Lent 4 – Year A

Sermon Title: Lent 4 – Year A
Date: 26th March 2017
Preacher: Roxanne Addley
Church Calendar Date: Lent 4
Lectionary Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23 Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Good morning everyone!  Well, it’s very hard to walk past preaching on Psalm 23 when it comes up in the lectionary.  It’s an iconic psalm. It’s been used in 20th century music and movies, and arguably has even made it into modern day consciousness.  It’s a psalm about the rightness of the relationship between God and humankind.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.”

So what better lead in could we have to a sermon on our gospel reading today, also about a “shepherd” who restores sight to a man born blind.  And it is this restorative aspect of our relationship with God that I want us to think about today.  Indeed, it is much of what our Gospel reading from John is about.  At one level, a story of a man who was born blind and whose sight was then restored by a healing, compassionate Jesus.  And at a completely different level, this chapter from John’s Gospel, provides us with an allegory of a journey to faith, of restoration of the soul, and the pitfalls that can be found along the way, pitfalls that I am sure we have all experienced.  So, what I want to do today with you, is look at this chapter from John’s Gospel, with its pitfalls and its restoration, from three different angles: from the perspective of the disciples, the Pharisees and the man born blind.  So let’s start.

Our story opens in Jerusalem where Jesus has been spending time teaching in the Temple and getting into trouble with the Pharisees, who keep trying to trap him. As he is walking along the street with his disciples, they pass a blind begger, and his disciples ask him “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus is very quick to respond to his followers that no one has sinned to bring about this unfortunate condition.  And then he repeats that “I am” statement that he made in the previous chapter.  “I am the light of the world” and he prepares for the healing of the man born blind by anointing his eyes with mud made with his own saliva.

So what is happening here in our opening scene?  Well, at one level, we are setting up for another miracle story.  But at another level, there is a deeper meaning being introduced here.  In a world of chaos and darkness, symbolized by the blind man, and of false assumptions and beliefs, like those held by the disciples, comes Jesus who is the light of the world.  His stated identity echoes that from the very beginning of John chapter 1 at verse 3:

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Our Gospel reading today (and the reading from Ephesians) continue this interplay of light and darkness, blindness and sight, and metaphorically old creation and new creation, which I expect we will hear more about this afternoon with Bishop Graeme.  If we look at these opening verses, as depicting a fallen world, it seems to me that nothing much has changed in 2000 years.  Do we as disciples of Jesus have assumptions that stop us from seeing the light?  Are there cultural norms today, like those of 2000 years ago, that make us test Jesus and hold us back from fully embracing him?  Does today’s rationalist, material world provide frames which create barriers to sight?  Are we ready to challenge some of our own beliefs and assumptions and let God remake them?

Perhaps they are beliefs about who Jesus is. Perhaps they are assumptions about how we relate to God and to other people.  Everyone carries these things in their own hearts.  Is now a good time to prayerfully consider our relationship with Jesus, as we approach Easter and the resurrection story, which is the ultimate story of light, love and restoration?

But, getting back to our story today of Jesus healing the man born blind.  Enter the Pharisees, the bad guys in the gospel!  They of course have been feeling very unsettled with this man called Jesus who is gathering quite a following and is challenging the status quo.  They are absolutely determined that their way is the right way, and Jesus is not doing things the right way. This is his second healing on a Sabbath!  They interrogate the man born blind, they interrogate his parents and then to be absolutely certain they call the man back in for more questioning.  The upshot of it all is that they reject the evidence of the miracle healing.  They drive the man born blind out, expelling him from the synagogue, saying he is born entirely in sin – totally in contradiciton to what Jesus said about the relationship between disability and sin.  In a way, they shoot the messenger.

The Pharisees are afraid.  They are living in fear of something that is evolving within their own religion.  This isn’t a threat from outside, which is much easier to deal with.  This is a threat emerging from their own people.  Jesus is showing them a new way. A way of healing, a way of love, a way of acceptance, a way of hope. And the Pharisees are afraid.  They know that the Messiah is coming to complete creation, in accordance with the scripture, but they are not ready to accept Jesus and the radical approach that he is suggesting.

This story of the institution not being able to accept the truth, being stifled by its own fear, is also common today.  We only have to look at how our own institutions responded to child abuse to see fear ruling the agenda.  We can also see it in the rise of nationalistic, protectionist politics, around the world.  Or the institutional denial of climate change.  And at a personal level, how often do we let our own fear, resentment, anger or anxiety get in the way of our faith, our own ability to be generous, loving or forgiving?  At that very granular level, how often have we been a Pharisee?  I know I have.

But there is good news!  And we find this in the journey of the man born blind.  If he signifies the world of chaos and disconnection as a blind man, this all begins to change once he is healed.  Let’s just follow his spoken reactions to Jesus as we progress through the story.

In verse 11, when responding to his neighbours about gaining his sight, he refers to “the man called Jesus”.

In verse 17 when questioned by the Pharisees the first time, he calls Jesus “a prophet”.  Now, this is very significant, because in the Jewish religion, the next “prophet” was going to be the Messiah, so by naming Jesus as a “prophet” to the Pharisees, this was as good as acknowledging that he was the Messiah.

In verse 30 when questioned by the Pharisees a second time, the man says “he opened my eyes” and then in verse 33 “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

And finally in verse 38 when sought out by Jesus, he says “Lord, I believe” and he worshipped Him.  Faith is a journey towards Jesus, towards sight, towards light.  And the good news is that Jesus does seek us out, continually has mercy, shows grace and loves us, as we are, in all our resplendent and fragile humanity.  He restores our souls.  He prepares a table for us. He is with us when we walk through the darkest valleys.

So, as we continue on our Easter journey, heading towards the darkness of the cross and then the light of the resurrection, are you ready to say “Lord, I believe.”?

Perhaps this Lent, we should reflect on our own relationship with Jesus and how we see the world.  How many of us will say like the man born blind, today, or next week, or in three weeks on Easter Sunday, “I was blind, now I see”?

Let us pray:

Loving and Gracious God, as we journey through Lent, grappling with your word, trying to understand your will for us, send your Spirit to fill us and open our eyes, so that we can see the world as you would want us to, with generosity, love and kindness, trusting in you.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen.