Fourth Sunday in Lent
Prayer of the Day
Bend your ear to our prayers, Lord Christ, and come among us. By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
1 Samuel 16:1-13 David is chosen and anointed
Ephesians 5:8-14 Awake from sleep, live as children of light
John 9:1-41 Baptismal image: the man born blind
Sermon: Focusing the Eyes with Faith
Your eyes. How much do you rely on them? Can you trust them? Do you live by: “what you see is what you get?” Do you ascribe to “seeing is believing”? Are you regularly caught in moments of “not being able to take your eyes away” from something that is spectacular: whether it be beautiful or horrific, a pile of puppies or a pile up on the other side of the highway? Reality TV has built a culture-shifting phenomenon on the fact that we just can’t look away. That we love to see behind the curtain, behind closed doors; see the story behind the story. Our eyes can’t get enough.
And our eyes never stop processing, focusing, distracting, searching, evaluating, judging. They say the eyes are the windows of our souls, but perhaps in a protective, wall-building way, we over-actively look out so that no one looks in.
In this age of science and reason, our culture and our society guide us, teach us, and downright order us to depend quite heavily on our eyes and what we take in through them. The first steps of the scientific method are observation and measurement. And, although we can and do use other senses for observing and measuring, I think it is safe to say that most of the time we are using our eyes for this most scientific, fact-collecting activity.
The readings for today have such a laugh at the expense of our dependence on our sight and our seeing. No pun intended, but let’s take a look. (See, even our language points to a vision-valuing approach to discovery and learning.)
Saul, the great king that everyone wanted, except for God, has crashed and burned. The days of his imploding reign are numbered. (I make no connections to possible modern day parallels, it’s just the historical context of the reading.) So God calls Samuel to start looking to a new future, a new king. Samuel knows that for him, a mere prophet, to name a new king will be an act of treason. There already is a king and the king has heirs. Samuel is terrified at what it will look like to the mad king who is dangerous even when folks aren’t doing treasonous things. But God suggests Samuel put up a false front, fool anyone who might be watching, and go to Jesse’s ranch to find the next king among Jesse’s sons.
But Samuel, in spite of the fact that he was the greatest prophet of his time, doesn’t exactly have 20/20 holy vision himself. When Jesse starts parading his sons in front of Samuel, the prophet is ready to act like a contestant on the Bachelorette and pick the oldest son because he is such a hunk. He’s tall and good looking. And Samuel is ready to pour the oil of anointing on this perfect specimen of a man, but God says: Not this one. And then offers the teaching that is at the heart of all this talk about eyes and seeing. If you hear nothing else today, hear God say to Samuel and to us: the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Sam. 16:7). Finally it is little David, the youngest, (all of us who are youngest siblings cheer at this point.) who is chosen. It plays out a little like Cinderella. Almost all the sons have passed before Samuel. None of them are God’s chosen ones for being king. Samuel asks if Jesse has any others. And Jesse mentions the little one who is out there with the sheep. And sure enough, he’s the one Samuel is looking for. The unexpected. God’s surprise to our eyes. David was certainly pleasing to the eye we are told. But not the one his father thought of when looking for king material. The Lord does not SEE as mortals see. Now David certainly wasn’t the perfect king, but he was the one of the Lord’s choosing.
The comedy that is our gospel for today takes this whole seeing thing to another level. We have a man who has never seen the light of day a day in his life. And along comes Jesus – the light of the world, and he opens the man’s eyes so that he can finally see. And you would think this would be the happiest day in the guy’s life. But he only gets harassed by the unseeing crowds and Pharisees.
The crowd can’t take this miracle in because it has changed the way they are used to seeing things. “We’ve always seen him as blind. How can this be the same person?” The Pharisees can’t get past that Jesus did this on the Sabbath. They are missing the miracle – the great display of mercy and grace from a loving God, because all they can see is the law. The poor man’s parents, who also should be celebrating this day, can only see fear as this crowd is looking for an answer that will make sense to their eyes.
Modern folks like us are always saying, if only we could see those miracles happen before our eyes, then we would believe. But here are folks who saw and yet remained unseeing. Two thousand years later and we are not much different. Miracles happen all around us and we insist on searching for an explanation that will satisfy our eyes. Even with all our powers of observation and our keen vision, we must look to the power of the Holy Spirit for the eyes of faith, because the Lord does not see as mortals. The Lord looks into hearts, and so are we called to do the same.
Today we remember and seek to raise our awareness of how the world too often looks with its limited sight at transgender children of God. Too often we define and judge based on our own limited experience, based on our own understood reality, that which is informed and shaped by our own lived experience. We close our eyes to the lives that others are living for fear of the challenge to stretch ourselves. We turn away from the compassionate task of learning from another’s unique journey. Too often we fail to seek God’s heart – that which will focus our vision to see beyond what our eyes see, so as to be kind-hearted beyond our limitations, to have courage to stand with even those who leave us with questions, to demand justice for all people – especially those different from ourselves.
As holy week nears, we are reminded of what we will soon be seeing. Our earth-focused eyes will see a man, broken and condemned. The world will see Jesus as a criminal, a nuisance, a victim who is weak and powerless. He will be hung on a cross, and the world will see one who is accursed, rejected and forsaken by God. The world will see death and defeat. Our worldly-wise eyes will see and know, will insist even, that this is the end. And those eyes will close thinking that the light has gone out.
But the eyes of faith, filled with all hope, the eyes that are focused with the faith that the Holy Spirit works in us, these eyes that strive to see the heart of God at work in all things, will stay open, will wake from sleep if need be, will keep watching and waiting. The eyes of faith will see that this is not the end, but a new beginning for all creation. For we see with these eyes that the grave is empty and that the light shines bright. It is the light that no darkness can overcome. The light that shines so bright that our worldly vision is mercifully blinded and, with faith’s eyes, we can look to, and trust in the loving heart of God to show us true wisdom, true peace, true life.
See with the eyes focused by faith that God claims you in the water of the font. See with the eyes opened by faith that Jesus feeds us at his meal. See with the eyes enlightened by faith that the Spirit is with us, drawing all into the reign of God, and sending us to call the world to see with eyes tuned to the heart of God. For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
The Rev. Mark Erson,