A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent are here.

Whew! That was a long reading. And there’s so much here to talk about – it’s an incredible story of the contrast between God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven and our earthly kingdoms built trying to recreate heaven by our standards. We could talk for hours about all of the various relationship dynamics going on … but don’t worry, I won’t take all day.

So, let’s take a look at the people in the story and their reactions and responses to God’s amazing grace.

Jesus and his disciples are just “walking along” and encounter a man who is blind. The disciples first inclination is to place blame because they’ve bought into the idea that all pain and suffering is punishment from God, a way to determine from their human point of view who God favors and who he doesn’t. But far from seeing things from a Kingdom worldview, they are living in a self made kingdom in which only those who meet their standards are welcome.

The healed man, is all in, willing to risk everything by trusting what Jesus tells him and asks of him. Jesus invites him to participate in his healing, giving him agency and dignity, having him wash the pool which means ‘sent’.

And then there’s the Pharisees. Instead of opening their minds to see God at work, the Pharisees in this interaction force-fit what had happened into their small box of certainty. They don’t even deny the formerly blind man can now see, even as they still refer to him as blind but they hone in on what has gone against their narrow rules: Jesus healed this man on the sabbath and if you break the sabbath rules, you are automatically a sinner and so incapable of doing any good. And yet, this formerly blind man now sees. His news is so inconvenient for them that they just can’t accommodate the truth of what’s in front of them*.

The Pharisees, too, offer the man an invitation – they invite him to participate in their condemnation of what Jesus has done by twisting the act of giving glory to God into a way of elevating one’s status over another. “Admit Jesus is a sinner and God will be glorified” they tell him. But this man’s eyes have truly been opened and he refuses to see through their compassion-less worldview. He even gets a little cheeky in his response, “why do you want to hear the story again, are you wanting to follow Jesus?”

Their inquisition of this man echos ironically Jesus’ own words to Nicodemus that we read a couple of weeks ago. Jesus said, “the wind blows where it chooses but you don’t know where it’s from or where it goes.” The Pharisees tell the man “as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” And the man responds, “You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes!” Jesus tells Nicodemus, “are you a teacher of Isreal and do not understand.” The Pharisees say to the man, “you are born of sin, and you trying to teach us?” They are so certain they are right, and they are so busy trying to prove they are right that they can’t see the glory of God’s love right before their eyes.

The man’s parents break my heart – they are desperately trapped in the fear caused by the Pharisees need to exclude those who disagree with their narrow worldview. Instead of rejoicing that their son can now see, they plead ignorance to save their own skin.

When Jesus says that this man was born blind so that “God’s works might be revealed in him,” Jesus is showing us a Kingdom worldview, life lived in the wisdom that God has given us agency in this life to promote the grace and glory of God’s Kingdom … or to promote ourselves.

When Jesus uses mud as a healing salve he absolutely intends to bring to mind the original creation story in which God creates humans, to reorient our worldview toward God’s Kingdom on earth. Throughout the story of God’s people, God chooses specific people to reveal the Kingdom not because God chooses some and excludes others, but because it is God’s desire to partner with us, be in relationship with us, to be present with us in the working out of the purpose and plan for God’s creation.

The mighty work of God that is revealed in this man isn’t only his physical sight but his all-in trust of God’s way and his faithfulness to God’s way in spite of what others say and do. His own parents threw him under the bus to save their own reputation. He was willing to be expelled from the Temple for his belief that Jesus was doing God’s work.

It has never been part of God’s plan to exclude anyone; it has always been God’s plan to extend the invitation to everyone to come into the Kingdom of heaven on earth. When we begin to view God’s blessing and favor as a way to elevate ourselves above others, we’ve lost the plot. When we point the accusatory finger at those who don’t meet our expectations of who God should deem worthy, we are the ones who are defying God’s law.

The one in this story who according to the religious leaders was the sinner, the man born blind, is the only one who shows true faith in God’s plan and purpose. This man is who Jesus invites to be an apostle – one sent to tell others of God’s grace and goodness.

Yet, we must be careful in our reading of this story. The minute we begin to point at the Pharisees and label them the evil ones, we’ve fallen into the same sin of condemnation that we see as evil in them. Jesus himself says he came not to condemn but to save. He teaches us to let go of the blame game, to seek reconciled relationship rather than revenge and retaliation.

We can’t be blind to the humanness of the Pharisees. Jesus was disrupting all that these Temple leaders had built their identity and purpose on, their interpretation of God’s law. They are blind to the abundance of God’s Kingdom and are frightened of losing their power and prestige. They, too, are reacting from a place of fear.

In these moments when our lives are disrupted, Jesus says, we have a choice – to lash out at those around us, seeking someone to blame, reacting from a place of fear, and wanting others to hurt as we are hurting, or we can choose to trust that God knows our hurt and pain so that we don’t have to inflict on anyone else to feel understood and known. We can choose to remain in the narrowness of our own vision or let God’s Spirit show us how to see the glory of God at work in all people and situations.

Are we willing to risk everything in order to see the world as Jesus sees it, to go all-in and answer God’s invitation into the Kingdom on earth as in heaven? Do we trust that God’s Way of Love is more valuable than anything we fear losing?

Every moment of of every day is an opportunity to participate with God. This is the purpose of our faith in God – to participate with God in building up the Kingdom on earth, all-in in both hardship and happiness.

The hardships we face in this world are absolutely occasions for participating in God’s work of grace and compassion, not with a faked positivity but with the understanding that God knows our pain and suffering and will bear it with us, always present, always loving, always strong, enabling us to live as children of light even in the darkest of times, illuminating the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, so that others may see Jesus, too. Amen.

*Nancy French, March 18, 2023 episode of the Good Faith podcast by Curtis Chang.

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