All Saints' Church
The Rev. Spencer D. Cantrell
Third Sunday in Lent
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In the name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
— So this is, admittedly, a strange day and circumstance in which to find oneself the preacher.
An earlier version of this homily had a line or two along the lines of, “even now as I write this I’m not sure if we’ll be having church on Sunday” — indicating just how quickly things have been changing day to day, and how much of a moving target the right response to the outbreak of this virus has seemed to be.
A lot of things are uncertain today. We don’t know how long this period of social distancing and quarantining will need to last; we don’t know if we’re talking weeks, or months. We don’t know how much the virus has spread yet—due in part to a patchy and questionably adequate response from officials at various levels of government. People are worried for themselves, for their loved ones —especially those who are elderly or immune-compromised—and for what the days ahead will bring, not just in terms of personal health, but for the whole healthcare system in general, not to mention the global economy.
Unfortunately, uncertainty breeds fear more than just about anything. We don’t tend to become significantly afraid of, or panicked by, things that we know or have a good sense of—even if they are dangerous. The real fear comes from the not knowing, the not having a good sense of where things stand, and what one is supposed to do in the meantime.
And admittedly, in times like this—times of uncertainty and fear—I can find myself, at least at first, without a whole lot of bandwidth for doing things like turning to the lectionary texts, and for trying to see what they might have to say to the present moment.
Now I know, I know. He’s a priest! How could he not be itching to open up the Bible, especially in such troubling times — isn’t that precisely, in some sense, what it’s there for?
Well, sure. Certainly it is.
What I want to affirm this morning, though, is that if you find yourself feeling this way, too, remember that faith is no easy thing, even in the best of times. It takes significant leap of faith anytime we make space to remind ourselves who we are, whose we are, and in whom ultimately we put our trust.
Our ancestors in faith the Israelites had a hard time making that leap of faith, when, in the wilderness, on pilgrimage into a new land in which God had promised to bless them, to make them great and prosperous, they found themselves scarcely able to cobble together provisions for daily life—here, even water. Indeed, they thirsted in the desert, and their uncertainty about where their next source of sustenance would come from gave way to profound fear, anxiety, and real a sense of hopelessness.
Of course, their story of faith, just like ours, leads to an opposing conclusion; that, ultimately, they would be provided for; that there would be enough to sustain their journey—treacherous as it may have been, and if only for a day at a time.
God’s promise for us is the same promise they received—God desires not that we perish in our fear, distrust, and paranoia in isolation from one another, but rather that we would flourish, that we would find true community and deep solidarity with one another, and that together we would have life abundant.
The abundant life we are promised is not the abundant life contemporary culture promises us. It is not the promise of unfettered growth and expansion of capital; it is not the promise of some atomized version of the American dream; and it isn’t the promise that if we can just hoard enough canned food, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer, we will be able to get through this on our own.
Abundant life, the kind that the life of faith promises, is a life in which we put others above ourselves; in which we care for the least and most vulnerable among us first, and ultimately build and judge our societies around how they care for these very persons.
For us, the will to do this is inspired of the same kind of faith which the Samaritan woman experienced at Jacob’s well, when Jesus came to her—transgressing a deeply-ingrained socio-racial boundary of the day as he did—to tell her that there was, indeed, a well unlike the one she had sought that day, but an inexhaustible spiritual well, freely poured out and springing up into eternal life. The faith that she came to find that day was in the truth of that living water, and of a God who pours Godself out for us, the beginning and end of all desire, all hope, all joy; a God who showed the world the way to freedom and peace, in a way which was too subversive for him to not be killed for it.
A leap of faith, indeed, even on the best of days.
But if faith like that sounds too abstract, to bizarre, or too remote to imagine — I find some of the spirituality of the Twelve Steps to be particularly helpful. Because as you might know, if someone in the program cannot assent to ‘faith in God’ as such, then faith in a ’higher power’ that comes from faith in one another in community —community that, indeed, is, becomes that ‘higher power’—is very much a legitimate kind of faith.
And even for those of us who call ourselves Christian, this kind of faith in each other, which we might call “loving one another as Christ has loved us”, is perhaps something like our only true privileged access to what God is actually like—for our tradition tells us that God is love, that to love one another is to know God.
One of the ways that we are loving one another right now is to keep the doors of the church closed. There are many, many people who are particularly vulnerable to this virus who would normally be in church, and the best we can do for them is to say, please stay home for a while.
But let us, in these coming days, not let our love for one another be limited to just this. We must pray for one another; be available to one another as best we are able; find ways to care for those who are in need; open ourselves up to the fear and uncertainty of the time, and rise to the occasion with transformative faith in each other and in God’s provision; hope for better days to come; and above all else, love for one another as we have been loved.