Preached on 26 March, 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A. The Gospel According to John chapter 9.
That’s not the end of the story.
Jesus continues talking to the people and interprets the sign they have just witnessed of a blind man receiving sight, by talking about the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd enters the fold by the gate and calls the sheep one by one. The sheep come to him because they know his voice. They follow him and he takes them to good pastures and he doesn’t abandon them to the wolves or other dangers. They trust him.
Jesus goes on to say that he has come that they, the people, may have life and have it abundantly. He continues talking about the Good Shepherd and when he finishes, the people are divided: some saying he’s mad or possessed while others say, “how could he be possessed and make a blind man see?” The man who receives his sight is the sheep who knows the shepherd’s voice and follows when he hears him calling.
There are several themes running through the lessons this morning. The first one I notice is Seeing. In the Old Testament lesson, Samuel is sent to anoint the next king while the current king, Saul, is still very much alive and very much in power. God tells him that God will show him which of Jesse’s sons to anoint. Samuel focuses on their outward appearance, but God tells him, that God sees their hearts.
In the gospel, of course, the blind man sees, but it is more than being able to see what’s in front of him. Seeing is also about seeing who Jesus is and so, coming to believe in him. After Jesus gives him his sight, Jesus goes away and the people begin questioning the man. He gradually progresses from saying that Jesus is a man, to calling him a prophet, and finally to Lord. For him, seeing will mean a whole new life.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, can see what’s in front of them perfectly well, but their certainty in what they think they know makes them blind to what God is doing; makes them blind to who Jesus is.
There’s the theme of identity. The man is identified by his limitation within the story – even after that limitation is removed. He is the man born blind. He could just as easily be identified as the man who sees.
How often do we describe or define others by their limitations? How often do we base our own identity on our own limitations? What if we were to base it on our gifts, our abilities, what we have already received rather than on what we wish we would receive; what we perceive we lack?
The core of who you are, your identity, is a beloved child of God; sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. No matter what the rest of the world may tell you, you are God’s beloved. What if we were to see not only ourselves, but others that way, too?
Letting go is yet another theme. “How long will you grieve over Saul?” God asks Samuel. It’s time to let go of the past and move forward. Saul isn’t working out as king so it’s time to begin to prepare the next king.
The man who sees has to let go of his old way of life and find new work, new life. HE can’t go on begging by the side of the road. He has to learn to earn a living. God invites us to look ahead, to move forward, to not be defined by or linger in the challenges or adversity we have overcome.
Remembering what we have been through, what we have overcome and accomplished is useful insofar as it can help us move forward. Knowing what we have been able to do in the past can not only help us avoid repeating mistakes, but more importantly can give us hope and strength and courage to face the next challenge.
And finally, there’s the theme of Divine Promise.
God’s promise to be present with us always. Even in the presence of our enemies, God hosts a banquet in Psalm 23.
God sends Samuel on what seems to Samuel to be a suicide mission. “Saul will kill me!” he protests. But God promises to be with him. Bring a heifer with you. Offer a sacrifice.
Jesus promises to be with us always. The divine promise is in Jesus who comes that we may have life, life in abundance. The divine promise that our core identity as beloved children of God, sealed and marked as Christ’s own.
It is the Divine Promise that makes all else possible – seeing, believing, letting go, moving forward.
It is the promise we stake our lives on.