Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lent 4A

Already But Not Yet--Easter is Coming

The scripture appointed for today can be found at http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Lent/ALent4_RCL.html 


I began looking at this text wrestling with the question of what needed to be addressed in the sermon.  With a Gospel three pages long, there was a great deal to wrestle with.  The context of the author of John in which early Christians were being cast out of the synagogues and his writing reflects his anger at this; the problem and grace of healing narratives; then of course, there is the question of mud...

But, then I stepped back and asked myself the question I ask every week, “Where is the grace”.

Today has traditionally been the day the church has called Laetere Sunday from the phrase “Rejoice O Jerusalem” and has a history in the church being a time in which congregants are invited to take a break from the austere journey of Lent and see beyond the now and remember the already. The already risen, the already living, the already Christ whose life, death and resurrection has led us to this place. 

It’s the fourth Sunday in Lent, and we are called to rejoice because Easter has already come and is once again in sight. So already, but not yet.

And, hence, our scriptures are read from that place of knowing what has happened already while at the same time knowing that the fullness of it all is yet to come.

Already, but not yet. 

What do know already and what have we not yet figured out?  A good question to consider with today’s scriptures…scriptures in which God sees that which we ourselves have failed to see. 

Because, what we think we see is not the truth of someone’s heart. What we see is not what we get and there is so much more to every story, so much more to every person...so much more.

There is a powerful video produced by a Danish television station, TV2, in which a seemingly random group of people are brought together and then asked to step forward when they hear a statement they relate to.  The voice-over begins, “It is easy to put people in boxes, the us and the them, the high earners and the low; those we trust and those we try to avoid…”

The camera scans the crowd and the viewer’s attention is drawn to the differences between those who have gathered. But, the film doesn’t stop at that place of separation. One by one, people who we might assume have nothing in common find common-ground as identity statements are made.

The participants giggle and weep in turn. But, most of all, comes a sense of wonderment--as they begin to recognize the humanity of those who cannot be fit into the narrow boxes of our assumptions. They begin to see and we are invited to see with them. To see ourselves and our shared humanity.

And, when we begin to see…we can recognize the potential and the gifts that our biases and assumptions have failed to recognize.  True seeing, sees the fruit of the heart, as Paul would say. And, when we see beyond the superficial and into the full truth of others, it is then when we begin to see like God.  God who draws the unlikely together and calls people from all corners. 

This Lenten season we have heard the stories of Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the man born blind…stories in which those who find themselves marginalized by the world they inhabit, find themselves central to the ongoing revelation of Christ. 

God seems to specialize in finding and calling the underdog—those folk who would never appear in any yearbook listing as “most likely to be called by God”. The Samaritans, the tax collectors, youngest sons and maidens…God’s call goes out to those the world would discount.

In early Israelite culture, the oldest son held the highest status amongst the children with each subsequent child holding less status.  Thus David, 8th son of Jesse in this narrative, was almost extraneous.  No wonder Samuel mistakenly think that David’s oldest brother Eliab was the one to whom he’d been sent.  And yet it is David, the youngest, who is anointed. God saw in David the potential and the power that others had dismissed when they dismissed him as the youngest and least important of the sons of Jesse.

All too often we are hampered by prejudices, assumptions and hierarchies--unable to see the potential, the gifts being offered, because so often these gifts emerge out of places and people we may find unlikely.  When we are able to look beyond the most obvious places of power and authority, what anointed voices will we hear? 

Which brings us to the Gospel appointed for today.  In which another unlikely person stands in witness to the power of God. 

He is given no name, he is “the man born blind”--which was all that anyone in his community found relevant to their relationship, or lack thereof, with him.

So rather than exploring his gifts and his potential—the real and tangible gifts he might bring. They focused instead on the question of sin.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

This question wasn’t a strange one, given the context—one in which there was no germ theory and the prevalent belief about illness or affliction was that it was caused by sin. So, in discussing the “man born blind” the conversation’s first turn was to the cause. Who sinned? Whose fault is this?

I would like to think that this way of thinking, attributing blame in illness or tragedy, was one that our culture had left behind. Sadly, it’s not. And, we too find ourselves looking for someone to blame…the question, what did they do that led to this horrible tragedy? The question of blame at the center rather than the question of how we might be called to offer love in the midst of hurt. And, in this we and our culture, echo the refrain, “who sinned?”

Looking for sin instead of grace.

Asking, the wrong question and failing to see beyond the surface. 

No name, no gifts, no grace…not in truth, but in our broken hearts…

Hearts that cannot see the truth of another’s humanity.

And, in this, we are broken and we have failed.

We have failed to seek and serve Christ in all persons. We have failed to honor the dignity of every human being. We have placed blame and cast judgment. We have, because tho’ we have experienced the already of God’s self giving love, we are still in that not yet place that falls short of its full fruition.

But, do not despair. For if this Lenten season teaches us nothing else, it is that what we would break, God would make whole.  And, if we hear nothing else today, this I would have you here—God sees you and sees in you the fruit that can transform the night into day.

By grace, by love, in truth and in sight. 

In today’s Gospel a community fails to see the shared humanity and dignity of another…but what they cannot see, Jesus has seen.  And, it is not up to us with our failing sight, but up to God with the true sight of grace.

So in these stories of those the world would overlook--a youngest son and a blind man—we are gifted with true seeing. A true seeing that furthers the in-breaking of Christ into the world.

This is a seeing that sees life and grace in those people that the world has, all too often, turned a blind eye to. 

Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent and we are being asked to pray upon what it might mean to see truly and with our hearts. To see the already and the not yet. To see the life where we thought only to find death. To see hope where others despair.

Because, when we finally see…well then, then there will be rejoicing! 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 2A


Is it Morning Yet?

This is a story most appropriate for daylight savings…and for all of us who wonder when the night will end,

A Rabbi once asked his students, “how do we know when the night has ended and the day has begun?” Immediately the students thought that they grasped the importance of the question. There are, after all, prayers that can be recited and rituals that can be performed only at night. And there are prayers and rituals that belong only to the day. It is therefore important to know when the night has ended and day has begun.

So the brightest of the students offered an answer: “When I look out at the fields and I can distinguish between my field and the field of my neighbor’s, that’s when the night has ended and day has begun.” A second student offered her answer: “When I look from the fields and I see a house and I can tell that it’s my house and not the house of my neighbor, that’s when the night has ended and the day has begun.” A third student offered an answer: “When I can distinguish the animals in the yard – and I can tell a cow from a horse – that’s when the night has ended.”

Each of these answers brought a sadder, more severe frown to the Rabbi’s face – until finally he shouted: “No! You don’t understand! You only know how to divide! You divide your house from the house of your neighbor, your field from your neighbor’s, one animal from another, one color from all the others. Is that all that we can do – divide, separate, split the world into pieces? Isn’t the world broken enough — split into enough fragments? No, my dear students, it’s not that way at all! Our Torah and Jewish values want more from us.

The shocked students looked into the sad face of their Rabbi. One of them ventured, “Then Rabbi, tell us: How do we know that night has ended and day has begun?” The Rabbi stared back into the faces of his students and with a gentle voice responded: “When you look into the face of the person who is beside you and you can see that that person is your brother or your sister, when you can recognize that person as a friend, then, finally, the night has ended and the day has begun.”

It was most decidedly night when Nicodemus sought out the teacher he’d heard of. 

Confused and uncertain, Nicodemus isn’t yet willing to come to Jesus by light of day. But, he’s curious and feels drawn to this teacher, this teacher who has demonstrated an unusually powerful connection to God—word had already gotten out about the fabulous wine at the wedding in Cana!
So, Nicodemus is curious, but rather than leaving Jesus side feeling enlightened, he clearly finds the teachings he is given confusing. Born from above? Born of the Spirit? What in heaven or on earth could Jesus mean by this?

As I encounter this text, in this moment, I find myself considering the privilege or disadvantage conveyed by birth. I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase, “born with a silver spoon in his mouth”?  Physical birth conveys social status, kinship ties and honor—it did in Nicodemus’ day and it does now.  Jesus overrides this social convention by elevating another kind of birth.    

Being born from above, sets aside this earthly understanding of relationship. It means to prioritize our kinship not by virtue of birth but by virtue of our connection to all who are born of the same God.
This is much of why baptism is so central to our life as Christians. In baptism we are reborn of water and the spirit and the boundaries of family as the world understands it are blown apart. In baptism, our identity is based not in our physical birth but in our spiritual connection to the entire Body of Christ—that which we call the Church. This rebirth is not limited to those of privilege, those who’ve been born with silver spoon in mouth, rather the invitation is extended to all.

We see this in Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which Paul repeats the conviction that participation in the Body of Christ is not limited to a particular tribe—“all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham—for he is the father of all of us”

We see it as well in the passage from Genesis we heard today we see how Abram, in following God’s call to him, is separated from his kin. However, the separation moves him from the limitations of tribal boundaries and opens him up to a wholeness of relationship much vaster than that from which he emerged—in you ALL the the families of the earth shall be blessed. 

All, all the families of the earth--All, Father of us all…does this language sound familiar?  Our Father in heaven…the prayer begins with an assertion of our relationship to all of God’s beloved children. We cannot pray this prayer without being reminded of our connection to each other. But not only those who share the pews in this place, but those we call neighbors, those we call strangers, those we call friends…our and us.

And, with this, I hear very little about personal salvation in the text we’ve heard today, but I do hear a great deal about the restoration of all of God’s people into a unified and reconciled whole. 
This brings me to a verse that has long been overshadowed by the verse which precedes it…John 3:17.

The version of this verse we heard today reads as follows: "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."

Not me, not even any one of you, but the entire world--of which we are but part. Other translations of this verse replace the phrase “might be saved” with the phrase “made whole”. Put in context, “For God did not send the son into the world in order that [God] might judge the world, but in order that the world might be made whole through him.”

Made whole. God’s vision for us is one of wholeness. God’s action in the world pointing towards unification. God so loved the world, completely and unstintingly. And, in this there is such goodness, such love, and the challenge to see beyond ourselves and into the wholeness of which we are part.

Separations, divisions, judgments—race from race; rich from poor; immigrant and refugee from citizen--these are all to be cast away in favor of those things which unify. For then, and only then, will the night end and the day begin.


Waiting for Sunrise, Haleakala Crater
Haleakala means "House of the Sun"