Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Lord Is Really with Us: The 3rd Sunday in Lent (15 March 2020)

The Lord Is Really with Us
The 3rd Sunday in Lent

Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral
New Westminster BC

15 March 2020

Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.5-42

Is the Lord really with us?
            On Thursday morning of this past week Archbishop Melissa joined three other faith leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities on CBC Radio One’s ‘Early Edition’ with Stephen Quinn.  They were each interviewed about how their respective communities were responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and what spiritual resources they were bringing to bear.
            One of the leaders spoke about his tradition’s belief that events such as these challenge us to examine our moral and spiritual lives.  In his comments I heard echoes of today’s reading from Exodus.
            The Hebrews had been enslaved in Egypt and through the mighty work of God had been liberated.  They had evaded pursuing armies with God’s help and had had their thirst and hunger satisfied by the providential gifts of manna, quail and water from a stone.  Yet they still muttered to themselves and to Moses, ‘Is the Lord really with us or not?’ [1]
            Hardships of any sort tend to reduce our horizons, whether as individuals or as communities.  We begin to act as if we have been abandoned and lose sight of our primary resource:  God’s persistent and pervasive gracious presence in many and varied ways, seen and unseen.  We often fall into the grip of ingratitude and forget that God, even in our hardships of whatever form, continues to sustain us through the generosity and compassion of our families, our friends and our neighbours.  While no one wishes hardship to come upon anybody, hardship is not a fallow time, a time for personal and communal spiritual growth.

Trouble, Endurance, Character and Hope
            When Paul wrote to the Christian believers in the city of Rome, he was writing at a time of great personal and vocational crisis.  He himself was on the way to Rome for judicial examination, trial and potential execution.  The Roman Christians to whom he was writing were divided by theological partisanship and ethnic conflict.
            Yet, even in this midst of this, Paul writes some of his more memorable prose.
We even take pride in our problems,
because we know that trouble produces endurance,
endurance produces character,
and character produces hope. [2]
Trouble, endurance, character and hope.  What a quartet!  When Paul writes about character, he is thinking of a person who is tried and trusted, some who is a firm as a rock. [3]  For some with character, the hardships of life do not produce na├»ve optimism or fatalism; they produce hope.  Hope springs from looking around us, looking closely at our lives, and seeing how God has been at work in us, around us and, most importantly, for us.

The Lord is really with us.
            She came to the well as she did at least once a day.  How many times had she had to put up with misogyny, sexual innuendo and prejudice?  And so she came and there he was, just one more Jewish male who could indulge in a little bit of Samaritan-bashing and social snobbery.
            But that’s not was happened.  True, there were a few witty remarks exchanged.  But then he touched the depths of her soul and spoke to her heart-felt hopes.  ‘No more waiting for the Messiah,’ he said and she came to believe, ‘I am here.’
            My friends, I will not recite a catalogue of the challenges we face as disciples of Jesus in 21st-century Canada and in this heart of the city of New Westminster.  Nor will I minimize the social, physical and financial hardships COVID-19 has and is likely to continue to impose upon us and many others here and abroad.  But I will tell you this.
            The Lord is really with us, whether we can touch one another or not.  Whether we meet physically in the same space or virtually by means of social media and technology, the Lord is really with us.
            This present trouble comes upon us in the midst of Lent.  During this holy season we seek endurance for our pilgrim journey of faith.  We are building character, becoming more Christ-like as each day brings us closer to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  And we grow in up because
[we are] convinced that nothing can separate us 
from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord:  
not death nor life, not angels or rulers,
 not present things or future things,
 not powers or height or depth, 
or any other thing that is created. [4]
Not COVID-19.  Not temporary suspensions of our gatherings, whether social or liturgical.  Not anything.  Because the Lord is really with us --- with every human being on this fragile planet of ours.  And when this crisis passes, let us remember this and be thankful.

[1] Exodus 17.7 Common English Bible.

[2] Romans 5.3-4 Common English Bible.

[3] N. T. Wright in “Romans” in The New Interpreter’s Bible 2002, X.516.

[4] Romans 8.38-39 Common English Bible alt.

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