Sunday, March 22, 2020
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A
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 Jesus encounters the man born blind
Title: Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sight
Are you seeing things a little differently these days? How could you not, right? With every aspect of our lives affected in some way by the COVID-19 virus and the measures that are being taken to try to slow the spread, lower the curve, assist our healthcare system and it’s heroic workers, and to ultimately save lives. What are some of the things that you are seeing differently?
A friendly touch is now a threat.
A gathering of people is cause for alarm and concern.
Many simple pleasures are luxuries that are now out of reach.
Numerous simple joys are rare and missing from our daily lives.
A trip outside can be seen as a walk through a war zone.
On the lighter side and for sanity’s sake, some telecommuting parents are seeing their homebound kids as coworkers.
And in turn, not just home-schooled kids, but many students are seeing their parents as their classroom teachers as well.
And now toilet paper is seen as one of the funny things we talk about. Because suddenly toilet paper was seen as so very valuable, precious, hoard worthy.
So many things are being seen from a different point of view, seen with new eyes, seen in a radically changed context.
This demand to see things with new eyes is certainly in line with our readings for this morning. (And keep in mind, they are assigned for the day. I did not pick them for their relevance.)
First, we have Samuel. The last of the judges, the first of the prophets. He has the task of anointing the king of Israel. He is the one who has been struggling with King Saul. Everyone thought Saul would be a great king. Handsome, mighty warrior, brave and courageous, in the people’s sight, he had all that they were looking for in a king. So, God reluctantly allowed them to begin a monarchy, just like their neighboring countries. (You know it. “The Hittites have a King why can’t we have one.” To which God said, “What am I, chopped liver?” But the people wanted a king they could see. With their eyes. And there it is again. Seeing.) But by the point in the story that was read today, Saul had angered God one too many times and so God sends Samuel to anoint a new king. God tells the old man he’ll find the new kings amongst the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem. And so, what follows is sort of like an episode of the Bachelor or is it the Bachelorette. Not important. There is Samuel with Israel’s rose ready to give it to the one most suited to be Israel’s next king. He sees Eliab (ee- LIE- ab) and thinks: now this is king material. Handsome, tall, strong. Suddenly, it is sounding more like the NFL draft, and Samuel is charged with finding the next Tom Brady. The old man sees everything HE is looking for in a king. And God says, not that one. The wise old seer is shocked, but they proceed. And one by one, those handsome and strong sons of Jesse parade in front of the old man, and God keeps telling him, not that one, not that one. And Samuel is just not believing his eyes. What could God be looking for? It turns out it’s the awkward, 13-year-old, handsome, but probably gangly (like so many 13 year old’s are). The one to anoint is the youngest son, David, who nobody even thought to call in for this great royal beauty pageant. That is the one God calls Samuel and all of Israel to focus on and to see in him their next king. And he would be the greatest king the nation would ever have.
An even funnier story about seeing and beholding and changing one’s point of view in light of the world-mocking wisdom of God, is our gospel reading from John. The fourth of five great encounters with Jesus that we are exploring this Lent and setting along side the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a long story, you heard it. (Hopefully you enjoyed a chuckle at the behavior of the confused crowd.) A man who was born blind is seen by the disciples and sets them to wondering. As they see it, infirmity is the result of sin. So, who sinned, his parents or him? Now first of all, if he was born blind, that means he sinned in the womb. Okay disciples, from your brilliant point of view, what sins could be committed by an embryo or a fetus? Kicked his mother in anger? Is there a form of fetal gluttony where he takes too much nutrients from his mom and his weight gain causes her more back pain than usual? What sins could they be imagining that he committed? Or what did his parents do that they cursed the child? No need to speculate. Jesus says clearly that the blindness that the man has lived with since his birth is not the result of anyone’s sin. But that is how people saw it back in the day. Hold on. Have you seen the headlines? This is still how people see it today. How many theories of what or who to blame COVID-19 on have you seen? Favorite scapegoats like us LGBTQ folks are once again leading the pack of the blamed. (Did you know that it’s all because we insist on holding Pride parades. Glad we got that question answered.)
Jesus calls everyone in the story to open their eyes and to see. Challenges us to see that the God who just two weeks and six chapters ago, was loving the world so much that the only Son was sent to save it and not condemn it. The son who last week was seeing and talking to the woman who her own neighbors could not look at without judgement, condemnation, and disgust.
The writer of Ephesians is echoing Jesus with his call to wake up. Open these eyes of ours that have been so used to the emptiness of sin, that have been focused by self-absorption, that are zeroed in on self-rule. Eyes that are tuned by the world’s standards.
It is no wonder that Jesus includes in the prayer that he teaches us, a petition that reminds us that we need leading. We need God’s wisdom to fill our eyes so that we might not be led astray like those sheep (those dumb, easily misled sheep) in the beloved and so accurately articulated 23rd psalm. Lead us not into temptation. Or, looking at it from a different point of view, he could have just as easily said, Lead us in the right paths of God’s wisdom.
Our hymn of the day this morning is a beloved hymn, whose words and familiarity both will bring (I hope) comfort and encouragement in these challenging days. But, take a new look at it. Look beyond that probably memorized first verse and see those next two verses. In the first verse it is the sweet sound of grace that we rejoice in. But then, in the second and third verse, there is a change of engaged sense and now it is the effect of grace on our vision. It’s God’s grace that leads us through difficult time. Because the grace of God shows us our value in God’s sight. God’s grace is filled with the promise that keeps leading us onward even when we cannot see the next step.
As we look on things with new eyes and new perspectives in an unprecedented context, may the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the amazing grace made known through Jesus Christ – who comes healing our disease, binding up our brokenness, and opening our eyes to the graciousness and mercy of God that the world had not conceived of previously. Through the beauty and peace of this grace, we are invited to see with new eyes God, our neighbor, and even ourselves.
May we not be led into temptation to see with our old eyes that are filled with anxiety and fear, but rather, with sight made new in Christ and made ours in baptism, we can see the grace of God, made known in Jesus Christ, working in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. This amazing grace leads us this day, and forever. Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Mark Erson,