A Way Forward
1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, 7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man."
10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, "Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight."
12 They said to him, "Where is he?"
He said, "I do not know."
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see."
16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided.
17 So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet."
Still not believing the blind had been cured of blindness, they called the parents of the man in and asked how this had happened. The parents confirmed that this was their son but couldn’t explain the healing. They were afraid to confess that it was Jesus who had done it because they knew people who confessed faith in Jesus were being thrown out of the synagogue.
So they called the blind man in again and asked "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?"
An argument ensued, and they drove the formerly blind man out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36 He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." 37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."
Ending with verse 38:
38 He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him.
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you O Christ.
Back in January our worship staff sat down to talk through each of the Scripture texts we were planning to preach during Lent to listen for possible themes to emerge. As we talked realized that each passage had some element of wilderness - and in each story God creates a way forward for the ones searching. So that became our theme: a way forward through the wilderness, a way forward to Easter.
At the same time for our annual Lenten Sunday School class we thought, “Let’s do something different this time.” Instead of a traditional bible study lets explore spiritual practices. Let’s create a resource that people can use at home to explore their faith.
We never could have known what was to come.
And whether God already knew every little detail or God is seated beside us right now watching all of this unfold what I do believe God knew is that one way or the other God was already making preparations to create a way forward in the wilderness.
I can say that with confidence because that has been the narrative of God’s people since the beginning: the people encounter wilderness and God creates a way forward.
The road we started on Ash Wednesday has taken a sharp turn. We don’t know where it’s going, but what we do know is that Jesus, the light of the world, is the one guiding us. And, this journey is offering us an opportunity to allow God to transform our faith forever.
Today’s gospel lesson is not about a global pandemic but a group of people struggling to acknowledge the way God is at work right before their very eyes.
The Pharisees were a people used to controlling narrative. What I mean by that is that they had a lot of say as to how and when things happened in their lives. They did well with structure and routine and ritual and they liked it that way. They were comfortable with their narrative: logical things like people who were blind were that way as a consequence of sin. It helped them make sense of something that was unknown. They liked the rules they had in place like “nobody work on the sabbath” because it helped them create a sense of order in a chaotic world.
Quite honestly, I don’t find it very difficult to understand why people would have been drawn to the narrative the Pharisees were offering. As we’ve all been reminded in the past week, there is a lot of comfort to be found in ritual and routine.
But in their well-intentioned efforts to create an ordered life with all efforts pointed toward the God they worshiped, somewhere along the way the Pharisees lost sight of the fact that the call of faith in this world is twofold: love of God (absolutely) AND love of neighbor. And the two must never be separated. And they became so dedicated to their ways of life, they became blind to the presence of Jesus in their midst.
When Jesus arrives on the scene, he interrupts the Pharisee’s narrative, breaks their rules and questions their judgment.
He calls attention to the fact that this blind man has been left by his community to lead the life of a beggar. The people’s reaction in the story suggests that for years they have been going in and out of the temple, walking right past him, paying no attention. Once he is healed his very own neighbors can’t even say if it’s him or not - it takes his own parents to confirm that yes, this is their son.
Disturbed by the fact that Jesus is meddling in their business, making them look bad, the Pharisees call him out on the fact that by healing the blind man on the sabbath, Jesus has broken the law. He’s worked on the day that is supposed to be holy, it’s right here, etched in stone, “Thou shalt remember the sabbath and keep it holy” they rage, fingers pointing, voices raising. “And they were divided.” it says, verse 16.
Jesus is shifting the narrative around them and the Pharisees feel threatened. Because as they stand face to face with him they are having to admit that they are not in control. They do not have all the answers. They have to admit they have been doing some things wrong. And Jesus is challenging them to relinquish the structures they worked so hard to build and trust the man before them claiming to be the Son of God.
What Jesus is offering them is new eyes. New life. A way forward from their current state defined by the kind of trust and hope professed in the faith of the Psalmist:
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
But in order to receive that gift, the Pharisees are going to have to let go of their narrative. They will have to embrace uncertainty, dedicate themselves to their neighbors in ways they never have before, and trust that even when they feel like darkness is closing in, Jesus - the light of the world, will illuminate a way forward for them.
What does that way forward look like? If we look to Jesus as our guide, in this story it looks a lot like compassion for neighbors. It looks like setting aside a lot of assumptions we may have lived with before in order that we might be the presence of God for one another. And if we look to the testimony of the blind man it looks like receiving the love of Jesus Christ into our lives and then professing that faith. The blind man’s profession was simple. Three words: Lord, I believe.
That was his way forward, and I imagine it can be ours too.
Like you, I imagine, I began this year’s Lenten season with some intentions. It was shaping up to be a busier spring than ever before for our family so my chosen practices were along the lines of simplifying. I was going to try and stay off social media more, I was going to try to protect some family time in a season of projects and meetings and kids sports practices and music lessons.
Of course that narrative went out the window Thursday, March 12th. But what quickly emerged was a Spirit-led narrative. Here at the church, our eyes were suddenly opened to the essence of who we are truly called to be in this world. We are members of the body of Christ. And as such, we are now led to do everything we can to maintain our worship, and to care for one another. Love of God. Love of neighbor. And the two must never be separated.
That is our way forward: Looking to Christ and professing “Lord, we believe.” Opening our eyes to vulnerable members of our community and offering acts of compassion.
As things continue to unfold, we will be re-discovering the narrative of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Things that once seemed urgent are now going to be set on the back burner. The structures of church life are going to need to become flexible. We are no longer in control of the narrative in ways we once were.
But here is what will sustain us:
The true narrative of God’s people has been, is, and always will be this: God’s people find themselves in the wilderness. Darkness threatens to close in. But the promises of Jesus remain true: even when we walk through the darkest valley, God is with us. Jesus, the light of the world, opens our eyes and shows us way forward. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not over come it.
Thanks be to God, Amen.