1 Samuel 16:1-13 / Psalm 23 / Ephesians 5:8-14 / John 9:1-41
As we survey our lectionary scripture readings for this Sunday morning, we read in 1 Samuel 16 – “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘how long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel’” (1 Samuel 16:1). Samuel was grieving over what had happened. God had moving on, instructing Samuel to set out on a journey to anoint the one God has provided to be next king. Are we also being like Samuel and holding on to the past, grieving over something that we can’t control and not able to live in the present moment fully? God chose David. He was not who Samuel thought was going to be God’s choice. Our thoughts and God’s thoughts are not same. When he looked on Eliab, Samuel thought “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.” But Eliab was not God’s chosen one. Then when Abinadab, and Shammah, and in fact seven sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite passed by Samuel, they were not the one God had chosen. It was the youngest son who was keeping the sheep that God had chosen. When David stood before Samuel, God instructed Samuel to “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one” (1 Samuel 16:12).
David was keeping sheep and he was God’s chosen one. We know that it was house of David from which the Messiah would come. And in Psalm 23, we read about a shepherd, our shepherd. Psalm 23 is probably the best-known psalm and most people’s go-to psalm for encouragement. “The LORD is my Shepherd.” The message that we might hear is that God is taking care of us. The LORD alone is our shepherd. Can you say today, at this moment that even though you walk through the darkest valley, you fear no evil? How can anyone walking through the darkest valley not fear evil? The answer is that we fear no evil, for God is with us. How can each of us know and feel that God is with us, and that God is our shepherd, while we are each in our homes this morning, reading this sermon rather than hearing this message sitting in the pews of our beloved church? Are we in fact feeling comforted by God’s rod and staff this morning?
In the midst of uncertainties, young and old, healthy and weak, people of different ethnic heritages, and of different economic and social classes, living in different neighborhoods, in fact globally, wherever you are, I would guess coronavirus has directly or indirectly touched your lives in the past few weeks. People are losing jobs due to closing down of restaurants, hotels, department stores, and gyms. Schools are asking students to move off campuses and classes have gone to online virtual learning. Churches have gone from meeting in person in physical buildings to meeting online via Zoom, Youtube, Facebook, or Instagram in order to livestream Sunday services, morning prayers, bible studies, and devotional times.
Our church community has gone online too, via email. This morning, we are worshiping God together by each of us reading the Sunday worship service bulletin that has prayers, bible passages, sermon message and blessings via this email message. Everyone is intentionally keeping a “social distance” not only to prevent being infected, but more importantly, to prevent transmission of coronavirus.
A friend told me that his family plans to have a barbeque to use up some of their frozen meat while all the family are together from their works and schools being canceled. I turned to my friend and said that’s “social nearness” and a social gathering, not social distance! We both had a good laugh.
Have you gone grocery shopping lately or gone to drug store to pick up some supplies? Toilet papers are hard to find. So are hand sanitizers, and even alcohol and aloe gels are difficult to find because people can make home-made hand sanitizers from mixing ethanol alcohol and aloe gel. I have been to grocery store rather late in the preparation, and found that some of the shelves were empty! Milk, Eggs and frozen vegetables were nearly or all sold out!
In such times, fear, stress, and anxiety can become our most real struggles. Although New York City has not ordered “shelter-in-place” restriction at this time, most people are staying home except to get medicine, food, and exercise. When I have gone on walks, I could cross the streets more easily because there were fewer cars on the road. Even though it didn’t happen too often, when someone was walking towards me, my immediate thought was oh no, how are we going to cross our paths? Should I cross the street? Would I veer to the left or will the other person? Never have I experienced anxiety and fear and even stress from walking pass others during a walk outdoors! It is in these times that we are asked to be, to live, to act as Christians because it is who we are: it’s in the DNA of our hearts!
How are you taking care of yourself during this time? It is season of Lent, and we are approaching Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. It’s difficult to know whether we will be able to meet in person to worship together and to celebrate and remember Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Resurrection Sunday this year. In such times, it might even be difficult to remember we are in the season of Lent. It might be difficult to remember that we are daughters and sons of the creator of the universe.
Let us imagine: let us picture in our minds, how the LORD is taking care of us. The LORD is our shepherd. Picture a green pasture under the blue skies. The weather is mild, and the sun is shining. God makes us lie down, when we can’t sleep at night, when we are feeling anxious, and when we feel too tired from all the stress of simply trying to survive the days. God leads us beside still waters. Look in to the still waters, it is clear and deep. Take water from this place, it will calm our soul when our peace within is drying up and we feel thirsty for comfort. God fills us up with God’s presence and restores our souls when we feel lonely from being isolated. God leads us. God leads us in right paths, paths that are leading us to do good and to helping one another and lifting up our spirits when our thoughts turn to pessimism and hopelessness.
When we walk through dark valleys, where it is difficult to know what we are stepping on, and sun is hidden, we walk through dark valleys not knowing whether we could get sick and whether our loved ones will stay healthy. Our jobs or finances might not be secure, even as the stock market is turbulent. In these darkest valleys, we fear no evil. For our God is with us. We are comforted by God’s rod and staff: God’s word, prayers, and reminders in our lives that God is with us comfort us.
How wonderful is the relationship we have with God that God is with us even now in these times of uncertainties! Do you feel the peace? Do you feel fear fading away into the distance? Do you feel the secure love of God?
During these times, as we take care of ourselves, by praying, by reading psalms, and by keeping connected with each other, as Ephesians 5:8-14 teaches us, “Live as children of light.” Being in the Lord, we are “the fruit of light found in all that is good and right and true.” Furthermore, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” How might we act when we are in grocery stores? How might we act when we are waiting in long lines at stores getting our essential goods? What might we say or do when we talk to our neighbors? How might we talk about the news and the scientific data we are finding? We might show grace when we interact with others. We might show kindness when we encounter others. When we see others not acting responsibly and not practicing social distance and sheltering in place as much as possible, we might talk to them to let them realize we are not only trying to prevent getting sick ourselves, but to prevent transmission of the virus so that others will be safe!
What is pleasing to the Lord during these times? We have to continue to think about this and let this question center our thoughts, feelings, and actions! We have to pray and read scripture, be in conversation with our sisters and brothers. We will soon forget and be derailed by our anxieties and fears if we do not actively and intentionally realign ourselves time and time again with what is pleasing to God. Think about this, we are naturally filled with our own thoughts and our feelings, are we not? To think of what is pleasing to God, we have to do this intentionally.
As we read in the Gospel reading of John chapter 9, it is God who heals us. Those who are ill, those who are suffering, like the blind man, are not being punished for sin. When asked whether the blind man or his parents had sinned: “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him’” (John 9:3). So, let us not judge in our hearts when someone is ill that they have done something to deserve being sick. Let us be compassionate and understanding of the difficult situations that others are in, even as we ourselves are going through difficult times.
It can be helpful to make a distinction between curing and healing. God may cure an illness, such as blindness, enabling a blind person to see. However, there are also times when an illness is not cured. But God always heals our soul, comforts us, and is present with us.
Ask Jesus for healing! Ask Jesus for strengthening of your faith! Ask Jesus for restoration of hope! Let us remind each other of who we are. We are God’s children. God is our shepherd. We could turn our backs on our shepherd. We could grieve about things that are happening and live as though we are orphans. Or we could come to God to receive peace, comfort, and hope. What will you choose this morning?
Let us pray: Righteous God, in humility and repentance we bring our failures in caring, helping, and loving, we bring the pain we have caused other, we bring the injustice in society of which we are a part, to the transforming power of your grace. Grant us the courage to accept the healing you offer and to turn again toward the sunrise of your reign, that we may walk with you in the promise of peace you have willed for all the children of the earth, and have made known to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.