Companions on the Way – Washing in Puddles – March 15, 2020

Companions on the Way – Washing in Puddles

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 9:1-41

March 15, 2020

Main Idea – We are called to care for each other.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

We are living in an extraordinary time, when so much is uncertain.  We are worried about so much.  Today’s Gospel lesson is wonderful tonic for us for it reminds us that Jesus is with us at all times, guiding us and reassuring us in times of change.  Although no one is recommending rubbing mud and spit into anyone’s eyes!

In the Season of Lent we are traveling with companions on the way toward the cross. Two weeks ago our companions were Adam and Eve and from them we learned that God loves and cares for us no matter what.

Last week our companions were Jesus and Nicodemus who pondered new life in God’s love.  Today our companions are Jesus, the Man who was born blind, and the religious leaders who tie themselves up in knots to not see what is right in front of them.  The Gospel writer invites us into the story, to watch the blind man change and grow, and to observe the the religious leaders change and diminish.  Today we will focus on what the text tells us about change and the choices that change brings.  A lot has changed in our world in just the past week and next week will most likely bring more change.  Jesus calls us to see, and to share what we see, especially in the midst of change.

So what do we see in this story about change?

First, change is disruptive. The blind man does not ask to be healed, in fact, Jesus does not even speak to him before spreading mud on his eyes. Jesus gives one instruction and then Jesus exits the story until v. 35! (It is his largest absence from the narrative in the whole gospel.)   The man’s world is turned upside down.  It is such a big change that his friends and neighbors no longer recognize him!  He has to keep saying “I am the man.” (v. 9) His status and place in the world has been disrupted and people are upset about it. They no longer know how to define him.  Even his own parents distance themselves from him, afraid of who he has become and what it may mean for their own lives.

        The religious leaders resist this disruption of their lives with all their might.  As the elites of the community, they like things the way they are! They depend on the status quo. They cannot imagine anything different.  They do mental and theological gymnastics to explain the man’s experience through their worldview.  Their worldview is challenged by Jesus and they most certainly do not want to change.

Second, change is a process.  The man’s conversion and understanding grows throughout the story.  When he first talks with his neighbors after the healing, he calls Jesus “the man” (v.11).  After listening to the religious leaders huff and puff, he tells them that Jesus is “a prophet” (v.15)  and then he says to them “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.” (v.31- 33).  When he talks again with Jesus he expresses his belief in Jesus as “the son of man” (v. 35-38) and worships him as Lord. 

As the man grows in understanding, the religious leaders grow in their fear and rejection.  At first they were just curious about figuring out what happened to him.  They actually were divided in their theories.  But they soon close ranks, threatening the man’s parents, calling him a liar, and driving him out of the community. Their theological arguments finally consist of “You are a nobody and we don’t have to listen to you.”  The last words they say are ironic and quite plaintive; “Surely we are not blind, are we?”   The process of change has reversed the places of the man and the religious leaders. He has found the truth of Christ, they are lost in darkness.

And this illustrates the third aspect of change.  Change involves choice, not whether we change, but in what direction. In the Gospel of John there are two choices; toward God which is eternal life, or away from God which is sin; either you trust that Jesus is the Incarnation of God or you don’t.  This story shows the consequence of both choices. The Man chooses to embrace the change.  He speaks the truth about what happened and will not disavow it despite great pressure from his community.  He believes in Jesus and enters into Jesus’ community. The religious leaders choose to pretend that change is not happening.  They grasp at straws to avoid acknowledging Jesus.  They will go to any length to avoid admitting they were in error about the nature of God.  To protect their understanding of God they will reject the Incarnation of God. The story starts with the disciples asking about whose sin caused the man’s blindness and the story ends with the religious leaders blinded by their own sin. “Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (v. 41)

So, what does this story have to tell us about the times we are living in?

Change is disruptive, as we are experiencing this week!  It takes time and energy to even get our minds around the issues, let alone learn new tasks and new ways of being. Our natural tendency is to reject anything that challenges what we think we know.  We search for anything that will bolster our current understanding.  Change requires us to let go of preconceptions and limiting definitions.

But this disruption is an opportunity. It forces us to think about why we do the things we do.  It challenges us to focus on our priorities rather than our autopilot list of tasks.  Change gives us the chance to imagine new ways of doing things.  Change is a requirement of growth.

Over the next few weeks or months we will need to change how we stay connected with each other and how we do ministry.  We must practice social distancing so that we can slow the transmission of the virus, this is critical so that we do not overwhelm our hospitals and healthcare system.  If we are able, we must stay at home so that we do not come in contact with someone who is sick, and so that those who cannot stay home have more space and opportunity to keep themselves safe.  We must take care of ourselves and our neighbors.  If we are in a low risk category, we can go shopping for our older or more at risk folks.  We can call or email members who we know might be isolated, maybe even send them a card (although, don’t lick the envelope!).  We can have meetings via Zoom or conference call.

In this time of change, we must find ways to continue our ministries.  The people at ANEW Place, still need dinner!  As do the folks at the Soup Supper!  We must continue to share our pledges, either by mailing in a check or contributing electronically.  There will be more need for our Fellowship Fund and the America for Christ offering.  The impact of this virus will continue long past this crisis phase as people lose their incomes and opportunities.  Our economy may look very different in three months time.

Change involves choice.  We can embrace change, actively choosing to shape our future path.  Or we can dig in our heels and refuse to acknowledge that the world is changing around us whether we like it or not. Sometimes we will change in baby steps, sometimes in big leaps, sometimes we will feel like we are being pushed over a cliff [which is how the past week has felt!].  But always, in every change, we are secure in the love of God shown to us by Christ Jesus.  We see Jesus and we will share Jesus with the world.

Let us pray, Astonishing God, we look to you for guidance in our lives.  We know change is a part of life but it can be difficult.  Help us to embrace your vision for us.  Help us to be open to the movement of your Spirit so that we can see the world as you see it.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.