I don’t know if we need or want to talk about the pandemic; maybe not another word. We can hear everywhere how the numbers are increasing and could be exponentially in this second wave if we don’t take greater care, stick to home, keep our distance, wear a mask and flatten the curve. But people are tired and resisting. Businesses are hurting to the point of closing. Is government spending at its limits? The numbers are scary across the province and country, let alone in the US. As before, the numbers of deaths are not numbers, they’re people with families and communities that grieve for them. And numbers that we know disproportionately affect more vulnerable people and minorities. The Island’s numbers remain relatively low but have been increasing. What are we thinking and feeling in all this? And what word of God do we need to hear today as God’s people? What is the Spirit of God saying to the Church?
To you, I lift up my eyes, to you enthroned in the heavens.
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to you, O Lord, our God,
until you show us your mercy.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud.
It’s rare that I/we begin by listening again to the Psalm. These 4 simple verses, that acknowledge looking up to God, for mercy; …so our eyes look to you, O God, until you show us your mercy. Have mercy on us, O God, have mercy on this world.
I’m guessing we can hear these words speaking to our time. This pandemic time of extraordinary uncertainty and fear, of layers of sickness and death, sadness and grief, isolation and anxiety, loneliness and depression, our eyes look to God for mercy. God have mercy on our world, on us.
In the classic division of the Psalms into Psalms of Praise and Psalms of Lament, this is clearly a lament. The writer laments the contempt, scorn and derision of the indolent rich and proud and looks to God for mercy. I had to look up the meaning of indolent – avoiding movement or effort, perpetually lazy, slothful. I’ve had more than a few evenings like that during this pandemic! Anyone else? We don’t know the circumstance of the Psalmist, but we know in our time those more affected by the pandemic because of disadvantages that are further exposed, elders, those living in poverty, being of a minority, women, children, the frail, the addicted, those with compromised health and abilities, all more likely to be sick and die, than the rich and privileged, some who in pride and contempt, scorn and derision, are resistant or too lazy to act. God have mercy. Maybe the Psalmist’s lament against the indolent rich and proud and cry for God’s mercy, are words of our time?
The first reading from Judges, with names that sound like they are from a Star Wars movie, describe God’s people doing again what is evil in God’s sight and suffering the consequences, or in the view of the reading, being punished by God, sold to their enemies into oppression. And Deborah, the only female prophet and judge of Israel on record, tells the leader Barak, to follow God’s word and gather the people against King Jabin’s army, and God will deliver them victory over their oppressor and the army’s’ commander, Sisera, into their hand. What we don’t hear is that Barak won’t go unless Deborah will go with him. And she does, and the victory comes as God promised, but Sisera is delivered as Deborah said by a woman, Jael, in a messy way involving a tent peg through his head which we don’t read keeping this for general audiences.
What possible word of God could this be to us in our time. Except maybe to see God’s hand in raising up prophets and judges like Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Tereasa Tam in our time, telling us what we must do to be delivered from this oppressive pandemic. And over all other interests, including economic ones, to listen to them! This is the word of God!
And what about Jesus’ troubling parable in the Gospel of Matthew? Jesus, in Jerusalem, having been triumphantly welcomed by some with Hosannas and riding a donkey over their coats spread on the road, faces increasing resistance from religious and political authorities. And in response, Jesus is even more critical of their failures in faithfulness and leadership. They want to kill Jesus. And Jesus knows it and pushes all the harder. And sensing what is about to happen, Jesus teaches his followers what they need to know, words Jesus needs them to hear and hold on to, as his death unfolds before them.
And is it the same critical urgency for the Gospel writer of Matthew in these last chapters, maybe in the whole of the Gospel that has been speaking to us through this pandemic year? To Matthew’s community, having faced the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple of which Jesus speaks, dividing people into who was and is loyal and who isn’t to Jesus and the community of Jews and now gentiles who bear his cross through Baptism and seek to follow in Jesus’ ways, it is so difficult to remain loyal and faithful when there are threats and potential persecution. It’s critical because the end is or could be near. It is all about trust, with and between people, and God.
And so like other words and stories in these last days, today’s is a story of extremes and no middle ground, no mercy; with obscene abundance – a talent is the largest denomination of money in Jesus’ time, worth more than 15 years of a worker’s wages, 5 talents - 75 years of wages, 2 talents - 30 years, and even 1 talent - 15 years! And the first two double that amount and are praised for their trustworthiness and enter into the joy of the owner to be given even more. But from the one who was afraid, didn’t trust, and just buried it, judging the owner harsh and unjust, everything is taken away and given to the one who already has the most, who is trustworthy. While the one who could not trust, is cast into the night where there is, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
All is hyperbole, extreme, in praise and judgement, but pointing to what Jesus asks of his followers in this extreme time. Trust! Not even so much faithfulness, but trust in God and the possibility, in receiving all the abundance of God that Jesus has shown and given them and others, even to his dying for it, abundance of compassion, healing, freedom, love, mercy, forgiveness, community, hope, life, now and for ever, given, blessed especially to those most in want, to trust and use as God asks, for even more abundance. The only sure thing in the story is if we just bury abundance, nothing will come of it.
Is that a word enough for today and this pandemic time? We put on the sign yesterday, “Trust God, trust science, wear a mask.” Trust! Trust God’s mercy, for ourselves, and more for others in all their suffering, for which we will keep lifting our eyes to see your mercy, O God. God have mercy on this world, and that we not be indolent rich in contempt, scorn and derision of you and your hurting people and all creation.
Trust! Trust in the gifted women and others God gives us in abundance to judge and guide us, going with us into this battle for the health and healing of this hurting world and earth, and all this pandemic is teaching us of our failings in mercy and love and justice toward one another, and especially those pushed to the side too often, too much, and all creation and its creatures, in all the abundance of this God given world! No more, we pray; and for God’s victory of right relationships between all peoples and all creation.
Trust! Trust in this critical, life and death time, in the abundance of grace and more that God continues to entrust to us and others, to share abundantly, not bury, in service of God’s good life-giving purpose that Jesus shows us, that the Spirit is guiding us to live entering into the joy of God every day.
And one last word for our time: St. Paul writes... “For you, beloved, are not in darkness... for you are all children of light, and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep... For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” A word for this time. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.