1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
“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?” 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.” - The Message John 9:1-3
We do that don’t we? We look for whom to blame. We accuse God of inflicting punishment when something goes bad. <story> I don’t believe that God does that. I am not saying that God can’t or that God doesn’t, but I think we blame God for things that just happen. Genetic mutations happen, sometimes for the good and sometimes not so good. And I am certainly not saying that there aren’t consequences to our actions. If I drink or do drugs while I am pregnant then I should not be surprised if my child is born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. We have heard of the tragedy of Thalidomide babies and the sorrow of mothers who thought they were taking a safe medication. Rather than blame we should ask, “How can we learn from this tragedy? What can God do? How can God make good come out of this bad situation?”
Then Jesus heals the man born blind. How amazing this must have been! Even today with modern medicine the recovery of sight is pretty amazing. Just ask any of us who have had cataract surgery. It makes compelling reading to read of doctors’ attempts and successes and failures in healing those born blind. It is not just healing blindness, but the brain then needs to learn what to do with the new information it is receiving, how to interpret it and how to integrate it with other information such as sound.
When the man in our story was healed there was great excitement, but there were those who refused to believe that the man had ever been blind or that he even was the blind man. The Pharisees even call his parents to confirm that he was their son and that he had been born blind. We would have expected the parents to rejoice in the healing of their son, but instead they are intimidated by the Pharisees, acknowledging their son but refusing to comment on his healing for fear of being thrown out of the synagogue.
When they finally accepted that the healed man had been born blind but could now see, the Pharisees refused to see God’s hand in the healing because it happened on the Sabbath. Why was it easier to see the healing as an act of evil than an act of good? The Pharisees refused to see the Sabbath as a gift from God; the people weren’t created for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was created for the people. God commands that we take a day of rest and that we set aside a day for God, but this does not exclude acts of kindness and healing. It doesn’t matter when we rest or when we worship God. It is a matter of convenience to agree to gather on Sunday morning to worship God. Then we know when to come and visitors know when to come, but God is present when we worship on Wednesday and other days of the week. Some of us work on the weekend and so take our rest on Tuesday or Wednesday. It is not so important as to when we rest or when we worship, but that we do rest and that we do worship in community.
Today’s gospel story is not just about physical blindness but also about spiritual blindness. Some of the people refused to see a miracle, a sign from God in the healing of the blind man. I just don’t understand why they would prefer to see the healing as a work of the devil than as a work of God. The author of the Gospel of John tells us at the end of chapter 20 that he told these stories so that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and so that in believing we might have eternal life. John wants us to believe that God reveals himself through Jesus, that in getting to know Jesus, we get to know God, that in seeing Jesus, we see God; that in hearing Jesus, we hear God.
In John seeing is tied to hearing. Jesus sees the tragedy of a man blind from birth. Jesus has mercy on the man and heals him. At the same time Jesus enters into dialog with his disciples, with the healed man, with the Pharisees. They talk about what the blindness and then the healing mean. They talk about how this conflicts with accepted understandings and beliefs about how things work. They talk about how this healing contradicts their understanding of God and how he acts. They talk about how this healing breaks the natural law and God’s law. In the discussion their understanding of who Jesus is progresses from a man to a prophet to one followed by disciples to one from God to one who can be worshipped as God. And for others, they remain blind unable to see the possibilities of God working in their world outside their established beliefs and understanding; they remain blind to the possibility of God making something good out of something bad, choosing to limit the powers of God to what they believe. When tragedy comes to your life, as it will, be prepared to ask what God can do to bring good out of this situation, be open to seeing God active in your life and our community. Amen.
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
I grew up on a farm with a spring and a creek and a pond with snapping turtles. We loved playing in the water, but I am sure my parents were not so thrilled with carrying the water. Then they dug a well which turned out to be an artesian well, water under enough pressure it flowed to the surface without a pump; precious water that made life so much easier, even possible. Not just farms, but whole settlements and cities, like Albion, are founded near water, water that is necessary for life, irrigation, mills, industry, and travel. Living water is water that moves such as a spring or a river. For baptism it is desirable to have moving water so you will see that I stir the water in the font as I pray.
In this morning’s Old Testament story the Hebrew people are travelling through the desert where the availability of water is always a real concern. They have camped, but there does not appear to be a spring or a source of water nearby and the people grumble and quarrel with Moses. Has he brought them out into the desert to die of thirst! So quickly they forget that God travels with them. How quickly they forget that God made the bitter waters of Marah sweet for drinking. How quickly they forget the twelve springs of water at Elim, the rain of quail and bread from heaven. In complaining to Moses they are in reality testing God. Is God really with them? Can they really trust God to provide for them? And when the people quarrel with Moses, Moses rightly turns to God for help for God is the one with true authority, God is the one truly leading the people through the desert. It is God who sent Moses to Egypt to free the people from slavery. It is God who is with the people when they cross the red sea. It is God who leads the Hebrew people in the desert with a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. It is God who provides water and meat and manna from heaven. In this morning’s story we are told that God stood on the rock which Moses stuck and from which water flowed so that the people and their children and their livestock might drink.
Psalm 95 begins with praise to God which we know as the Venite from Morning Prayer. We are called to worship God giving thanks and praise and glory to God. Surprisingly, the second half of Psalm 95turns to this morning’s Old Testament story from Exodus, reminding the people of their quarrel with God and their testing of God at Meribah and Massah and how God in his anger did not allow the first generation to enter into Canaan and the Promised Land. It was the second generation who could forget what it meant to be a slave and who could look to the future and God’s promise. Worship without obedience to God is not acceptable.
We too want proof that God is with us. God may have been with the people then, but is he still with us today? If God is with us, then why do we have natural disasters and wars? Why do children suffer and die? Why do bad things happen to good people? In times of trouble who do we complain to, who do we reach out to? We quarrel with our church leaders, our president and government rather than seeking the true authority, Our God? Just as the people demanded Aaron create a golden calf, a god they could see and know is with them, we too want a god we can see and know is with us.
This morning’s gospel reading is a long passage from John where Jesus is found sitting at Jacob’s well and talking to a Samaritan woman. Jesus is tired and thirsty and asks the woman for a drink of water; in return he will give her living water. Just as God sent physical bread and water from heaven to his people in the desert, God now offers spiritual bread and water through Jesus the one sent from heaven.
When we are thirsty we turn on the water faucet in our kitchens and drink our fill or open our refrigerator and take out a cold one. When we are hungry we visit Family Fare or Meijers or McDonalds or our favorite watering hole. When we are spiritually thirsty seeking for what we do not know where do we turn? Do we turn to work, alcohol, drugs, sex, powerful automobiles, and high risk adventures, forever seeking that next rush of adrenaline or do we turn to God to satiate our thirst, to fill the void in our lives, the God shaped hole in our souls. We come to the spring of living water whose source is God, from which we can drink and never thirst again.
God feeds us when we are hungry. God gives us water when we are thirsty. God is present with us in our lives, in the good times and in the bad times, in our suffering and our pain. Even though we cannot see God we know he is present in the returning spring, in the smile of a child and in the kind words of a stranger. God is the ultimate authority in our lives, the one who shows us the way, the one who leads us from death to eternal life. Who are you following? In whom do you put your trust? Amen.
AMA Lent II Lunch
A reading from the Gospel of Matthew 20:17-28 (NRSV)
The Son of Man came to serve, not to be served – Mt 20:28
While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. (Mt 27:38)
Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here today and to stand before you. I thank Pastor Charlotte and the good people of First Presbyterian Church for their hospitality.
Lent is a penitential season when we recognize that we are sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God and our neighbors. Lent is a time when we remember our own mortality, that we may be someone today, but who will remember us in the twenty-second century and if they do, why? Lent is a time for repentance and reconciliation with God and our neighbor. Lent is a time to consider how our faith has changed our lives and our interactions with the community around us. Lent is a time when we are called upon to give alms, to pray and to fast and a time to reflect on why we are giving alms, why and for what we are praying and why we are fasting.
Lent is our forty days in the wilderness to reflect on our lives, to reflect on our relationships with our family, friends and neighbors, to reflect on our relationship with God, to reflect on what it means to be a beloved child of God, to reflect on what it means to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Lent is a time to reflect on what it means to be a sinner in need of the grace and mercy of God and our neighbors, of our need for repentance and reconciliation. Lent is a time to reflect on the fact that we are a forgiven people, to reflect on the fact that in our baptism we died to sin and our old way of life and that we were raised to new life through Jesus Christ. Lent is a time to reflect on the fact that just as we are forgiven so we are called to forgive. Lent is a time to recognize and acknowledge our own personal sin and the sins of our community, to confess our sins, to receive forgiveness from God and our neighbor and a time to live in the joy of a clean heart and conscience. Lent is a time to reflect on how our awareness of our own forgiveness has changed our lives in how we respond to our self, to our neighbor and to our God.
Lent is a time to consider to what and to whom we pledge allegiance, in what and in whom do we trust. Our currency says “In God we Trust”, but is it God or our money that we trust? Are we like Adam and Eve living in paradise surrounded by one of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water, fertile land and plenty of rain and sunshine and yet choose to do the very things that will destroy that paradise? Are we like Abraham and Sarah obedient to God’s call to come out of the safety of our homes and the familiar and venture into the unknown even when it becomes clear that God’s promises will not be fulfilled until sometime beyond our own lifetime?
In the reading I offered from John, Jesus takes his disciples aside and tells them what is going to happen when they get to Jerusalem, that he will be arrested, beaten and tortured and die a horrible death on a cross. One has to wonder whether they are even listening to what Jesus is saying. They are clearly dreaming of being part of a glorious army marching into Jerusalem, similar to Pontius Pilate and his troops, with banners flapping in the breeze, the clang of swords and shields, the jangle of horses’ harnesses, the smell of brave, young men marching to free their people from the rule of the Romans. They dream of overthrowing the Pontius Pilates and Herods of their day and forming a new government with Jesus as their king and James and John as his chief advisors. How disappointed they must have been when they entered Jerusalem with Jesus astride a young donkey, albeit to the shouts of Hallelujah and waving palm branches. James and John must have been horrified when they realized that the men appointed to stand at Jesus’ right hand and left hand were two robbers condemned as Jesus was, to a cruel death on a cross. What a close call! What if they had been granted to sit at Jesus’ right hand and at Jesus’ left hand!
Are we like Jesus’ disciples, seeking power and glory, fame and fortune? Jesus does not promise us wealth and good health. In fact Jesus promises pain and suffering, scorn and mockery. No wonder some of his followers decided to leave and seek a different savior. Do we hear Jesus’ words that if we want to be great then we must be a servant to those around us, that we must be a slave doing God’s work and that we must be willing to die fighting for justice and freedom for our neighbors?
We know the end of the story. We know what happens after the crucifixion, but I bid you not to rush to Easter. Take this time to pray, to give to the poor and the needy, to visit the sick and the lonely and to fast. In the remaining three weeks before holy week, reflect on what it means to be a beloved child of God; reflect on what it means to be an obedient disciple of Christ following in the way of the cross, even to death; reflect on what it means to be a sinner and yet forgiven, not because we deserve it, but because of the love and mercy and grace of our God; to reflect on where we have not forgiven and on where reconciliation is needed; to reflect on the God who loves his creation so much that he was willing to send his only son to live among us; to reflect on God’s son who trusted God so much that he humbly obeyed God even to death on a cross. Pray, fast, give alms, forgive, love and reflect. Amen.