Friday, 28 March 2014

The man born blind - Lent 4

This Sunday I am preaching at the closing service for Penhill Church in Swindon. I am using the lectionary readings - Psalm 23 and John 9: 1-17

It is not easy, is it – being gathered here today. Endings are hard – full of questions like  ‘what if..?’, ‘what next..?’ ‘where is God in this..”’.

In choosing the Bible readings to help us to shape our worship today, I turned deliberately to the lectionary. Sundays come and go but the Revised Common Lectionary marches on – this year Matthew’s gospel is the focus, next year it will be Mark, then Luke, then we go back round. And in Lent & around Easter, John’s gospel gets a look in.
Sundays come and go.. but God’s word endures. When we use the common lectionary we are reminded that we are just a small part of the much bigger story of God’s church.
Churches come and go – and what is God’s word to us, today?
I think the story of the man born blind can help us, here and now, to ask where God is in this act of closing Penhill Church, and where God will be in the days to come.

The story hinges around those who miss the point.

The disciples are in danger of missing the point. When they first see this blind man, they want to ask Jesus whose fault this is. At the time many believed that for a person to be blind was a sign of God’s judgement for that person’s sin :God blessed good people and punished, with illness, bad people. But this man was born blind – his sight was taken before he could sin – so is it his parents sin that is being punished. They ask Jesus – whose fault is this? – this awful thing cannot just have happened for no reason – so who is the one to blame, who is being punished by this?
Jesus helps them to see – ‘neither this man or his parents sinned’ – but by healing the man he helps them to see God truly at work. The point is that God’s will is for healing, not punishment.
If we want to ask why this church is closing we may be missing the point – it is not so simple as we might wish. God’s love for us does not guarantee that only good things will happen to us, and when difficult things happen it is not a sign that God is punishing us.
God’s grace has been present in this church and is present now as we gather to remember and celebrate and move on.

The Pharisees, too, miss the point. They hear about the healing of this blind man, and they are shocked and horrified – Jesus has healed a man on the Sabbath! They start an investigation – there is a charge to be answered here: healing, working on the day God has set aside for us to rest.
This proves that Jesus cannot be the man of God some say he is – he is flagrantly breaching God’s own rules.
It is left to the man who has been healed to help them to see the truth; “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed. Now I see.. He is a prophet.”. Only a man of God could heal like this – whatever the day of the week. This is God’s healing power at work – and you would have to be blind not to see that.

Jesus’ power helps the man see – but he also helps his disciples to see the truth of God’s will, and helps the Pharisees to see that he is a man of God. In order to see the truth, though, they will all need to be willing to accept what they are shown.

So what do we need to willing to see this day? Are we in danger of being blinded by sadness or regret? Can Jesus help us to see God at work in this moment and place?

As we look at God’s word, let’s look for God’s truth for us – what does Jesus want to show us?

For the blind man, Jesus’ help comes in unexpected ways.
It starts with spit. It starts with what might be seen as a rejection, almost a sign of contempt. I wonder what the blind man thought when he heard Jesus spit on the ground. Did he think it was another judgement of him. This disciples thought it was sin that made him cursed with blindness – no doubt he had met many people in his life who thought the same. Was Jesus about to spit and then curse him too? But then Jesus bends to the ground and uses the spit to change the dust of the ground to a mud which he spreads on the man’s eyes. I wonder how it felt, that mud, as Jesus spread it on the man’s face? Then Jesus speaks - sending him to wash so that the healing can be complete. So he goes, and washes and for the first time in his life he can see.

The blind man risks rejection, he seeks to change his world and he is prepared to follow Jesus command to go and wash.

Risking rejection, changing the world around, doing as Jesus says – these are all thing that I know have been part of the life of Penhill. It would be easy today to feel that risk was not worth it, that the work of change is over, that Jesus is no longer speaking here.
But if we felt that we would be missing the point – we would be blind to God’s power at work. We know that God has been present in this place – and we know that God’s power and presence remains with us, wherever we are in the future.

Jesus helps us to see – God is with us.

We heard earlier the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my Shepherd” – wonderful words of God’s comfort, care, and guiding.
But for me the most precious words of all are the words “even though”, “yea, though” in the older translation. “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. The darkest shadow, the deepest grief, the greatest blindness – are all places where we can see and know God with us.

So for all those times you have seen God’s love at work here – give thanks.
In times of darkness or blindness to God’s will – ask that Jesus will help you to see.
And whatever the future holds, know that even though the way may be dark or unclear, God will always protect and guide and never abandon.

In the name of Jesus and his healing love and power.

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