Advent II– God is in this Relationship for the Long Haul

The First Reading from Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lordshall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.  9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

2 Peter 3:8-15

8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;  3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

Advent II– God is in this Relationship for the Long Haul

By Mother Beth

Last week in Mark we heard about the ending – not just the ending of the book but the end of this world.  This week Mark opens with a beginning.  This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God.  It seems an odd place to start – there is no nativity story – no lineage – no Mary and Joseph with dreams or angelic visitations.

Mark starts further back – with a quote from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.  And this is important because the truth is the good news about Jesus and it does not start with a baby in a manger – but rather with a promise.

A promise that goes way back to the beginning of all things.  If you have ever had the opportunity to celebrate Lessons and Carols – you will remember that we trace the coming of Jesus back to Genesis to show that Christ is a promise right from the beginning of the world.

Jesus is not God’s back-up plan but Jesus was God’s plan all along.

And Mark makes this point about Jesus by starting his gospel with a quote from Isaiah – showing that Isaiah foretold about John the Baptist – the man who would come before the Messiah – the man who would prepare the way for the Christ.

We hear in our 2 Peter reading that “9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” God takes the time and patience to wait on people – so that they would be able to come to a place of repentance – to come to the end of themselves – to hit the bottom, so to speak and realize that they need a Saviour.

The beginning of the story is the very beginning of time.

And Mark writes that it is the beginning of good news – which is the gospel – literally good news.  So what is good?

And what is news in the Christmas story?  We have heard it over and over again.  We can tell it in our sleep.  It has become nostalgic and we know it by rote.

Doing the same thing over and over is not news – Christmas brings with it a measure of memory and nostalgia – if you’re a traditionalist at heart – doing things the same you always have is comfortable and important.  But what is news about that?   How can we listen with new ears this year?  How can we celebrate in a way that honours the faithfulness of the past and looks forward to the future with expectancy?

 

The Isaiah reading that we hear today is a cry to be comforted.  Are we more interested in being comfortable then comforted or comforting?  The Advent Conspiracy program talks about the idea that Christmas is a love story – that God pours out his love for us – in coming to be one of us – pitching his tent among us and yet at Christmas we are often celebrating another kind of love story.  A weird love story that involves people pushing and shoving others at Black Friday sales or going into debt to give extravagant gifts to their children.

Think about the fact that going to the mall becomes a Christmas worship experience for many.  They line up to get in and make plans and preparations for what they will accomplish while there.  People look for meaning in the purchase of things.  And honestly I will tell you it is hard not to get pulled into that love story and that worship experience because that has become just as much about nostalgia and tradition as the story of Jesus as a baby in a manger.  We celebrate both the consumerism story and the story of Jesus alongside each other and we have become comfortable with that.

I am right there with you and I am not suggesting that we don’t give gifts to our family or friends this year.  I am asking us to consider the words we hear this morning in the gospel of Mark…

What is the good news about Jesus Christ?  We have heard it and we have memorized it but have we truly let it impact our lives?  Have we been transformed by it?

Perhaps the only way to experience the good news is to move out of what is comfortable – and shake things up.

One Christmas we had the experience of being in a rental home with all of my treasured ornaments and Christmas paraphernalia in storage and being without those things helped me to think about Christmas in a different way.  It helped me to really think about what was important about the celebration of Christ come to live among us.  It helped me to think about all the people, in my community and around the world, who did not have access to all the trappings of Christmas.  I am not suggesting that you all need to go and get rid of everything or pack it all away.   I am suggesting that being uncomfortable or displaced can help us to experience the good news as news – as something fresh and inviting – not just the same old, same old.

The gospel of Mark reminds us that the good news of Jesus comes to a people who have been waiting and watching for a Saviour.  A people who respond to the preparation of John the Baptist who calls for the baptism of repentance.

Are we waiting and watching for a Saviour?  Are we calling out to be comforted?  Or maybe we have been lulled into the comfortable place of nostalgia and sentimentality.   Rather than Advent being a time of expectancy and preparation – of allowing the good news of Jesus Christ to transform us – we are content with the story of the innocent baby in a manger that is no threat to us or our lifestyle.

Do we recognize the miracle that the coming of Christ is?  Do we recognize our own need for a Saviour?  Is the nativity story just another tradition that we are happy to unpack at Christmas, along with Santa?

Do we hear in the promise of the prophets the love of God that waits patiently for us?  God is in this relationship business for the long haul.   I remember one day sitting in a church and looking at the nativity figures and realizing that God’s plan involved thousands of years and many generations.  I thought about all those people who watched and waited – who did not lose faith despite the fact that very little seemed to change in their lifetime.  I thought about how quick I am to grow tired of waiting for God to answer my prayer.  How quickly I lose sight of the plan or the trajectory that God has put me on.

God’s plan is to draw all people to himself – to reach as many as he can.  Can we hear in the words of the prophet, the beauty of a great love that calls to us both from a time and a place far away and from the here and now?

May God give us new eyes and open hearts to receive in a new way the message of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

May God give us ears to hear the story of the God of love who waits patiently for his people to turn to him and continues to send messages of love.

May God give us hearts to receive in both old, traditional ways and in new, exciting ways the good news of the gospel.

Amen.

The Parable of the Talents

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 25:14-30

14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The Parable of the Talents      by Mother Beth                                   Matthew 25

Several years ago when Stephen and I were on vacation with our boys it became obvious that fear was playing a big part in deciding what theme park rides we could all go on together.  You see Stephen and I are both roller coaster riders but our sons are not quite that daring.  So one afternoon by the pool I decided to have a chat with the boys about fear and how it can sometimes have the upper hand in our lives.  I wanted to emphasize that fear is not necessarily logical and if they could just see the logic of a situation they could overcome their fear.  When the chat was over, Nathan asked if I would go down the waterslide at the pool.

Now this waterslide is a completely enclosed tube that goes into a small brick structure and winds around to come out into the deep end of the pool and I do not like enclosed spaces.  I attempted to put Nathan off by saying that I would rather not go down the slide, to which he blurted, “Mom you can’t give us a lecture on overcoming our fears and then give in to yours!”

Ah yes.  The old adage “do as I say not as I do” had come back to haunt me.  So I decided that I would attempt to go down the slide.    I watched as many small children and many adults went down the slide unscathed: plunging with a smile into the warm pool.  I went to the top of the slide, I sat down in the slide and froze.

I could not muster the strength to go down that slide.  I was paralyzed with illogical fear.  I summoned all my strength, I told myself that if four and five year olds could go down without fear, I need not be afraid.  I tried again and backed out.  Nathan and Matthew swam waving at the bottom of the slide cheering me on.  Steve coached from the top and still I cowered in fear at the thought of getting into the slide!  It was not rational or even reasonable but it was real fear.  Now I realize that in one way it made absolutely no difference if I ever went down that slide but I wanted to show my children that I could overcome fear and make my own decision.

Finally, another gentleman came along and said, “Just so you know, you have a crowd of kids cheering you on so why don’t you just close your eyes and go – with your eyes closed you won’t know if it’s dark or light and the water will just pull you along.”  So that is what I did.  I closed my eyes and went down that slide twice – the first time to show Nathan that I could do it and the second to prove to myself that I could do it again.

So what is the point of this story?  The point is that fear is real and it can be powerful.  Fear can keep us from doing the things that we need to do or from taking a risk and doing something new and different.  Fear can control us if we let it.

In the gospel reading today we hear about risk taking.  Jesus tells the parable of the talents.  To one servant a master gave 5 talents, to another he gave two talents and to the last servant the master gave a single talent.  This master entrusted to his servants large sums of money.

Today a talent is thought to be about 20 years-worth of wages (about 1.5 million dollars).  The first two servants are praised for being faithful with the money that they were given.  They each managed to invest their sums and double it.   The third servant takes his talent and buries it.  Why does he do this?  Fear.  He is afraid of his master and he is afraid of losing the money.  He is given an opportunity to show faithfulness but he is paralyzed by fear.

Further we see that the third servant thinks that his Master is harsh and calls him someone who reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he did not scatter seed!  But is this a true picture of the Master?  The master entrusted to this servant a large sum of money – a generous offer; allowing the servant an opportunity to show faithfulness.  Unfortunately, the servant does not seem to know his master.  Perhaps he has a picture in his mind’s eye of who the master is and he has allowed this picture, this idea of a harsh master to cloud his behavior and make him afraid.

Have you ever walked through a fun house and looked in those mirrors?  The reflection back is a very distorted picture of who you are.  One mirror will exaggerate your head, another will stretch your body.  It is a reflection of you but not an accurate one.  Sometimes I think this is how we view God.

We may have had a bad experience with other Christians or we may have heard a distorted interpretation of scripture.  Someone may have used God as a punishment for our behavior.  When we hear that God is a Father we may have a distorted view of him because we did not have a very good experience with our own father.  Do we have a distorted picture of who God is?  Does that picture of a harsh, demanding God keep us from fulfilling His purposes here on Earth?  We have been entrusted with the gospel – a message of good news; a message of hope and reconciliation.  Our image of who God is and what he expects of us might limit our willingness to share that good news with others.

Our distorted image of God might even keep us from seeing the gospel as Good News.

What about how we see ourselves?  Sometimes I think the paralyzing fear comes in the insecurity about our own abilities.  What if the last servant doesn’t trust his own ability to make a good decision?  I mean it is all well and good to invest the master’s money but what if I choose the wrong thing to invest in?  What if I am not smart enough to see the good thing when it is offered to me?  Many times I think we have a distorted view of ourselves, as well.  And that indecision and fear keeps us from moving forward.

Just being entrusted with something is not enough.  The servant was given the talent but he didn’t do anything with it.  Just being given the peace and forgiveness of the gospel is not enough – we are expected to share it.  Burying it will not do any good for us or for our neighbours.   You may have noticed that in our society we have a little problem with hoarding things – just turn on the TV and you will see shows called Consumed, Hoarders or Storage Wars.  We are amassing things just because.  Not for their usefulness, not to help others but just to have them.  Keeping these things stored is costing us thousands of dollars a year!

Things are meant to be used or to be shared.  The Master rewarded the servants who took what they were given and used it for his gain.  God has entrusted to us his message of hope for the world.  It is good news to us and to others.   What is our motivation?  Are we held back by fear of risk and failure OR are we motivated by God’s great love for us and His generosity towards us?   May we see in our Master the generosity and grace that that extends great gifts to us.  May we see ourselves as He sees – entrusted with the gospel – chosen to take risks and to make an impact on our community.  May His love compel us to be faithful to go out into the world and share the great gift that He has entrusted to us.  Amen.

 

The Wheat and the Weeds

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 13:24-43

24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” 31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 34Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” 36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!       The Gospel of Christ.

The Wheat and the Weeds – A Homily by Mother Beth

I read a story online recently about a woman who had cancelled her wedding and she was told by the hotel (where the reception was to be held) that she would be unable to get a refund on her deposit because it was too close to the date and the food was already purchased.  The woman and her fiancé decided that they did not want the money or the food to go to waste.  So the woman decided that she would host a party for all of the homeless people in the neighbourhood.   She would go ahead with the party.  I mention this story because when I heard it, it made me think of the kind of story Jesus might tell.  The kingdom of God is like a man who invited his friends to a banquet…  So my first question for you today is “Do you see images or pictures of what God is doing or wants to do when you look around the community?”  Are there life-giving things happening around you that remind and encourage you to be about kingdom business.  I pray that God would open my eyes more and more to the things around me – the places where He is working to show us what His kingdom is really like.

We hear about three images or parables that Jesus told in the Gospel of Matthew today.  And as an overall message of the whole passage I would say that the images of wheat, seeds and yeast that Jesus uses in this passage to create a picture of the kingdom seem to speak at least one common idea.  The spreading and Growth of the kingdom is happening – slow and steady – we should be patient and keep on keeping on.

In the first parable about the wheat and the tares, we hear that “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.”  When the slaves noticed that there were weeds growing then they came and asked, Master did you not sow good seed in the field? =

How many times in your life have you wanted to ask God if he has sown good seed in the field?  You look around at the way things are going – in the world – in the nation – in your community – in your life.  And you think – Really?  Is this what it is supposed to be like?  Is this what God intends to have happen?  Well yes and no.

Yes God has sown the good seed and there are good things growing and no not all the things that are happening around us are the result of that seed.  The master explains to the slaves that the enemy has also sown seed – some of the stuff around us and some of the things that are happening are a result of the enemy’s seed.

And so the slaves say, as we might, shouldn’t we pull out all the weeds – shouldn’t we get rid of all the bad stuff???  Wouldn’t we love to live a world where everything was ordered and went according to our plan?  Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone did as we do and thought like we think?

But the Master responds explaining; the wheat and the weeds are growing together and if you pull out the weeds you will disturb and destroy some of the wheat.

If any of you are gardeners you will have realized that sometimes weeds look like the plants –they grow near – they masquerade as it were.  What you see is not always what you get.

 

 

There are weeds that are fake versions of plants.  Unless you are a very adept gardener, how do you know the difference?   Well you don’t  – until it comes to bearing fruit you can’t tell which is the weed and which is the plant. We are known by our fruit.

Matt 7:16 “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”

Don’t worry that you will not be recognized by God – the fruit that you bear will be obvious to God and to others.  God knows the difference between wheat and weeds and He is the one that matters.

This can be difficult for us because we want to stand out – we want to be recognized – we want to be affirmed.   Well, let it become obvious – not in an obnoxious way – not in waving a banner about how great you are – or calling attention to yourself but by bearing good fruit.  What is the fruit that we are called to bear… the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians  5:  22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

God is the one who decides who is “in” and who is “out” not us

I recently read a little saying…

“While I was busy judging others, I left the closet door open and a bunch of skeletons fell out.”

Our temptation often, is to look around and to try make sense of things by sorting people into categories.   But, what if we stopped trying to figure out who is “in”and who is “out” and loved everyone?  What if we spoke hope and peace to everyone?  What if we actually took God at his word when he told us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbour ‘as yourself”?  What impact might that have?  How would things change for us and for our community?

In looking back at the picture that Jesus gives us of wheat and weeds, we know that weeds don’t become wheat so the analogy stops there.  But we do know that we are new creatures through Jesus Christ and we know that God wants to transform others as well.

So can the people around us  – even those that look like weeds to us – can they be transformed into new creatures?  Isn’t that how we got to be part of the kingdom of God – someone, maybe many someone’s did not give up on us!    They loved us.  They prayed for us.  They spoke words of hope and encouragement to us.

Let us keep doing the kingdom work and trust God to sort out the rest.   The great news that we hear in the gospel this morning is that God is responsible for what happens on the day of judgment.  It is not my responsibility or your responsibility to determine the outcome of each other’s lives.   We can trust that the master has planted good seed in the field and that he knows the difference between wheat and weeds.  In the meantime, we are called to bear fruit. We are called to be evidence of the good seed and in so doing to have an impact on the field, the family, the community, the nation where we are planted.  Amen.

 

A New Day

What would it look like to start a  new church?  How would you go about this?  I am sure that many of us would simply say, “That seems like too much work!”  And to be honest, that was my first reaction.  And if it was up to me to make it happen that would be a problem.  The good news is that the new Episcopal church in Flagler Beach (Flagler Beach Mission) is not about me!   The good news is that Jesus loves the people of Flagler Beach and has called us to begin to gather a community to worship and serve God; sharing the good news about the love, grace and mercy of a forgiving Savior.

Would you be interested if I told you that partnering with this new church meant you could be a part of something creative and fun?  Or if it meant you could have some positive impact in and on a community?  What if it meant you could begin to build relationships that would transform your life and the lives of those you encounter?    Please join us as we begin to receive and extend the love of a great God in a great place. – Mother Beth Pessah

 

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I Once was Blind but, Now I See

The Gospel of John 9 – True Blindness (MSG)

1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

6-7 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!”

But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”

He said, “It’s me, the very one.”

10 They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

11 “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”  12 “So where is he?”  “I don’t know.”

13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

17 They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”  26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”  28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”   30-33 The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

34 They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.   35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

38 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.  39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”  40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”  41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

I Once was Blind but, Now I See

Lent IV – Year A – John 9

Science and medicine can do amazing things today and we are probably more likely to think in terms of scientific solutions to problems than to signs and wonders.  Both are gifts from God and miraculous.  The gospel lesson for today reveals God’s ability to bring healing to a blind man.

We catch up with Jesus and the disciples in John chapter nine.   The passage starts out stating that as they walked along they saw a man blind from birth and the disciples asked, ““Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

It was a common religious idea that sin caused physical defects and sickness.   The disciples have seen Jesus at work with others – doing other signs and yet they default to what they have been taught before.  They revert back to the old ways of handling things.  So instead of imagining that this person could be made whole,– they figure he is blind for a reason so they want to focus on what that reason is.  Don’t we focus more on the purpose of suffering than the suffering person?  We think “Why would this happen to someone? instead of thinking, – what can I do to help bring healing to the situation?

In this instance of healing, the blind man does not ask to be made whole – Jesus offers it.   That alone is pretty amazing I am sure for this man who is blind and is probably used to being treated as invisible.  Jesus approaches him and makes mud and puts it on the man’s eyes and then commands him to go to Siloam and wash it off.  When he does – he can see for the first time.

The neighbors of this man do not recognize him now that he can see.

What is going on here?  Did they pay so little attention to him before or are they just so incredulous about the miracle? – there must be another explanation? – this is not the man this is just someone who looks like him.  Do the people think that because the man was blind he was not intellectually developed enough to tell the story of how he was healed?? Is this an ignorance and prejudice thing?

Or is the question about whether this is a legitimate healing?  Maybe he wasn’t really all that blind after all – maybe Jesus just fixed a bad vision problem but did not actually HEAL the blind man.

They do not listen as the man attempts to satisfy their curiosity – I am he!  – hmm sounds remarkably like Jesus when he answers his accusers – I am he!!!  They do not hear Jesus and like him they do not hear or, ironically, see this man who is now able to see.

They would rather talk about him then to him.  To speak to him – to converse which includes listening – is to open up and build relationship with him – relationship takes work and understanding.    I suspect that sometimes this is also the case for us. We want to know the news about so and so but we would much rather hear it from someone else than to go and hear it firsthand.  It might take effort – it make take relationship – it might take extra time or listening to them.   In what ways do we avoid building relationship with individuals in our community?  In what ways would we rather talk about the person than talk to them??

In the gospel the neighbours decide to take him to the Pharisees – they question the man who declares that Jesus is a prophet

Then they question the parents of the man – who are terrified to say anything – if they pronounce Jesus as the Christ then they will be put out of the synagogue and so will their son.

So they hand it off to their son – he is an adult ask him.  They do not want to be responsible for having him kicked out of the synagogue. What does this mean for them – their identity as parents –as parents  of the man born blind – they get a new identity too – now they will be the parents of the man who was healed by Jesus –  are you someone who likes attention or not?

I know my mother in law used to shrink back when my husband liked to stand up in the cart and sing at the top of his lungs – some people do not like to be noticed – they like to fly under the radar – what about you?

When the situation is difficult and your answer could result in dire consequences – what is your testimony?  What is your witness?

The Pharisees demand that the man, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.

And he says – One thing I know I once was blind but now I see  –

If these words sound familiar it’s because John Newton chose them for his hymn Amazing Grace.  John Newton had been a slave trader who had come to realize the error of his ways and repented of his activity in slave trade and through the experience with William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade became an outspoken force against slavery. His blindness was not physical blindness but of spiritual blindness to the sin of slavery and his part in it.

I have told many people that one of my favourite verses is found in Job,

“I have spoken things I did not understand”.  I have discovered in my

life that I have used pat answers or championed a particular cause only to have my “eyes opened” to the truth of the situation later.   When God opens our eyes to the truth then we realize how blind we were.  This is what Jesus is illustrating for those around him.  Although they think they can see clearly, they are in fact blind to who he is.

Our testimony can only be what we know –– it is not a theological treatise – it might not answer all the questions but we can speak what we have experienced – the blind man knows that however it happened – he used to be blind but now he can see – how can someone refute that?  This is the power of testimony.  This is a good reminder – we don’t have to have all the answers or know how it all works but we tell what we know – what we have seen and heard.

The blind man says, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God

does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

He challenges the logic of the Pharisees – you don’t know but how can you refute this evidence? – I am healed and it has never happened before – therefore this man is from God!!!

Where have we felt blind in our lives? Where have we experienced a sense of new sight, new life, or new opportunity to be the person we have been called to be?  This is our testimony – this is our witness to others.  And if for some reason you question whether you have had that experience – if you feel like you are still blind and stumbling around in the dark, let me assure you that Jesus still comes to those in need to grant sight, faith, and life to all those who ask.  Let us be brave and inquisitive and call out to God when we need to see clearly – ask and  you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.  May we allow God to open our eyes to the ways that we have been blind and may we rejoice together as we say, I once was blind but now I see.  Amen.