The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday, March 22, 2020.  This was the first Sunday we live-streamed our service from an empty building to our congregation self isolating in their homes because of COVID-19. During these unusual times, you can join me Monday-Saturday for Evening Prayer at 5pm or catch the livestream of our Sunday liturgies on the church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

If you’ve been part of any church for even a short time you know that we often struggle with the phrase “going to church.” We say it, but we also know that “You can’t go to church because the church is not a building, the church is the people.”

We know this and yet for the sake of convenience, most of us still talk about going to church.

Today I am feeling the difference between a building and a community of people in a way I never have before. It was so strange to come and set up for a service without making coffee, pouring wine, setting out bread.  It was strange to sit here and not watch you all walk through the doors and take your seats.

And so a few of us are here in this building, and most of us are watching from home and together we are still the church. This building is not the church, it never was. Even if it’s convenient to refer to it that way.

The people in this room and each and every one of you watching from home or listening on the podcast – together, we are the church.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus encounters a blind man. He spits on the ground, massages the dirt until it becomes mud, puts that mud on the man’s eyes and then tells him to go and wash in a public pool.  (5-7)

My personal experiences, my social location, and my mood all impact how I read any gospel story.  For most of my life I’ve read this story and thought, “Seriously Jesus? That’s gross.”

That’s an awful lot of germs.  And for what? We know that Jesus doesn’t need to make spit mud in order to heal people.  There are lots of stories where he just commands people to get better and they do.

But today, all those germs and people touching each other fills me with a kind of melancholy and a deep wish that I could return to a time and place where it was OK to be physically close enough to a stranger that I could rub spit mud on their eyes.

Not that I would rub spit mud in someone else’s eyes, but suddenly it would be so wonderful to know I could.

What a difference a week can make.

We are living in a time when the best way we can show love for each other and for our neighbours is by staying physically separated.  Physically distant, but never socially isolated.

The man born blind was socially isolated. From the moment as a young child people realized he was blind, this man would have been a social outcast. Instead of being integrated into a community that would ensure his economic stability and social well-being, his blindness sentenced him to a life of poverty on the margins of society.

It would have been a difficult, lonely life.

The assumption at the time was that his blindness was caused by sin – either his or his parents.

We see this in the questions asked by the religious leaders: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (2)

Jesus’ responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…” (3)

Jesus makes it clear: blindness isn’t a punishment for sin.

No disability, no sickness, not even COVID-19 is a punishment for sin.

This situation is revealing some seriously broken structures in our society, but God isn’t sitting in the sky zapping people with a virus because of sinful choices.

Osvaldo Vena observes, “… the man was a social outcast on the assumption that his physical and social conditions were the consequence of his or his parents’ sin. He was put in this position by a culture that did not give him enough opportunities to support himself in a dignified manner. But Jesus is about to change all that with a miracle that speaks of the healing power of the marginalized. Both Jesus and the man were considered sinners by popular culture (9:2, 24,34) and yet they are the protagonists of a liberating event.”

No sooner is the man healed than an interrogation begins.  We’re told that this healing is a first, people have never experienced anything like this before and they’re trying to make sense of it.

Today’s gospel passage is filled with questions.  It’s a long passage, and almost every second sentence is a question. Who sinned? Who healed you? How did he heal you?  All asked in a tone that seems to imply, “How dare you both disrupt the social order by healing and being healed!”

We’re not asking the same questions, but this has certainly been a week filled with questions, many of which we don’t have answers for. What is COVID-19?  Which activities are safe and which aren’t? Can I go outside? Pet my neighbour’s dog? Will my family and loved ones be OK? Will I be OK?

We know that the best way we can show love to our neighbours is by staying physically distant from them and by staying at home as much as possible.   We know it’s important to find creative ways to stay socially connected even when we are physically distant.

But we don’t know a lot more than that. Most of us have way more questions than answers. And it’s hard.

I don’t have a lot of answers either. I have a lot of hope, but not a lot of answers.

It’s OK to have questions, it’s natural to have questions but in the context of this gospel story, the nature of the questions being asked robbed everyone of something important, something beautiful.

Everyone in this story is focused on questions, either because they are asking them, or because they are being forced to answer them.

Additionally,  a lot of these questions aren’t actually questions. They aren’t curious, they are accusatory or sarcastic.  When the man who was born blind asks, “Do you also want to become his disciples,” he knows that’s the last thing they want to do.

And in all of this they miss the most beautiful thing.

The chance to celebrate together.

In the story of the prodigal son, when the younger son is restored to his family, is restored to his community, the father throws a huge party. Everyone is invited to join in the celebration. Not everyone chose to celebrate, but everyone is invited.

That’s how tonight’s story should have played out. There should have been a party. The man born blind can see! It’s no longer possible to simply label him a sinner and cast him to the margins of society. He doesn’t have to be alone anymore! He now has the chance to fully participate in the life of his community.

There should have been a party, but instead of a celebration, this man goes straight from the pool of Siloam to a hostile interrogation.

The members of his community are so focused on trying to figure out the source of the sin they are sure caused his blindness, or the trick being played on them by either this man, or Jesus, or both, that everyone misses that there is something to celebrate.

The restoration of this man’s sight means he can fully participate in the life of his community. He has the chance to live a better life. He doesn’t have to be alone anymore.

That’s worth a party.

We are in the midst of challenging times. It’s going to be easy to focus on finger pointing and finding others to blame – the government, the people whose fear led them to buy too much toilet paper, our friends and family who aren’t taking this situation as seriously as they should.

We can’t ignore those situations and we need to be honest about our feelings, but let’s all try to make sure that we don’t become so focused on those things that we miss the good and beautiful things. The things worth celebrating.

It is beautiful to see the many ways people are stepping up and asking, how can I be helpful at this time? What can I do? We should celebrate the health care workers who are caring tirelessly for people who are sick.  We should celebrate the grocery store employees and food service workers who are trying to switch their business models overnight to make sure people get the basic supplies that they need.

It is beautiful to see people being creative and generous with their talents. We’ve seen people put together free livestream concerts, celebrities are recording themselves reading story books to kids, neighbourhoods are gathering on porches and balconies to sing together and stay connected. My neighbours are checking in on Facebook and reducing the number of people in stores by running errands for each other. It’s beautiful.

This is a challenging time, and there is much that is ugly and awful and hard, and we need to be honest about that, but in doing so, let’s not overlook the beautiful moments, the things we need to celebrate.

The church is not this building, it never was. We are the church.

We are going to be OK. We are in this together and we are going to look out for one another.  This is a hard thing, but we can do hard things.

But oh, oh, how I look forward to that day when we are all here in this space together again.  Can you imagine how loud we are going to sing? We might just blow the roof right off the joint.

Until that time, we will continue to be socially close while physically distant. We will continue to look out for each other and be the church.

Stay safe everyone, stay healthy, and when you see a beautiful thing, no matter how small, celebrate. And when we are finally together again, know we will celebrate together with every fiber of our beings.

We, all of us, are the church, and we know how to party.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.