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Reflections, Images, and Videos for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

April 1, 2017

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tumblr_nl7sn0kbA01qfvq9bo1_r2_1280March 26, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, was Laetare (“Rejoice!”) and Mothering Sunday, the mid-point of Lent. On this Sunday of simnel-cake2Refreshment, we focussed on the joy of being loved by Our Lord, of sharing this love with one another as members of God’s family, and of reaching out with this love to all of God’s world.

Our Gospel Reading was about the healing of the man born blind by Our Lord Jesus, the Light of the world. And so the videos embedded below, which we watched before our 10 a.m. Service to prepare us for worship, all have the theme of the gift of physical or spiritual sight. 

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triple-c-serviceOur worship at 10 a.m. was a Triple C Service (“Christ-centred, Creative, and Compact), which we share together once a month, usually on fourth Sundays. The second “C” was in evidence throughout, in the parts of the Liturgy that were on our Screens, such as those embedded in this posting.

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Here’s the Gospel passage we read at both Services.

Here’s the passage as depicted in the motion picture “The Gospel of John” and the TV Mini-Series “Jesus of Nazareth.”

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[Here’s an adapted version of the sermon I preached at both Services.]

In honour of the beginning of the new Major League Baseball Season next Sunday, and today’s being “Laetare” or “Rejoice!” Sunday, I thought I’d start this sermon with Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” routine.

Well, sometimes misunderstandings can be funny. But when a life-and-death matter is involved, it’s a different situation entirely. For example, there was a huge fire yesterday fire at strip mall on Macleod Trail. District Chief Wayne McQueen praised the quick actions of three witnesses for ensuring everyone escaped. Chief McQueen said: “They went door-to-door getting people out of the building. A lot of people in there had no idea there was a fire going on over their heads. They saved some lives for sure.” In this circumstance it was essential for the people to get the message.

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Today, our Readings communicate to us God’s Language for Life. In today’s sermon, we’ll focus on the Gospel’s teaching about Jesus, the Light of the world – on not “seeing” God’s point,  and on “seeing it” indeed! We’ll look together at overcoming three misunderstandings of what God is saying – three things God is NOT saying – and then make sure we do understand clearly what God IS communicating to us.

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Misunderstanding #1:

John 9:1-2 says: “As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'” 

jesus-blind-man-healing-1486373-galleryHere’s Misunderstanding #1: missing what God is saying to us by misunderstanding the mystery of brokenness.

The disciples are identifying sickness and sin. Their hurtful attitude was that this blindness must have been caused by sin – the child’s sinning in the womb, or the parents’ sinning. Something must have been done to “deserve” it. We discussed at our Lenten Study this week how we still see this attitude rear its head today. We seem to be looking for an explanation for why suffering happens – especially an explanation that has suffering the fault, somehow, of those who suffer. It makes us less scared – less scared by exempting us from the impact of the moral imperative of responding to suffering in the world; less scared by not allowing us to avoid facing the challenge suffering poses to our faith in an all-powerful, all-loving God; less scared by reassuring us that if we’re faithful, we and our loved ones will be spared  from such a fate.

Leonard Sweet comments:

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I am suspicious of anyone who talks too glibly about the age-old mystery of suffering. I recall a humbling episode from a British movie entitled, “Whistle in the Wind.” A group of children had experienced the death of their pet kitten. They had prayed fervently that the cat would get well, but instead it died. They couldn’t understand this. So, they went in search of the local pastor. They found him in a teashop, taking a morning break, enjoying his tea and newspaper. They asked him, “Why did God let our cat die?” The good pastor was not delighted to be interrupted, but out of duty he laid aside his paper and launched into a long, complex, theological response to this question. The children stood and listened intently. When he finished he wished them well and went back to his newspaper. The children walked away somewhat bewildered. One little boy, holding his older sister’s hand, looked up at her and said, “He doesn’t know, does he?” How perceptive children can be. Never in this world will we understand all the mystery surrounding suffering.

Jesus took this attempted explanation head-on, answering: “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.'”

Jesus’ attitude was so different! This man, he said, was born so that God’s glory might be revealed through his life.

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Jean Vanier writes about one way this is the case:

51bbHvKxfwL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_People with disabilities have many disadvantages when it comes to capabilities of knowledge and power, but in respect to the heart and things of love, many have an advantage. They need help and cry out for presence and friendship. In a mysterious way, they seem to open up to the God of love and the love of God. By contrast, those who are seeking influence, acclaim and wealth for themselves often seem closed to God in their illusion of self-sufficiency.

As our passage today from 1 Samuel 16 reminds us: “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Actually, Jesus’ words about being born so that God’s works might be revealed in one are true for all of us.

James_ForbesAs James Forbes says:

The man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. As a matter of fact that is why all of us are born; all of us are given life that the works of God might be revealed in us.

“Able” and “disabled” is really a bogus distinction. All of us are physically challenged in differing degrees. Indeed, all of us are dying! All are mentally and emotionally challenged, too. And all of us are blind in different ways.

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Vanier again:

Each one of us has a vulnerable heart and yearns to love and be loved and valued. Each one has a mission. Each one of us is born so that God’s work may be accomplished in us.

Healthy and sick is never “us-them” – it is all “we“– health and sickness, strength and infirmity mixed together for each of us. We need to treat each other accordingly. We need to stop running from the mystery of brokenness, and instead live with it to God’s glory. In all of us, broken and wounded as we are, God’s glory can be revealed.  All of us seek the Lord together for healing, poor in spirit, weak in ourselves, and strong in him.

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Misunderstanding #2:

In John 9:16, this is the response to the healing that has just taken place: Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.'”

Here’s Misunderstanding #2: missing what God is saying by misunderstanding what is essential and inessential; or, putting it another way: misunderstanding the heart of God.

Focussing on the inessential and peripheral instead of the essential and central, these Pharisees’ have an interpretation of the Sabbath that leads them to conclude that Jesus must not be from God. (If you’re a healer, then healing is “work,” and so you should refrain from it on the Sabbath.) As Christians, too, we easily fall into the same error.

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My_Clergy_Picture_-_squareBrian Stoffregen tells a story about this, that goes as follows.

It has been suggested that the origins of denominations occurred when the healed blind men met each other. At first they were all excited about the miracle of sight that Jesus had given them, but as they talked about how Jesus had healed them, they began to discover some significant differences. For some, the healing came with simply a touch from Jesus (Matthew 9:29; 20:34). Another proudly boasted that he had enough faith so that Jesus didn’t have to touch him to perform the miracle (Mark 10:52). Another meekly exclaimed that Jesus not only touched him twice, but also “spit on his eyes” in order for him to see clearly (Mark 8:23). The final one really felt embarrassed to admit that for him, Jesus’ “spit” wasn’t enough. Jesus had mixed his saliva with dirt and put the mud on his eyes and then told him to go and wash in some pool of water (John 9:6-7). Since each one thought his healing was normal and better than the others, they divided into spittites and non-spittites; muddites and non-muddites; touchites and non-touchites. Denominationalism was born.

On Mothering Sunday, when we celebrate our connection to THIS church, let’s never forget that we are all part of the ONE Church. We’re companions, not competitors, with our brothers and sisters in different churches and different denominations. Jesus is the Light of the world. Let’s always genuinely rejoice whenever we see his light shining, and people’s eyes being opened!

HEALING THE MAN BORN BLIND

The authorities in this passage were not willing to do this. Convinced that Jesus is not of God, they then command the man, saying basically: “Come clean! Tell the truth!”: “‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.'” And when he refuses to recant, they say their final words: ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.” Note that they show the same soul-destroying attitude towards the man’s former disability that the disciples had held, words that enable them to feel more righteous than he, and then cast him out of the Synagogue, basically cutting him off from the life of the community.

The work of God brings healing and light. In this passage the essential point was that the man was healed! This should have filled all – the Pharisees included – with JOY at God’s goodness! The man was simply sharing the beautiful thing that has happened to him: “‘I once was blind, but now I see.'” Now what should have been the most wonderful day of his life was in danger of becoming the worst. People were calling him a charlatan. His own parents, afraid of being cast out of the Synagogue, are distancing themselves from him. And now the authorities are indeed driving him out, doing all this in the Name of God, and missing the heart of God! Throughout history, certainly including much of Christian history, terrible things have been done in the Name of God. If we have God’s heart of love, we’ll avoid this tragedy.

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Misunderstanding #3:

John 9:39-40 reads: 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.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?'”

Here’s the last Misunderstanding, Misunderstanding #3: missing what God is saying to us by misunderstanding our need for Jesus as Saviour.

“Some of the Pharisees” say to Jesus, “‘Surely we are not blind, are we?'”

John Jewell gives a great two-word answer: “Well duh!”

john_9_1-12_he-anointed-the-eyes-of-the-blind-man_engIt’s entirely possible to be in ignorance of our need.

The passage continues: “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.'”

Ephesians 5:14 (actually part of the Epistle appointed for today) says: “‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'”

We can be unaware of our true state, like being asleep and dreaming about getting up. It doesn’t work – especially when you have to go to the bathroom!

We need to realize our need to wake up to God, and that our condition is deadly – like dreaming, not about going to the bathroom, but about suffocating, because your cat is sitting on your face!

I read about such a life-and-death situation recently in The Prairie Overcomer:

use this oneThe man huddled on the cabin floor was slowly freezing to death. It was high in the Rockies in southwestern Alberta, and outside a blizzard raged. John Elliott had logged miles that day through the deep snows of the mountain passes. As he checked for avalanches and as dusk and exhaustion overcame him he had decided to “hole-up.” He made it wearily to his cabin but somewhat dazed with fatigue, he did not light a fire or remove his wet clothing. As the blizzard blasted through the cracks in the old cabin walls, the sleeping Park Warden sank into oblivion, paralyzed by the pleasure of the storm’s icy caress. Suddenly, however, his dog sprang into action, and with unrelenting whines, finally managed to rouse his near-comatose friend. “If that dog hadn’t been with me, I’d be dead today,” John Elliott says. “When you’re freezing to death you actually feel warm all over, and don’t wake up because it feels too good.”

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Not “getting it” is not seeing our condition, our need – but also our opportunity!

All need Jesus. And all are invited to – all can – “see” him. He’ll do whatever it takes to enable this to happen, to bring us safely home to the fold.

The-Rescue_Nathan-GreeneI said earlier that what should have been the most wonderful day of his life was in danger of becoming the worst. It would have been, but for one thing: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Shepherd King (like David), went and found his endangered sheep.

This is the essential truth our God is trying to communicate with us today: What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear”As today’s Psalm says: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for you are with me.” And in John 10, Jesus promises, “‘I am the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. Nothing can snatch them out of my hand.'”

As he did with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus in today’s passage gets to the very heart of the man’s need, and what he (Jesus) can offer him, asking him: “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’”

The man asks who the Son of Man is. Jesus then replies with the wonderful words: “‘You are SEEING him.'”

Note the progression we see in the healed blind man. First, he refers to Jesus as a “‘man,'” then a “‘prophet.'” Then he asks the authorities “‘Do you also want to become his disciples?'” And finally, here, he says to Jesus, “‘Lord, I believe.’” And he worships him. He “sees.”

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It’s been pointed out by many that we have in this story the echo of Holy Baptism. Like the healed man in this story, we too have been washed, and come to see Jesus, and see through Jesus. And we too grow in our understanding as disciples, coming to see Jesus, and see through Jesus, more and more clearly, every moment of our earthly pilgrimage.  

“Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

We who were lost are are found by our Good Shepherd.
And now, in Jesus, the Light of the world, we see.

I’d like to conclude with the story of a boy who epitomizes what God is teaching us this morning. As we watch and listen to this video, let’s allow the Lord to open the eyes of our hearts to himself, and to one another.

Let us pray:

O Light of the world, we confess our blindness to you and others,
and humbly pray for the gift of sight:
Help us, dear Lord, to see your glory in the midst of brokenness;
see what is essential and central;
see your heart of love;
see our need for you –
and grant us the gift not only to see, but having seen, to respond.
All this we ask in your most precious Name. Amen.

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At our 10 a.m. Service, we followed the sermon with the following Affirmation of Faith on our screens.

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At both 8:30 and 10 a.m. Services, we shared the following Prayers of the People on our screens together.

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We ended both 8:30 and 10 a.m. Services with the ancient practice of “Clipping the Church,” joining hands in an outward-facing circle, as we sang together the chorus of this hymn, “Bind Us Together.”

By the time the song was finished. we looked a lot like the congregation in the video below (except that we were still in the Sanctuary).

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As we left the 10 a.m. Service, the following videos proclaimed the Good News of our God’s amazing grace, and the light of Our Lord’s love.

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As I was putting together this blog posting, I came across these wonderful videos that give us a “glimpse” into how incredible it is to be able to see for the first time. I pray that I may never take the precious gift of physical sight, and the measureless gift of spiritual sight, for granted. 

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