Sunday, March 26, 2017

Finding Jesus (A Lenten Series): When You Cannot See

John 9:1-41

He was not looking for Jesus that day. In fact he was not looking for anything, or at anything. He was blind. And he was completely minding his own business doing his blind thing, when suddenly these men decided to use him as an object lesson.
“Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents, that he was born blind.”  What? Seriously, you are walking along, with your good pal and celebrity rabbi, Jesus. You see a man born blind and your first instinct is to engage in a theological conversation about sin and theodicy, as though he were deaf not blind?
This man is not a man, he is not a person, he is a test case, a case study, a piece theological minutia to be examined. Who is to blame for this situation, Rabbi? How am I think about this man and his predicament?
Jesus says he is blind so I can do this, he then reaches down, makes some mud with dust and spit, puts it on the man’s eyes and tells him to  go wash, he does and he is healed. The man’s blindness was not something to be discussed, this was a man with a need, he could not see, and because he could not see, he could not work and because he could not work, he was an outcast in society, because he was an outcast in society he had to resort to begging on the side of the road, which is where we find him. Why was he blind? Well he is and because he is Jesus is able to heal him.
The man could not see Jesus, but Jesus saw him. Jesus saw all that there was to know about him, when he saw the man. Jesus saw what this man needed and Jesus alleviated his need. He was not a topic for a discussion. He was not a lesson to be learned about. Jesus did not stop to ponder whether he deserved to be blind. Whether he was worthy of being healed? He was a person. And Jesus addressed him like a person. Jesus came to him, saw the situation he was in and worked to rectify the situation.
But then Jesus walks off and disappears from our story for a very long time. The man then goes to his friends and his friends see he is not longer blind, and see his healing as a problem. How did this happen? Did it really happen? In fact some of them cannot even recognize him now that he is not the blind man. Now that he is the man who was formerly known as the blind man, they are not quite so sure he is actually who he says that he is. Maybe he is a look-a-like, maybe he is the blind man’s stunt double. So they take him to the authorities, maybe they can figure out this puzzle.
The leaders hear his story and are immediately disturbed by this man. Who has healed this formerly blind man? What? He made mud on the Sabbath. Making mud on the Sabbath is an expressly forbidden activity. He has sinned. Who is he? He cannot be from God, because he is so obviously a sinner.  Making mud! Such blatant disregard for the Sabbath. How can he heal? God would not give God’s power to a mud-making-sinner such as this!
We think his friends are right. This is an obvious forgery of the man we all once knew to be blind. Where are his parents? They can clear this up. So they call his parents in, “is this your son?” “Is this a trick question? Yes, that’s our son.” “Have you been lying to us all these years? Was he truly born blind?” “Um... yes, he was born blind. Why, how would anyone fake something like that?” “How did he come to see?” “We only know what he told us, he is a grown man, go ask him. He is capable of answering for himself (he’s in room); it is not like being relieved of blindness has made him mute.”
So they call the man in again. Still interested in proving that the one who healed him, this man called Jesus, is a sinner. They demand he tell the truth. And he tells them the truth. “I once was blind, but now I see.” He also schools them pretty hard, using some pretty sound logic, i.e. what is blatantly and painfully obvious. He is a little blunt and not excessively respectful. But then again, except for when Jesus reached down and touched him, he has been attempted to be used as an object lesson to discuss theodicy and the nature of sin, been unrecognizable to his friend and neighbors because he is the sighted blind man and they just can’t handle that kind of paradox.  Then he is used to prove that another man is a sinner, talked about to his parents as if he was not there. Then questioned again and told that he must be a liar because sinners can’t heal, either he is not healed or he was not ever blind or . . . something, because Jesus the sinner could not have healed him. And since they cannot get the truth they want out of him, they throw him out of the synagogue; he is officially cut off from society.
He is a little fed up with not being treated as a person. His whole life he has probably thought that if he could see, all his problems would go away. If he could see, then others would see him, truly see him. He would be a part of the world around him, but instead he is just a pawn in a game, someone to be treated as a child, talked about as if he was not really there. A part of a puzzle to be solved, an unsolved mystery, he is on his way to becoming a cold case to be shelved away in some dusty warehouse, and that is basically what happened, they cut him off from the community because his healing is inconvenient for them. Healing was officially the worst thing that could have happened to him.
But not really, as we follow this man through his day, hear his story; see how he is mistreated by the world around him because he is a-used-to-be-blind-man, which is so much more difficult to deal with than a blind man. We see a seed of faith growing with in him. He is healed and he knows that the one they call Jesus healed him. And then later after retelling his story again, he calls Jesus a prophet. And then after contemplating and telling the story once again, he declares that this man is from God. Bit by bit, even in the face of all the adversity, even in the face of the injustice, and maltreatment coming from all sides, his faith is growing.
He was blind, he could not see anything. He was healed, but he could still not see a future of any worth before him. But our story does not end with him being thrown out of the synagogue, being cut off from society and worship, because this is a story about a man finding Jesus, even though he could not see. At the beginning of the story he literally cannot see, and then here toward the end he figuratively still is unable to see, there is no future in sight for him, being able to see has not improved things at all. But then Jesus comes and finds him. Jesus has heard about the horrendous day this man has endured and comes to him and talks to him. This man has been going around telling and retelling people about his healing, and it seems when Jesus comes to him, he retells his story to Jesus and the man ends by saying, I just want to know this man, the one who healed me. He is the one around whom my day has revolved and now that all this has happened, I need to know who he is. And when Jesus introduces himself to the man, the man worships him. He was blind and now he can see. He could not see Jesus, he did not know who Jesus was, but through his healing, telling and retelling, and contemplating what happened he came to see Jesus better and better that day, until he sees who Jesus truly is.
There are two things we can learn from this story this morning. The first is that we need to treat people like people, they are not their condition, they are not their economic troubles, they are not their disease, their problems, they are people who need to be addressed, and actually seen. When we see the aspects of a person’s life and define them by them and only acknowledge them as a lesson, as a stereotype, as a problem, as a test case or a scenario we need to examine. We are blind. The disciples, the friends and neighbors, the leaders, they were all blind in one way or another and Jesus says as much at the end of the incident in his little summary of the situation. People are people and when we see them, we need to see them. Jesus saw the man, he truly saw him, he did not see his blindness, his poverty, his religious state, he saw a man who needed his help, and he helped the man in the best way he could.
We need see more like Jesus, when we see people; we need to actually see people. People are not diseases, they are not their economic situations, they are not their crimes, they are not their problems, their struggles, they are not their homelessness, people are not test cases or object lessons, people are people. And when we look at the people in the world around us, we should work to actually see the people at whom we are looking. They are real people, who need to be touched by Jesus. When we see anybody we see, we should be asking ourselves, “How can we be the hands of Jesus to this person today?” “When Jesus sees this person who does he see?” “How would Jesus touch this person's life?” When we see how Jesus sees, we are no longer blind, we become people who were once blind, but can now see.
Secondly, sometimes faith comes bit by bit. I think we have been conditioned to believe that faith is a light switch. It is off and then flip, it is on. But that is not generally how human experience works. For most people faith comes bit by bit, over time. The spirit works slowly, gently bringing a person to faith. It does not always all come at once, in fact I think that for most people faith begins with a seed, which is nurtured and grown, until suddenly, it seems, one day there is a fully bloomed flower. But unlike a spring blossom, faith does not cease to grow. Once we begin to express our faith, it keeps on growing, taller and wider, like a great oak tree that never seems to cease growing, always greater, always bigger with roots going deeper. We see this in this man as his understanding of Jesus grows and changes, until he comes to a place where he falls down and worships Jesus, because he has “seen” who Jesus really is.

Today we have seen a man. A man with a growing faith. When we go out into the world today, when we see the men and women around us, who will we see? Will we see sick men, homeless women, poor children, disrespectful cabdrivers, careworn teachers, irascible cashiers, rude pedestrians, crazy cyclists, or do we allow Jesus to heal us of our blindness and actually see the people around us. Will we continue to be blind or will we begin to see as Jesus sees?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Finding Jesus (a Lenten Series): On the Outside Looking in

John 4:5-42 
This woman took the long way to where she needed to be.  She went alone, she went at noon, at the time of day when she knew all the other women would not be there.  She avoided others, she avoided their gaze, their stares, their scrutiny.  She avoided being seen, so that she did not have to see herself through their eyes, so that she did not have to feel the shame.  Her predicament could have been her own fault, or it could have been rough circumstances of life which put her in a place in which she would never have imagined herself.  Either way, she was a woman who found herself in a place in life where she did not seek the company of others, a place in life where she did not want to be around people who knew her, knew “who” she was and the unfortunate place in which she had found herself. 
She lived her life on the outside looking in. She was not a part of the regular goings and comings of her community. She was living in the margins. She walked in the shadows (which in this case means in the bright noonday sun), doing her best to be small, to go unseen, to remained un-harassed, so that she did not have to feel the sting. She excluded herself, so that she did not have to be actively excluded.  
On this day, she went to the well, to draw her water by herself, at midday, to be alone, to be left alone.  Jesus met her there. And even then she still felt the glass jar which society put around her, which distanced her from others. He was a man, she was a woman. He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan. She was unclean and untouchable, even if she did not have a sordid past and a currently unholy lifestyle.   
She was alone, she was an outcast.  And Jesus met her, and released her from her separation, from her solitude. He drew her in. She found Jesus when she was outside of everything, continually looking into all the places she was unwanted and unaccepted. By the end of the day, not only was she wanted, accepted, but she would lead her people.  She quite literally ended that day a different woman. Jesus changed everything. 
Jesus saw her, knew her, knew everything about her and accepted her.  When he saw her he did not see someone to be avoided, someone to be shunned, be excluded. He did not see someone to be pushed away and ignored. He saw her and saw her as valued, important, needed, and wanted. And he chose to reach out to her, to speak to her and to give her hope.  She was an outcast among outcasts.  She was not even accepted by those nobody else accepted.  Jesus assured her there would be a day when she would be wanted, accepted. He did this by talking to her about worship. Whether you worship here or there does not matter, but one day we will all worship (together) in Spirit, where not the location, but the heart of the worship is what matters.  
She spoke to him about separation, about what it means to be an outcast.  We worship here and you worship there.  The insiders worship in one place, but we, the outsiders worship in another.  And Jesus told her that one day they would all worship together, in spirit and in truth, no  exclusive worship place for these and another for those.  Jesus essentially told her that a day is coming and it is coming soon when there will be no Greek or Jew, male or female, slave or free.   He, a Jew, sat there and talked to her, a SamaritanHe, a man, sat there and talked to her, a womanHe, someone who was righteous, sat there and talked to her, a shameful woman.  He told her that one day we will neither worship here or there, but we will worship in Spirit and in truth - together.  
Jesus tore down the walls, which separated her from everyone else. She was outside looking in, she found Jesus and Jesus found her. He took her by the hand and drew her into the center. Jesus tore down the walls that kept her from everything and everyone.  A lonely woman, drained of hope, drained of dignity, drained of even the will to find herself amongst people, went to the well that day and an empowered woman fled from the well that day, who embraced the hubbub and commonality of at the center of town, spoke to them boldly about the man, possibly the Messiah, who was waiting there for them, all of them, at the well. She went to the well that day, a woman on the outside of it all, she returned a different woman, with an important message (to preach [Symbol]), and then she lead the people of her town to Jesus. 
She was not the only outcast in that village. She was an outcast among outcasts, a Samaritan village. She met the Messiah, he changed her life, changed her perspective, offered her what no one else was willing to offer; offered her what no one else could offer.  She knew that everyone in her life, deserved to meet him. She did not return to her village and quietly live her new life, she invited others to join her. She invited others to experience what she experienced. She wanted everyone who was on the outside, everyone who felt alone, everyone who knew the sting of exclusion to know what she now knew, to experience what she had experienced, to find the one whom had found her when she found him at the well that day. 
She left an outcast and returned a preacher, a leader and she was never the same, her town was never the same. And then together, that little town of outcasts, make the most profound confession found anywhere in all of the Gospels, “This is truly the Savior of the World.”  And the Savior of the world stayed that day, (Stayed two days) and that town was never the same again! 
In many ways we can all see ourselves in this woman. There are parts of who we are of which we are ashamed.  These are the parts we hide from the world around us.   There are ways in which we feel like we are on the outside looking in; pushed to the side, excluded from the in circle. We feel alone. There are barriers that separate each of us from the places we want to be, or people with whom we want to be.  There signs that say keep out We are drowning in shame, fear, guilt, wrong doing, or hurt.  They surround, confine and overwhelm us.  When we find our selvees overwhelmed by these things in our lives, that is when we find the long way to the well, when we choose to avoid, and choose loneliness, for protection for solace, in vain hope that we might be able to hide from the so very painful feels that we feel. We find ourselves looking from the outside in. 
In our shame, our guilt, our fear, loneliness, and separation; we are outcasts, marginalized, walled off, put behind barriers and set apart from places and people, it is then that Jesus comes to us; to the places we are and meets us there. Jesus sees us on the outside and draws us in. When we find Jesus, when Jesus finds us, he sees us. He invites us to be apart, he invites to the table, to drink of the water only he can provide. When we find Jesus, we are no longer on the outside, because we are found. When we find Jesus and Jesus finds us, we see that no one is on the outside, that all are drawn in, that all are invited to sit, to talk, to worship, to drink.  When we find Jesus everything changes, because Jesus sees things differently and Jesus teaches us to see things differently. And we are forever changed; everything is forever changed. We are truly found. 
 Each of us individually might find ourselves in this woman, due to circumstances in our lives, parts of ourselves we keep close, we might even keep hidden. But, We are this woman, this church.  We may not always feel that we are the Church we want to be, the church we could be, the Church we use to be. But in Jesus’ eyes we are so much more than we could ever imagine ourselves to be.  Jesus sees it all, sees us for exactly who we are and Jesus sees something we don’t see! Jesus sees that we might feel that we are on the outside, that we don’t have as much to offer as other churches, we are not as big, or as important, we don’t have all the programs, all the extras and amenities, but Jesus does not see what we see. Jesus sees us and invites us in, invites us to worship, invites us to drink and be satisfied. Jesus sees us, loves us, and calls us to lead, to lead others, like us to him, so that we may be found, so that they may be found, so that we can all find Jesus and no longer find ourselves outsiders looking in. 
Jesus meets us.  He shows us who we are. Jesus replaces our shame with beauty, our unworthiness with worth, our pain with joy, our brokenness with wholeness.  And we are empowered with this knowledge. We may wonder how we can go on, we may wonder where our future may be, but in Jesus’s eyes, we can go out from our meeting place and be the people, the Church Jesus sees us to be.  We are empowered, emboldened and we can go from here into our world and say, I met a man who told me all about myself!  I think he is the messiah come and see.  Come and see! He is the Savior of the world.