Creation-Life-Light

Creation-Life-Light

A Sermon for The Last Sunday after the Epiphany; Exodus 34: 29-35, Psalm 99,
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

If you ever go to Rome, to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli to visit Pope Julius II tomb and take in Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, be ready. Michelangelo uses today’s reading from Exodus as a model for Moses. No, you will not be blinded by the light, but ~ you will see two horns protruding from either side of Moses’ head. No, Michelangelo did not make an error. In fact, there are several paintings of Moses from the Renaissance that show Moses with horns (Wikipedia). The Hebrew word actually means both horn and shine. Translations of the Old Testament made around 200 BCE use ‘horns’, which may imply some touch of divinity. In ancient languages of surrounding cultures, the kindred word is used to combine horn and light, so we get a phrase like horns of light. Imagine Moses’ head back-lit creating a halo-like effect, and the artist uses lines to represent the vision (Keener and Walton). It is also interesting to note the word also implies power (Epperly).

Chasing the point much further will just distract us from the lesson of the reading. Moses goes up the mountain to talk with God. Moses comes down the mountain changed, whether its horns, or a shining, or some other expression of divine power doesn’t matter, Moses is now different than he was before. God changed Moses, and that is what has the Israelites frightened (Epperly). Frightened enough to ask him to cover his face, who knows, this divine presence thing could be contagious. They whisper to each other “Do you to be changed by God like that?”

The Gospel story for today also involves a shining, Jesus’ transfiguration. His face is changed (notice we are not told how) and his clothes become dazzling white. We have another word note here. Jesus is with Moses and Elijah and they are speaking of his departure (Luke 9:31). A commentary points out they are literally speaking about his exodus (Lewis). ‘Exodus’ sounds so different in our ears. It just may remind us of Israel’s Exodus, a transformative event, the divine revelation that forges the Hebrew tribes into the nation of Israel (Carey). Moses and Elijah (the personification of the continuing divine revelation in the Law and the Prophets) know something of exodus journeys. We are not privy to their conversation; one commentator postulates Jesus may be just a bit apprehensive and they are providing him a little encouragement to continue down the path that leads to salvation for all creation (Hoezee). Broadly speaking we can see that: like Moses, Jesus is changed in the presence of God, like Moses, Jesus comes down the mountain, and like Moses Jesus immediately faces a challenge.

At the bottom of the mountain, there is a crowd, in the midst of whom is a father who begs him to look at his son. Immediately a demonic spirit takes hold of the boy and causes him to convulse. Quickly Jesus rebukes the spirit, heals the boy and returns him to his father. Everyone is astounded. This not the first time in Luke Jesus has faced a demon, nor the first time he has healed. However, when reading such a story with Jesus’ transfiguration, along with horned/shinning face Moses coming down the mountain fresh in our memories it is easier to notice how everything is being changed by the presence of God, just as Moses and Jesus were. Not only are Moses, Jesus, the boy physically changed, the way they interact with others changes; and, the way others interact with them changes. Everything changes.

The vastness of the change is seen when we notice that it is not just the boy’s father who is amazed, but everyone is amazed. In all the stories about Jesus, some are amazed, some are angered, some find hope, but one way or another everyone is forever changed (Woods).

There is one more phrase to look at. After rebuking the spirit, and healing the boy, Jesus gave him back to his father. (Luke 9:42). It is easy to overlook because it is such a natural next thing to do. However, it is not the next thing. Giving the boy back to his father is continuing the act of healing begun in rebuking the demon. The boy is not the only one harmed by the demon-spirit; the father is harmed, the family is harmed, their home village is harmed, everyone in that family’s social circle is harmed. Returning the boy to his father continues the healing, by extending healing to the father, and through the father the family, and through the family the village and through the village on until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.

Here at the end of Epiphany, a season of Light, with the horned shinning face of Moses, the brilliant transfiguration of Jesus, all this light reminds me of John 1

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:3-4).

The brilliant light of Jesus is the fullest expression of the life-light God has given each and every one of you. That initial creation light immediately is in darkness, and it shines, and most significantly ~ the darkness does not overcome the light. Moses comes down the mountain to face darkness, Jesus comes down the mountains to face the darkness and the darkness did not overcome the light.

We live in troublesome times, in a time of darkness. Last Sunday the preacher said our society is tearing itself apart. He is correct enough I would not be surprised if more than one person does not attempt to cover that bit of enlightened divine truth with a vale. There are many stresses all around us. Some are international like Pakistan and India, both of whom have nuclear weapons, escalating towards direct armed conflict. The escalating war of intolerant words over abortion, Trump, Brexit, Palestine and Israel, race relations, gun control, medical care, drug prices, climate change, school lunches and so on creates such a well of darkness I wish all social media would fail in the hope that if we slowed down maybe we would calm down, and being a bit calmer, we might just hear the truth the other is sharing. In the fear-driven vitriol, the hate, in all these varied disagreements we are losing our ability to talk about those things we disagree about; even with our loved ones. Information that is crystal clear to one side is fake to the other; find another issue and it is the other way around. Take for example climate change and the southern border emergency. It is a dangerous time; a dark time, a time one might wonder if creation light may flicker from time to time. I am sure there were similar disagreements among the Hebrews in Exodus, for example, will God find water, and meat for us in the wilderness. I am sure there were similar disagreements among Jesus’ earlier followers, I don’t know, maybe the question of what is the right thing to do with an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment. I am sure there were similar disagreements in the early church, we would not have any letters from Paul if there had not been such disagreements. That we are here at all is a testament to the eternal power of creation light.

We stand at the edge of Epiphany, and though this season is closing the time of light is not over. Yes, beginning next Wednesday we will follow Jesus on his exodus to Jerusalem, and those tragic events. It was a dark journey. No one took time to slow down or time to listen; it was them or us. Following the journey will be dark. It is a part of season’s function to be a time to raise the hiding-vale and take a look at our darkness, said, or unsaid, done, or undone. But it gives me some courage to begin that exodus remembrance journey to know there is light. There is the life-light of creation in each of us. There is the horned light of Moses in each of us. There is the transfigured light of Jesus in each of us. There is light in you. There is light in me. There is light in the other. And that light will go with you and with me as you and I, together and on our own, work the work God has given each to work (John 9:4), each lighting way for the other. That that light has not yet been overcome is a testament that it never will be overcome. By that light we are being healed and so and bring healing to the family, to the village, to the tribe, to the nation, to the world God made us to be a part of until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.


 

References

Carey, Greg. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43). 3 3 2019.

Epperly, Bruce. Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019, Exodus 34:29-35. 3 3 2019. <patheos.com/blogs/theperipateticpreacher/2019/02/transfiguration-sunday-march-3-2019-exodus->.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel – Luke 9:28-36. 3 3 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/last-epiphany-c-2>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Liberating Glory. 3 3 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Wikipedia. Moses (Michelangelo). n.d. 3 3 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_(Michelangelo)&gt;.

Woods, Joshua. “Forever Changed, Last Sunday in Epiphany (C).” 3 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/forever-changed-last-sunday-epiphany-c-march-3-2019>.

 

 

Leaving our Palaces

A Sermon for Proper 11; 2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Psalm 89:20-37, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel made the national papers twice this past week. The first is the story of an expectant mom, waking up at 4:30 in the morning, in extreme pain. Her twins are not due for two months. But they are coming ~ now! She hollers for her mom, grabs her 2-year-old son, and off they head to the hospital. Only the one around the corner is closed, and it is 100 miles to her new doctor and hospital. They drive to Hayti, that obstetrics unit is also closed, the staff tells her the nearest hospital is St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., nearly 80 miles away. After a 25 minute wait, she is rushed to the hospital, then rushed into surgery where her twins were born by cesarean.

Her story is not unique. At least 85 rural hospitals, about 5 percent of the country’s total, have closed since 2010. Fewer than half of the country’s rural counties still have a hospital that offers obstetric care. More than 179 rural counties have lost hospital obstetric care since 2004. Kennett’s is now one of them. Mom is now home, back to work at her $8.50 an hour job. She was raised to be independent; she has always worked. There is rent to make, baby clothes to purchase, and now $80 of gas to buy for the coming week so she can go see her twins in neonatal intensive care 100 miles away (Healy).

The second article begins with some better news. Arkansas has the lowest priced housing in the nation. Those making $29,000 a year, $13.84 an hour, can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Arkansas’ minimum wage is $8.50 an hour. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s annual report estimates a one bedroom apartment is affordable for minimum wage workers in just 22 counties, in five states (Jan).

With news like this and no matter which of the political divide you are on this week, it is easy to feel like the Op-Ed piece Raising My Child in a Doomed World. Roy Scranton begins by sharing how he cried when their daughter came yowling into the world. He cried a second time when

he looked at the rows of cars in the hospital parking lot, the strip mall across the street, the box stores and drive-throughs and drainage ditches and asphalt and waste fields that had once been oak groves. A world of extinction and catastrophe, a world in which harmony with nature had long been foreclosed.

Be it politics, local, nation or international, climate change, or economics, there are lots of sources of fear and doubt. Yet, Scranton still felt a love he’d never known before. He knew he would do anything for his daughter, kill for her; even as he rages at all the challenges in the future she is doomed to live in. Scranton goes on to write that our real choice is if we are willing to live ethically in a broken world. He continues

Living ethically means understanding that our actions have consequences, taking responsibility for how those consequences ripple out across the web of life in which each of us is irrevocably enmeshed and working every day to ease what suffering we can. Living ethically means limiting our desires, respecting the deep interdependence of all things.

Confessing he cannot protect his daughter, he realizes he can teach her: how to be kind, how to live within nature’s limits, how to be tough but resilient, adaptable and prudent, how to fight for what’s right, and to realize none of us is alone in this (Scranton). And knowing that he, she, and we are not alone, brings us to the reading from 2 Solomon this morning.

Some weeks ago, we heard the story of David facing Goliath, the Philistine warrior hero. King Saul tells David

You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth. (1 Samuel 17:33)

David answers

The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

After the distraction of Saul’s armor, that is way too big for him, David goes into the field, with his staff and sling, with which he protected the sheep and defeated both bear and lion. As you know he defeats Goliath.

Last week we heard the story of, as Bishop Benfield put it, the marriage of the God and Jerusalem. When the verses that are edited out are included, it is not the happy story we heard. It really is very much like a wedding gone badly wrong with one partners’ mother furious at her husband, the banquet canceled so all the guest go home with a consolation, goodie bag with a little meat, some bread and a slice of raisin cake. (Benfield).

This morning we hear how David, under God’s guidance, has conquered the land, established himself as King, settled in Jerusalem, and built himself a fine palace. It sounds as if he wants to give God an equally fine palace to live in after all God is God. But, if we recall the political motivation behind bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, it is sensible to ponder if David is now trying to gain a political advantage, by locating the home of God in David’s city, which he controls. The prophet Nathan agrees, but that night the word of God comes to Nathan with a different plan.

A parenthetical aside; anyone who is asked to give divine guidance should remember this story, and spend to serious time in prayerful, thoughtful discernment. Back to our story.

God asks, “Have I ever asked anyone to build him a house?” Answer “No!” God then recounts their shared journey:

  • God taking David from the field, making him a prince,
  • going with him everywhere defeating every enemy David ever faced

God promises

  • that David’s name will be great
  • that Israel will live in peace, and
  • that God will make David a house, make David a Dynasty, whose offspring will build a house for God’s name.

David may have forgotten who saved him from the paw of the bear and lion, God has not.

It is my habit to read the lesson for the coming week Sunday afternoon or Monday, read commentaries through the week, and keep an ear tuned to my daily readings for related current stories. This week I noticed the last phrase of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

In [Christ] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the word; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

He is calling the Ephesians a dwelling place, a palace, for God.

In Mark’s Gospel story, we read that a great crowd follows Jesus and the disciples to Gennesaret bringing with them all manner of sick family, and friends and that everyone is healed. You have heard me say, healing is a sign of Shalom, the wholeness of life which includes the presence of God.

Sometime this past week I began to wonder why when David recognized the inequity between his Palace and God’s tent, among the people, that he didn’t try to be more like God, leave the palace and move into a tent among the people. A day later I began to wonder why it has taken me some 25 years to recognize the question.

The common thread between last week’s and this week’s reading from 2 Samuel is David’s effort to bend God’s presence to his will, instead of humbly submitting to being God’s servant. We will read the consequences of that continuing effort in the weeks to come. It is not a happy story. The unhappiness we heard in this morning’s three opening vignettes are all the results from our continuing efforts to contain God in a house we built for purposes of our own design. But, as always, there is also hope.

The hope in these stories is in God’s promise not to abandon Israel, that God’s presence, in Jesus, brings about amazing healing, and that Paul sees the emerging church as a community of God’s presence. The promise in this morning’s vignettes is in Mr. Scranton’s realization that no matter how deep the approaching doom we can prevail because none of us is in this alone. God stands with all of us, and by God, all of us stand with each other, and with each other, we can all be healed, all of us can know shalom.

Will it be easy? No. Will we have to change? Yes. Does it seem impossible? Yes, but no more so that Jesus’ resurrection, the truth that has brought us together this morning.

So, I encourage all of us to leave the palaces we have constructed, move into a tent, and live, with God, among the people, physically, politically, socially, economically, or metaphorically, does not matter. I encourage us to confess the deepening doom that is gathering around us. I encourage us to look beyond the darkness and see the power in the relationships we have with others, all equally children of God, and offer a friendly hand and a gracious word. I encourage us to go into the world, trusting that God’s love is always here, that divine faithfulness endures, and that we, the temple of God, abiding participants loving and serving the Lord, in what the darkness whispers can never be done, will prevail.


References

Benfield, Larry. “Sermon Proper 11 B.” 15 7 2018.

Bowron, Joshua. “Sheeple, Pentecost 9 (B).” 22 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 11B 2 Samuel 7:1-14a. 22 7 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, Gennifer Benjamin. Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a. 22 7 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 22 7 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Healy, Jack. “It’s 4 A.M. The Baby’s Coming. But the Hospital Is 100.” 17 7 2017. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/07/17/us/hospital-closing-missouri-pregnant.html>.

Jan, Tracy. “A minimum-wage worker can’t afford a 2-bedroom.” 13 6 2017. washingtonpost.com. <washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/13/a-minimum-wage-worker-can’t-afford-a-2-bedroom-apartment-anywhere-inthe->.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Scranton, Roy. “Raising My Child in a Doomed World.” 16 7 2017. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/07/16/opinion/climate-change-parenting.html>.

The Living Church. The House of Contemplation. 16 7 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

 

 

 

And

A Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-12, 21c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

 Like many Bible stories, this morning’s Gospel story has a central character, whose name we do not know. Reading the story isn’t often a problem, pronouns do just fine. However, preaching or teaching can be a challenge because pronouns don’t work as well, the distance between the pronoun and its associated noun phrase is too great. So, we are left with a long cumbersome descriptor; this morning it is “Simon’s mother-in-law.” That is a lot to say repeatedly. I wondered if it might be appropriate to imagine a name. I took the first letter of each word ‘s,’ ‘m,’ ‘i,’ and ‘l’ and googled it using a find a name web site. I got an answer ‘Smiljana’ (pronounced Smil’ ja na). Does the name fit the character? I googled the name and learned it is of Indo-European origins likely Serbian. It means dear or beloved; which is a good meaning for a biblical name; so, maybe it makes sense to use it. On the other hand, why did Mark not give her a name? To know someone’s name is to have power over them. I don’t think Mark is protecting her, nor do I think he is concerned about anyone having power over their mother-in-law. Power over is not the concern; but, a name does make a character specific, and I wonder if Mark isn’t providing us with a casting for everyone. Therefore, “Simon’s mother-in-law” it will be; and I’ll have to say it 85 times to have saved any words.

There are two stories in this morning’s reading from Mark’s Gospel narrative. The first one is the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. The other is Jesus’ decision to leave Capernaum to proclaim the message in neighboring towns. Both have the common feature – the revealing power of ‘and.’

You know the story of Simon’s mother in law. They leave the synagogue, where Jesus taught and cast out a demon, and returned to Simon and Andrew’s house. They tell Jesus Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. He lifted her up, the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

The phrase lifted her up has been translated he raised her up (Hart; Kittredge) which is clear resurrection language. Here is the first occurrence of ‘and’ that caught my attention. This time connecting us to the phrase she began to serve them, which has an unfortunate history. The phrase has been improperly used to put women back in the kitchen or in their place. However, the verb diakonein is the verb used when the angels serve Jesus in the wilderness. It is used to define Jesus’ ministry who came to serve (Mark 10:45). Karen Lewis writes

She serves because this is what discipleship looks like. She serves, showing us what following Jesus will really means.

Lewis sees this as Simon’s mother in-law’s calling to discipleship (Kittredge; Lewis; Harrelson).

Illness is more than the physical issues. There are also emotional, social, and spiritual effects. When Jesus raises her up she is freed of her fever and she is no longer emotionally isolated (Perkins); she is restored to the honored social position of being a hostess, and her spiritual life grows as she serves Jesus as a disciple. Simon’s mother-in-law is healed, she is restored to wholeness of life; she knows shalom.

After dark, when Sabbath is over, all Capernaum, can bring their sick or possessed family to Jesus, and all of them do (Keener and Walton). He heals many and casts out many demons. Early the next morning, Jesus has gone off to a quiet place to pray. The disciples aggressively hunt him down (Harrelson), rudely telling him “Everyone is waiting on you!” Jesus did not come here to be a local healer or holy man. Jesus’ calling is to share the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near throughout the region (Perkins). So, he tells them Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come. (Mark 1:38, The Message) They follow Jesus and he proclaims the message and casts out demons. Here is that word ‘and’ again. This time it connects Jesus’ preaching with Jesus’ healing. In Mark’s Gospel story preaching and healing are connected; to do one, is to do the other (Perkins).

Today’s Gospel reading is full of connections. There is the connection between healing, serving, and calling; and the connection between healing, and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near. Connections like these are and will be important for us.

Today is our first Sunday together when I am not your full-time vicar. As I have said and written I will continue to lead Sunday worship and as a pastoral presence. We will have to learn to go our separate ways together. For me not being a full-time vicar/rector/missioner will be a challenge. I don’t know how not to do what I have been trying to do for 23 or so years. You have some experience without a fulltime vicar or rector. It has been awhile and many, actually, most of those who were here then are no longer here. St. Stephen’s resources are not what they were, and it will be a challenge. You have a challenge, and I have a challenge. However, that we share this trait is not the ‘and’ I see that we share with this morning’s Gospel. Actually, I think we share the ‘and from both stories.

As you become a church without a full-time vicar or rector and as I become a priest who is not a vicar or rector we will continue to proclaim the message in how we become this particular reflection of the image of the Kingdom which is right here, right now. As Jesus’ healing and proclaiming the message are one so our living into our new callings is the same thing as our proclaiming the message. As Simon’s mother-in-law is healed she is restored to shalom fullness of life, physiologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually; in our living into our new callings we are being restored to shalom fullness of life physiologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. A lesson from these two stories in Mark’s Gospel narrative is that life with God is not a series of independent events that have to be carefully balanced by some secret knowledge in order to gain access to God’s Kingdom sometime in the future, someplace else. This morning we witness how life with God has many facets and all of them are interconnected to all the others, just as the lives of all people, are interconnected images of God. None of the facets and none of the images is complete on their own. Each of them is dependent on all the others, and all the others are dependent on you as the emerging lay lead St. Stephen’s and me as the emerging well I’m not even sure what I will call myself and that is okay, I’ve always wanted to be an enigma.

Even as I see darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) at this moment. I am sure of the future because even as we are less connected to each other in a formal way we remain interconnected, along with all of creation to God/Jesus/Spirit who makes us whole and who loves us forever.

References

Avalos, Hector. Health Care and the Rise of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999.

David, W. Peters. “Touch, Epiphany 5 (B).” 4 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hart, David Brently. The New Testament: A Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. e-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 1:29-39. 4 2 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:29-39. 4 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. A Call Story. 4 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. 2002. WORDsearch Database – 2008.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.

 

 

 

Disrupted Expectations

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

 

I am 64, and Angie is just a few years younger. We understand why our children are the right age to raise children. Towards the end of last year’s Razorback football season, Michelle and Russell got tickets to a Hogs game. They asked if we’d keep LG. Of course, we would; what a silly question. Our answer was an exuberant yes. And we had a good time. At 2 LG kept us going. She got to us about 10 that morning and didn’t stop till she dropped asleep just about 9 that night. I slipped out to come here for Sunday morning about 7:30. LG was still asleep, and I am not sure when she got Angie up except that I’m sure it was earlier than Angie’s expectation. I got home, and they were off on some 2-years-old adventure. We packed her up and took her home. I’m not sure who was happier to see Michelle and Russel more, LG or Angie and me. We had a good time. But we were done. LG is all toddler disrupting every expectation, we had. We were glad to get back to our usual expectations.

About a month ago, we picked up Angie’s service dog in training, Burt. He is a mastiff shepherd mix. You have heard me say he is like having a 120-lb. toddler in the house. Just his size and exuberance has disrupted our expectations. On top of that, his arrival introduced a new player into the pack. Little rivalry has shown up. If Nugget comes to see one of us, both show up. If Nugget wants his head scratched, so does Burt. If Burt wants his tummy rubbed, so, does Nugget. Together 200-lbs of canine disturbance has been injected into our carefully choreographed daily expectations. Progress is being made. Not every canine move is now matched with a competing move. However, I have noticed it is a lot harder for Angie and me to see the disruptions than we thought it would be. And it is even harder for us to figure out how we should respond; where do we make adjustments? where do we enforce existing rules? What is really hard is to for us, is to change our expectations of what is right and our related behaviors. I feel just a touch, no more than that, I feel real empathy for the Pharisees and authorities in this morning’s, Gospel story because Jesus has arrived on the scene and has completely disrupted all their expectations.

The story begins with one of my favorite bible verses Jesus’ disciples asked him,

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

 Jesus answers:

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. (John 9:2-3)

A quick side note. We can all understand how the man’s parents might have sinned, at least we think we do, but that will come in a bit. But how in the world does a fetus sin? Well, it turns out it is a bit of Jewish Midrash speculation, think bible commentary on Gen 25:19 the story of Esau’s and Jacob’s fetal growth and birth, which was difficult enough to cause their mother, Rebekah, to plead to God (Sakenfeld). Why this is one of my favorite verses is Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question. It is the thinking of the day that any kind of suffering is the results of some sin or another (Ellingsen). Jesus rejects that idea completely saying: (and this is a little bit of a different translation)

Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that God’s works might be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who sent me (Vena).

Sin was not the cause of the man being born blind, neither was some mysterious divine need. He was just born blind. Now ~ now it is necessary for us, for Jesus and his disciples, to work the work God has given Jesus. Rejecting the notion of a connection between life’s suffering and sin, is the first disruption Jesus brings.

The Pharisees and authorities proclaim that Jesus is a sinner because he healed on the Sabbath (John 9:16). Jesus has previously argued, that if you can circumcise on the Sabbath, you can heal on the Sabbath (John 7:23). This is a rather broad argument. But here the sin is not just general healing but physical kneading, making the mud, and kneading is explicitly forbidden (O’Day). This accusation is very specific, and Jesus rejects it too.

Now the Pharisees, the leaders, some of the people and the, as of yet, uncertain, disciples seem to be thinking both the man and Jesus are sinners. The evidence against the man is that he is blindness. The evidence against Jesus is a violation of Sabbath rules. If you think there seems to be more than an incidental disagreement about the nature of sin here; you are correct, there is. In 1st century Israel, everyone understands sin is defined by moral behavior revealed by one’s actions. Jesus disrupts the world’s expectations by defining sin as a theological behavior, one’s relationship with God, specifically, accepting Jesus as a revelation of God  (Harrelson) (O’Day). It is a far bigger disruption, affecting many more expectations than healing or keeping Sabbath.

We see how the man’s neighbors, some Pharisees, and even his parents step away from him when the controversy arises. However, they have actually stepped away from him much sooner. Anyone could have helped him by giving him some meaningful thing to do, some purpose for life well before Jesus ever showed up. No one ever did (Kubicek). Karen Lewis drags this disruption right into the middle of our lives. She notes the questions we might ask:

  • Why should we help those when it hasn’t proven to help their performance?
  • What will the blind man now truly contribute to society?
  • What kind of results will he actually be able to produce anyway?
  • Isn’t he just a drain on our society?
  • Wouldn’t he then use up funds meant for hard-working folks like me?
  • Shouldn’t we dole out monies to people who can prove their worth?
  • Shouldn’t we make sure to take care of the ones who demonstrate that they can give back (Lewis)?

It sounds like an argument in many legislative chambers whenever supporting the marginalized is the subject of debate.

Everyone in Jesus’ day thought, and many people today think, sin is a moral behavior defect. We may argue about a specific moral action, say some sexual expression or another, or some financial scheme, but we rarely, if ever, debate the nature of sin. So, if sin is not a moral behavior defect, what is it? Jesus teaches that sin is all about our relationship with God; specifically, our accepting him, Jesus, as the one sent by God. This means that Jesus takes away the sin of the world simply by being here, and his being here means that through Jesus we can change our relationship with God. It is an invitation for us to allow ourselves to be transformed by the divine love that comes to us in the incarnate Jesus (O’Day). It is an invitation to see how Jesus’ world, how our world, marginalizes people, who are different than we expect, by legal and cultural subtlety that deny them the opportunity to support themselves or to be the image of God they are, with dignity (Vena).

In a blog this week Steve Pankey wrote:

The authorities’ unwillingness to see their stubbornness is most dangerous, it is easy to see only what we want to and this means we miss the good and the bad in our midst and also that the way of God is out of [our] sight (Pankey).

My Lenten questions for us are:

  • what are we, what are you, unwilling to see that obscures the good and the evil that surrounds us, that surrounds you?
  • What are you so unwilling to see, you accept that the way of God is out your of sight?

The Lenten challenge is:

  • are you willing for these expectations to be disrupted by the arrival of light of Christ?

 


References

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 26 3 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 3 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Kubicek, Kirk. “Light! Lent 4(A).” 26 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher On Being Found. 26 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Pankey, Steve. On being blind. 26 3 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 9:1-41. 26 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

 

 

 

 

Shame to Prophecy

A sermon for Proper 16: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

Saint C’s is a centuries old congregation. The building is majestic, built of massive granite blocks she towers over the town. The patina of her copper sheathed steeple has been the landmark by which people oriented themselves longer than anyone can remember. Her members are proud, all the community leaders are members, their families have been attending for generations. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, bankers, business owners are replete at any service. Sunday ushers have worn pale gray morning coats that are carefully passed on from one generation to the next since her founding. St. C’s is a magnificent church.

Charles has fallen on hard times; actually harder times, all his life has been hard. He grew up poor. School was not valued in his family. As a young adult, he was able to get by on hard manual labor, which there was plenty of until the day he was hurt on the job. His medical treatment tended to the immediate injuries; however, there was no follow-up care. The lack of money, transportation, family or neighborly support, and willing doctors all conspired against him. Unable to work it wasn’t long before he became a shameful dishonor to his family. He left. There wasn’t any place for him to go, so Charles lived on the streets. He subsisted on meager coins that people would give him, mostly to get him along down the road. He rummaged through trash for food that had been thrown out. He rummaged the county trash heap looking for scrap he could sell for a pittance. The bright spot in his life was church. Every Sunday he would find one group or another to worship his Lord with.

No one ever knew why; no one ever asked why, but one Sunday morning, when a dark gray sky framed the world, the morning’s first sun rays lit up St C’s towering steeple like a shining beacon and drew Charles to her. He waited until the stream of people thinned out; straightened his ramshackle coat, did his best to fix his hair with his hands, and made his way through the front doors, down the right side aisle, to a vacant pew up front. Someone pointed him out to an usher, who went to the head usher, who stopped the procession in the side hall and called the police. The response was quick. Four officers made their way down the center and right aisle. One from each side approached, there was no conversation, they simply took hold of him by each arm, lifted him from the pew and dragged him out by the center aisle. Charles didn’t resist or struggle; all he did was cry, “All I want to do is worship my Lord!  All I want to do is worship my Lord!” When the shameful presence of a street person gone, St. Curmudgeon began her regal worship.

 

Centuries upon centuries ago Luke shared another story of shame. A woman crippled for nearly two decades, unable to walk or stand up straight comes into Jesus’ presence. He calls her over, gently lays his hands on her and tells her “You are set free from your ailment.” It’s curious language for a medical condition; you’d expect or Jesus to say “healed from” or “cured of.” It’s almost like her condition was some sort of being, and in 1st century Palestine such conditions were considered to be the affliction of a demon (Epperly). It’s also curious to hear that she “was straightened up” as the Greek more correctly reads, implying divine action is involved (Jacobsen).

The synagogue leader objected, and accuses Jesus of breaking the Laws governing Sabbath. In fact, he is taking advantage of a very narrow understanding of the 613 rules governing Sabbath, which is as much a day of delight and serving the purposes of God, as a day of rest (Hoezee). The leader’s behavior appears to be a public effort to shame the woman, the crowd, and Jesus. It doesn’t work and in the end, the leader is publicly shamed when Jesus notes its allowable to release oxen or donkey to go drink. In releasing the woman, Jesus brings honor to her and to God. The crowd gets it as they rejoice at “all the honored things” Jesus was doing (Pankey).

Jesus also honors the woman when he calls her “daughter of Abraham.”  Recognizing her as a daughter of Abraham creates a moral obligation to restore shalom, peace, wholeness of life, healing (Jacobsen). Being freed from her infliction, demonic or medical, also restores her to the community. A closer look at most of Jesus’ healing and you will notice that most, if not all of them, result in a restoring of the person to their community. It’s such a prominent notion I believe that restoring people to their families, and community should be part of a modern practice of medicine.

 

There is a prophetic element in this story. It is revealed not in Jesus’ words, but through Jesus’ behavior. The power God offers Jeremiah is known in service, mercy, healing and reconciliation. It is important, and perhaps a bit unsettling to understand God offers the same power and calling to us (Helmer).  It is even more unsettling as we recognize the urgency implicit in God’s telling Jeremiah “today I appoint you…” (Bratt). There is urgency in our call also.

Once you’ve recognized the prophetic element in Luke’s story we might just wonder “What is God, Jesus or the Spirit is calling you to do?” [i]. This question is far more expansive than we might realize. In Jeremiah’s day God’s reign is not limited to Israel; in our day our prophetic calling is not be limited to our church, our neighborhood, or our community; our calling may take us to places and to people in whose presence we are not comfortable (Nysse).

Yes, it is quite a shock to realize how God’s vision is so much more expansive than our vision. It is natural to doubt our abilities and to fear the way ahead. Remember God reassures Jeremiah “Do not be afraid for I am with you.” It is also helpful to remember all this is really sharing your relationship with God, just as it is, not as what you imagine everyone else thinks it should be, and then inviting the one you are with to come and see.

 

[i] Borrowed from African Bible Study Method

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 16 C | Jeremiah 1:4-10. 21 8 20016.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes Proper 16 | Ordinary Time 21 | Pentecost 13, Cycle C (2016). 21 8 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary Pentecost 14 – August 21, 2016. 21 8 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Helmer, Ben. “The Power of the Spirit, Proper 16 (C).” 16 8 2016. Sermons that Work.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 16 C | Luke 13:10-17. 21 8 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 13:1017. 21 8 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Daughters of Abraham. 21 8 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Jeremiah 1:410. 21 8 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Pankey, Steve. “[New post] Honor and Shame.” 21 8 2016. Draughting Theology.

 

Radical Equality in The Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness

A sermon for Proper 9: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Independence Day: Deuteronomy 10:17-21

40 years ago I was at Ft. Gillam near Atlanta with 10 thousand Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and leaders, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. It was not a surprise that we spent almost entire entertain budget on fireworks; it was quite a show. What was a surprise was that it took every port-a-potty in Atlanta. Late Friday afternoon they were picked up, cleaned, and deliver before 7 pm. On Sunday the reverse happened. In spite of un-forecast thunderstorms, complete with a tornado warning, and an escaped prisoner from the adjoining town it was a great event. Though, I am pretty sure no one was thinking about

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

I’m under no illusion that anyone was thinking about Naaman or Jesus sending 70 disciples ahead to proclaim peace, heal the sick, and reveal the presence of the kingdom, or Moses telling the Hebrews after the debacle with the golden café, what God requires of them, because

The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut 10:17)

 which is from the appointed readings for Independence Day. Today we will explore all of them.

Naaman’s story reveals the truest nature of equality. He is the King’s mightiest warrior and is immensely wealthy. He is ill, and he can afford the most talented physicians. He learns that when the mighty and wealthy are diagnosed with incurable “terminal” or chronic illnesses they and lowest of slaves are on equal footing (Epperly). His venture to Israel is similar to the overseas, black market cures jaunts desperate people seek today (Bratt). Yes, he wants to be cured, but I suspect more than anything, he wants to be clean, because he wants to know the gentle caress of human touch. Ever since his diagnosis of leprosy he has been considered unclean and no one will touch him. Naaman’s story also reveals a curious inequality of the powerful. Thanks to the sympathy of a Jewish slave Naaman knows of a prophet who will cure him. But, he rejects it because Elisha sent a messenger with instructions to go wash in the Jordan. Naaman’s see himself as above others; listen to what he says

I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot.

Part of Naaman being cured is to see himself equal to the slave who told him of Elisha and the slaves who convince him to listen to Elisha. And he does. We did not hear it this morning, but one clue to Naaman humbling himself is that he changes gods. Naaman becomes a follower of the God of Israel, the very lowly people Naaman and the Arameans, forbears of the Assyrians, detest (Sakenfeld). Through his experience, Naaman learns something about God’s equality.

Luke tells us that, Jesus, sends messengers to the villages, he is headed to. There are 70 messengers, which is significant because 70 is the number of nations in the world descended from Noah listed in Genesis 10. Since they number all nations, there is the implication their mission includes gentiles, which reveals that Jesus’ ministry is for everyone. This is Luke’s way of sharing Jesus’ teaching that all people are created equal (Hoezee, Luke). Jesus tells them to eat what is set in front of them. They are to accept hospitality, even if it means ignoring the Law, with respect to food, for the sake of sharing the news that the Kingdom of God is here (Hoezee, Luke). Another indicator of the radical equality Jesus tells his messenger to show is that no matter how they are received or treated they are to tell the house / village that the Kingdom of God has come near (Luke 10:11). Perhaps the most difficult bit of what the messengers are to convey; even learn, is that you don’t get to choose. Following God in Jesus is not some sort of divine salad bar, where you choose this and leave that aside (Hoezee, Galatians). You don’t get to choose who to love; everyone is your neighbor; everyone deserves to hear the good news that the Kingdom of God is near; everyone is equal.

Paul puts a very large dot on the dominant “I” of equality today’s lessons reveal. He tells the Galatians; you reap what you so; God will not be mocked. You cannot proclaim this, and behave that-a-way. There is an equality of all to the universe, and it does not bend to our convenience. (Hoezee, Galatians) Paul continues, we are to bear each other burdens, trusting that as we come to aid of the other, yet others will come to our aid as we are burdened and all at the same time (Hoezee, Galatians). This is how shalom, wholeness, the peace of God comes to all of us; comes to any of us.

I am painfully aware not everyone agrees; however, for the most part, we believe that all men are created equal. Oh, our skills and abilities and essence vary tremendously. Nonetheless, all of us, everyone is created in the image of God, and all are called to remind everyone else, by how we treat them, that we can see, and we love the image of God they bear.

Looking back across my six plus decades, I see our struggle with unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mostly because my life, liberty, and happiness appear to infringe on your life, liberty, and happiness. It is implicit in Deuteronomy, 2 Kings, and Luke, but Paul just makes it blunt: my pursuit, of life, liberty, and happiness, is dependent on your pursuit life, liberty and happiness. More importantly, our pursuit is dependent on their – the foreigners’, the aliens’ pursuit life, liberty, and happiness. It is my considered opinion that this is the most important, perhaps the only true function of governments that are instituted among us, radical equality of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

Angie and I are looking forward to a quiet 4th and a joyous and raucous 6th, 7th and 8th as our daughters and their families will be here. It is my hope your 4th may be equally joyous and raucous. I pray that in our joy we will take the time to remember, that as the 70 were, we are also sent to all the nations, all the peoples of the world to share the news that the Kingdom of God is the true home of life, liberty, and happiness.

 


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 9 C 2 Kings 5:1-14. 3 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Lectionary Epistle Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16. 3 7 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. 3 7 2016.

Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 3 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Reid, Stephen. Commentary on 2 Kings 5:114. 3 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Final Text of the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776. n.d. 1 7 2016. <http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1776-1785/the-final-text-of-the-declaration-of-independence-july-4-1776.php&gt;.

Vargas, Alicia. Commentary on Galatians 6: [16]. 3 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

A Journey to Light, A Journey to Darkness

A sermon for Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41, Psalm 23

If you watch enough Disney movies, you begin to notice a pattern: you are introduced to characters with wonderful lives; life breaks, often involving death; there is terrible hardship;  and with unexpected help the hero or heroine prevails. Think about the book of Job, we are introduced to Job, his wonderful extended family, and  his righteous life. We see a side bet between the divine court accuser and God. This leads to a horrific set of tragedies in which Job loses everything. Three friends offer unexpected help, “Confess your sins.” He protests, “I haven’t sinned!” and we know he’s his right. His wife eventually tells him to “Curse God and die.” He doesn’t, he persist in his conversation with God, though sometimes with vehement vim and vigor. God wins the bet; and Job’s former life is restored. Now I mention all this, because Job shatters the link between sin and life’s afflictions. It appears that no one in this morning’s Gospel story, except Jesus, knows the tale.

The disciples see a man born blind; in fact all they see is his blindness. They don’t want to know why he is blind; they know that – sin, they want to know who sinned? his parent or him? Jesus replies: No one. This man was born blind. Let the works of God be known. Then he put mud, made of spittle, a common healing agent of the day, on the blind man’s eyes and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man does; and somewhere along the way his sight is restored, because when he returns, he can see. Notice, Jesus and the disciples are not there.

At this point the story has drawn me to the connection between sin and life’s afflictions. It is the belief of the day. Jesus completely rejects the idea. The maladies of life, horrid and inconvenient happen; let God’s work, God’s glory, or presence, be made know. I suspect that we don’t believe we connect sin to the afflictions and maladies of life as 1st century Jews did; but I’m not sure that is the truth. How often do we hear judgment in: that woman is unemployed, or this man is divorced, or she’s a single mom; he’s a high school dropout, he’s a failure; she’s an alcoholic, she has cancer, or he’s depressed. [i] How often do we hear an ideological or political position, regarding caring for the least of these, grounded in blaming the blind man? Listen for how we use phrases like nature or nurture, or nature or choice. How often do we respond to life’s maladies as our opportunity to reveal the works, glory and presence of God?

There is another gleaning about sin from John’s Gospel teaching. John posits that sin is not a moral issue, but a theological issue, sin is only about our relationship with God through Jesus. [ii] This results in a far greater change than one might think, because salvation shifts from association with Jesus’ death, to arising from Jesus’ life, in other words salvation is no longer sacrificial salvation is incarnational. Gail O’Day writes:

Judgment is therefore based not on what people do, as the disciples and the Pharisees in John 9 assumed, but on people’s embrace of God in Jesus. [iii]

At this point the story changes into two simultaneous journeys: the man born blind into relationship with Jesus; and the Pharisees into denial of Jesus. They are intertwined, but let’s look at them separately, starting with the man born blind.

The man born blind returns from the pool and he can see. His neighbors do not recognize him; at least there is a debate about who he is. It is as if they have never seen him before; as if all they ever saw was that he was blind. [iv] In explaining what happened the man born blind says:

A man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, told me, `Go to Siloam and wash.’  I did and received my sight.

 Next he is interrogated by the Pharisees. They ask how his sight was restored and he repeats the story. The Pharisees are also divided, so they ask the man born blind about Jesus. In spite of the implied threat he stands his ground [v] in answering: He is a prophet. Notice his relationship with Jesus changing from “a man called” to “a prophet.”

After the Pharisees interview his parents, they return to the man born blind demanding he give glory to God, and declare Jesus a sinner. The man born blind answers:

 I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

 
The interrogation increases, the threat is no longer implicit as the Pharisees try to intimidate him with their authority, but undaunted [vi] he answers:

We know that God … listens to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

As a result, the Pharisees drive him out, of their presence, of the synagogue, of life in the Jewish community. His life has changed. Notice how the man born blind relationship with Jesus is developing, he now professes that Jesus worships and obeys God will.

Jesus reappears, asking the man born blind Do you believe in the Son of Man? He replies: And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him. Jesus answers: I am He replies Lord, I believe. And he worships him.

Sight and blindness are not defined by one’s physical sight, but by one’s openness to the revelation of God in Jesus. The man who had been born blind confession is the culmination of his progression in faith. He received his physical sight, but his true sight came as he moved through his ignorance to recognizing Jesus as the Son of Man, as the light of the world. [vii] The man born blind has become a child of the light, and Christ’s light is shining on him.

The Pharisees’ journey could not be more different. The man born blind is brought to the Pharisees with his amazing story. The Pharisees are divided; some don’t believe Jesus is from God, he worked, made mud, on the Sabbath. [viii] Others say a sinner cannot possibly do such things.

They move on to the man’s parents. It is a court room like hearing. His parents acknowledge he is their son and that he was born blind. They disavow any knowledge of how he received his sight; perhaps out of fear of being thrown out of the synagogue and cut off, in all ways, spiritually, socially and economically, from their community. In short they protected themselves. [ix]

The inquest returns to the man born blind. This time the opening is accusative; they declare that Jesus is a sinner. Later they declare they are disciples of Moses, whom God spoke to.

The Pharisees have moved from questioning to denial. Is it any wonder they fail to recognize Jesus? Scott Hoezee observes that as soon as questions about the miracle arise, Jesus disappears. He notes:

The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus. [x]

In part the Pharisees are blind to who Jesus is because they are holding on to Moses etc. Their behavior is similar to Samuel grieving over Saul; he is having a hard time letting go. How often do we have a hard time letting go of what was, as good as it may have been, and fail to see how God is currently in our lives, [xi] how God is calling us to celebrate the grace and love the surrounds us.

And here we get to another gleaning in Today’s Gospel story. We know by observation and experience there is pain and misery and affliction in the world. We proclaim by faith, that God, in Jesus, by the Spirit over comes it all. And we have a vast ancient and not so ancient set of thoughts, liturgies, and physical settings we associate with God’s presence. And we hold on to them with all the vigor that Samuel is holding on to Saul, and the Pharisees are holding on the Moses, both of whom are of God. But life is not stagnate; it moves, it changes, situations evolve. What was is not what is. God tells Moses I am. Jesus tells the woman at the well and the man born blind:  I am. It’s a strange phrase that expresses both present and future being. God is in our present. God is calling us into a divine future. The man born blind journeys into the future Jesus revels to him, and he is healed, he becomes whole. The Pharisees refuse the journey, they reject Jesus’ vision of the future, and they cease being whole, they move into blindness, into darkness.

This is Lent, a time to reorient our lives to God. A time to let go of what was, as good as it may have been, and accept what is being offered. It is a time to see the world for what it really is, not what we are afraid it has become. [xii] It is a time trusts that though I may be blind, in Jesus’ presence, I can see.

 


[i] David Lose, Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher, Insights, ideas and inspiration by David Lose related to the coming week’s lectionary texts, Identity Theft, Part 2, Tuesday, March 25, 2014 8:42 AM 
[ii] Walter Harrison, New Interpreters Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003
   O’Day, ibid,
[iii] O’Day, ibid
[iv]  Robert Hoch,  John 9:1-41 Commentary by Robert Hoch – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1985 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 9:1-41 
[v] Sermon, worship resources and children’s sermon for March 30th (Lent 4) . March 30, 2014 John 9:1-41 Ephesians 5:8-14 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm Copyright © 1970-2014, SermonSuite / CSS Publishing Company, All Rights Reserved
[vi] O’day, ibid
[vii] ibdi
[viii] O’Day, ibid
[ix] Lose, ibid
   Gerard S. Sloyan, Interpretation  JOHN, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR      TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor 

John Knox Press, ATLANTA

[x]Scott Hoezee  cep.calvinseminary.edu , http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php,This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is March 30, 2014 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 9:1-41 
[xi] ibid 
[xii] Robert Hoch Michele Bilyeu “With Heart and Hands” (25 September 2012),  http://www.with-heart- andhands. com/2012_09_01_archive.html, accessed on 16 November  2013.
                Alzheimer’s Prayer: “I pray that [caregivers and family members will care] for their patients and loved ones as the                                    people they truly are . . . and not just who they seem to have become.”