Sermon For Sunday, March 30th, 2014 || Lent 4, Year C || 1 Samuel 16: 1-13; Ephesians 5: 8-14; Psalm 23; John 9: 1-41|| The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
John’s story of the man born blind is a little like our life together at St Stephen’s right now. It has at least a half a dozen things going on at once competing for our attention, and it’s got just enough dramatic tension and unanswered questions to keep it all interesting!
The story opens with God doing a something entirely new with the blind man that is nothing sort of revolutionary–and I don’t mean the healing of the man’s blindness. I mean before Jesus even lays a muddy hand on the blind man’s eyes. Because in a culture entrenched with the belief that bad things only happen to bad people and that misfortune is punishment for sin, Jesus rocks his world by saying that this man’s blindness is no one’s fault, neither the man’s nor his parents.
This poor blind man has been carrying the twin burdens of shame and blame for his entire life, and now Jesus announces to him the liberating Good News that it’s no one’s fault! Imagine what freedom the blind man must’ve felt to let go of this lifelong burden! How unsettling though, to let go of his old ideas! After all, if it’s no one’s fault, why is the man blind? If there’s no one to blame, how is anyone to make sense of this?
Yet despite his discomfort with adjusting to this inexplicable new idea, the blind man is radically open and trusting of Jesus. The blind man is more than willing to make space for God’s amazing grace. He listens…
…and what he hears is that his brokenness and his suffering are neither punishment for sin, nor a meaningless waste. What he hears is that his brokenness and suffering can even be transformed into something meaningful and infinitely valuable to God. What he hears is that God wants to use him—him of all people– to reveal God’s glory!
Remember now that the blind man is still blind. Jesus hasn’t opened his eyes yet. But surely he has been healed—surely he will never experience the world the same way again. Because before he has eyes to see, the blind man has ears to hear. And what he hears is the liberating Good News of Jesus Christ.
Then God uses the blind man to do another new thing: For the first time ever recorded in biblical history, someone born blind is made to see. It’s never happened anywhere before in the Old or New Testaments. Jesus spits on the dry ground to make mud, cakes it on the man’s eyes, and then sends him to the pool of Siloam to wash off.
Now, some folks might think the man is crazy for listening to this so-called rabbi. Maybe they laugh at him or scorn him, who knows? But despite what other people think, the blind man—open and trusting—listens. And he obeys the words of Jesus. He makes space for God’s amazing grace.
This time when he does he experiences a miraculous physical healing, and for the first time in his life he can see. He has an entirely new outlook on the world, through the healing lens of the Good News of Jesus Christ!
Finally, God uses the man to do the most extraordinary new thing yet: He opens the man’s spiritual eyes, by calling him on a remarkable journey to faithful discipleship.
Through out the story, the blind man’s spiritual vision grows increasingly clearer. He goes from recognizing our Lord simply as “the man called Jesus,” to seeing him as “a prophet,” to boldly pronouncing him “a man from God,” until finally, he sees Jesus with stunning clarity and, we’re told, worships him as his Lord.
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks the man towards the end of the story. And the man answers with such openness and trust that the amazing grace just floods in like sunshine: “Who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus reveals his divine identity, and without missing a beat the man declares, “Lord, I believe.”
What the man sees now, with these eyes of faith, is God’s Divine Love in the flesh. He sees the Light of the World, illuminating his way. He sees the brilliant Good News of Jesus Christ, live and in color.
And if we’re attentive to the way the blind man’s wide-open trust makes space for God’s amazing grace, we will see that Good News too. That liberating, healing, brilliant Good News of Jesus Christ.
Because God is doing something new here at St Stephen’s, too. I know that it may be unsettling for some of us–not least of all me! But I also know that when God is doing a new thing in my life, if I’m attentive to his presence—if I make space for God’s amazing grace–I’m able to respond with faith rather than fear.
The Pharisees in this morning’s story respond with fear. Yes, it was their jobto uphold God’s law and their sacred duty to preserve their religious tradition. But they were acting out of fear in this case, not faith. So they hunkered down in a defensive mode against what they perceived as a threat.
The problem is that they assumed that defensive position automatically, without any discernment about how God was calling them to respond. They assumed they already knew that. But such a closed and rigid position shielded them only from God’s amazing grace. God doesn’t go where God’s not invited. God doesn’t force himself into our lives. Instead of discerning that it was safe to be open and trusting, the Pharisees were blinded by fear. Justifiable fear, yes—even very rational fear…fear rooted in the reality of their history. But God was doing a new thing in the Good News of Jesus Christ, and because of their fear the Pharisees missed it.
I know none of us wants to miss it! It’s natural for us to be apprehensive as we discern our way forward from here with only one priest. We’re still walking around with mud on our eyes like the blind man at the beginning of the Gospel.
But that’s okay. Things are beginning to become clear. The vestry worked hard last weekend considering your thoughts and ideas from the forums. They’re working hard to get all of that information to you in a timely way, so we can hear more from you before making any final decisions.
But remember that the beauty of our faith is that we don’t have to know exactly where we’re going—but we do need to be open and trusting of the One who’s leading us.
So let’s make a covenant with one another to keep remembering the blind man and his willingness to be open and trusting of Jesus. Because I know that if we’re attentive, if we’re prayerful, if we’re intentional about creating space for God’s amazing grace, God will richly bless us with new eyes and new vision.
In the meantime, we really needn’t worry too much about where we’re going with the Lord is our shepherd. May His goodness and mercy follow us—and lead us– all the days of our life together. And may we dwell in His house forever. Amen.