Sermon: The Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A*
March 22, 2020, The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
Throughout John’s Gospel, the metaphor of “light” is used repeatedly to describe Jesus. He is the light of the world, the light that came into the world, the one who sheds light in dark places. And when a person believes in Jesus, that person is said to have come into the light. Light dwells within him or her. The darkness of the person’s soul has been shattered by this Light. A miracle of spiritual sight has been granted, so that the person is no longer blind to the things of God or for that matter, the miracles of God.
This is exactly what happened for the man who was blind from birth in today’s gospel. Not only did he receive physical sight, but also he received spiritual sight, and his life would be changed forever.
On the surface, we would assume that these few brief statements summarize the teaching of John, Chapter 9, but they do not. Today’s passage is less about the healing of a blind man, and more about the blindness of the presumably religious elect who should see clearly.
What is it about the Church that causes people to focus on the predictable, the way it’s always been done, the way I like it—the “don’t make waves” way of thinking? Particularly as we mature, we have the tendency to get comfort from putting the working of God’s Spirit in a box—a box of our own limited way of thinking.
The Pharisees in today’s readings seem to be suffering from an inability to believe that God could be doing something new, and that problem still exists in the Church today. They focus on the fact that Jesus could not have performed the miracle, and most appallingly of all, that he did it on the Sabbath! He obviously cannot be the Messiah or he would know better.
Apparently, to these spiritually constipated religious types, following the laws to the “T” and being right was more important that healing, and doing what is good and loving. They can’t get past Moses, the great law giver and be open to Messiah, himself. When Messiah comes, they miss it and actually want to banish him from the synagogue. They also drive off the new believer with healed eyesight and argue with Jesus about what has just occurred. Instead of killing the fatted calf, and bringing out the very best wine, and declaring a celebration for a miracle that has occurred, rejoicing with the man over the new life that is now his, they rain on his parade.
As followers of Christ, what should be seen is that which he shines upon. If we see the light of Jesus, then that light ought to challenge, lead, supplant, surprise, puzzle, inspire, expose, clarify, correct, comfort, and bless us, to mention a few possibilities. It’s been said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you squirm before it sets you free.”
If we put the behaviors and responses in this Sunday’s gospel under the light of Jesus, we would find a striking exposure of motives and models that just don’t fit into God’s vision for the Kingdom. The Church now, just as the synagogue of Jesus’ day, gets stuck. We fight the possibility that God wants to do something new or make us grow. We fight the prophetic voices within the Church that call us to transformed thinking.
Why? Because they threaten to cause us discomfort. Whenever we think we have all the answers and have “arrived,” we can be sure we don’t get it. We have simply recreated the closed kind of thinking that has afflicted faith communities for centuries. It doesn’t matter if the community is conservative or liberal, orthodox or progressive. If we think that only the way we do something in the Church is right and the emerging church is all wrong, we are as bad as the Pharisees that John’s gospel often criticizes.
Of course, we need order in the church or any organization. All groups need to know what is going on among its members and operate within an orderly structure. But groups are famous for becoming so entranced with their internal processes that they lose sight of the mission or vision those processes are intended to support. They pick and needle about the processes and let the processes put out the Holy Spirit fire that is faithfulness to mission and vision.
Sadly, today’s gospel story expresses more about the poor man having to defend his miracle to the authorities than about the miracle itself; and about Jesus being criticized for doing God’s work of healing and compassion.
At a former parish, I was teaching about and encouraging involvement with the Millennium Development Goals, meant to eradicate poverty and lack of education in the world by 2020. Someone approached me and said, “You know, I’ve heard criticism about the MDG’s.” I thought to myself, of course you did.
When the film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” about global warming first came out, a few people scoffed at it. Their attitudes implied: We don’t need to treat our environment with care. It’s here for us to use and enjoy; it’s our right. Don’t ask us to adjust our lifestyles. And, they were able to totally justify writing off the whole environmental issue, not just the film, because of a perceived political comment made in the film.
Made me think of something I read on the side of a Starbucks coffee cup written by Chip Giller, Founder of Grist.org, an environment conscious website: “So-called ‘global warming’ is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it!”
Whenever the possibility exists for good and new to happen, you can be sure someone will find fault or see only the negative elements of the venture, or be threatened by the idea of change. We need to remind ourselves that every one of our prized traditions—you know the ones—they are framed, ensconced on the walls—those traditions were once a new and unusual thing in the history of our faith and of the church.
People were hanged, burned at the stake, jailed, and beheaded for bringing us to enlightened understandings upon which we thrive in the Church today. If all we can ever do are the things we already do, nothing can improve or grow or challenge us or delight us. And slowly the church dies.
Anyone who comes to Jesus—who comes to the light without scorn—never leaves disappointed. Healing happens. The blind see. The lame walk. The deaf hear. And all, whether or not they ever see a sunset, or run around the block, or hear the latest music of an amazing band—in the presence of Jesus, healing occurs whether or not a dramatic cure ever takes place, although sometimes it does. Those who come to Jesus experience a new life, John is telling us, and the sign and symbol of this new life is…making whole.
Rather than a narrow focus only on Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, John makes the point we constantly need to hear: that Jesus in his life is the bringer of health and salvation—not just the One who makes everything right in the “great by and by.” To turn away from Jesus, to reject his light, or to ignore the love of Abba that he embodies, is sin, not simply misguided actions. The opposite of sin in John’s gospel is faith, not moral purity. The Incarnation is a rescue operation.
Right now in our country we are going through something most of us have never experienced. The latest statistics I heard on the coronavirus is that over 20,000 have now been infected in the United States and the number is growing. If ever we needed the light of Jesus to shine in our hearts and give us hope it is now. If ever we needed his loving presence in our lives it is now.
Friends, let us take all of our worry, angst, fear, confusion and anger to Jesus and let him replace it with a peace that passes understanding, and let him strengthen our faith. Interestingly, nowhere in today’s story does John say that the blind man had faith in the beginning. Whatever faith is present, only Jesus has it. But the blind man does possess this one quality. He is radically willing. He is completely open. He surrenders himself wholeheartedly to Jesus and his homespun spit and mud remedy. And then, maybe most importantly, he follows the orders of Dr. Jesus: he goes to wash in the Pool of Siloam. And in doing so, he participates in his own healing.
Very often in the healing stories, Jesus tells the people to “do something.” Sometimes he touches them; sometimes he doesn’t. But, he often tells them to do something, and in the process of doing or going, they are healed.
Are we willing and open? Can we possibly accept Jesus’ instruction to us and receive his teachings, and then actually be able to do what might be asked of us? Will we open our hearts and minds and souls to the Light that shatters our own darkness and let Jesus perform a miracle in us, individually and as a faith community? The days ahead will be very trying, but we have an advocate who lifts our load and brings us light and peace and assurance of God’s love.
My prayer for all of us is that we will do what is right, and wise, and just-- in these difficult days, weeks, or months ahead of us, listening to the counsel that we are given to protect everyone’s health.
And then, I pray that we will cast all of our cares and concerns on Jesus the True Light of the World, and let him guide our path, calm our fears, and make us whole. Amen.
1. The Living Church, “Sunday’s Readings,” March 2, 2008, page 4.
2. HKO, Synthesis, “Lent 4—Postscript,” March 2, 2008.
3. Barbara Crafton, The Almost Daily eMo from GeraniumFarm.org, “An Astonishing Thing. Funny, Too,” March 1, 2008