Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2017
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Preacher: The Reverend Dr. Cathy S. Gilliard
There is a reason why we love this hymn; why it has stood the test of time. There is a reason why it is so well known and loved throughout the world, why it stirs something up inside for most people when we sing it. Still, like many things familiar we run the risk of missing the essence of it, of not paying careful attention and letting the words wash over us.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found; I was blind but now I see.
Like our own lives and the lessons best learned, hymns like this were born out of something – often out something wretched and grave; murky and costly. Out of a renewed sensibility about one’s state in life and how it used to be; but the narrative today is totally different. I once was lost; I used to be blind.
It comes out of awareness of the contrast between the former self or the former experience with the present moment and how that all happened – by grace. And the contrast was so extensive that the author called it amazing.
That is our work especially during the season of Lent in which we are invited to pay attention to ourselves in a new way; where we have an honest chat with ourselves about ourselves. We look inwardly and deeply at those areas of our lives for which we are or have been blind, wrong, lost, angry beyond measure, a mess. We are reminded that no matter how far along we are, we still run the risk of being blind – blind to things, and people, circumstances, and situations.
We acknowledge that we have not always been the person we are today – little things have held us back spiritually; ideas and opinions have limited us. Perhaps we didn’t know any better. We have not always been so open minded and broad in our thinking; so willing to love and forgive.
On this fourth Sunday we are invited to locate the turn from what we used to be – even last week or yesterday – to who we are now in this present moment. How far we’ve come; how far we yearn to go.
I used to be that girl; every now and then, I still might be – however – there is a new narrative, a new claim on my life, and I am rejoicing in the present status as God’s child: saved by God’s good grace, soaked in the waters of baptism, infused by God’s own spirit, seeing better than before and determined to press my way forward.
Even in our readings if we are paying careful attention, we notice a shift in the lessons assigned for today. We did not read it but the accompanying psalm is Psalm 23. Like John Newton, the psalmist sings of praise and expresses confidence in God. He sings of his own witness; and declares his testimony; what he knows to be true in his own life. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures and restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness and though I walk through even the darkest of valleys, I will not fear. I will not totally despair or give up altogether because his rod and his staff, they comfort me. You can’t grasp that if you haven’t been through something and survived. You just don’t have a perspective. Even the darkest days and the darkest valleys will not have the final word. Goodness and mercy will overtake them and lead me safely to my Lord’s house where I will dwell all of my days.
Such writings open up the portals for us to also claim our own witness. It invites us to find language – words or expressions that clarify our life with God. So often we talk about life in the church – and yes, that’s a wonderful start. It’s a great start but it might not necessarily be the same as life with God. Amazing Grace is about life with God. The 23rd Psalm is about life with God. A hymn like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand lead me on, let stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light” is about life with God – the reality of life and God’s abiding presence holding us together.
It is possible, my brothers and sisters, to sing in the choir, to read and talk and even serve; to enter these doors Sunday after Sunday, year after year, and never truly have life with God. That’s a great tragedy; one of the gravest of all.
That’s why I have loved reading your Lenten reflections. I love it; it does a Pastor good. I had read them early on for proofing but every weekday morning I absorb myself in your words:
Jill writing about her father and how his faith kept him through Parkinson’s disease. And he may not have known it but he was shaping his daughter and his families experience just by persevering. That old Bible; that word of God so sweet that kept him from saying “why me” all the time; that Word whose spine was broken, and pages worn loose but that word that was a light and lamp to his path. Was not exonerated from the disease but was able to endure.
Lisa who struggles, she says, with words to witness about her faith but sometimes words are not everything. For what I see is a fine young woman who dedicates herself – her time, her treasure, her talent to this church. Let your light shine, she says, let it shine for Jesus. Don’t be passive; don’t pick and choose; shine. And we know it’s true don’t we? We see her shining, consistently dedicated to feeding God’s children who are marginalized in our city, people who struggle to have a hot meal. I have seen her myself and read the emails week after week.
Paul Ashley – a young dad; present almost every Sunday in worship with Emilia and expressing his deep desire to be a responsible father. Bringing all of that – all that goes along with it; bringing it right here – trusting God to show him the way; how to love his wife; be faithful to what matters most of all; being responsible for their faith; passing on his parents taught him.
If Easter is to have any real meaning we must claim our own narrative of God’s transforming presence. There must be a sense of rising up out of where we used to be – and not in our teenage years when we didn’t have sense enough to know better – but out of where we were just last year or last week – to where we are today and where we hope to be on tomorrow.
That’s the heritage of Methodism at its core. John Wesley believed that:
“Through God’s sanctifying grace, we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived. As we pray, study the Scriptures, fast, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love our neighbor. Our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and testify to our union with God.
We’re to press on, with God’s help, in the path of sanctification toward perfection. By perfection, Wesley did not mean that we would not make mistakes or have weaknesses. Rather, he understood it to be a continual process of being made perfect in our love of God and each other and of removing our desire to sin.
I once was lost; I used to act a certain way, thought a certain way, talked a certain way. My belief system was skewed; I used to judge people by all sorts of things. I could not see their true beauty or the gift they were to me. They were there but I could not see them. I used to be that – but now – I understand better. I once was – but now.
The young man in our gospel lesson presents a witness about life with God; his experience of Jesus Christ.
He had been born blind, you see. Born blind. Never seeing with his own eyes a living thing. He had never seen the sun rise in the morning or set in the evening; never saw the color blue, or beauty of flesh flowers, the rainbow, his parents’ eyes or the sea.
He was a beggar sitting by the side of the road. He represents all of those who are waiting for healing love. In those days, there was a general sense that blindness and other such “afflictions” were the result of sin in the person’s life or that of their parents. And unfortunately, there are still people who believe such things today. He’s marginalized, objectified, in need of help. Sentenced by virtue of something for which he has no control and no say; imprisoned in his own life.
The disciples ask: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? They want to make sense of it all; assign some reason that they can be comfortable with to which Jesus said, None.
John tells us that Jesus spat on the ground and made mud pie with spit and put on the man’s eyes. Told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. And the man went as foolish as it must have appeared. Dirt and spit on his eyes – finding his way to the pool. Surely Jesus could have healed him on the spot; but he went as he had been instructed. And is that not how it is sometimes? God’s way seems foolish to the untrained eye, makes no sense at all.
And the crowds and religious leaders kept asking – how is it that you can see. So much is at stake and they just don’t seem to be satisfied. They are looking for something while missing the whole point entirely. Even his parents begin to distance themselves because to claim Jesus – as Lord and Savior; Healer – is to be declared an outsider by the community and forced out of the synagogue.
The man says – I don’t know about any of that. All I know is that I once was blind and now I see. All I know is that I woke up this morning and I could not see; but light has shined in on me and now I see.
Would that our eyes might be open to see the light of God shining in on us right now and making us whole. That light so glaring that opens us up and spurs us on.
I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.