March 26, 2017
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Anthem: Awake, Alone in GethsemaneSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In Roughing It, Mark Twain spends countless paragraphs describing a particular group of people in derogatory terms. Lazy, shiftless, not willing to work, the list goes on and on. It is only when you get to the end of that chapter that you realize that the entire story is a set up. He then says, “But compared to the railroads, these folks were positively the height of industry.”
Today’s Gospel reading, long as it is, is a set up. The punch line comes at the end:
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
What is it that the religious folks are not seeing? What are they blind to?
Let’s go back to the beginning. A man who was born blind. And the disciples ask, “Who sinned? Who caused this? Who messed up so that God would punish this man, even as a child?”
This was the thinking back then. After all, various actions or inactions needed a sacrifice to atone for them in the Torah. So if someone suffers, surely it must be because some sin that was not atoned for, right?
And this thinking is not so old. We still have some of it today as well. We try to figure out why some people have so many difficulties, so many hardships. Rather than look at the systems and structures that reinforce the poverty of some and the wealth of others, we figure that the poor must have done something to cause their poverty, the sick must have done something to cause their disease, the afflicted must have been complicit in their affliction.
Jesus takes that question and flips it around. It wasn’t somebody’s sin that caused this. It is not God’s punishment for this or that.
…he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
Rather than name and blame and publically shame someone as the cause of this affliction, it is an opportunity for the grace and love and blessings of God to be known.
This past week has been a difficult one. We had Stan Moore’s funeral on Monday, and Drew Adams’s funeral yesterday. Both men had multiple serious and ongoing health issues. Both men had been the beneficiaries of transplants: Stan received a kidney; Drew received a heart.
And for each of these men, there was a commitment. Both of them, in their own way, chose to be happy, chose to be grateful, chose to live their lives as fully as they could for as long as they could.
Rather than spend their time in sorrow or trying to figure out why, they instead chose to devote themselves to loving their families, loving their friends, practicing kindness.
These were surely some of the fruits of God’s Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
I cannot say why such kind and loving people passed from this life what we can all agree was way too soon. What I can say is that I see some of the works of God in their example, in their love, in their spirit.
Under the old rules, people with health problems would have been excluded from the community, lest the community be rendered less than pure, less than ritually clean. And the Pharisees were sticklers for the purity laws. Don’t just wash, wash the right way. Don’t just practice your faith, practice it with the purity of the Temple.
Which is why the Pharisees question the man when he says Jesus healed him. He no longer fits their categories. The well stay well, the sick stay sick. The poor get poorer, the rich get richer.
Jesus calls this blindness. Because it means that those who are hurting, those who are afflicted, those who are not seen as whole are treated as the problem, treated as God’s punishment for sin, treated as outcasts.
These are the ones Jesus sees as sons and daughters of God. These are the ones Jesus touches, the ones Jesus lifts up, the ones Jesus loves.
For this is the nature of God:
- The forgotten are remembered.
- The sinners are forgiven.
- The blind receive their sight.
- The weak are strengthened.
- The poor are fed without price, clothed without payment.
- The outcasts are welcomed in.
- And the ones that others overlook are seen.
Even you and me.
Thanks be to God. Amen.