Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vision

First Presbyterian of Lafayette, Louisiana
April 2, 2001 – Lent (A4)
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

"So, how's your ministry going?"  That's what my sister's friend, April, asked me when she found out that I had begun a career in ministry.  I was only 19 at the time and working part time with the youth of the church I grew up in.  April is a Baptist, and I took her question to be rather, well – Baptisty.  By that I mean to say that my cultural bias is that Baptists are more individualized in their expression of Spirituality.

I don't remember what I said but I remember thinking, "My ministry?  No. I don't have a ministry.  This is Christ's ministry that I am a part of.  The church has a ministry.  I could never be so bold as to claim that ministry was mine."  The funny thing is, that question has been - and remains - a central question to my understanding of who I am as an ordained minister.  Even more so, it is an essential aspect of my understanding of who I am as a Christian.

How is your ministry going?  How are you living as a child of light?  How is your very presence exposing darkness?  These are tough questions.  Quite frankly they make me want to turn the dial back so I can have a little more time of silent confession.  Sometimes scripture can do that.  In fact I had a good conversation the other day with a minister friend who was considering placing the confession after the scripture in worship because it is just so convicting at times.

But Jesus assures us that we are OK.  Rather, he assures us that through him we are OK.  If we read God's word and realize that we have been blind from birth, our blindness is not because we sinned in utero or because our parents did something horrible they have never told us about.  In fact, it is God's fault.  Yes!  God set it up this way.  The man on the side of the road was blind from birth for no reason at all, except to allow Jesus to demonstrate the character of God.  He did not even ask to be healed, but only held the position of a blind beggar awaiting charity.

I don't know about you, but God being at fault is a tough pill to swallow.  Terminal illness, blindness, and natural disasters – these are all things that have been attributed in the past to God's will.  The trouble comes when we try to square that with the concept of a just and loving God.  Then it gets even more cumbersome when we ask if anything can happen apart from God's will.  The real problem is that discerning God's intention for suffering is a dead end.

We know we suffer.  We know God is with us.  We know that God allows there to be some chaos – some free radicals, some things that are physically and spiritually out of control.  We know that God is working to make order out of chaos.  We know that Jesus was a man who demonstrated fundamentally, even elementally, God's care and concern for others.

So instead of, "Why did God make the man blind?" I think a more interesting question is, "Who is responsible for Spiritual Blindness?"  Perhaps the answer is obvious.  It is certainly easy to blame the Pharisees and the Jews when reading John's gospel.  We like to have someone to blame.  Just look at the disciples.  "That poor fellow," they said.  "Who's fault is this?"

Jesus stopped them in their tracks and said, "Mine – it's my fault."  Then he demonstrated what it is like to be in a relationship with some one who suffers.  Even worse, Jesus did it in a way that did not square with the religious authorities' concept of who God is and what God does.  You know, if anything seems to be a consistent theme in scripture it is that God's people often choose the familiar and the comfortable and miss the new thing that God is doing.

Why else was David left in the field?  Every possible candidate was assembled, yet God chose to anoint the one that everyone else overlooked.  Over and over again God seems to prefer the one outside of our expectations.  God has even done it with me, and God has even done it with you.  Paul is not kidding around when he says, "Now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light."  And although that sounds intimidating, he follows it right up with, "Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord."

We are not, cannot, and will not be perfect people – but we can try. Better still, we can trust that God will use even our weakest efforts to shine light into darkness.  I think that is why the parents were so important in this story.  They must have dealt with suspicion all their lives.  Now, finally, their son has been healed, and how do they respond but out of fear.  But even their fearful response moved the action toward the proclamation of Jesus!

So, I'll ask you again, how is your ministry?  How bright or dim is the light you project?  Paul does not say you have light in you.  He says you are light. Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind."

If I, then, find myself saying as the Pharisee, "Surely I am not blind.  Surely I have all of this figured out," or as the Disciple, "That person's suffering is not something that I am a part of," then I might very well be blind.  I know who is responsible for my spiritual blindness, and it's me.  If Jesus is willing to say what he is responsible for then so am I.  Now the question is, what am I going to do about it?  What are you going to do about it?  Jesus healed the man born blind without a request, and it ruined his life!  He got kicked out of the Synagogue and denounced by his people.  And Jesus found him, and he worshiped Jesus.

Now we, as children of light, find ourselves in multiple roles.  For we are the innocent bystanders through whom God demonstrates providence.  We are the forgiven sinners through whom God demonstrates mercy, and we are the ones called to suffer with others through whom God demonstrates grace.

I know of 300 families and at least as many children who have been waiting by the side of the road for someone to care.  This Easter they will receive baskets that will answer their question with a resounding "Yes!"  The light of their eyes will be a flood of light in the darkness all around.  Through Jesus Christ, you - the members of First Presbyterian have made this possible.

But the question remains – how is your ministry?  When you wake up tomorrow, how will you see the world?  Will you remain in darkness, or will you remember that you are light in a darkened world?  I hope that I will wake up and ask Jesus to help me see.  I hope you will too.  And to God be the glory, now and always.  Amen!
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