Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, March 19, 2023

YEAR A 2023 lent 4

Lent 4, 2023
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In the three-year cycle of the church year, this was the Sunday in 2020 when everything changed.  It was the first Sunday when we somehow became a parish that only livestreamed services, though we had never streamed any services before.  We had these exact same readings, and my wife read them to you offscreen, as I sat in the chapel leading Morning Prayer for the first Sunday ever.  Levi played the organ, and Andrew chanted the Psalm in an empty room.  And we all wondered if people could ever return to this little postage stamp of Christianity.  Would people ever get back inside the building we so loved?

And, of course, some people have not come back.  Some people have decided, because the priest was too political, or someone else was too liberal, or because the church didn’t have activities soon enough . . . some people decided this was no longer the place for them.  They would go to another church, or they would take a breather, or they would just flat out never go to church at all.

Three years ago, this was the moment when I started to call everything prior “The Before.”  Nothing has returned to what it was.  Nothing has been as it was.  And, NO ONE is as they were before.  Every single one of us is walking through life with an undiagnosed case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And anyone who tries to tell you that COVID is—or was—just a bump in the road is not paying attention.  No matter what you think about the origins, therapies, cures, vaccinations, or anything else about COVID, it was—and still is—a global catastrophic event.  Wishing it were over, or never really happened doesn’t make it so.  There are some people who should be in this room right now who are not.  And I will never not grieve that loss. 

And it makes all of us want to ask God, “Who caused this?”  What brought this tragedy upon us?  Whose political views made this happen?  What government agency failed us?  How did we possibly lose over a million Americans while still having some of our neighbors claim it was a false-flag operation, designed for a government takeover of our guns?

And now I will tell you what I have told you dozens of times before.  We are the body of Christ.  And the power of evil would like nothing more than to dismember the body of Christ.  As the body of Christ, satan never stops working to divide us from one another.  When we are divided, the power of evil wins.  I beg of you, never forget that.  We must stick together, no matter what comes.

There are powerful lessons for us today in this gospel reading, lessons we might miss because we get so caught up in the narrative itself.  Ever since Isaac Newton, we’re certain that everything operates by cause and effect.  We do one thing, and another thing happens.  We want that connection.  So we naturally want a reason.  Things, like COVID, don’t just happen, right?

Human beings have always thought this way, even before the Enlightenment.  Today’s story is a great example.  In Jesus’ time, a person wasn’t just born blind.  There had to be a reason for that blindness; and there would be two ways a person might end up blind at birth.  Either, their parents sinned before the child was born, and thus the blindness is a result.  Or, the child somehow sinned while still in the womb, and thus was born blind.

It was the way everyone saw the world, (or at least the religious people), and so it’s completely appropriate that the disciples would ask Jesus that opening question today:  Who sinned, that this man was born blind, the man or his parents?  Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned.”  The disciples, and anyone within earshot would have thought this answer was ludicrous!  Everyone knows that a man isn’t just born blind!  Then Jesus adds, “he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.”  He was born blind so that God’s glory might be revealed?  

Wait, so God may just strike you blind in order to show God’s glory?  I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.  I think it’s more like this: Jesus says, neither the man nor his parents sinned, and I imagine the shocked look on the disciples’ faces makes him figure he’s got to offer some explanation.  So, he says, okay, this is not because of anyone’s sin, but since you need a reason for blindness, try this one on for size: this is so that God’s glory might be revealed.

I picture the disciples muttering, “Well, that’s a new teaching, but at least it makes sense.  The world hasn’t gone completely crazy!”  Again, Jesus’ answer is sort of a stop-gap measure; God is not going to strike you blind in order to reveal the glory of God.  This “glory to God” explanation is a stepping stone; still a plausible reason for the blindness for the disciples, but at least getting them out of the realm of pinning it on someone’s sin.

BUT, to everyone else in the story, the man’s blindness comes from sin.  Either his sin, or his parents’ sin.  Not unlike how COVID has to be someone’s fault.  This man would be a person “born entirely in sins,” as the angry religious leaders tell him.  

Now along comes Jesus, and he heals the man.  On the Sabbath.  And just to drive home the point, he takes some mud, and mixes it with saliva to put on the man’s eyes.  Jesus didn’t have to do that to heal the man.  In other places in John’s gospel, Jesus says “get up” to heal someone, or even “go home, your son is healed.”  Jesus doesn’t need some kind of magic mud to heal this man’s eyes.  So why does he mix up the mud like that?  

Well, technically, this mixing action would be kneading, or making clay.  Kneading like you do with dough.  Which is one of 39 specific tasks prohibited on the Sabbath.  To every good Jew who was watching, Jesus is intentionally sinning when he mixes this mud.  Clearly sinning.  Nobody had to get a rabbi’s ruling on this one.  Jesus is working on the Sabbath, plain and simple, making him a sinner . . . a sinner like the man born blind.

Everyone in the story thinks Jesus is a sinner.  You and I know, obviously, Jesus is NOT a sinner.  And . . . everyone in the story thinks the blind man is a sinner.  Sooo . . . What might that tell us?  Maybe one of the huge lessons here is the point I’ve already mentioned:  Physical challenges and personal setbacks and tragedies . . . maybe they’re not caused by sin.  Maybe people just are the way they are.  

God creates all people, gives breath to all people, and God loves all people.  Your circumstances and your challenges are not punishments for sin.  I can’t say that strongly enough.  When you suffer or are pressed down, it is not because you are a sinner.  Because we are ALL sinners.  If you hear nothing else this morning, please hear this: Suffering is not God’s punishment for sin.  Not your sin, and not your parents’ sin.  Jesus says so.

We’ve been through a lot together these past three years, both inside the church and out.  And maybe you’ve stayed connected to church through it all.  Or, maybe you’re just reconnecting now.  Or, maybe you just wandered in off the street today.  To be honest, it doesn’t really matter why you’re here.  Because being here means you are seeking to be in the presence of Jesus.  And you have come to a place where he promises to be . . . in the sacrament, and in this gathered community.  I can assure you, we are in the right place!

The man born blind does not understand what has happened to him, but as he tells his story, he comes to know the one who has set him free.  And when you and I tell our own stories—whatever they may be—our faith increases, and others will come to know the one who opens our eyes, and leads us into the light.  May God help us to see and know this same Jesus Christ, and may God keep us together as the body of Christ in this world.


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