Thursday, March 30, 2017
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Monday, March 27, 2017
Sunday, March 26, 2017
John 9 The Man Who Sees
My 20th high school reunion is this Summer. I have found myself thinking back to what happened in High School. I’m a member of a group in Facebook that is planning the reunion and each time I see a name pop up I find myself digging for a memory. There are usually several to choose from, but the other day I saw the name of a girl and the only thing that came to mind was “that’s the girl who kissed the skunk.”
Now to be sure, not many people have kissed a skunk in my view before, but this particular girl did so in 3rd grade. We were 8. A vet visited out class and brought all kinds of animals with him, including a descented skunk that someone had kept as a pet but abandoned due to societal pressures. (The neighbors kept trying to kill it) Yet that is my identifying memory of her. We attended the same schools for junior high and high school, yet every time I see her I think of her kissing that skunk.
No doubt she has done many wonderful and splendid things with her life. Perhaps she herself doesn’t even remember kissing the skunk. It wasn’t something that we teased her about. I remember thinking she was quite brave. But I have let that moment define her.
In our story, today the main character is defined by his past. Even now, thousands of years later, we call him at best, the man born blind, more likely just the blind man. We cannot let go of his blindness because its who he is. Well, really who he was, but redefining identity is tricky at best.
The man is brought to Jesus’ attention as a way to test Jesus. An object lesson, if you will. Those speaking about him do not speak to him. In fact, he might as well be a convenient prop on the side of the stage, something to reference, but not touch or interact with.
They ask Jesus about his sin, his parents sin. Why is it that God created him blind? What sin occurred that could warrant such punishment? They want Jesus to give them a reasonable, well thought out explanation, hopefully quoting the Torah, or they want Jesus to fall flat on his face and be humiliated.
Jesus, however, refuses to play their game. It is not sin that caused this illness, this limitation, this roadblock. It is here so that you might experience the glory of God.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could look at our illnesses, our challenges, our limitations and roadblocks through this lens? I am by no means denying the reality of sin and it’s affects in the world and our lives. But there are times when we get too bogged down in the past, how we got here, and have no vision for the future God intends.
This man has an encounter with the Logos, the Word-made-flesh, and he is indeed redefined. The same God, who according to John, made the world “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” This Word knelt in the dirt, mixed his spit with the dust and placed it over his eyes and tells him to wash in the water.
When the man returns, he can see! His whole world has changed in an instant. I picture his excitement being like one of the many YouTube videos I’ve watched of people with cochlear implants hearing loved one’s voices for the first time. There is a moment of confusion, but then overwhelming joy!
He returns to the people and everyone rejoices. Right? No, in fact everyone seems put out by his healing. Some even deny that he is the same man born blind.
In this story, it seems like it’s just really, really hard for the people around the man who received his site – which John calls him in v. 18 – to adjust to his new reality or see him for anything more than what he used to be. And so, some folks don’t recognize him at all. Others, including his parents, know what he struggled with and see his transformation but aren’t sure what to make of it.
The two exceptions to this pattern of being trapped in designations reflecting the past are, first, the man himself and, second, Jesus. The man who sees can only rejoice in his recovery and looks ahead to an open and even delightful future that probably exceeds anything he had previously imagined. How else, I wonder, could he engage the religious authorities who have intimidated others (including his parents) with such good humor: “Do you, also, want to become his disciples?” Indeed, there is a certain joyfulness to his portions of dialogue that is easy to miss if we understand him only as “the man born blind.”
Consider the brave playfulness of his retorts to the authority: “I do not know if he was a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25) Or, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (30-33). He has been given an open future and nothing will deter him from seizing it.
Jesus also looks to the future rather than the past, inviting this man to faith and encouraging him by not just taking his question seriously but by revealing himself to him – indeed, the play on “you have seen him” is simultaneously poignant and joyful. All of this leads the man who now sees to make the quintessential confession in John’s Gospel: “Lord, I believe.” 
This man who sees, his whole life is changed. He not only sees physically but no sees as a follower of Jesus. His eyes have been opened to more than the physical world around him. He has received a sight that allows him to see Jesus as God would have us all see, as Lord.
God sees in ways we don't and the only chance we have of getting a glimpse of that heavenly vision is to wake up and pay close attention, surrender to God's choices instead of our own and listen to those often dismissed by the people around them: youngest sons, Samaritan women, beggars blind from birth. What they say may well wake us from our stupor, challenge our assumptions and cause us to be more than a little uncomfortable. Such light may hurt our eyes, but if we are willing to stay in it a while our vision will adjust and we will see much we'd never noticed before. We may even come to recognize Jesus.
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, I invite you to be redefined. To let go of the labels of the past, those designations that keep you buried or chained to an old identity. Important things have occurred in our past, to be sure, some things even worth celebrating, but we cannot live in the past.
A friend once observed that there is a reason that a car’s front windshield is so big and its rearview mirror so small: while it’s good to be able to glance back occasionally, the key to getting where you need to go is looking forward.
The events of our pasts, our pains, our scars, our triumphs, our losses, may indeed describe us but they cannot define us. We are no longer the people we once were. We are, as our baptismal vows remind us “beloved children of God” God’s love is more powerful than the past and will always win out.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” It’s one of those Christian saying we find on mugs, pillows and bumper stickers, but it speaks a real truth.
Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, Open the eyes of our hearts. We want to see you. We want to see you. Amen.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017
Sunday, March 19, 2017
I chose to have us hear the Gospel today as readers’ theater for two reasons. One, it is a long text, the longest recorded conversation we have between Jesus and anyone else in scripture. And two, I think there is a benefit to hearing this passage in different voices. It allows us, perhaps, to hear things we might not have heard, or notice things that previously went unheard.
We are now in week three of our Boot Camp for the Soul, we have acknowledged the need for change, recognizing with Jesus in the wilderness that the pursuits of power, wealth, and abundance are not what we need to be seeking. Last week we spoke of the need to reset, to begin again as newborns in the faith, setting aside the old way of living and joining Nicodemus on the road to new life.
Today we are invited to Hydrate, by none other than Jesus himself.
Hydration is important, one could, without exaggeration say essential. We have all heard the admonition to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day to maintain hydration levels. I might add here that this does not mean 8-10 8oz glasses of any liquid, for when it comes to hydration all liquids are not created equal.
In fact, our desire to drink things other than water has helped us become dehydrated. Many of you will remember that, in the late Summer/early Fall of last year, I asked for prayers for my mother. She had been attending a football game in Arizona and passed out in the stands. Doctors determined she has severe dehydration. This was a shock to both of my parents.
You see, Linda is rarely found without a beverage in her hand, usually a route 44 cherry Vanilla Doctor Pepper from Sonic. When she’s not nursing one of those, she is drinking coffee or hot Tea. There are always multiple cups around her home in some stage of being consumed, and even the odd opened and sipped from Dasani bottle.
She consumed a lot of liquids, but these liquids were not the ones that bring hydration, they did not sustain life.
In our scripture for this morning we find a tired and vulnerable Jesus. John does not tell us of his lowly birth, his precocious childhood, or even his temptation in the wilderness. Up until now we have had the rock star Jesus who has taken the countryside by storm. But in this moment, we see a man, sitting alone tired, thirsty, human.
It is the heat of the day, a time when no one would be coming to the well. Women did this back breaking chore early in the day and prayed they did not have to return until the cool of the evening at the earliest. Women and children all over the world still gather in the cool of the morning to get the water they need from wells such as this. No taps, no bottles, now water treatment facilities. Unless you are the mother’s in some areas of Flint Michigan, who still gather daily for bottles of water because the water from their taps is unfit to consume.
A woman comes to the well, either because she ran out of water and needed an emergency fill up, or because she was avoiding the other women of town. She sees this man and in their shared vulnerability, they have a life changing conversation.
They speak of thirst, of need, of loss. She openly questions Jesus’ motives. She’s used to men giving her the run around. Jesus answers her and offers her something more than the stagnant well water. He offers he living water, flowing streams of water that renew, and refresh consistently.
Jesus speaks to her about her life. Without judgement, there is no mention of sin or repentance in this passage. Just a statement, “I know where you are coming from, I’ve seen what your life looks like. I’m offering you something different.”
This is an invitation. An invitation to imagine that even our most cherished practices matter little if they do not facilitate a relationship with the living God. An invitation to recognize that it is the very Messiah and Son of God who is speaking to her and affirming her worth and value. An invitation to leave behind her burdens and share with others the joy she has encountered in their meeting. These invitations are surprising in that the come from a man to a woman, a Jew to a Samaritan, and a rabbi of relative power and authority to someone who had neither. They are also surprising because each invitation also involves challenge – the challenge of getting over one’s piety as an excuse for keeping a distance from God; the challenge of accepting the new identity Jesus offered; and the challenge of imagining that God could and would use her to share the good news. Invitations aren’t devoid of challenges, and challenges can themselves be empowering when offered out of regard, acceptance and affirmation.
The woman leaves Jesus, and her jar, at the well. She runs out into the community. She doesn’t need a jug to carry this later. The living water of Christ is bubbling up within her. She is now the vessel carrying good news to others!!
The disciples return to Jesus and beg him to eat something. They want to keep him strong and healthy, after all. But Jesus knows something they do not know. Jesus knows that man does not live by bread alone. He is also fed by the word and will of God.
Jesus gives them these words:
"My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
Jesus is speaking about bread, but also the sustenance that can only be found in the word of God. He’s talking about the feeding of the 5,000 from a few barley loaves, and the feeding of the world through his own flesh and blood.
Jesus is showing the disciples that here, yes even among the Samaritans God has already been at work, the harvest is ready, the seeds have been sown. This is significant! God is at work even outside of the people of Israel. Seeds have been planted and they are ready for the living water of Christ so that they can be harvested.
There is a seamlessness in this story between symbolic and physical sustenance, an unbreakable connection between metaphor and the material. An experience with Jesus, my friends, has real world consequences.
In the Eastern Orthodox church this woman is called Saint Photina. She is the first evangelist, the first to share the good news that Jesus is Lord. Her belief in Jesus changes her life in radical, real ways that impact her entire community. She is held up as an example to follow, because she accepted the invitation to drink living water.
Not all liquids are created equal. Some lead us into a false sense of security, perhaps like the relationships that had promised this woman, Saint Photina, security over the years. The things that we choose to turn to for sustenance can instead do real damage. Things like unhealthy relationships, addictions, the prosperity gospel, pride, these things lead to a dehydration of the spirit.
May we instead turn to the living water, and may we become vessels sharing that water with the whole world!