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Lent 4 – April 3, 2011

Lent 4A RCL April 3, 2011

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5: 8-14
John 9:1-41

Our first lesson this morning finds the people Israel approximately 200 years later on their journey. God has anointed Saul king over Israel, but Saul has proven himself disobedient and morally unfit. So God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint the king God has chosen.

 Jesse introduces all his sons to Samuel, and each is a fine young man. However, none is the true king but the youngest, David, who is out tending the sheep. Point number one in today’s lessons is that God so often chooses the most unlikely servants. God chooses ordinary, even weak servants. And we humans find that so difficult to grasp. Even Jesus, in the healing of the blind man, is considered by the Pharisees to be too ordinary to be a healer, and they have to attribute the healing to evil forces.

 The psalm this morning reminds us of the choice of a shepherd to lead the people Israel, and of Jesus, our good shepherd, who calls us each by name and knows each of us intimately, and cares so much for us that he gives himself. Today, as in every Eucharist, he is in our midst to feed and nurture us. He is with us to nourish us with his presence and with his energy.

 Today’s gospel offers us an extraordinary incident of healing. Jesus and his disciples meet the man born blind, and the first question that pops into the disciples’ heads is, “Who sinned, that this should happen to this person?” What is this a punishment for? Point number two in the lessons for today is: suffering is not a punishment. God is not out to hurt people. God loves us and wants all of us to be whole. Suffering and pain happen in a broken world. But they are not sent by God. Suffering is an opportunity for healing and for making whole, not for judging or blaming.

 In the face of this affliction, Jesus says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

 And then comes the very earthy act of Jesus’ spitting on the ground and making a little mud pie, a poultice of mud, and putting it on the man’s eyes. He tells the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Siloam means sent. Apostle means one who is sent. We are all called, we are all sent to proclaim the good news. And the man goes and washes, and, miraculously, he can see!

 I read the gospel in its entirety because, though it is long, it illustrates the way in which we humans, when we get a particular mindset, cannot see truth. We are, in effect, blind. In this case, the Pharisees, who are so set on law and observance of the law, cannot see the wonderful, creative healing work of the God they profess to honor.

“Then I washed and now I see,” reports the man who was born blind. But the Pharisees don’t get it. The man’s parents come to testify—you would think Jesus had committed a crime instead of effecting a healing. The whole scene looks more and more like a trial, with the Pharisees as judge and jury. The Pharisees accuse Jesus, the Son of God, of being a sinner and it is the man born blind, who has spent all his life having to beg, who is powerless, who never went to college, much less law school or seminary, who reminds the Pharisees that healings like this do not come from evil, but from good. The Pharisees simply cannot hear it. “You would teach us?” they sneer. And that closes them off from Christ, from God.

Which leads us to a third point. Who in this gospel story is really blind? The devout religious leaders are blinded by their own rigid thinking and exclusivity. The light of Christ is forever opening up new truths for us to see. And the new truths come from the most unexpected sources.

 The youngest brother is the true king. A blind man is healed and has truths to share if we can be open to those truths. Perhaps we have some things in common with the blind man. Perhaps we have at one time or another felt powerless. Perhaps we have felt in need of help and healing, for ourselves, or for someone close to us. As we have said, God does not send suffering. God wants for us wholeness and health. In a broken world, however, there is illness and death and other tragedy. Christ is with us in the midst of all that. He is with us to bring comfort and strength. In some way, each of us has met Christ and has gone and washed in our own pool of Siloam and been healed.

It is that inexpressible love and hope and healing of Christ that draws us together in community in Him. And in the face of the light and love of Christ, all brokenness has the potential to become wholeness and health.


Lent 3 – March 27, 2011

Lent 3A RCL    March 27, 2011
 Exodus 17: 1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5: 1-11
John 4: 5-42

 Have you ever gone on a long car trip with the family? When are we going to get there? Are we there yet? I have to go to the bathroom. I’m hungry. This is no fun. I’m bored. The people Israel are very much like a large family on a long trip. We’ve all been there. Leaving the old familiar place is not easy. Leaving our various forms of bondage is not easy. This Lent we are on a journey with the people Israel. God is going to make sure that we end the journey with enough water and with enough of everything that we need.

Paul this morning gives us one of those unforgettable statements about the journey. “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

 As with many days in the lectionary, there are such riches that we could go on for hours. But I would like to focus especially on today’s gospel. Jesus is on his way to Galilee. John tells us that he has to go through Samaria. He comes to Jacob’s well. He is tired and thirsty. He asks a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. As we look upon this scene, we need to be aware that Jesus has just broken two rules of his time. First, Jesus is a teacher, a rabbi, and rabbis do not speak to women. Second, Jews do not associate with Samaritans because Samaritans have departed from the true faith. So, when Jesus asks for this drink of water, thousands of years of tradition are crumbling in the background. Right at the start, Jesus is dissolving walls, breaking through barriers with this simple request.

The conversation goes on. It is like an archeological dig of the spirit, going deeper and deeper into the realities of spiritual life. When Jesus talks about the living water, the woman is attracted by the idea on a practical level, If I had a water supply that would never dry up, I would not have to come to this well several times a day, she says. Jesus asks her to bring her husband. She tells the truth. She has no husband. Jesus tells her about her whole life, that she has had five husbands and is not married to the man she lives with. Is Jesus put off by this? No.

Jesus can see into her heart. He knows all about her. She sees that he is far more than just a teacher. She thinks he may be a prophet. But then he tells her it does not matter where people worship. That is one of the issues that have divided the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews feel that the only place one can worship is in the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worship on Mt. Gerizim But Jesus is saying, that’s not the point. The whole argument that has separated the Jews and the Samaritans is irrelevant, like so many theological arguments that we can allow to separate us. What matters is to worship God in spirit and in truth.

Then she really begins to see. “I know that messiah is coming. When he comes. He will proclaim all things to us,” she says. And Jesus answers, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Jesus has reached across racial, gender, and religious barriers to a woman who, according to the conventional wisdom of her time has a checkered past at best. She knows that he is the One, and what does she do? She runs into town and tells everyone about him. She becomes the first preacher of the good news! And she must be pretty convincing because the people flock to see him, and then they come to know him for themselves.

Here in the first decade of the twenty-first century, we are on a journey, as individuals and as the Church. We are on a journey of realizing that by virtue of our baptism, each of us is a minister. We call this baptismal ministry. God gives every one of us gifts for ministry—gifts of listening, of teaching, music, art, cooking, visiting, balancing the books, paying the bills, caring for kids, extending accessibility, ministries of community development, woodworking, building, encouraging people, shoveling snow. The list goes on and on. Everything we do is ministry.  St. Paul says many wonderful things about this in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. With his good teaching and encouragement, people developed their God-given gifts and carried on Christ’s ministry in the congregations which Paul planted all around the Mediterranean basin.

So here we are, on the journey again, the journey to the Promised Land, the journey to a deeper knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the journey to a more profound and joyful sense of who we are, individually and corporately, in God’s eyes. In a very real sense, each of us and all of us are in the kind of dialogue with Jesus that Nicodemus had in last week’s gospel and the Samaritan woman has today. A dialogue in which we look into his eyes and see ourselves so differently than we had before—because Jesus has so much love for us, so much true respect for God’s creation in us that we have to accept that love and respect.

 To the Samaritan woman, Jesus says, without saying it, “You are not an outcast you are a spiritual seeker; you’re on the right track,” and she grasps a truth that is like bedrock to her life, and she begins a relationship with Jesus that carries her into the village to share this new truth.

 I hope and pray that each of us may open ourselves to that level of dialogue with Christ this Lent, to see ourselves as he sees us, and to accept his love for us.

Like the Samaritan woman, may we share the Good News.


Lent 2 – March 20, 2011

Lent 2A RCL March 20, 2011
Genesis 12: 1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17
John 3: 1-17

In all of Scripture, Abraham stands out as the prime model of the faithful person. God calls Abram, as he is named when we first meet him, and, without hesitation, Abram gathers all his family, all his possessions, everything he has built up over a life of hard work, and heads for an unknown land.

How many of us would do that? What a difficult thing—to leave all that is familiar, all our friends, everyone and everything we know and love—and launch out into the totally unfamiliar. Yet that is what the journey of the spirit is all about.

At first glance, Nicodemus seems much more cautious than Abraham. But then he is part of the religious establishment—a Pharisee, an expert on the Law, a member of the body of ruling elders called the Sanhedrin. Wealthy, powerful. We learn later in John’s gospel that Nicodemus brings something on the order of seventy-five pounds of very precious ointments for the anointing of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. No one but a wealthy person could afford to do such a thing.

Nicodemus has reason to be cautious. He has a lot to lose. After all, an honored elder cannot be seen associating with every new preacher who pops up around the countryside. So Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and enters into one of those very mystical and practical dialogues that Jesus is always getting into with people.

There is no doubt in Nicodemus’ mind that Jesus is authentically from God. The healings and all those powerful events make that clear. But Jesus immediately calls Nicodemus to make a quantum leap of the spirit. He says that no one can see the kingdom of God, the realm of God, the shalom of God, without being born of water and the Spirit. I think Jesus can see that Nicodemus is a true spiritual seeker, and that Nicodemus can make that leap. But Nicodemus is still caught in the physical, literal realm. “Do I need to go back into my mother’s womb?” he wonders. No, you need to be born of water and the Spirit, Jesus answers. Pneuma, Ruach, the Spirit, the wind that blows where it will, the desert wind blowing across the sand, molding, shaping, shaping us, transforming us. The Spirit acting in Baptism, calling each of us into our God-given identity, calling us to go on that journey of finding out who we truly are, as individuals, as a Christian community, as the People of God.

And then, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he, Jesus, will be lifted up just as the serpent was lifted up (Numbers 21: 9). As the people Israel were journeying in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, Moses made a bronze serpent and held it up, so that, when the people were bitten by poisonous snakes, they could look at the bronze serpent and be healed. Jesus will be lifted up. Healing, wholeness, comes to those who look upon the cross of Christ.

So today we have two journeyers. Abraham packs up everything into a big U Haul and heads for the land of Canaan. Nicodemus arrives full of caution, but in fact, it is a miracle that he visits Jesus at all, given his training and background. So Nicodemus, too, turns out to be an icon of one who is willing to risk and to journey with God. While this section of the gospel leaves us hanging as to the future of Nicodemus, we do know that, later on, when the Pharisees are going to kill Jesus, Nicodemus asks, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing, does it?” (John 7: 50-51). Later in the chapter we hear of his bringing the spices for the burial of our Lord. Even if he did not become a full time follower, he was certainly a defender and supporter of Christ. That took courage. Lent is about taking the journey. Lent is about letting go of what we need to let go of, taking new paths, new directions, new disciplines, new identities, exploring new maps, new terrains. It is about the kind of faith and openness that led Abram into his new identity of Abraham, and led Nicodemus on a path to new possibilities.

Lent is about being born anew. Births are joyful, but they are not always easy or painless. All kinds of feelings happen when we are allowing new things to come to birth in us. We feel nostalgia for the way things were, sadness at leaving old landscapes behind. Sometimes we feel anger that God is prodding us to look at things and make changes. Sometimes we feel guilt at things we have done which we regret. And yet there is a deep down joy in responding to the call to change and grow and blossom. But change can be scary, and that is where faith comes in.

The journey to the Promised Land is not easy, and it can be downright scary, but the important thing is that God is with us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is out in front leading us. The Holy Spirit is breathing new life into us. The presence of God gives us strength and hope.

Let us pray

Loving and gracious God, help us to be open to your grace and love as we journey together this Lent. Help us to trust wholly in you. Help us to listen to you and to each other as we journey in and with and toward you. Surround us with your love. In Jesus’ name.