Sunday, April 3, 2011

Christ Will Shine On You (sermon for the fourth Sunday in Lent)

At one point in my earlier career, I had a favorite suit. In those days of course all my suits were black. I liked this suit because it was a nice flattering cut, the looser-fitting cut tailors call the American style. I'd had it a long time and I wore it a lot.

Liz and I were newlyweds and I suppose as a kind of newlywed thing she bought me a whole drawer full of boxer shorts with cute messages on them. One of the pairs was white with little red hearts and the words "I love you" printed all over them.

One afternoon I had lunch with the chairperson of the church board, wearing my favorite suit. After lunch I got up and dropped something, I think it might have been a napkin, on the floor. So I bent over to pick up the napkin only to hear the board chairperson giggling behind me.

Apparently the suit had worn out somewhat in the rear end, and the "I love you" shorts were clearly visible.

In the story of the man born blind, I see a guy whose blessing wore him a little bit thin. And I think it's the way the whole Christian life works.

First off, there's this rather dramatic encounter. We could go wandering off wondering about the whole reaction of the disciples to the man born blind, and the bookend comments of the religious leaders at the end of the story, the assumption that he or his parents had committed sin, and while that's a fruitful road for sure, we're not going there right now. Suffice to say that Jesus, in a gesture that stirs recollection of how God created the human creature out of mud, makes a little mud out of some dirt and his own spit and gives the man, who had never seen anything, his sight.

Then, as Fred Craddock pointed out in an article for the Christian Century, Jesus disappears for the bulk of the rest of the story. The poor man is left at the mercy of his home town folks and the leaders of his local synagogue. You'd think there'd be celebration and gladness about the good news. The poor man sees finally! Isn't that great?!

But no. Instead they doubt it's the same guy. Now isn't this something? And doesn't it tell us a lot about the ways of human community? Do we really want to fix things? Really? It's a funny thing, but to fix something you really have to face a loss. You have to face the loss of all the things you might have formerly hung your hat on. I'm sighted because I'm blessed, while that guy who was born blind was cursed. God is in his heaven and all's right with the world.

But now the guy comes around with no cane, looking around, seeing fine. Maybe he's applying for a job, offering to pitch in to help around the community. No no no. That's can't be. Something's wrong here.

"Who healed you?" they want to know, and probably not for a nice reason. "Where is he?"

The man born blind says, "I don't know."

He's not around at the moment, the man born blind says, I'm on my own with this new blessing of mine, this blessing that is turning out to be more complicated that I would ever have thought.

Off they whisk him to the local authorities, who happen also to run the synagogue. And you know they continue in this same vein, rubbing away at the man, rubbing away with their interrogation. How did he do it? Mud, spit? What? On the sabbath? Righteous people don't do things like that on the sabbath, do they? Controversy, fighting, all kinds of what we called up north "hate and discontent."

I'm reminded of people questioning me about my own healing. I call it healing, others call it getting my life together. I insist that I didn't get my life together. I insist that it was a miraculous healing by God in Jesus Christ. I had almost nothing to do with it. I don't remember making a decision, following any line of reason, exerting any particular willpower. I didn't do it, plain and simple. I'm not even sure I asked for it.

This apparently disconcerts people. Surely that can't be. Surely you did something. No. No. Really. I didn't. Really, it was all Jesus.

The parents, remember the parents of the man born blind? The disciples wonder if it was their sin that caused the man to be blind. They get called into face the interrogation squad, probably because they had been told all their lives, "Yes, you know, you must have done something to have a kid with that kind of problem. Notice our kids all can see. That's because God has blessed us."

Have you ever thought how it sounds to a person whose childhood or family was a disaster when you say things like "I was blessed with good parents. I was blessed to have good kids." So my kid, who had all kinds of problems, was my curse? My absent father who suffered with alcoholism and depression was my curse? I was his? Really?

I'm blessed to have a good wife or husband. I'm blessed to live in a good country. I'm blessed to have had nice opportunities. What are we really saying here?

The poor parents are terrified. They have to live in this town. The synagogue is the only one for miles around. "Who did this?" the authorities want to know. "We don't know," the parents carefully say. "We don't know how it happened. Ask him."

Back comes the man born blind, once more on the firing line, once more being worn down, worn down, worn down with the questions. "Who did this? Isn't he really a sinner, a blasphemer? Come on, admit it."

Amazingly, the man born blind doesn't back down. You could see it happening. "Oh, for crying out loud, whatever you say. Just leave me alone and stop making me account for it." But no. I rather like this man. I would like to be like him. He sticks to his story. And he finally even fights back a bit. Pretty clean logic, simple. "The way I figure it, someone who can make the blind see has got to come from God. And you guys, who teach the faith, don't know where he comes from?"

Ooooo. Them's fightin' words.

As Wallace Shawn wrote in his award winning play The Fever, "we need the poor." We don't want to fix poverty. We don't really want to fix addiction. We don't really want to fix anything, because our whole society is structured around these things. The problems of others are how we know we're blessed. Attending to the problems while secretly making sure they are never solved is how we make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

God is only God if God keeps the system working. It couldn't be God who comes along and actually fixes things. Those are just those dangerous revolutionary people, those troublemakers that mix things with religion that shouldn't be mixed, the way Jesus mixed healing the blind with the sabbath day.

The man born blind says, "I don't know about any of that. All I know is, I was blind but now I see."

Jesus finally shows up and he vindicates the poor guy. And we see in this story the only time that anyone kneels down to worship Jesus.

The man born blind, like my old suit, had been worn through, so you could see the Christ within.


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