Sermon for 4th Sunday in Lent - March 26 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A
March 26, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

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

Samuel did not see as God saw; he did not know who was to be anointed as the replacement for King Saul.  The Pharisees did not see as the blind man saw – they did not know that Jesus was from God.

The man moves from physical blindness to spiritual sight; the authorities from physical sight to spiritual blindness.

The physical blindness is not about sin – but not seeing the spiritual light is.[1]

The disciples, as noted in last week’s reading, and the Pharisees as well, assumed there was SIN for the man to be blind – reflecting a traditional linkage between sin and illness.  They regard sin as being about action, as a moral category.  The evangelist sees sin as something rather different – the failure to see the grace of God in Jesus’ presence.

The Pharisees as for his story; and he says, “This man put mud on my eyes and I could see.”  Then the questioners say the Jesus is a sinner, because he made a mud to cure the man’s sight on the Sabbath. “He is not from God,” some say, while others wonder how someone who is not from God could do such a thing.  So they ask the man what he thinks.

Now he says, “He is a prophet.”  We know that Elijah cured a sick child, so this is not all that unusual. 

But the Jews could not accept his words – they were the authorities, the arbiters of matters of faith, and they did not accept the idea that this blind man, or formerly-blind man’s experience told a different story than their understanding of the Scriptures.  So they said that the man could not have been born blind.  His parents gave a different account: he has been blind his whole life. But they would not speculate how he had received his sight – and put the onus back on the man himself.

So then the educated religious experts tell the man, “Give glory to GOD” for the healing, not to this sinful man (who broke the Sabbath rules).  And he says, “I don’t know if he’s a sinner; all I know is now I see.”  When they pressed him on how he had been healed, he responded, “I already told you.”  He gets a bit sarcastic, perhaps, at this point – “do you want to be his disciples, too?”

They insulted him – “God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this guy comes from at all.”

I would remind that according to John the Evangelist:  Jesus comes from God, he is the Word of God, not just words spoken by God to Moses, but God spoken.

The man responds by mocking them – “You say you don’t know where he comes from, but look what he did!  It’s unheard of!  Unless he were a man of God, he could not do this.”

So this man’s understanding has moved on from “prophet” to “Man of God” as an identifier of Jesus.

Meanwhile the authorities dig themselves in deeper – they judge the man a sinner and eject him. 

Now Jesus finds him, and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man – that is, the Messiah.  And he says, “Who is he, that I may believe in him?”  Jesus says, “I am, the one speaking with you.”  The man responds with a strong statement of faith, calling him Lord.

Jesus says he has come to differentiate between those who see and those who don’t – but it’s not about physical sight – that has nothing to do with sin.  You’ll recall last week’s reading, when the disciples asked, who sinned – this man or his parents – that he was born blind.  Jesus answered, he was born blind so that he might see.

A few remaining Pharisees ask, we are not blind, are we?  And Jesus says, if you were blind, you would not have sin – again, it’s not about physical blindness.  But in their case, their blindness is spiritual, for they refuse to see the evidence presented to them, they will not accept it, they do not understand it, and they reject it.

This all raises the question in my mind: What are we sure of, what do we know?  

The Jewish authorities in this story knew that Sabbath-breaking was a sign that a person was a sinner.  They knew that a sinner could not bring healing – so either the man was lying or he wasn’t really blind.  They knew that the Messiah was going to be a particular sort of person, and Jesus definitely did not meet their expectations.  They knew the blind man was a sinner and could not be trusted, and when he insisted on what he said he knew, they kicked him out.

They knew all sorts of things.

That weren’t true.

I wonder, what do we know, I mean really know, that might not be true, after all?

Do we know – really know – what God expects of us?

Do we know – really know – how we should live our lives as faithful to God?

People are prone to separate, divide, judge, even condemn others, we tend to ignore, dismiss, even demean those not like ourselves.  We know we do this, and it kinda feels good sometimes – our political opponents have failed at something they wanted to accomplish, our boss has suffered a set back, a killer has been executed, a boorish lout has tripped and fallen on the sidewalk…

It’s rather satisfying to point the finger and say, nyah, nyah, nyah.  Isn’t it?  C’mon, admit it, we all feel the urge from time to time.

If we’re well brought up, we don’t do any of these things in public; instead, we keep our mouths shut, maybe we even help the boorish lout up from the sidewalk, or say a prayer for the executed killer.

It’s a start….

But I learned something on my trip to Canterbury – and I like to think you’d like to hear what it was.

I learned that God’s love has NO LIMITS. 

For myself, I am good at keeping a list of the ways in which I never do enough and never do well enough, the ways in which I fall short, and the list of things I need to do is always longer and never shorter.

I fall short – and that’s one of the definitions of sin – falling short, missing the mark.  I know this about myself.

I’ve had a hymn running around in my head for several days now: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” but the tune in my head is not the one we usually sing – it’s # 469, St. Helena.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.

What I’ve been learning the last week is that I am loved.

And I’ve been learning the depth and intensity of that love.

Words cannot express it.  Only God can offer it.

And when I feel that love pouring out, pouring out into the world, and into my tiny heart, it is like being overborne by ocean waves, yet never drowning; it is like being thrown into the air, yet never falling; it is like breathing fire, yet never burning; it slays me, yet never kills.  Instead, it gives life.

And I begin at last to know what it is to be loved by God, and to be so filled with Love that I see that nothing else matters – not my sins, not the sins of others; somehow it seems possible that what St Paul promised us – that being filled with the Spirit means sin has no power over us – that nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from that love – is truly ours, given freely, given without measure, without limit, without stint, without hesitation.

And it is possible to swim in that ocean, fly in that air, breathe in that fire, to see the Son of Man as he is, the embodiment of love, mercy, and healing, and to see others – even those unlike me – as loved equally well.

If we believe – if we truly accept – that the message Jesus brings is a message of salvation through love – if we take that on board and into our hearts, we will be free of sin, for every action we take will be taken in love for God, because we will know that there is enough, and we don’t have to earn it, or hoard it, or deny it for others in order to have what we need.

Well, that’s all very well in theory, Evelyn, but we all know that the world doesn’t work that way.  Too bad.  Because it can, it could, and, some day, it will.  If we but open our eyes and our hearts to see.



[1] Gail R. O’Day, Emory University, Candler School of Theology:  blindness and sight relate not to physical sin but to judgment and salvation.  Jesus’ LIFE is what is important, the incarnation is the message, not so much the death – the offer made in the incarnation is the grace, not any “expiation” by his death.


  January 2018  
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