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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2020)

    Mar 22, 2020

    Passage: John 6:27-40

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Series: Sermons for Year A (2019-2020)

    Category: Lent


    Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A - 2020)
    March 22nd, 2020
    St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Online)
    Morning Prayer

            Genesis 48:8-22                                         John 6: 27-40

    Just a few days ago, my wife reminded me of a quote from Lord of the Rings, where Frodo says to the wizard Gandalf, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” To which Gandalf replies, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” 

    If you are familiar with the story, then you’ll know that the quote comes from the first book in the trilogy, when the stage is just being set and none of the characters has been through the worst of what they will experience. Yet still they know that their lives are going to be forever changed, and they know that the circumstances are not good.

    And I think that is a good starting point for all of us this morning. Because we are now at the beginning of a chapter in the life of the world where our understanding of what is normal is being upended, and we are living through something that I imagine all of us wish would never have happened in our time. But it is not for us to decide. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

    In this morning’s reading, we hear people asking Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” And I hope that this is a question that has been nipping at your heels over the past few days. Now that we are all supposed to be practicing social distancing, the question becomes all the more pressing. If we cannot interact with each other in normal ways, how can we perform the works of God? If our lives have been limited to the walls of our homes, how can we perform the works of God?

    The answer that Jesus gives to this question is, I think, more relevant for us now than at any time in our collective living memory. And his answer is, “Believe.” 

    Over the past few days, I have had many conversations with friends and family members in which we wondered what the world would look like once the crisis of the present moment has passed. And some of those conversations involved imagining the worst case scenario and expressing worry that things would never get back to normal. But ultimately, all of those conversations wound up with us acknowledging that the only way forward is to believe. To believe that we can still do our part to make the world a better place. To believe that we still have a responsibility toward one another. To believe that we can still show care and compassion for each other even when we are called to keep our distance. To believe that God is still with us in the midst of our fear and uncertainty. At this moment, if holding fast to this belief is all we can manage, that still is doing the work of God. So, keep believing. 

    Even though I imagine that many of us have lost track, we are now entering the fourth week in Lent. And if you recall how the season of Lent began, it began with a reminder of our mortality. For those of you who took part in an Ash Wednesday service, you may recall that the essential message Ash Wednesday is that all of us came from dust and will return to dust. Usually, it is considered sufficient for Ash Wednesday to be a one-day annual event, but we are now living in an extraordinary time when Ash Wednesday has been extended indefinitely and we get a daily reminder of the fragility and impermanence of life. 

    But here I think it worth also remembering that Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season are meant to take us on a journey that does not just jump over the ugliness and awfulness of suffering and death to bring us straight to the joy of Easter. No. In the season of Lent, we are making our way in the shadow of the cross. And this Lent, the shadow of the cross is particularly dark. 

    And I do wish that it were not so. I do wish that we could just hit fast forward and get to the time when all of the worry and fear that we’re living through are nothing but a distant memory. But we can’t. It’s not for us to decide. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” 

    So I hope that you will decide to do some things that will help you make the most of the time. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Share a picture. If you’re really adventurous and want an extra Lenten discipline, set up a Zoom meeting. Find ways to cultivate joy during this extended Lenten season. Or if joy seems too distant a thing, then at least find ways to support each other so that you remember that you are not making this journey alone. And again, keep believing. Keep believing. Because our Easter will come.  

    We have the promise of Jesus - that he came to do the will of his Father; and his Father’s will is that he should lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. So if over the next few days and weeks you find yourself feeling lost or overburdened with anxiety, remember that we all are held in the arms of one who knows our suffering. who even knows our death. And remember that he came so that not one of us should be lost, but to raise us up on the last day. 

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