Psalm 23 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
John 9:1-41 9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 9:2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 9:3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, 9:7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" 9:9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." 9:10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 9:11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." 9:12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." 9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." 9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. 9:17 So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet." 9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 9:19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 9:20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." 9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 9:23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."
9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." 9:25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." 9:26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 9:27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" 9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 9:30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 9:34 They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out. 9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 9:36 He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." 9:37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." 9:38 He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. 9:39 Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." 9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" 9:41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.
Truth be told, offering sermons is very stressful for me. I don’t offer them often and, in my ministry, I’ve primarily been in roles of teaching, leading, guiding, coaching, mentoring and offering pastoral care. Put me in a room with a family whose loved one is dying and I am much more confident and comfortable. I can hold with tenderness, love and gentleness a group or individual working through a struggle or a new learning or discerning their path. I know my gifts of listening, holding sacred space, encouraging and creating ritual and I can see these gifts well. I practice these gifts and they are part of who I am and what I offer the world with more ease.
And so imagine my surprise when just over a year ago I felt God leading me in a new direction. If someone told me then that I would be a Pastoral Associate in a church and taking on more and more responsibilities in a church community, I would have looked at them like they were a crazy person. My ministry has primarily been out in the world with non profits and health care organizations, a campus ministry and when I first entered ministry – church camp. Preaching and working in a church was not in my sight as either a gift or quite frankly a desire to nurture as a gift. I was blind to this possibility and to this way of being in ministry. My friends and colleagues do the preaching and church leading – I’ll be in the background and do other tasks. Yet here I am.
The story from John is rich and thought provoking. There are so many ways to reflect about it – from the perspective of the disciples who wanted to figure out where the sin came from. Or from the blind man himself who never even asked Jesus to give him sight. The people on the street and neighbors who likely had been supporting him as he begged his whole life. The Pharisees who were perplexed and concerned about the rule of law. The man’s parents who never got a chance to celebrate that their son received his sight. As I sat with this text more & more what occurred to me is that each one in this story, except Jesus, is blind in some way.
The man born blind certainly captures me and my curiosity. What is his name? Why don’t we ever learn it? I notice he never asked to receive sight – Jesus was walking by him, the disciples asked a question and before you know it, there is spit, mud, washing in a river that means sent and he can see. What!? There is no mention of the man celebrating, being happy, astounded, surprised, confused or full of wonder. I mean he must have been feeling all these feelings and emotions and maybe more. Plus, he must have been disoriented and overwhelmed because now there is a whole new world that he can SEE not just feel, hear, taste, smell and sense.
The friends, neighbors, parents and Pharisees are all blind in their own way too, just not in the physical sense. Even the disciples at the beginning of the story are blind as they asked Jesus the question that got the whole life changing scene moving in the first place. Don’t we all have our blind spots where the truth eludes us, or we refuse to see it?
And then all the questions start from the other characters in the story. How did this happen? Who did it? Why? Who do you say Jesus is? The man’s story is the same every time he tells it with the exception that as he tells his story, he becomes clearer about who Jesus is. When he is first asked, he said “the man named Jesus” made the mud, spread it on his eyes and told him to wash in the river. Then the 2nd time he is asked, he says Jesus is a prophet. The 3rd time when the pharisees tried to get him to say that Jesus was a sinner and not from God, he answered in a pretty exasperated way. I mean how frustrating to keep getting asked the same question over and over! Then in the end when Jesus finds him after he was thrown out of the synagogue, he calls Jesus “Lord”. What an evolution!
As the event unfolded, the man started to see more and more the truth of who Jesus is. His sight became clearer with his eyes and more importantly with his heart. He was transformed!
This time of COVID-19 is throwing the world as we know it into disarray. Much of what we thought of as “normal” is no longer normal. Our routines are changed, how we meet is changed, how we work, go to school, worship and play is changed. I don’t know about you, but for me this is disorienting, overwhelming, anxiety producing and just plain weird – the world is different today than it was a few short weeks ago.
This situation is bringing to sight some things many have been blind to about themselves and the world. The realities that maybe we knew about at some level are now real and seen in a whole new way. The tenuousness of the economy – here and around the world. We all know people who are business owners who have had to close, lose their income and maybe lay off workers. People who work in an industry that cannot work from home who now find themselves without a job or paycheck. Children at home from school without access to the internet to finish the school year online. People who can work but can’t find or afford childcare. The state of our healthcare system….We could go on and perhaps we ourselves are in one of these categories.
Or maybe you are finding some blind spots about yourself now that you have some time on your hands. Things you didn’t see before – how careless you are about washing your hands or how much you touch your face. How short you are in responding to your loved ones. How you haven’t kept up with friends who you don’t see all the time. The amount of stress and worry you carry daily – now perhaps seen and felt at an all-time high. One thing I’m seeing for myself is the way I can slip into fear easily and forget that I can ask for help and I’m seeing that old pattern of keeping myself busy and not making the time I know I need to pray, meditate and get quiet so that I can rejuvenate. I’m sure you can name other things you are seeing about yourself for the first time or in a new way.
It is also in times like these when we can see gifts in people we didn’t see before – maybe they didn’t either. Heck, the gifts in myself I haven’t seen before – like preaching. How many of you have used online communication platforms like Zoom or Facebook Live for the first time in the past 2 weeks? You are seeing new ways to communicate and that you can learn some new tricks. I’ve learned a bunch about the gifts of some of the members of this congregation that I didn’t know about before – some with gifts in technology and in others who are supporting people in creative ways. Maybe you are seeing the gift of connection in new and unique ways. Have you seen the videos going viral online of people in Spain & Italy singing together on balconies? A friend of mine posted a video of herself in her driveway singing for her neighbors who were watching from their driveways and yards. I have heard stories about how the Next Door App is being used by neighborhoods to connect and help one another. These are ways to reach out to one another at a safe distance and create community and solidarity. The words of the 23rd Psalm are so timely. We are in a time that some are looking at as a dark valley. For some it is literally the valley of the shadow of death. Everything is uncertain, what we are supposed to do or not do changes daily, people get sick with this virus and some die. There are things we need to grieve, be angry about and lament. And yet the Psalmist says I do not fear – I know you are with me God. You comfort, lead, provide. It is a message of hope amidst uncertainty. We don’t know what will happen, yet our faith asks us to See differently.
To see new gifts in ourselves and encourage others to do the same. To see the beauty in the world. To see possibilities, to see ways we can support others, to see injustice and work to make change. To see what needs to be healed, to see God and Jesus in a new way – with our eyes, our minds, our hearts.
Many of you know that I have horses in my life, and I turn to them personally for wisdom and partner with them to help people in their personal and spiritual journey. Because horses are present moment focused and tuned to utilizing all their senses, they are wonderful mirrors or guides for us. Yesterday as I was working on this sermon I got stuck and whenever that happens one of the things that helps is to go out to the horses. So, I headed out to the horses to do some chores. I picked up manure (there was a lot after 2 ½ days of rain & snow), I cleaned the water trough and filled it, and then got out the curry to start getting off some of the loose hair from the horses. You see, now that the weather is changing the horses are starting to shed their winter coat. Anyone who has ever had horses knows, this can be quite a process and for my horses this shedding will take several weeks. The amount of hair that horses grow over the winter is simply astounding. And the amount of manure after 2 ½ days is no joke either.
As I did my chores, I prayed to be open to whatever wanted to come through several messages arose from God and the horses. First, I realized that I was thinking too hard. I was too much in my head. Oh, how often I get stuck up in this brain and overthink things. Does this ever happen to anyone else? I was reminded of the Indigo Girls song “Hammer and Nail.” There is a line in it that says “I think myself into jail” which I take to mean that if I think and try to figure things out only with my head – I will get stuck and imprisoned in patterns that aren’t helpful or productive. In the story in John, there was a lot of thinking going on all around. Perhaps the invitation is to start seeing not just with our eyes and our brains, but with our hearts.
The 2nd message came while cleaning and filling the water trough. Remember to drink and be nourished. It’s easy to get busy with tasks or distractions with the details and all the questions of why and how like the Pharisees. Simply take time get quiet too is the message I received. Fill my tank, see what God has for me and just be.
And back to the horsehair and manure. I curried for quite some time and seriously just made a small bit of progress and still I had 3 huge piles of hair by the time I finished. I filled my wheelbarrow overflowing with manure too. The messages that came were: Deal with your own manure and Shed some of your layers – you don’t need them anymore. I wonder how much shedding I must do of old thoughts and patterns – the things I am still blind to. What do I need to let go of that I no longer need or no longer serve me?
Maybe these messages resonate for you too. And maybe our world. What if we open our minds and our hearts to new truths, new possibilities, new ways of following God? What if we, like the man born blind who Jesus helped see, allowed ourselves to be transformed during this time of uncertainty?
A poem is making its rounds in various ways in the electronic world that I find hopeful. I’d like to share with you as I end -
Poem by Laura Kelly Fanucci
"When this is over, may we never again take for granted A handshake with a stranger Full shelves at the store Conversations with neighbors A crowded theater Friday night out The taste of communion A routine checkup The school rush each morning Coffee with a friend The stadium roaring Each deep breath A boring Tuesday Life itself. When this ends may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be we were called to be we hoped to be and may we stay that way — better for each other because of the worst."