While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
In the 58 years of Knox’s history, there has never been a year like this. The fact that we can’t even gather and share an anniversary cake is frustrating, and scary. It makes us wonder what the future holds for us.
So let’s get a bit of perspective as we begin our 59th year as a community of faith.
We have weathered COVID remarkably well. As you will hear at the annual meeting, our finances for 2020 worked out much better than for most congregations. There are challenges ahead, and we will have to figure out how to face those, but that’s hardly surprising. It’s like driving a car in Canada: you know that the conditions in January and February are going to put the extra stress on the car that reveal where the repairs are needed. We know there will be work to do to keep this car on the road.
People have stepped up to meet the challenges of this pandemic at Knox. Our leaders, volunteers and staff have gone above and beyond to make sure that we figure out how to stay connected and how to keep ministering to this community and I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all of you.
The future is still unfolding and this pandemic is taking a lot time to resolve. So how do we keep on being the church as we face these challenges?
I find inspiration in our gospel lesson today. This is from the earliest gospel, Mark, and in the very first chapter it talks about how Jesus started his ministry with a healing at Capernaum.
People identified Jesus as a prophet which is not quite as exceptional as we tend to think. Our Deuteronomy lesson shows us God promising to send prophets to the Hebrew people so they didn’t have to deal with God face to face. They’d tried that once and it had terrified them; there had been many prophets over the years.
Historical records show us that in Jesus’ day there were an exceptional number of people speaking as prophets, calling people to justice, predicting dire consequences, pushing for particular interpretations and solutions to the problems of the world and the people of God.
Most of those prophets left no records; but Jesus stood out and what he did in our lesson today got his reputation growing quickly in the land. So what made the difference? Why did Jesus stand out from the others?
He healed a man at Capernaum. He helped him, casting out an unclean spirit. Where the others talked, he reached out and did something. The crowd was accustomed to hearing speeches and sermons – everyone called a prophet did that – but the crowd was impressed when Jesus accomplished something.
Let’s not get hung up on the language here. I’m not suggesting that we all have to become exorcists or faith healers. In those days, people made no distinction between physical health and spiritual or mental or emotional health. The Greeks had introduced words to distinguish these areas of life but that distinction hadn’t really sunk in very deeply in Jesus’ part of the world.
It was simply accepted medical knowledge that many afflictions were caused by unhealthy spirits and casting out a spirit was the way to heal many conditions.
It’s ironic that in the centuries since, we have made such a distinction between physical illness and other aspects of health that we have trouble recognizing the connection between our mental and emotional health on our physical bodies. The distinction isn’t as absolute as we’ve come to believe.
Jesus gained a reputation as a healer and the crowds would come to him with their ailments and afflictions and as he helped them, he taught them. They wouldn’t see this as a contradiction at all. It was all part of a spiritual, mental and physical package deal.
Jesus stood out because he went beyond theory. He didn’t just share ideas and interpretation, he worked to make people’s lives better.
That would be a good place for us to start as we figure out our future at Knox: how to do things to make people’s lives better. As we put our ideas into action, people will be touched and our role of being the church will grow and develop into the future.
New ideas and possibilities should be welcome. New technologies have already proven helpful in overcoming lockdown limitations. But some old-school technologies still work well. I have witnessed the power of a single phone call to make a real difference in someone’s life. A basic conversation can build up and strengthen, can provide inspiration and give hope and it’s these kinds of conversations that people are missing during our imposed isolation.
True, it’s not the same as a hug or a handshake but it is a connection that we each need.
I have observed over the years that Knox has a lot of shy people, or perhaps “introverted” is a better word. That’s not a bad thing at all but when we are talking about reaching out to others, it’s something to know and take into account.
It means that we have to consciously decide to act; to make contact with someone who might feel alone. That’s always easier to do with the people you’re close to but if it’s someone who is more of an acquaintance, it requires a decision.
Consider: who haven’t you seen since last March, someone from Knox who sat a few seats away, someone you met at coffee? If you’ve wondered how they are doing, reach out: figure out how to call them and just have a chat. Maybe make a point of calling people this way every couple of days.
It doesn’t have to be only Knox people, of course. God’s call to love others isn’t restricted to our own group and if we each make this effort with as simple a technology as the telephone, people’s lives will start to get better. Real healing will start to happen. I mean that seriously: human immune systems always work better when our minds and spirits are in good shape.
As we work to plan our future together other ideas will come up and other opportunities will be revealed for us to make a difference in people’s lives: a concerned conversation, a warm greeting, an enthusiastic wave from across the street, even a letter or a card in the mail; all of these can do wonders to cast out the unhealthy spirits that are depressing people these days.
Let’s each make the effort. It will be worth it and it will set the stage for our future as we discover new ways that we can continue to be God’s loving church in this community.