for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Yr A
March 26, 2017 Guest Preacher at Trinitarian Congregational Church, Castine, Maine
Let us pray.
Holy One, may we orient our lives to you as our Leader: May we know You to be the One that keeps us from want. May we know You to be the One that guides and protects us. May we know You to be the Life-giver and guide on our Life’s path
As You know, there is much to stumble on along the way to the point of temptation, weariness, frustration and confusion: Even then, you say, “Do not be afraid.” Even then, you walk beside us as we carry our cross. Even then, you do not leave us comfortless.
You are our resting place whose judgment is grace driven by love; whose deep truth is our greatest joy. This you promise, Holy One. You are the one who dwells with us so that we may dwell with you. Lead us on! Amen.
There is a saying from a Holy Woman from the fifteenth century, Julian of Norwich: “Nothing happens by luck or by chance, but all is by the foresight and wisdom of God.” And there is the fortune cookie that says: “May you live in interesting times.” And, so it is that we come together today. We wonder if things will ever change. “What can be done?” we might ask. To do something about our times requires serious, respectful conversations; examinations of our society and yes, even ourselves.
These are, to understate the obvious, interesting times. We hate to admit it, but we live In a world where children go missing, migrants drown, automobiles are used as weapons that injure and kill, the sacred land of indigenous peoples is violated, military maneuvers kill innocent civilians and addiction to life shattering substances has become the status quo. Basic human rights like clean air and fresh water; access to nourishing food and healthcare are reduced to cheap bargaining chips on the gambling table. Ours is a time that more and more are identifying as a post-truth era. We might find ourselves asking, “How can all of this be by God’s knowing?” Julian says that this is because the darkness of our world is false. Simply stated. Nothing false is of God. It is not within God’s purview to acknowledge what is not from God.
The Apostle Paul agrees as we can see in today’s Epistle reading from Ephesians. Knowledge is a matter of living through truth through time as God sees it as opposed to living in spite of time. Paul tells us that because of our knowledge of the deep mystery and truth of Christ’s life, death and resurrection; we no longer live in darkness. This perceived darkness is nothing when exposed to the light. We now live in the Lord and are the light. Paul says life in the light is now and in the future. It is not living in the past or living outside of the light. It is life in the light. But, what is this light? It is the light of God through Jesus Christ infused with the Holy Spirit that shines from within each of us.
The promise of God is this. The post-truth darkness of our time, the status quo of this age, will give way to the light. This light is our deepest truth. It is so deep that no darkness, no falsehood or alternative facts, will ever, ever, ever extinguish it. Our only responsibility is to live this light and this truth. It will give way to the false darkness that seems to grip our time. It does diminish that false darkness. Just look around you. Look at the light of God present in each person in this room. It shines forth. The darkness is held at bay in this very room at this very time.
Our present world is longing for leadership that will bring this forth. We long for leaders that will shine light into the post-truth darkness. The time is ripe for us to find new ways of leading. What does a model of leadership shining the light of God look like? For that, let us turn to today’s Gospel reading.
The Ninth Chapter of John’s Gospel offers insight into life in a society with twists and turns among the many involved. This Gospel writer addresses real-life issues easily adaptable to work, family, home, school, town and even in congregational life. In addition to Jesus’ healing ministry, this text addresses issues of authority, theology, differing observations, crossing established boundaries and Jesus’ nature. As the narrative plays out, Jesus offers a new leadership model.
Notice that Jesus meets needs beyond the present moment. Is it not surprising that Jesus initiates relationship with the blind man by the act of healing him? No words are exchanged between the two, only the command to “go and wash.” Even so, this miracle of healing the blind man, complete with having the man wash in the pool, has an improvisational undertone. For example, back in the day, saliva was understood to be a remedy. Mud, however, was not known to possess healing properties. Jesus chooses this process for the man’s healing, but presumably another would have worked just as well.
In the healing of the blind man we see an adaptive solution for all (not only the physically blind man) to be healed of all blindness. In so doing, he meets the worlds needs beyond the moment. Jesus transcends the accepted teaching of the day, that says that the man’s blindness was caused by sin. He pushes against the status quo and is a force for disequilibrium that offers a real solution for everyone. In restoring physical sight, spiritual and theological sight is also renewed.
Blindness provides an opportunity for God’s revelation to be revealed through Jesus. Only he can restore sight to this extent.
Notice that the parents seem to want to respond affirming their son’s healing, but their fear of being ostracized by their community keeps them from standing behind him. Notice that the religious authorities, the Pharisees, choosing to not praise God and see Jesus for who he is, remain blind to God’s revelation that God is among them in Jesus. In so doing, their judgment is turned on themselves. “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (v. 41, NRSV) Jesus’ healing act is an action that requires effort and risk capable of reaching an astonishing outcome. Jesus’ effort to heal on the Sabbath, for example, risks raising the ire of the religious leaders. He also risks his own rejection in order to heal. He broke the Sabbath Law to perform what was required, the work of making mud as a cure for the man.
Jesus understands the data that he has come to address and the data he comes to share. He challenges assumptions and the power houses of his day. He continues to do this in our own time through the workings of the Holy Spirit in each of us. Jesus’ healing act initiates a drama that reveals his identity as “the light of the world,” a “prophet” of God and the “Son of Man.” It is noteworthy to see that without waiting to be asked for healing by the blind man, Jesus heals of his own accord.
In this passage, Jesus does not reject the responses that come to him outright. He has no problem turning up the heat, however. Those that do the driving out in the story are the Pharisees. They are the truly blind in this story. They who are truly blind in this narrative drive out the one who they label as sinful, the one whose received full sight. The Pharisees solutions to challenges are technical. Rather, Jesus offers relational solutions. He relates to the man who is more than happy to lose his blindness. The Pharisees, however, are not so willing to lose their status, refusing to relate to Jesus. They, afterall, are the true authorities to God’s presence among them. At least, that is what they think.
So, what are the responsibilities of individuals and groups when responding to life together for us? Are they much different from those in John’s Gospel? Jesus heals the man born blind. Doing so is amazing enough. How is it that the man’s neighbors, those who know the man only as the blind beggar, the Pharisees and other religious authorities, the man’s parents are slow to accept the man’s positive outcome? Each from their perspective, seems to be rooted in fear. This fear is punctuated by the potential of being on the losing side. In the case of the neighbors, it is the need to be on the inside of the scoop. For those who only know the man as the beggar, it might be the desire for status that only comes from the accepted norms of the social order. The man’s parents fear being ostracized. For those religious authorities, it is the loss of their authority and their need to be “right.”
Though many walks of life are represented in this Gospel narrative, only one was willing to work toward gratitude. The absence of gratitude indicates their turning away from God. Jesus offers a solution for all involved to “reconnect with the saving story that God offers.” Imagine how this narrative would be transformed if all above moved from their fears to genuine lament and confession that would lead them to build their life’s foundations on gratitude.
We see much of the same at work in our world today. What will it take for leaders to follow Jesus’ model. Jesus focusses on the positive. He inquires into life giving stories using questions that connect. He draws on common themes to make connections among all people. He speaks in metaphor requiring the people to use their imaginations in order to live outside of the status quo. Jesus is spontaneous and uses innovation. In so doing he is meeting current and future needs. We see this in his conversations and actions, his process, his lifelong pursuits and daily practice.
Now it’s our turn. Will we adopt Jesus’ model of leadership? Will we risk leaving the status quo of our lives to improve the quality of relationships among all people? So doing would also ask that we live in total trust that God is here in the now. If so, the light of God will shine in the darkness of alternate facts to minister to the losses of this world. That gain for God and for our relationships with God and one another, far outweighs any loss. Because when we live our lives in the Light, shining the light whoever we are, wherever we go then we, too, know that: “Nothing happens by luck or by chance, but all is by the foresight and wisdom of God.”
© Douglas A. Beck, 2017
 Julian of Norwich
 Branson, 53.