Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. between now and May 10, 2020, for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
1 Samuel 16:1–13 | Psalm 23 | Ephesians 5:8–24 | John 9:1–41
About this moment in history, says Richard Rohr, “We are in a highly teachable moment.”
Before we try to shrug off anything from discomfort to downright suffering, (and I don’t want to minimize this—I am getting daily updates on a colleague who has been in ICU for some days and have been very very sick- and his doctor says he is one of the better cases he is seeing with COVID 19 ) might we be willing to learn what this moment in history has to teach us? As Father Rohr says, “For God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us.”
The gospel today tells about a highly teachable moment with a man who suffers: (Su/b- ferre Latin—from below, to bear.) And not just for this man alone, but for those who are around him. Not only does the man’s blindness make daily living more challenging and resign him to begging for a living; but he bears the weight of people’s callousness and condemnation. His disability, then, is not just about one person alone. He knows the communal nature of injustice first hand; up close and personal. Jesus’ friends say what everyone is thinking they walk past this man: Who messed up here? Something must be wrong if it isn’t “perfect.” There must be someone to blame. This was a cultural understanding then, and now.
Have you ever wondered (and I ask this as a recovering perfectionist) how intolerable we would all be if everything always went the way we wanted it to? At the same time, if you have ever been overcome by not measuring up to some standard, you know how hard that is to bear as well—because we think perfection is expected of us. Of course, the problem is not so much the way things are, as that we think we can see and don’t know that we ourselves are blind. Jesus helps to uncover the way things really are:
So, he first literally creates sight in the blind man. Certainly, out of compassion to ease the man’s suffering, but also out of compassion for the neighbors and religious people- to ease their suffering, too. But the second two groups are going to be a little more challenging: The ones who say they can see! The neighbors respond by denial: This really isn’t the same guy even though he keeps saying he is. Or the religious leaders, who want to know how this happened and come up with a loophole: It was against the law or Jesus is a “sinner.” Then they go after the man who was disabled and try to discount his story. (Sound familiar?) Anything to make the story conform to their own understanding- the blind understanding. They want to remain unaffected and not learn and keep things the way they are. Illness and injustice are just part of the system, right?
What if the system stops working quite so well for all of us? Like, say, with a pandemic? What if- instead of denying, blaming, or buying all the toilet paper- we just felt the gravity of the moment? Acknowledged our feelings of uncertainty and maybe helplessness, and connected with other’s suffering? It’s much nicer not to feel fragile or vulnerable, but- again- allowing the suffering to wound us is what will allow God to finally reach us. It’s sort of a Lent thing, after all. Ashes. Dust. Cross. Our fragility. And also, life-breathed-in anew. Time for transformation.
“Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which”—acc. to Rohr—“always leads to great love.” Maybe it has become more clear to you in these days what love looks like. I’ve met more of my neighbors (from a safe distance) on trails and the road as we’ve been out walking. We wave more. Share names. Even stories. How might we care for these other human beings that share our neighborhoods- and our planet? Maybe you have thoughts. I am thinking: Better access to health care, food, services; transparency in government, support of family businesses, supportive services… It just becomes so obvious that the religious leaders in our Bible reading get caught up in trying to figure out how Jesus is doing this and how they can get back in control, blindly leading: And in the meantime, this has happened, which has revealed the old, tired ways; which can only—finally—be marveled at: A suffering man has been healed! Wake up and see! This is, after all, the pattern of God.
And of Jesus too: Who did not come condemning people who aren’t perfect. He did come to judge- or make it obvious- however: “that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” We’d rather say we have the answers and certainty: Instead, we get the opportunity to trust in great love. Which, yes, breaks us open to know and see suffering; and how the weight of it lays upon all of us. And is therefore all the much lighter. Jesus leaned into the suffering- and so healed and cast out the demons and demonstrated the abundance of God—and finally became suffering itself on the the cross.
Which leads to this freedom that we see in the man born blind getting a little feisty. No longer suffering from blindness and social stigma, he sees it all for what it is; speaks out in defiance of the authorities; names the sham: “Why, do you want to follow him, too?” May we be feisty as well, when our eyes are opened and our sight becomes clear; and may we be honest when we realize we were suffering in our small thinking and our blindness. In this way, we will see clearly the great love of Jesus that transforms us all. For THIS is the beginning of all our healing.
Thanks be to God. Amen.