Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lent 4A: Fear, Friendship, and Faith

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

Today is Laetare Sunday, also known as Mothering or Refreshment Sunday. In the tradition of Mothering Sunday, we pause to give thanks for our mother church, the Mother of our Lord, and the motherliness of God – hence the pink vestments. In the tradition of Refreshment Sunday, we give ourselves a breather after a month faithfully observing our Lenten disciplines.

We do this to remind ourselves that we aren’t “doing Lent” - God is doing Lent in us by our invitation. We do this to remind ourselves that we can’t earn our salvation by our own efforts, no matter how faithful they are. We are sinners saved by grace, and so today we stop to receive that grace, the refreshment of God’s abundant love.

After today, we will continue on our Lenten journey from being darkness to being light, as the author of the epistle to the Ephesians says. As we draw ever closer to God during this holy season, we can’t help but realize that God and God’s love are so much more than we can comprehend, or conceive, or control. And as much as we love the truth of that, it also frightens us.

There is an old Jewish saying attributed to Rabbi Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidic Judaism, who said: "Fear builds walls to bar the light."[iii] And this is what we see in the gospel story today. Something new, something different has happened – and it's something that has never happened before.

A man who had been born blind is healed and now he sees. There were plenty of stories floating around in that time about miraculous healings where a person's sight had been restored, but this healing is different from those others because this man's sight was created.

When Jesus made mud from the dust of the earth (think about Genesis here) and wiped it on the man's eyes, he was doing what only God can do (creating something out of nothing) and what God has been doing since the first day of creation – bringing light out of darkness. [iv]

This event caused all who witnessed it to confront the very core of their beliefs. It took them beyond their small, certain concepts about God and it left them confused and fearful.

Since the healing happened on the Sabbath, and the law of Moses had been clearly violated, they brought the healed man to the Pharisees – their religious authorities. As a result, the Pharisees found themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place.

This man truly had been born blind, a fact even the Pharisees eventually conceded. But now this man is healed – and the man called Jesus healed him.

Such an amazing thing could only have happened by the power of God's Spirit, so Jesus must be from God. But the healing happened on the Sabbath, and so, it violated the law of Moses, which means Jesus is a sinner… and everyone knows God doesn't listen to sinners…

The Pharisees, unable to resolve this conundrum, shift their focus to the man who was healed. They could revile him because he was a nobody, a lowly beggar, whose blindness from birth was a sure sign of his sinfulness. How dare this sinful nobody challenge the certainty of their beliefs! And they drove him out.

But God does not see as mortals see. Hearing about the man's excommunication, Jesus finds him and asks him: Do you believe in the Son of Man? Probably unsure about any of his beliefs by then, the man asks for help from his healer: Tell me so that I may believe.

Jesus' response to him is so amazing: You have seen him … you (who were blind) have seen him. Your eyes of faith have seen the Son of God and you have already testified to it, you have already suffered for it. You have seen him. And the man gets it, crying out, Lord, I believe! And he worshiped him.

Sometimes, we know the truth even before we understand it. The problem is the truth, like God, is often too big for us to manage, so we build walls to bar the light. It isn't that we want to shut the light out. We just want to reduce the glare of it, the dazzling whiteness of it, the big-ness of it.

Redeemer is a community of faith, a family of friends. What binds us together is the love of God in Christ which lives in us, [as we live]…in him. Our faith assures us of God's promises of fullness of life, abundant grace, and steadfast love. And so – we have can move forward into whatever future God leads us to with confidence. As we go, we only need to be willing to go together, for one – and only one – purpose: to be the lights of Christ love carrying on Christ's work of the reconciliation of the whole world to God.

We do this by telling our story, proclaiming the Good News in our lives. We do this in the joy of our worship, and in the love expressed in our ministries.

I'd like to close with a story I heard recently about fear, friendship, and faith. A woman was on a hike with a group of friends. The place they planned to stop for lunch brought them across the crest of a small mountain peak. Just past the rocky crest, was a clearing where picnic tables allowed hikers to enjoy a magnificent view of the valley below.

As the woman stepped onto the crest, she looked up and saw a rock ledge jutting out into the sky. Suddenly, all she could see was rock and sky – a big, boundless sky. She lost her sense of where she was in relation to the ground under her feet. There was nothing for her to hold onto, no wall to lean on, and she found herself paralyzed, confused, and very afraid.

She truly believed that if she tried to take a step, she might fall off the edge of the mountain. Seeing her friend unable to move, another woman in the group took her hand, and spoke to her, gently reminding her to look down at her feet.

Seeing that her feet were safely on the ground, the woman breathed a sigh of relief. Her friend continued to speak to her, asking her to trust her as she led her across the crest to the other side where their lunch was waiting on the picnic tables.

She did. And she said no lunch ever tasted as good, and no vista ever looked as beautiful as that one did that day.

We are children of light, and so, we have nothing to fear. God will always provide a hand to lead and a voice to speak the words that will center and ground us. And God will always lead us to a place where a table is already set for us, a fabulous banquet with a glorious view of green pastures and still waters.

And having been fed, we have work to get to – because we have seen him. The eyes of our community of faith have seen him. We have already testified to it. We have already suffered for it. We have seen him, and we believe!

[i] From the documentary DVD: C.S. Lewis, Beyond Narnia, a Faith and Values Meida presentation, a Windborne Production, 2005.
[ii] Source:
[iii] Baal Shem Tov, Reprinted from A Treasury of Jewish Quotations, edited by Joseph L. Baron, Jason Aronson, Inc.
[iv] John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Preachers and Teachers: On Earth as It Is in Heaven, Year A (Liturgical Press, 2004), 131.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I hope that we are ready to take that first step.