe the opposite of fear is love. Paul tells us that perfect love casts out fear. So, in the response…to the very real dangers of this world we have an invitation as people of faith: which is to respond by loving. 

It’s like the famous story about Martin Luther: when asked what he would do if he knew the world was about to end, he famously said if he knew the world were ending tomorrow, then he would plant an apple tree today.

I love that because it is defiantly hopeful. As though he actually listened to Jesus when Jesus said “do not be afraid”. If the world were ending he would respond by loving the world.

Because … the dangers of this world … do not get to determine the contours of our hearts. Nor the content of our minds”

So, whenever we find ourselves on the other side of this time, whether it is in 3 weeks or 10 weeks or even longer, let its mark on us, let what we remember of this time, include that we did our very best imagining.  May we have imagined with love and empathy and tenderness.  May we have imagined new ways of connecting and caring for one another.  May we be able to say that even though we were anxious and there were real things to be afraid of, we chose love over fear and kept our eyes open for God here with us. And instead of letting our imaginations run wild with all the possibilities, may we instead spend some time remembering how God has been with us in the past, so we can believe God is with us now, and feel assured that God will be with us no matter what comes. Amen.


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