Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Lent
April 3, 2011
Holy Covenant UMC
Rev. Kate Hurst Floyd
Today marks the fourth Sunday in Lent. We’re in the thick of this season of repentance and reflection, of quiet contemplation and inward searching. We’re in the middle of the wilderness, 40 days spent straining for water and searching our souls.
You may have given something up for Lent—chocolate, coffee, TV watching. Judgment or Facebook. Maybe you’ve taken on something for Lent—more intentional prayer time, Sabbath-keeping, daily scripture reading and devotion. Perhaps you’re putting aside an offering each day for the church, or Japan, or a cause you believe in. These are noble efforts that bring us closer to God.
It’s hard, though, isn’t it, to be in the middle of this season. Our initial enthusiasm has worn off, and the temptations are increasing. It was easy, in the beginning, to swear off chocolate, we even felt a little bit more holy each time we refused the dessert tray. But now the novelty has worn off, and our sweet tooth is taking over. Or we find that we’re just too busy to squeeze in that extra half hour of prayer we promised ourselves on Ash Wednesday. We’re a long way from the start of Lent and Easter is still weeks away. How are we going to make it through?
Lent is a powerful time in the Christian year that requires strength and endurance…It’s hard to give up things, to take on things, to go inward and examine our lives…but the hardest part is what all of this intentionality during Lent can lead us to….the realization that life is hard. And there is much darkness in the world.
During Lent, we name the darkness around us. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, we confessed our own sin and asked for forgiveness; we made a commitment to repentance.
As we move toward Easter, we recognize not only our own sins, but also the brokenness of the world. Biblically, we remember a world that was so consumed with evil powers that it crucified Jesus, the Prince of Peace. A world that was threatened by the message of healing, of light, of justice for all. A world that was consumed by fear instead of hope, and thus tried to end the life of the world’s ultimate hope, Jesus Christ.
And as we live into this Biblical narrative, we can’t help but acknowledge that our world is not much different. Our world is still a broken place. We are still consumed by fear and violence. We are not always guided by the light of Christ, but by the darkness of consumerism, war, violence, and poverty. More prayer and sacrifice leads us to be aware of those around the world who are hungry, and our country’s impending budget cuts that will increase hunger while increasing spending on war. Libya, Wisconsin, MORE….During Lent, we acknowledge this painful reality—our own sin and the sins of the world in which we live.
If we’re not careful, Lent can lead us to feel hopeless. To be consumed by the brokenness in the world.
In our scripture lesson for today, Jesus faces a broken world. He recognizes the same darkness in the world that we ourselves face during Lent. Jesus walked into a situation that seemed hopeless.
Jesus is walking along a path, traveling like he does throughout the gospel of John. He’s with his Disciples, who follow him, but so often don’t understand his message. (we can relate, can’t we??) They encounter a man on the side of the road. This wasn’t just any man, but a man who was on the margins of society. A man whom the world condemned. Even the Disciples condemned him. This man was born blind and was a beggar. His survival dependent on asking others for handouts. In the time of John’s gospel, people often attributed illness or disability to sin. So people condemned this man for being a sinner. They assumed that if he’s blind, he must have sinned. Society believed this, and so did the disciples.
So Jesus is walking along with his Disciples, and their judgmental natures get the best of them. They see this man, this blind beggar, and they want to know all the juicy details about the sinfulness that surrounds him. So they ask: Jesus, who sinned, this man or his parents? What did he do? Were his parents thieves? Did they have him out of wedlock?
These questions permeate our culture, too: We’re fascinated with Lindsey Lohan and ask: whose fault is it she’s such a mess? We delight in knowing every detail of her mistakes and talk about how she’s irresponsible, stupid, she is such a sinner. We also want to blame her parents—who lets their child go into show business, anyway? And bare her stomach at such a young age? Somebody must be at fault, and we want to know who, what where when and why. We can’t wait to name somebody else’s sin. The Disciples were the same way. It’s tempting to relish in the supposed sins of another.
Jesus, as always, takes a more compassionate stance than that of the world, even that of his disciples. Jesus knows that this man isn’t blind because of his sin or because of the sin of his parents. In fact, Jesus tells the disciples that this man’s blindness is an opportunity for God’s glory to shine in the world.
Just imagine the reaction of the Disciples—they have been taught, their whole lives, that if someone is on the margins of society that he must be a sinner, and he deserves what he gets. But Jesus has a radical response to this blind man. Jesus turns the tables upside down. He tells them just the opposite. Instead of being condemned, this beggar is actually the place, the person, where God’s glory and love are shown to the world. Can you imagine?
God’s light shines most brightly, not in the Kings or the religious leaders or those with respectable jobs, but through the man on the margins. God’s light shines in the man born blind.
Jesus tells the Disciples this, and they are stunned. But, wait, there’s more! Jesus isn’t through. The Disciples watch as he leans down, rubs his hands through muddy ground at his feet, and wipes that mud across the man’s eyes. Jesus tells him to go wash the mud away. The blind man follows Jesus’ instructions, and instantly—miraculously—he is healed. He can see. He is no longer blind.
Jesus walked into a broken, seemingly hopeless situation—he encountered a man that the whole world neglected and judged. A man forced to beg for his livelihood because nobody would give him a job. Nobody dared come to close to this blind beggar. Even the Disciples jumped to judge him.
But Jesus stepped into this darkness of judgment and fear, and he brought about light.
Isn’t this what Lent is all about? If we take the Gospel seriously, the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are called to bring about healing. Lent forces us to take a look at the darkness in our lives and in the world. And it’s difficult to face brokenness. But, like Jesus, we are not to stop there! We are not supposed to get stuck in the darkness.
Lent calls us to make changes. Lent calls us to use scripture as our guide, to recall the good news of the gospel. Lent calls us, through prayer and reflection and reading, by giving up those things which distract us from God, to change our sinful ways. To seek wholeness out of brokenness. To prepare our hearts so that we are ready for the resurrection h ope of Easter.
And that’s precisely what this passage from John’s Gospel calls us to do—to look at the darkness in the world and help bring about God’s healing.
I know what you’re thinking—how are we supposed to help bring God’s healing. We can’t restore someone’s sight, or raise someone from the dead. We are not Jesus, and we don’t have the ability to do what he did. How can we help God’s glory shine in the world this Lent?
Recently, Dr. Peter Gomes, a preacher, pastor, and prophet passed away. Gomes was a chaplain at Harvard, advocate for human rights, just biblical interpretation, and an out gay man who supported GLBT rights in the church. He truly shone God’s glory and his legacy will live on. A few years ago, I read his book: The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus. In it, he criticizes the bracelets and T-shirts that say: what would Jesus do. Have you seen them? They were all the rage when I was in high school. People had them in every color to match any outfit (which is I’m sure what Jesus would want). Gomes says that the problem with this phrase is that we can’t do what Jesus does—we are not Jesus, we are not God, and we will never be.
But, we are wonderfully and fearfully made, children of God, who are called to follow the Gospel. So Gomes suggests that our guiding phrase, instead, should be: What would Jesus have me do? Which makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? We are called to follow Jesus where we are, with what we have, using the gifts and graces that we uniquely possess. We know the lessons of the gospel, and we are called to follow them in our own lives. As we’re courageously questioning this Lent, let us ask: What would Jesus have me do?
And I think our gospel lesson today helps us learn how to bring about healing in our own contexts. When we look closely at the text, we realize that in order to bring about healing, Jesus did what he could with what he had.
Remember what he used to heal? Mud. Yes, mud, mud that was at his feet. He picked up and used what was right in front of him. And this mud, the stuff of the earth, is the same stuff that we, humanity, are created from. In Genesis, God creates Adam out of the earth. On Ash Wednesday we proclaim…from dust we came. So Jesus here uses the very stuff of humanity to heal humanity.
In our broken humanity, we learn that we, too, can help bring about God’s healing. Not as God; but we can do what we can with what we have to confront the brokenness we see with hope and light.
So as we face the brokenness of the world, let us look around us and see what we can pick up, where we are, to help usher in the kingdom:
We’re concerned about sustainability of our resources and care for our planet? We can join the church’s CSA share group and buy and eat locally; recycle; be mindful consumers.
Concerned about the budget process? Write letters to state and federal senators; go to a Lakeview Action Coalition teach-in about the budget process and how we can advocate.
When kids are bullying their classmates for being gay, accusing them of being sinners, pushing them to the margins, we remember that Jesus would have us meet these children where they are, in the margins, and advocate for them. Write a letter to our Bishop and cabinet advocating for
When our friend from church is grieving a loss, we can’t bring their loved one back. But we can sit and listen, be there in silence, cry together, provide food. Check-in six, 9, 12 months later…we can pray together about our loved one’s reconciliation with God.
We are called to help bring God’s healing and to look for places where God’s light is shining. To help build the kingdom of God in the midst of our brokenness. Because ultimately, Jesus transforms the stuff of humanity, the very dust and mud of the earth, into eternal and beautiful life. Where sin is broken, and nobody sits begging at the side of the road.
Being in the middle of Lent is tough. But as we journey through, tempted and tired, may we pause and ask ourselves: What would Jesus have me do?
Look down around your feet, and you’ll find your answer.