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Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 19, 2023

Good morning!

This is the second time in a row now, that we’ve had a really long gospel reading. What’s up with that? See, the lectionary that gives us the scripture readings year round is specifically designed to torture the congregation during Lent, what with it being a time for repentance, atonement, and punishment. Ok, that might be made up. Maybe I take after my Oma, my grandmother that way. She was able to come up with amazingly weird and funky answers to my millions of questions. If I had asked her why the reading is so long today, the answer would have been something like: Because God saw that you did not finish your plate yesterday at supper, young lady, and He told the priest. The priest decided that you need extra scripture to atone for your sin, and now here we all are, thanks a lot! Her artful answers always had the desired effect: I was stunned into silence. And I had a million more questions now… like isn’t it really Oma that is in cahoots with the priests? It was amazing how the priest always thought exactly the same way as her about these things. In any way, her answers to my questions build a sort of checklist for me: do this, don’t do that. Not finishing my plate was so unthinkable to a woman who survived famine, it was a no-brainer that God of course is of the same mind as her, therefore empty plates go on the checklist.

A checklist, rules written in stone, gives us a feeling of control. If we have the right checklist, we can get into the school we want to, have the career we want, marry the person that completes us and we will be happily ever after, the end. That’s a good checklist. Now the best of checklists even guarantee that we spend our after life in the good place. Religious checklists are an ancient tradition. See, our need for control is so deep, that we do not even stop short at presuming we know God’s ways. When we want answers, really want them, we find them, put them on the checklists and not only share them with others, but expect everyone to agree with us. Only then do we feel in control. Only then do we feel safe. The problem is not only that this feeling of safety doesn’t actually make us right or safe, but worse: by spending all of our focus on the proper checklists, the proper rules, we miss God at work in the world. And just like the pharisees in our long gospel reading today, we might stand right in front God Incarnate, but be rendered so blind by our single-minded focus on those religious checklists that we miss the messiah. We are so busy on finding behaviors to exclude on our checklists, like not finishing your supper, that we forget how all-inclusive our God is.

The ninth chapter of the gospel according to John is a complete story that reads a bit like a Greek Play, using dialogues between people to progress the story line. There are 5 scenes. First is the healing of the beggar, the blind man itself, second is the interrogation by the pharisees of the formerly blind man, third the parents of the blind man are being questioned, fourth the no longer blind beggar gets interrogated a second time, and finally, fifth Jesus speaks with the man he healed and with the pharisees.

And why all this hostility in the face of a miracle? Why all these interrogations? A man born blind now can see, surely this is a thing to celebrate. Oh, no. The pharisees say, it’s because Jesus did the healing on a sabbath, a day where according to the ever important checklist, no work whatsoever may be done. Who does this guy think he is? Does Jesus really think he is more important than their expertly researched religious checklist? And if so, then naturally this would mean Jesus is not from God, because God agrees with their checklist. Naturally. This man Jesus threatens their feeling of safety. Why does he heal a man who was entirely born in sins anyway? Doesn’t he know, that the fact that he was born blind means that either his parents sinned so badly that their offspring was afflicted, or this man sinned in his mother’s womb since before he was born. These were the only two explanations as to why someone would be born blind at the time. This man was steeped in sin. Any person trying to make it in this world of our ancestors in Jerusalem, would never be caught dead associating with this man. He was exactly where he belonged according to the checklist of this ancient society, namely he was ostracized for his sins. Many people cannot even recall his face and there is confusion over who he really is. Is he that formerly blind beggar or was it just someone like him? Someone just like him, who can tell them apart? It seems that our callous aversion to acknowledge the less fortunate among us as fellow humans worthy of dignity and respect is also an ancient tradition.

In their desire to keep themselves and their people save and in good relationship with God, a worthy and difficult calling, the pharisees focused on the concept of spiritual purity to a legalistic degree that excluded and dehumanized their fellow man. And it made them blind to the light of the messiah, the Son of God. What irony, that in the end, they are the blind ones and the person that they condemned to a life on the destitute fringes of society, that blind beggar can see the light of Christ. This irony is not lost on the man. “Here is an astonishing thing” he seems to almost scoff at them when he explains to the legalistic pharisees, that if Jesus were not from God, he could not have possibly given him back his sight. This enrages the pharisees and blinded by the need to control the situation, they drive the beggar away. Now the beggar is in the light, and the pharisees are in the dark. But was that really a complete reversal of the situation, or was the blind man always able to see God’s light?

Before his eyes were healed by Jesus, when the mud was just placed on his eyes, he already walked by the light of faith. Because, when Jesus told him to bathe in the pool of Siloam, the beggar heard him, he couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see and measure the faces of the people around him, but after only hearing Jesus he acted on faith. That is why Jesus is able to heal him without even being present. The next time, when he is in Jesus’ presence again, he can see him, and all senses now being available to him, he professes that Jesus is the Son of God.

But even before this, in his physical blindness, the beggar knew we are meant to use our eyes to see God at work in our world. We are meant to use our eyes to see God at work in the world. What was true then, is true now. We affirm this belief every Sunday when we bless the children of this congregation. “Sharpen their eyes to see you at work in your world” we pray for them. And as we probably all know, teaching kids is best done by example.

Now, we need our checklists, we need our rules, God knows I couldn’t function without all of my to-do lists. But when we acknowledge that God is above and beyond any such checklists or rules and stop subscribing such lists to God. When we instead practice and delight in seeing God at work in this world, our children will do so also. And we could all be collecting these moments when we see God’s hand at work, like the glorious first day of spring, a new or old friend to laugh with, a gorgeous sunset, the beauty of music and art, a good dinner with your loved ones, your loving pet, or a change of heart within yourself, all these and so much more are signs of our loving God at work in our world. The more attention we pay to these signs, the closer our relationship to God, and the smaller our need for checklists that exclude others, that isolate us from one another and therefore from God.

We could share them with one another, these precious glimpses we get of God. Collect them, instead of checklists. Collect joy instead of power. In this way, we help one another, we keep one another save from becoming blind to God’s light. How about, we sharpen our eyes to see God at work in our world, together.

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