Monday, March 3, 2008

Sermon -- 2 March 2008

4th Sunday in Lent — 2 March 2008
St. John’s, Keokuk — 10:00

1Sam 16:1-13 Ps 23 Eph 5:8-14 John 9:1-41

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

This text, from today’s Epistle, the Letter to the Ephesians, seems to be a line from an early Christian hymn that St. Paul is quoting. And it’s a very apt summary of the good news, the Gospel. “Once you were darkness,” the apostle says; “but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”

There’s something almost inevitable about the symbolism of light and darkness. There’s nothing esoteric about this symbolism — it’s very immediate. We use it all the time. Darkness is a symbol for ignorance, for instance, and light for knowledge. “I’m completely in the dark about this,” we say; “let’s shed some light on the problem.” But light and darkness are also symbols of moral value — goodness and evil, truth and falsehood, reality and nothingness. This is familiar to us, too — remember the old western movies where the villains all wore black hats and the good guys wore white hats and rode white horses?

The New Testament makes much use of the symbolism of light and darkness — especially the Gospel according to St. John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
[1] So St. John’s Gospel begins. And John explains further: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.…And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil love the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”[2] And Jesus himself proclaims, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”[3]

We see this in action in the dramatic healing and subsequent encounter with the Pharisees that is related in the Gospel for today. Jesus heals a man who has been born blind. An unheard-of thing! But we need to bear in mind that Jesus does not heal the man to create awe and wonder among the onlookers. Jesus never performs stunts of that kind — that’s not what his miracles are about. Nor does Jesus do it simply out of compassion for the blind man, although certainly Jesus does have compassion for him and is concerned that he be made whole. The miracles of Jesus are always signs — that is, they point beyond themselves, they are indicators of the Reign of God. They are signals that God’s Reign is breaking in, and they tell us what that Kingdom and its King are like. So it is that Jesus points out at the beginning: “Look, this man’s blindness is not a punishment for his sins, or his parents’ sins, or anybody else’s sins. God doesn’t do that kind of thing!” That’s worth repeating: “God doesn’t do that kind of thing!” “But this man’s blindness is an occasion in which God’s great love and power can be shown.”
[4] For the Reign of God is a realm in which people find healing, wholeness — God wants us to see — really to see — and to be filled with the light of the Kingdom of God.

The healing of the blind man provokes a big squabble with the Pharisees — that sect of Jews who were very devout and very committed to the Law of God — so much so that they had gotten the notion that they had some exclusive franchise on being devout and committed to the Law of God. And they were all out of joint because this healing wasn’t done according to the Rules. For one thing, it was done on the Sabbath Day, when you were forbidden to work. And for another, this Jesus had no credentials as a healer. He wasn’t licensed. He wasn’t ordained. He wasn’t a Pharisee. The Pharisees were so concerned about their own system of religious rules that they could not, would not, see the power of God even when it was right in front of their eyes. The Pharisees are the blind ones. And Jesus then: “My coming into the world is a judgment — that those who cannot see may be given sight, and that those who claim that they see may be shown to be blind.”
[5] In what ways are we choosing to remain blind? What are our favorite little systems that keep us from seeing what God is doing right in front of our eyes?

God wants us to see. God wants us to know the truth about God and about ourselves, and to be filled with God’s truth, God’s life, real life forever in God’s kingdom. but we cannot receive God’s light if we continue to try to walk by our own light. Only as we recognize our own blindness can God open our eyes. Only as we admit that we are dead can God raise us to newness and fullness of life.

It’s significant that in the early days of the Church, Baptism was often spoken of as “enlightenment” or “illumination.” That’s what Jesus Christ is to be for us — illumination, the healing of our blindness, the opening of our eyes to the glory of the Reign of God. Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. By him we see and can walk the highway of the Kingdom of God into fullness of life. But we must turn away from darkness, and receive God’s gift of learning to look, and to see, and to live.

[1] John 1:1,4-5.
[2] John 3:17,19-21.
[3] John 8:12.
[4] John 9:3, my translation/paraphrase.
[5] John 9:39, my translation.

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