March 22, 2020, Readings and Sermon
Ephesians 5:8-14 NIV
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
John 9:1-41 NIV
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
“Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
Sermon: Facing the Wind
“I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” So wrote the German author Herman Hesse roughly 95 years ago, in the dust and the mud and the ruin of The Great War -- the “war to end all wars” -- and amid the anxiety, fear and economic ruin which precluded the rise of Nazism, the Great Depression, and the second global convulsion. To live and breathe and have our being in accord with some deep and abiding sense of self and of God -- is this not a universal ideal, is that not a deep longing, though one with which so many of us struggle? To identify and claim these things, these sentiments, these emotions, these yearnings that germinate and take root deep within our soul -- is this not the very essence of the spiritual journey itself? Stop, pause, breathe, and pray; reflect, meditate, and ask again -- “why is that so very difficult?” Here is an age-old question, but one we must ask in Lent and beyond: What is it that gets in the way? How is it, really and truly, that we are to set our mind and our heart on things divine and above, and not merely on things human? How is that we are to lose the material so as to gain the spiritual? How is it that we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow? How is it, in the words of the Psalmist, that we might “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”? [Psalm 23: 6] Really,” Why is that so very difficult?”
I am quite certain, as always, that I have no definitive or foolproof answer to offer. Certainly not in these present and uncharted and anxious hours. Certainly not in our present world and amid our present circumstances. Men and women, seekers and the lost, disciples and drifters, and faith communities both large and small have wrestled with this call, this challenge, this summons, this mystery, for well more than 2000 years. And so, in what I have discerned and prayed to be a truth-filled and life-giving process (at least for me), I answer and approach these vital questions with yet more questions. I hear and I listen to and I digest scripture, and then, at least for now, at least in this season of personal and communal waiting and worry and wonder, I reflect back even while I dream ahead. I sit. I seek quiet. I counsel patience for my self. I urge my soul to settle. I try not merely to ‘hear’, but to ‘listen’. God is here, in all of it.
Between the lines of Holy Scripture, at all times and in all places, we are offered some direction which foretells a right pathway and a heavenly future. Clearly there are many such questions for the seeker to ask, but I offer three to you this morning, three questions which I pose to myself in an effort to chart a way through the wilderness of my own soul, three questions which might, in a gentle manner, minister to us and to our thirsts, just as the angels ministered to Jesus in his desert wanderings, just as the water came forth from the dry rocks at Massah and Meribah as we heard last week. Three questions which I have asked every person and parish, every year, every Lent, for more than 30 years, on this very same mid-Lent Sunday:
First, what is your passion? What is it, at the most profound level of your being, that you love and cherish and enjoy? What gives you the deepest and most lasting sense of satisfaction? Each of us will answer differently, and no two of us will be drawn by the same desires nor fulfilled by the same purpose. But within that examination the underlying barometer is the measurement of just how often -- or not -- you find, follow, pursue and allow those passions to shape and reveal your true self to others and to the world. Since all that we do is mission in some form, this question need not be viewed only as a “Sunday question” or some catechism test. Quite the opposite. God endowed you and me with gifts, no two alike, and with offerings for the world, no two alike. I am convinced that the passions of your soul, part of that precious and beloved formation by God, are also what make you and me alive in the Spirit and engaged in the world. So where are they now, your passions and your dreams? What has become of them? How do they thrill and animate and sustain and nourish you?
Second, where are you broken? I know, that is becoming a slightly overused word in the religious lexicon -- ‘broken’. But I mean this in the most tender and gentle way possible, in the way that Jesus himself approaches such fracture and wounds, in the ways by which you and I might come to know our true selves by actually laying claim to such places and pains within and without. 12 Step programs talk about making a “searching and fearless moral inventory.” This is indeed a courageous undertaking, a journey to be commended, but I am actually speaking of something simpler, at least for now, at least in this anxious time. For we cannot be healed unless we know and name where that healing is actually needed in us, and we cannot then heal the world or others unless we ourselves are at least striving for such healing in our own midst. Ecclesiastes reminds us that for everything there is a season, and in due time we shall pass through them all. And so a season of the heart, and a time of calm and some space for Godly examination can lead us to authentically declare and name our own wounds and transgressions, our own stuck places and stiff necks, how we feel hurt and where we have hurt others. This is not an exercise in self-pity, but rather I see this as a spiritual undertaking of great truth and honor -- “Here I am Lord”, imperfections and all.
Finally, what is your cross? Actually, let me re-word that question in a more radical and, I think, more authentic Christian fashion: for what would you be willing to die? Under what circumstances, for which person or belief or ideal, in which situation or for which principle would you be prepared to lay down your life? This is really what Jesus is asking us in the Gospels, and it is, perhaps the essential question of discipleship. What is it in your life, in your faith, in your Spirit that you treasure and value so dearly that you would, in fact, deny all else and follow, even unto death? This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others have come to claim as “the cost of discipleship”, the price we gladly pay for the gift of Christ Jesus, the total and utter giving over of ourselves so as to know “costly grace”. As Bonhoeffer wrote shortly before his execution: “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follows Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”  What price then would you pay? Where? How?
So, three questions, three places, three resting points in our wilderness time of Lent: What is your passion? Where are you broken? For what would you be willing to die? I am sure there are more, others, but in this present age and under the anxious clouds of an exceedingly fragile world, this is my self-examination in March 2020. I don’t expect miraculous answers overnight. But I know that if I do not ask these questions then there shall be no answers of any kind at all, ever.
And thus I pray, for us and for our world: Walk gently. Sow kindness. Seek solace. Find rest. Make amends. Offer forgiveness. Receive forgiveness. Share a hug when the Spirit permits. Be, as Robert Frost once wrote, “a swinger of birches”, if only for a while, to remember what it was like to look at the world in such a new and different way. Love God, but most important, please allow God to love you. And may your Lenten journey continue with hope and with courage and with peace, as we make our fitful and fearless way to the empty tomb. ~ Amen.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, Collier Books, NY. c1963. p47