Sunday, March 23, 2008

01 Easter 08
March 23, 2008
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalms 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 (NRSV)
Matthew 28:1-10

The Hidden Nest

How can we see Jesus? Where do we look?

At Richard and Maryanne Willis’ house, they have made a space in their sun room, a rather big space, for a telescope. There’s enough space there for both of them and a friend to stand around the telescope and look out the window across the creek. Now there’s a lot of things you can see there with that telescope, but the main reason it’s there is to watch a certain eagle’s nest across the creek.

Of course, if you didn’t know where the nest was, you’d probably never be able to pick it out. You can barely see it, high up there in the trees, a dark smudge in the darkness of the branches. If Richard and Maryanne didn’t point it out carefully, you’d never see it. But once you do, why, it’s as if you’ve found another world. You quickly see why it’s become so important to them, why it has become a part of their lives.

The women went looking for Jesus on that morning two thousand years ago, when the light was barely coming into the world. They knew right where to look. The execution and burial of Jesus had been a very public event. A great rock had been rolled up to seal the tomb and guards had been posted to make sure nothing happened. Jesus had made some predictions about coming back that the Romans were a little worried about.

Cemeteries are public places, obvious and well-marked. I sometimes go to Zoar Cemetery, and there are markers there that say George McCullough and Amedia McCullough and Betty M. Cook and Carl Duckworth and Ethel Duckworth. And there are dates for their births and their deaths. And someday, I will be buried there too, somewhere near my mother’s grave, and my name will be on a simple, flat bronze marker, and it will have dates. And maybe my daughter Hilary will come there sometimes, and maybe she’ll bring her kids. I go there to remember my grandparents and my uncle and aunt and my mom, but I sometimes wonder, do those names and dates really mean anything?

These are the facts, the easily visible things, what all of us take to be life. Where we were born, what family we were born to, what nation we were born in, the day we died, how long we lived and what happened.

Did anyone see the obituary for Jesus in the newspaper on Good Friday? Betsy Hudgins brought it by to me yesterday. It announced that Jesus had died and even the cause of his death. It said that he died on a certain day. It told who he was, who his parents were, when he was born. It told how he’d had a certain job and came from a certain village and a certain race and a certain nation. It mentioned a few key incidents in his life.

The obituary is the graveyard of the news. There were others on the page, others who had died. People with particular names, from particular families, particular places, with a birth on a certain date and a death on the other. Plain as day. Public information. Quite verifiable and down-to-earth.

So there went the women, heading for the tomb, heading for the obituary page, when all of a sudden the whole world shook. And an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled the rock back from the opening to the tomb, and sat on it.

The angel had a message for the women. “He is not here.” He then invited them into the tomb to verify his words, and sent them off to share the news.

As they ran to the disciples, Jesus himself is suddenly there with them, and Matthew makes sure to tell us that they took hold of Jesus’ feet. Jesus was not a ghost. He was flesh and blood and he was in the world. He was alive.

Jesus told them to meet him on a mountain in Galilee. When he appeared there, by the way, many saw him, but some nevertheless doubted. Isn’t that interesting?

There’s that same ambiguity in many of the resurrection stories. In the story as told by John’s gospel, you might remember that Mary at first took the risen Jesus for the gardener. In Luke’s gospel, two disciples who had known Jesus well during his ministry spent a whole day with the risen Jesus before they realized who he was. There’s the surprising idea that they came to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. The gospels are telling us that seeing the risen Jesus may not be as simple as it sounds.

How can we see Jesus?

Remember the nest across the creek? If Richard and Marianne point it out and do a lot of description and point and aim the telescope and tell you what shape to look for, you can find it. And if you keep looking and training yourself to see it, eventually you know right where to look. Eventually, you see it every time.

Maybe the risen Jesus is like that. If you make some room in your house, if you spend some time each day looking, if you accept the help of others who know where to look, you might just see him.

But if you look for him in the tomb, the obvious place, the place everyone knows he is, well, you will be out of luck.

You know, there are not a few people who continue to look for Jesus in that tomb. I’ve met a few people who thought, I guess, that they were witnessing to me. They kept talking about looking forward to seeing Jesus when they died. These same people seemed to have a very fixed idea of what the gospel was and what was true and what wasn’t. They seemed to want Jesus to be a known quantity, a fixed entity. Sadly, this is only possible when one is dead. But Jesus isn’t dead.

Barbara Brown Taylor said, “You cannot nail him down. We tried that once but he got loose.”

It may be a bit difficult to discern where he is, but it is as obvious as an earthquake where he is not. He is not in the tomb. He got loose. He is in motion. He is on the move. He goes before us. He is alive.

And we are invited to follow him.

Along the way, we might even run into him, in the flesh. We might even get a chance to grab hold of his blessed and beautiful feet, and worship him. Yes, I know he has ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father, but he has also promised to be with us. We just need to know where to look.
A woman we’ll call Miranda tells the story of a little boy, we’ll call him Richie, who was stricken with a rare form of cancer at seven years old. The boy fought valiantly and every treatment known at the time was attempted. But the time finally came when the child took a bad turn and was admitted to the hospital for the last time. The hospital staff told the parents and the little boy’s eight-year old sister that all that could be done would be to keep him as comfortable as possible.

His sister was the hardest hit of all of the family. She secretly wondered if she hadn’t somehow caused this terrible thing to happen. She hadn’t always gotten along with her brother. There was one time when she even told him, “I wish you were dead!”

After they told him the bad news, Richie asked if he could try one more thing. All he wanted, he said, was to ride his new bike that he’d gotten for Christmas one time without the training wheels.

Of course, the doctors advised against it, worried the boy might speed the process of dying or otherwise injure himself. But Richie wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Finally, dressed in his hospital gown and with a big smile on his face, Richie was led out into the hospital parking lot and with his father’s help, took the training wheels off his bike. His father walked along beside him, steadying him for a while, until Richie said, “It’s okay, Dad, you can let go now.”

And wobbling unsteadily, Richie took off on his bike. He rounded the corner and disappeared from sight.

Some time went by and the family began to feel nervous that the boy might not return. And then, just when they were considering going off to look for him, there he came around the corner, pumping for all he was worth, grinning from ear to ear, his hospital robe flapping behind him.
When he stopped, he asked that his bike be taken to his room and that he be left alone with his sister. Dad carried the bike up on the elevator and left the two children alone.

And the boy took his sister’s hand and said, “You can have the bike. I won’t need it anymore.”

The sister’s name was Amanda, and in that moment, she saw the risen Lord, felt his hand touching hers, heard his voice, and saw his beautiful eyes gazing into hers. Because as he defied death with his joy in living, and as he offered forgiveness with everything he had, the Lord appeared on that hospital bed, in the flesh.

I can’t help but think of that tree across the creek from the Willis’, and of the nest hidden up in there. Doesn’t it say somewhere that the kingdom of God is like a tree in which thousands of birds can make their nests? Paul said this morning in Colossians:

…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Your life is up there somewhere. Not the life that will be described on your tombstone, but the eternal life Christ is offering you. It’s hard to see, but we can help you. Here’s a telescope. Look there, just there.

It’s a life that began before the beginning and goes on long after the end. It’s a life that belongs to all people everywhere, in all times and places. It’s the life of the God of love and mercy. It is the life of Christ.

And one day, it might be you that someone sees. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old or male or female or black or white or yellow or brown, one day someone might look at you in just the right way, and see the crucified Christ, alive and in the world, and he will touch them with your living hand and speak to them with your living voice. They will see the glory of the Lord in the world, in the flesh, in you.

Look around, friends. Moses is here, and Elijah and David. And Bill and Fred and Jerry and Freddie and Junior and Lorraine and Johnnie and Pete and Genevieve and Carl and Willis and all the rest of them. Because Jesus is here, alive and in the flesh. If you look just right, you’ll see him. And he will take your hand in few minutes and wish you peace. And then he’ll feed everyone here with only one loaf of bread and one small cup of wine.

So look for him, won’t you?

And if you insist on going to the cemetery, I’ll make a little suggestion. Don’t forget to say hello to the gardener.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

Alleluia. Amen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Palm Sunday 08
March 16, 2008

Matt 21:1-11 (NRSV)

The Greatest Moment

What a great moment for Jesus. Imagine, thousands of people thronging around the road to the great walled city, the palm branches waving in the air, thousands of voices like the roar of a great tide, shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” What a great moment for Jesus.

I wonder what your greatest moment will be. Or do you think it has already come and gone?

I remember in my days as an actor one summer when I played Malvolio in Twelfth Night and after every performance during the curtain call 800 audience members would rise to their feet as one when I came out. Have you ever had an experience like that? That might have been my greatest moment.

Of course, a year later I was homeless. And it was during that time that, alone in a friend’s kitchen, I had a powerful experience reading the bible. Hmm. That might have been my greatest moment.

But then, not many years after that, I saw my daughter open her beautiful blue eyes for the very first time. Could that have been my greatest moment?

Or maybe it was when I promised Liz to be her husband until death parted us. I keep a picture of that moment on my wall at home. That might very well have been my greatest moment.

What about yours? I wonder what your greatest moment will be. Or has it already passed?

Jesus did a lot of work, a lot of preparation, and a lot of strategic planning to get the welcome he got in Jerusalem that day. You’ll remember back at the beginning of the gospel, all the forces that were out to nip his whole life in the bud. You’ll remember old Herod slaughtering all those poor children in the hopes of killing him. You’ll remember him being baptized by John, and then John being arrested and killed. You’ll remember him running out of the area to put some distance between him and Jerusalem for a while. He did his whole early ministry up in the northern region of Galilee, mostly because he knew he didn’t have the popular support he needed to face the big city, the center of the region, Jerusalem.

So he did lots of healing and lots of miracles and announced one heck of a lot of good news, particularly for the poor and the outcast. Of course, as we saw throughout the stories of Matthew, Jesus himself kept to a strict discipline of study and prayer throughout these days. We know also that he spent very little time in any place that didn’t accept him, and that even he really couldn’t do any miracles in those places. That’s interesting, isn’t it? You’d think someone like Jesus surely could do anything anywhere, but it appears that he depended very much on the faith of the people.

Some historians have said that history is not really the story of great individuals. It’s really the story of masses of people moving like great tides in one direction or another. The individuals we remember, the great leaders or thinkers or saints, were simply people who successfully surfed the waves. If we look at the ministry of Jesus in a very down-to-earth way, as a strategic effort to lead people, a lot of the more complex things he said and did become a bit simpler.

We’re seeing the somewhat less dignified process of campaigning going on right now on our national stage. Campaigning is a strategic activity; it involves travelling around, identifying potential followers, wooing them, staying away from people who could undermine you, playing up to the people who will endorse you, training and sending emissaries to speak for you and organize things in advance, handing out whatever it is you have to hand out so that people will follow you.

What Jesus had was the power and authority of the God of Israel. What Jesus had was the Holy Spirit.

And yet, all that power and authority of the Holy Spirit was dependent on the faith of those who received it. Wherever people believed and gathered around Jesus, he was able to do great things.

Another part of his strategy was training his disciples to do essentially has he did. He even promised them they could do even greater things than he. He sent them out and built up the movement by twelve-old or even seventy-fold, depending on the story you’re reading.

He said things like “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” This makes a lot of sense when one is thinking about building a movement. There are plenty of people who could be shifted in a new direction, more than enough to turn a tide, but what is lacking are the leaders to inspire them.

Only when Jesus had established a name for himself that spread throughout the land, only when he had enough adherents that he could organize some farmer to be waiting for him near the gate of Jerusalem with a donkey and its foal, only when he had enough support for there to be hundreds of people willing to get up that morning and cut palm branches and wait by the side of that dusty road, only when there were thousands of stories circulating about healings and resurrections and mind-blowing sermons about turning the world on its ear, only when great crowds were following him around like the a rock star, did he turn his face to the center of power in his world, Jerusalem.

Because Jerusalem was where the fight really was.

Many years before, Judas Maccabeus had ridden into Jerusalem in triumph when his Jewish freedom fighters had defeated the Greeks. That was the last time palms had been waved at the gate of Jerusalem. Every Jew who saw those palms would have known they meant revolution.
And every Jew who saw those two animals would have known Jesus was laying claim to the ancient prophecy of Zechariah about the Messiah coming as a prince of peace, not on a horse with a chariot like the empires of the day but humbly, on a simple donkey.

I’m sure his disciples, the twelve and the others that travelled with him, did not know about the whole riding-the-donkey plan. Jesus was well aware of how much money was being offered for information on his activities. It’s not unlikely people were already being arrested and interrogated. If the authorities had known anything about this idea, he would have been arrested long before he got anywhere near Jerusalem.

So this whole thing was most likely a great surprise to the disciples. And I’m sure they thought, “Wow, this is big. We might just pull this off.” I’m sure they thought, “This is it, this is Jesus’ greatest moment.”

What will be your greatest moment?

You know, this Christian way opens up a lot of possibilities, if you want them. If you want to learn the way of Jesus, it is something that you can learn. Many here have learned it already and are continuing to do so.

But the main message that I want you to hear this morning is that one of the most central truths of the power of God in the Holy Spirit is that is manifests itself through community. Let’s put it another way.

If you want to move toward your greatest moment, presuming it has not already passed you, there are roughly two billion living souls in this world who are cheering you on. If you want to get up on your own version of that donkey, and ride into the teeth of your life’s great moment, there are two billion people who are ready to stand by you. They are called the Christian church on earth.

About a hundred of them will gather here this morning. But there are millions more gathering all over the planet.

We have a denomination that we call the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). One of the reasons I’m a disciple is that we believe everyone who calls on the name of Jesus Christ is a member of the body of Christ, that is, the whole church on earth. We’re a denomination mainly for the pragmatic purposes of getting things done, but we are not denominational. And while we’re congregational in our polity, we are not Congregationalist. We believe that everyone, everywhere, who gathers in Christ’s name stands with us.

As a congregation, we are here to offer to each other every good gift we can offer to help each other toward our greatest moments. We are here to help you toward yours. And we have the whole church on earth behind us, offering all kinds of insights and resources and practices to build us all up.

What will be your greatest moment?

Jesus seems to be having his as he rides through the gates of Jerusalem on the great tide of love and faith he has so carefully built over the course of his ministry. But he alone understands this is not his greatest moment.

On Thursday night this week, we will gather to remember that moment, and on Friday, as we pray through the day, I hope we will let that moment sink deep into our hearts.

Jesus’ greatest moment will be his three hours on the cross. I don’t know what he was thinking as he suffered and died. We have only the barest evidence. But I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t hear those voices, those great thousands outside the gates of Jerusalem, shouting “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna!”

And you know what “hosanna” means, don’t you? It means “save us.”

This is perhaps what he heard in his heart as he died. The crowds calling out to him:

Save us.

Save us.

Save us.


Sunday, March 9, 2008

05 Lent A 08

March 9, 2008

Psalms 130:1-8 (NRSV)

John 11:1-45 (NRSV)

Come Out

One of the things that sometimes rattles me is the remembrance of running when I was eight years old. Do you remember what it was like to run like the wind? I can remember a particular time when we went to a mall. Malls were kind of new in those days. This would have been the mid-sixties. It was an amazing place, this great indoor shopping area that went on and on. I remember vividly just filling up with unaccountable joy and wanting to run. I asked my mom if it was okay, and she said yes. That was a different time then. Parents didn’t worry about kids getting out of their sight for a few minutes.

I ran like the wind, I ran like I would never, ever grow old or die. I ran and all I was doing was running and I could feel my heart beating happily and everything worked perfectly and I was the fastest thing alive.

It rattles me to remember this, because I will never feel that way again. That moment is gone forever.

Jesus wept.

Jesus wept not because Lazarus had died, but because human beings persist in allowing themselves to be made slaves of their own mortality. God doesn’t want me to live in mourning for what is daily slipping away. Nor does he want my coming death to hang over me like a threat.
Everyone dies, but not everyone lives.

The world uses death and all the losses associated with it to dominate and exploit people. People use the fear of death and violence to make slaves of each other. In fact, as Max Weber has said, even normal political power is simply the power of violence. We all agree bad people need to be stopped from hurting good people. For this reason we organize governments and we grant them the right to use violence to keep us safe. This isn’t evil itself, but it’s necessary because of evil.

This is why, way back in the first sermon on the temptation of Jesus, we said that the devil, at least for now, continues to rule most of the world. If it wasn’t for the evil, we wouldn’t need to use violence. As long as he is active, we still have to dance to his tune to some degree.

Just because this is a legitimate and necessary reality does not mean that it fulfills God’s will. Nor does it mean that God works the same way. Power in the world works on the principle of threat. Step out of line and you will be punished. Ultimately, the power of the world is the power of death. But God doesn’t work that way.

So many churches build all their buildings and fill up all their pews with a simple dynamic. First they say, “you are going to die, and not only will you die, but when you die, you will be tormented forever in terrible pain.” If you believe this, they then will tell you how you can avoid this fate. What is usually entailed is being a good citizen and giving a lot of money and time to the church. I don’t believe this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe this is living in a tomb with your hands and feet tied.

Is there such a thing as an afterlife? I believe there is. But can it really be that God is threatening us all in this way?

Of course, there are lesser versions of the same gospel. "Damnation Lite," you might call it. The message is that you will be unhappy without God in your life or you won’t get what you want if you don’t have God in your life or you won’t be able to cope without God in your life.

These things are true, I suppose, for some people and in some ways. But it is a terrible reduction of the whole gospel message. Such a reduction, I really wonder if it’s good news at all. Because really it amounts to the same thing: God is threatening you with a terrible life if you don’t do what he asks.

Richard Hoefler tells about two young children visiting their grandparents for the summer. We’ll call them Dick and Jane. Dick had just gotten a slingshot and was really anxious to play with it, so he was running around out back shooting at this and that. Now his grandmother, whom he loved very much, had a pet duck named Fred. She really was crazy about that duck.

Well, at one point, he sighted on the duck and on an impulse shot at it, and sure enough, he hit it dead on. Killed it.

The boy was horror-stricken. “Oh, my God,” he thought, “I didn’t mean to kill Grandma’s favorite pet!”

Dick looked around but didn’t think anyone saw him. So he scooped up the poor duck and carried it off into the woods and covered it up with some leaves.

Well, when he got back in the house, Jane was waiting for him.

“I saw what you did.”

Well, it was about dinner time, and grandma asked Jane to set the table. “Grandma,” Jane said, “Dick said he’d like to set the table.” And she whispered to Dick, “Remember the duck.” And Dick jumped right up and set the table, because he couldn’t bear the thought of his grandma finding out.

After dinner, Grandma said, “Jane, would you help me wash the dishes?” Well, you know what happened.

“Grandma,” Jane said, “Dick said he’d really like to wash the dishes.” And she whispered to Dick, “Remember the duck.”

Dick jumped right up and did the dishes.

But during the dishwashing, being just a little boy and all, Dick broke down crying. And Grandma said, “Child, what in the world is wrong?”

“I’m so sorry, I was playing with the slingshot and I shot the duck by accident and now it’s dead and I’m so sorry!”

And Grandma said, “Honey, I know you killed the duck. I saw the whole thing happen through the window. And I decided to forgive you right away. I was just waiting to see how long you’d let your sister make a slave out of you.”

Jane’s way is the way of the world, and the way of the devil. It’s also the normal way. It’s the way most people actually live. We all live under a threat. We do most of what we do because we have to. We have no real choice.

When Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, he is eliminating that threat.

We began Lent by talking about “Spring Training,” the message of Matthew’s story of Jesus’ temptation, that discipleship is a skill that must be learned and practiced and tested. This seems like it might be bad news, huh?

We went on to hear four stories from John, and each story had to do with making difficult changes in the way we think and feel and live.

In the story of Nicodemus, the word of God asked us to think of ourselves not merely as being born in this or that time from this or that family in this or that nation, but as being born from above. This seems difficult doesn’t it? It requires work. Is this the good news?

What about the story of the Samaritan woman at the well? There Jesus challenged us to let go of stale traditions and come into a personal relationship with him, even at the risk of allowing God to see deeply into everything we’ve ever done. Again, work, difficult, trying and a little scary.

And then last week we heard the powerful story of the man born blind. In this story we are asked to let go of our desire to control the future and to follow Christ with the blindness of faith, to open ourselves to the unlimited and unknowable future God is bringing. Oh, this is difficult as well. Where is the good news here?

Today, my friends, we are finally given to see what the discipline of faith yields us.

Life. Real and abundant life. Life that is free of threat and worry. Life that pours into us with such abundance that it overflows into the world.

The power of the world and the devil is the power of death. The power of God is the power of life.

Jesus says, “come out.”


Sunday, March 2, 2008

04 Lent 08
March 2, 2008

Psalms 23:1-6 (NRSV)
John 9:1-41 (NRSV)

Blind Ambition

I’m going to ask you to keep your hymnbook on your lap this morning, because we’re going to do some singing. I’ll explain why at the end of today’s sermon. Let’s start with I Am Thine, O Lord, No. 601, first verse.

I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice, and it told thy love to me; but I
long to rise in the arms of faith, and be closer drawn to thee. Draw me
nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to the cross where thou hast died; draw me nearer,
nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to thy precious, bleeding side.
Let’s go nearer, nearer, nearer to this story from the gospel of John. We begin with the disturbing spectacle of a man born blind.

If you’ve ever been deprived of your sight, you know how frightening it can be. I’ll never forget visiting some friends with my mother when I was a kid. They were doing a lot of work on the house and so they didn’t have a guest bedroom. They offered to let me sleep on the guest bed which was down in the basement with a lot of other furniture being stored during the renovation. I was fine with that. But then I woke up in the middle of the night and needed to get to a certain place. I couldn’t see anything. I had no idea where the light was. I wasn’t sure which way the stairs were. The room was filled with obstacles. It was a real nightmare.

It’s hard to understand when someone is so afflicted, because we can imagine how terrible it would be if it were us. We really want an explanation. Maybe we’re worried it’s catching.

We’d like to think we don’t blame people for their suffering, but it’s surprisingly easy to do. A lot of people are reading this book, “The Secret.” The basic message is similar to the old Christian heresy of Gnosticism: you are responsible for what happens to you.

Who sinned? That’s always the question. Someone comes in who’s in trouble with the police. Who sinned? Someone comes asking for financial help. Who sinned? A disaster befalls the nation. Who sinned? A plague spreads, killing millions. Who sinned?

We’re willing to consider the possibility people suffer not because of their own sin but because of their parents’. We can stretch this too to include whole classes of people, whole cultures. Those people! “Those people” don’t have an respect for life. “Those people” are violent from the time they’re born.

Jesus answers us this morning: “Neither he sinned nor did his parents sin. This situation is an opportunity to show the power of God’s love.”

Jesus goes on to do just that. “Here’s mud in your eye.” You ever use that toast? This story could be where it comes from. He tells the man to go wash in the pool. When he does, his sight is restored.

Just a note here: the man born blind doesn’t actually see Jesus until the very end of this story. He goes to the pool by himself and when he returns Jesus is already gone. Nevertheless, like last week’s woman at the well, Jesus has come near to him.

Let’s sing another song about coming near to Jesus, shall we? Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, No. 587, verse two.
Near the cross, a trembling soul, love and mercy found me; there the bright
and morning star sheds its beams around me. In the cross, in the cross, be
my glory ever, till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.

“I don’t even recognize him anymore.” You’ve heard that before, haven’t you. “I don’t even know her, she’s changed so much.” The man born blind can see, and people are at first doubtful he’s even the same person. The man born blind found healing in the pool of Siloam and when he came back he was a different man.

But the real issue isn’t that someone has changed, or even how much. The real issue is, what is the power behind that change?

“Where is this person who healed you?” That’s the question. “How did he do it?” The questions are not designed to open up possibilities. They’re designed to shut the possibilities down. As Harry Leach likes to quip about people in the partisan political discussion, Democrat or Republican: “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind.”

The authorities in this story have already decided that Jesus is not the Messiah. The fact that Jesus has restored sight to a man born blind clearly testifies that he is. It seems to us ridiculous people can’t see this obvious truth.

But is it ridiculous? We all think we’d welcome the Messiah, but would we really? The Messiah is the Messiah precisely because he has the power of God to change the world. I don’t know about you, but I have a problem with change. It makes me anxious. I don’t know where I’m going to stand in the new situation. I don’t know the way into new places.

When it comes to the future, I’m walking through the valley of shadows. When it comes to the future, when it comes to change, I’m… well, blind.

And being blind, as we have said, is frightening.

We might think we want to welcome the Messiah, that it would go without saying. But are we really ready for the transformation he brings? Are we ready to go where we have never been, into a future unlike anything we’ve experienced?

We need some assurance, don’t we? And this I think is what church is all about, friends. We are here to ready ourselves for the great changes God is going to bring about in us and through us. We are here to become comfortable with God’s transforming power. We are here to open ourselves to him and to each other.

At the beginning of a new year, a certain woman once prayed that God would shine a light into the future to comfort her. But God answered, “walk into the darkness and reach for my hand.”
Let’s sing another hymn, Blessed Assurance, No. 543, verse 1:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir
of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is
my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my
story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.

When the man born blind has been thrown out of his community, Jesus finds him, and for the first time the man actually sees Jesus. He has been ejected from the conventional religion of his family and his village and his people, all because of his faith in the person who transformed him. “Lord, I believe” is all he has to say, and he becomes a part of a new community.

There once was a little girl name Fanny, who was born in the mid-nineteenth century. Not long after she was born, she became ill with a fever, and lost her eyesight. When she was struck blind, I’m sure her family and her community grieved. What would become of her? I’m sure too that some thought she or someone in her family somehow deserved the affliction, but this is not how Fanny Crosby saw it.

She went on to become perhaps the most prolific hymn writer in American history, with some 8,000 hymns to her credit. Seven of them are in our hymnbook. All the hymns we have sung during this sermon were written by her.

She wrote toward the end of her life:
It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all
my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were
offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the
praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things
about me.

It’s rather a switch on the old cliché, “blind ambition.” Perhaps as Christians, we should be “ambitious to be blind,” in order to be given new sight through Christ.

"If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.” Thus says the Lord.

Let’s sing one more Crosby hymn, shall we? To God Be the Glory, No. 72, verse 3:

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done, and great our
rejoicing through Jesus the Son; but purer and higher and greater will be our
wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.