Tafoya: See world in new ways during pandemic

Tafoya: See world in new ways during pandemic

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SELMA – In her March 29 sermon, “Where are we?” First Christian Church of Selma’s Pastor Maria Tafoya shared this sermon, based on the scripture at John 9: 1-7 from the Common English Bible:

  • “As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.”

There are a lot of online worship services going on today. Some of you will be watching several. If you are one of those people, you will notice that I am not preaching from the same passage as many of my colleagues, and the reason for that is this: First Christian Church in Selma decided years ago that when there are five Sundays in the month, we would give our regular musicians the week off. In their place, we have the Raisin Tooters, a mostly brass band led by Hugh Adams who play all the hymns and other music for our worship service.

They have a song list and I select the hymn that follows the message from that list. Sometimes, that means swapping scripture readings, because when I write my sermons, I am aiming at the hymn that comes right after. That hymn is intended to reinforce the message. If I do it right, and by right in this instance I mean the way I want it to work, then the end of the sermon rolls naturally into the beginning of the hymn.

Since this was to have been a Raisin Tooter week, I swapped the Dry Bones passage that I preached last week with Jesus Heals the Blind Man.

As it happens, there is no message hymn in our on-line services. The Raisin Tooters are all at home, sheltering in place. The music is being performed in one place, the scripture is being read in another, the prayers prayed in yet another place, and the message and communion time are here, in the parsonage.

You all are at home, singing and praying along with everyone else, and in just a few minutes we will all share the Lord’s Supper. We are all together participating in a worship experience, in our separate places, through the miracle of the internet.

Where are we? We are in an unprecedented situation. No one has ever done what we are doing before. Yes, there have been pandemics and plagues with quarantines in place before. Yes, there have been times when panic buying caused shortages of certain products. Yes, there have been congregations who could not meet in their sanctuary because it had burned down, or been flooded, or destroyed in a tornado or hurricane. But even then, church members could get together in person for worship, even if they had to meet in a parking lot or a park.

Never before, to my knowledge, have all of those situations been true at the same time. Never before, to my knowledge, have thousands of congregations found themselves in the situation we are in today - holding worship remotely.

We are exploring new ideas, sharing ideas with others, looking for more ways to connect with each other, from a distance. We are in a brand-new world, and whatever comes after this is over, it will be different from what we have become accustomed to.

“Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.”

If you watch the news or spend much time on Facebook, you will have heard blame being tossed around as to whose fault it is that COVID-19 has become a pandemic.

I have heard it said that it’s China’s fault, even that it was a plot on the part of Communist China to wipe out the United States. This is totally not true, or logical. It’s a disease - a virus - one we have not seen before, not a Communist plot.

Yet, at a time when we should be pulling together to help each other survive, some people are using this racist blame game as an excuse to attack Asian Americans.

I have heard some preachers claim that this is God’s punishment for sin, and being faithless, saying that if you are right with the Lord, you will not become ill. Some of those preachers have since died from COVID-19. In fact, quite a few of the earliest known cases were somehow church related.

The pastor had it, and no one knew, or a choir member, or a visitor to the congregation. There are other pastors who say that Jesus will protect us and the church must continue to meet as usual. Jesus does indeed protect us - from despair when things are hard, from spiritual death, from loss of hope when things may seem hopeless. But Jesus does not protect us from our own egos or poor judgment.

“Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.”

Did God plan for this terrible plague to happen? I don’t believe that. But I do believe that God’s mighty works can be displayed in us as we walk through it, just as in that blind man Jesus healed.

We are being asked to do things that are difficult, to behave in new ways, to relate with other people in new ways. We are being asked to see the world in new ways. To open our eyes to the needs of others in ways that many of us hadn’t really considered before.

I can tell you for sure that after almost two weeks of not leaving the house, I have a new understanding for what it means to be homebound. I don’t mind staying home. I don’t even mind being alone with the cats for days on end. I do mind not being able to go buy my own groceries. I do mind not being able to invite people into my house when someone returns my cat carrier, or brings me a mask they made themselves, or cake. I do mind that I cannot hug them, that we cannot be within touching distance of each other. I don’t like it much, but I am willing to do this to help save lives.

I am used to being fairly independent, and this sudden screeching halt to all my usual activities is disconcerting at best. I am having to open my eyes to things I had been blind to before.

So, although I do not believe that God plans for terrible things to happen, I do believe that how we respond to those terrible things is a direct answer to God’s mighty works inside our hearts. So many are responding with ways to help.

First, there all those who put themselves at risk every day on their jobs - first responders, medical personnel, grocery workers, restaurant workers, delivery people, truckers.

Then, there are all the others who are finding ways to love their neighbors. Running errands for those of us who cannot go out - getting our prescriptions and our groceries, making masks, calling each other to make sure we are all ok and posting encouraging words on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. These are not small things. These are life-giving acts, gifts of God’s grace delivered through humans. This really is being God’s hands and feet in the world.

Where are we? My late ex-husband Ton’Ee loved to take side trips. We would be on our way someplace and he would just turn off in some random direction for no apparent reason other than to enjoy seeing something different or new along the road. This made me crazy. When I would ask if he was lost, he always responded, “I may not always know where I am, but I am never lost.”

We may not know exactly where we are right now. But we do know that we are not lost. Jesus has sent us off to wash the mud from our eyes. When we return, we will be able to see past all the things we have been blind to before, and see the world and our places in it in new ways.

When we return, we will give thanks for all the things we have learned, and all the experiences we have had, and all the new possibilities ahead.

Where are we? We are in God’s hands. And so we are safe, from despair and hopelessness and fear.

Amen

Maria Tafoya is the pastor at the First Christian Church of Selma.

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