Listening to God in a time of crisis

Bp. Elmer’s homily on the 4th Sunday in Lent, transcribed by Deacon Andrew Gossage

22 March 2020

In today’s Gospel, Jesus healed a man who was blind from birth. During that time, blindness and other conditions were attributed to sinfulness; this prompted the disciples to ask who sinned – him or his parents. Our Lord often used questions to bring out truth or to teach His disciples something of great importance. Instead of answering the question, He said He must do the works of God “while it is day”: while there is time and opportunity. You can sense His eagerness, zeal and enthusiasm. We can learn from Christ’s attitude: whether you are a clergy or a volunteer in the church, and whether you are an architect, musician, nurse, doctor or a simple worker, let us do it with gusto, eagerness, devotion and love for God and for His glory. Let us do it while we have the opportunity, for one day the window of opportunity will be gone. The purpose of Christians is not only to make a better world – the purpose of every Christian in the Church is to build God’s Kingdom, and we are called to be part of it.

I cannot imagine that God would make someone blind from birth so He could prove to humanity that He is a God who can heal. The blind man is symbolic of all humanity: we all need to be illumined by the light of Christ. Jesus speaks about the urgency of bringing light into the world that is darkened by sin. Many people are asking what is the message amidst what is happening. The message is simple, and we hear it every Sunday: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might; and love your neighbour as yourself. Yet there are those to whom this crisis will come as a reminder or a wake-up call. Every day I ask God, “What are You saying to me? What are you saying to my family? What are you saying to the Church? What are you saying to the world?” These are questions every Christian should ask, especially when we go to church, hear God’s Word and encounter Christ in the Eucharist. The answer will only come to an asking and searching heart. A preacher said, “When God speaks, it is revelation; when the enemy speaks, it is temptation; when I speak, it is dumb.”

I know a man who loves motorbikes. One day his face was bruised, and I asked him what had happened. He said he had too much to drink, and on the way home he crashed. He said this happens every year: often he loses his sense of direction and bearing in life, and suddenly these accidents happen and bring him to the right track. Sometimes it takes such situations to be awakened when we lose track and divert from the right way. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis said that humans have difficulty surrendering as long as all seems to be well. The deeper our error and sin, the less their victim suspects their existence: they are masked evil. However, pain is not only an immediately recognisable evil, but it is hard to ignore and insists on being attended to: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Jesus said it doesn’t really matter who sinned: rather than trying to identify the culprit or the guilty party, it is more important to focus on what God is saying and what He wants us to do. I read a tweet saying that the coronavirus is not God’s judgment on humanity. I imagine so, because God is love, and He judged the world on the cross when Jesus died. But if God is saying something to all of us in the midst of this, it is advantageous for us to listen. I pray that He will open the eyes of our hearts, similar to the blind man, for us to see; and heal man’s selective hearing so that we will indeed hear what He is saying. It is time to focus on what God wants us to do, and to be a shining light to a world in need of His love.

A friend of our church, who is a simple churchgoer, sent me this message:

“If I have received clear messages throughout my life, this is undoubtedly one of them. This pandemic in my opinion is not simply another terrible and painful social disease like those centuries ago which killed so many lives. On the contrary I see in it a clear meaning for me. It is a clear and strong message from God, who wants to remind us of what our nature and position is. It is a reminder of the fragility of our being, of our vulnerability, in a call to us to understand who we are, where we are and where we are going. It’s a way of asking us to reflect on how we live and feel. It is a way of reminding us that the arrogance, selfishness, and estrangement of recognisable spiritual and human values in which we are living day by day no longer have a place in God’s world. It is a hard but loving request from the Father and Creator who sees His children following materialism, particular interests and self-centredness. They depart from their teaching, and therefore from a way of claiming to be righteous with Him and with ourselves. He asks us to turn our lives and look at others, our families, the Church, social solidarity, the principles and values that His words provide for us, and His sacred books.”

I believe God is speaking to many of us in this time; and I encourage everyone to open our hearts and listen to His words. If there is something particular the Lord is sharing with you, share it with us so that we can share it with those who are joining us.

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