Here is the text from my March 22 sermon. You can also listen to it from the March 22 worship video posted on the St. Peter Facebook page.
What a difference a week makes!
That’s how I started last week’s sermon and it seemed like a pretty on-point thing to say this week too. Last week I lamented the closing of schools and restaurants and the lack of sanitizing gel and toilet paper.
This week, almost everything is closed, we went from groups of 100 to groups of 50, and now to groups of 10 or less. You can’t get a haircut or a manicure or go to a fitness class. Or still find anti-bacterial gel or even much toilet paper
And for what is likely a first for reasons other than weather, we have suspended in-person worship services here at St. Peter, as have churches around the country.
Oh…and the COVID-19 virus has found its way into our community. It has been a week.
And we are told it will get worse.
But in the midst of all the craziness and change for the worse, we, the leaders of St. Peter, felt you needed some normalcy in your life, so here we are, doing our “normal” worship service with a few tweaks to make it more usable for you at home.
We also know that you need to hear the hopeful Word of God—we all do—more than ever. In the midst of what may the health crisis of our lifetimes, we need the hope that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ.
And to illustrate the hope that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ, today we have one of my favorite stories in the scriptures. The story of the man born blind, healed by Jesus. It’s one of the longest stories in the gospels, with multiple characters, conversations, tense situations, a miracle, and oh, yeah, a guy has his life changed permanently. Pretty good stuff.
The action begins with the disciples asking Jesus if the man born blind was being punished for his sins or for the sins of his parents. Rather a horrible question, I’d say, but that’s the way they all thought in those days. Disease or disability was a sign of God’s wrath directed towards you or a member of your family for some sin you had committed. The disciples were products of their age. They believed that someone must be to blame for this situation.
Jesus names this viewpoint for what it is: nonsense. Instead, he says that this is an opportunity to show the power of God. And without the man ever asking him, Jesus cures the man’s blindness. And then Jesus disappears from the story for a while.
Much of the rest of the story is about how no one believed that the blind man had been miraculously cured; or they believed he had been lying all along about being blind. They even questioned his parents about whether this man actually was their son at all and his parents hmm and haw around and avoid the answering the question. Maybe it WAS their sin that cause the man’s blindness.
In any event, did you notice that NO ONE, not even his parents, was happy that he was cured—that he could see for the first time in his life. No one rejoiced with him, no one congratulated him, no one cared. They only wanted to prove that there had been some sort of hoax or evil at work in this miracle—if indeed it WAS a miracle at all. I have always found that part of the story fascinating and unaccountably sad. Did the poor man have no one, no friends, no family, who cared enough to be happy for him that he could see?
Of course, he didn’t have anyone! He was a terrible sinner, who was punished by God for his sins—that’s why he blind! Although he was blind from birth so what sin a baby in utero could commit is beyond me. But then people’s beliefs are not always logical. They believed he deserved his blindness and they were not happy at his good fortune because that meant that maybe they had been WRONG.
And no one likes to be wrong.
So instead of admitting the possibility that they were wrong in their thinking, it was just easier to believe that the man born blind was a liar, a faker, or in cahoots with evil. They chose to cling to their belief that the man deserved his blindness and therefore did NOT deserve this healing. Regardless of the miracle that he was granted, they decided the man was still a sinner—born entirely in sins is the final word they speak to him. And they drive him out. The very gift that should have restored the man to his community—the lifting of God’s supposed curse of blindness—instead resulted in his being thrown out of his community.
At the end, of course, Jesus swoops in to rescue the formerly blind man, just as Jesus had done at the beginning of the story. The Pharisees resented Jesus’ actions and words and Jesus responded by saying that they may think they understood how things were, how God worked, but in truth, they were more blind than the man had ever been.
Zing!! That Jesus, he sure knows how to make friends, doesn’t he?
Did you notice the evolution of the man’s faith?
The first time they asked him who healed him and how it happened, he told the facts and could not explain the why.
The next time he’s asked the man says that Jesus is a prophet.
The last time they asked him, the man gives a testimony that never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing! So Jesus is a man from God.
And then at the end, when the man finally encounters Jesus again, and Jesus says he is the Son of Man—an ancient Jewish title for one chosen by God. And the man declares I believe! And he worshiped Jesus. He moved from uncertainty to faith that Jesus was from God and had the power of God working through him.
And do you know what made the man’s faith grow and solidify? Adversity. The challenge of others disbelieving him, discounting his experience, and dismissing him from the community. It was the adversity that strengthened his faith.
It has been my personal experience that adversity CAN strengthen our faith—IF we are willing to allow God to do that. Sometimes in the midst of fear or suffering or pain, it can be difficult to be faithful, to feel God’s presence. And yet, if we are willing—for God does not force us to do anything against our will—if we are willing, God can and does use adversity to make us stronger—stronger in faith, stronger in compassion, stronger in love.
This time of adversity in which we find ourselves is difficult. Many of us are feeling afraid, lonely, frustrated, or maybe just inconvenienced. Nobody’s having a good time right now. Yet this time of change and challenge can make us stronger, make us more like Jesus, who after all, experienced adversity beyond any we will likely to experience.
And as I said a few weeks back, isn’t that we all want—we people of faith? To be more like Jesus? This is a time to be more like Jesus—a time for faithful witness. As St. Paul said in our second reading: it is a time for us to live as children of the light and to try to find what is pleasing to the Lord—and to do it.
You are God’s beloved, those who see the light, who live in the light. Let other see that light in us. And let us shine in this time of adversity with the light of Jesus Christ, he who is the light of the whole world. Amen.