A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
The Rev. Charles C. McCoart, Jr.
March 22, 2020
There Was A Man Born Blind
Hi everyone, thank you for tuning into today’s sermon.
These certainly are wild and ever changing times and we at Emmanuel are doing our level best to adapt with the changing news and happenings all around us – all in a spirit of flexibility, joy and anticipation. Working hard to stay in the present moment and not get hijacked into fear or hysteria. We also recognize at this time that thousands of people have been negatively impacted by corona virus, some even have died and our hearts and prayers go out to all of them.
I’m recording this message on Friday afternoon, so by the time we send it to you on Saturday, to listen to on Sunday, some of my homily may seem a bit out of touch with whatever our country is dealing with on Sunday. It’s an ever changing landscape; please forgive me if these recorded words limp just a little behind life in real-time. Thank you for your patience as we as a faith community try to navigate our way through this season of life WITH you.
Since this is homily / or sermon time, I’m mindful to not get hijacked into making announcements; but rather to offer some thoughts on the Gospel you just read from John.
In our Gospel lesson today there was a blind man in town––a man who was born blind––and Jesus gave him sight.
I’ll just let that sentience sort of hang in our collective consciences for a few seconds.
There was a blind man in town––a man who was born blind––and Jesus gave him sight.
We could say that Jesus restored his sight, but the man had never had any sight to restore. He had been born blind. Jesus created sight from nothing, just as God created the world from nothing––and then Jesus gave that newly created sight to the blind man.
You would think that everyone would have been happy, but they weren’t. It was the sabbath, and sabbath law forbade working on the sabbath. As ridiculous as it sounds to our modern ears, the Pharisees – the religious leaders of the day – believed that healing was work – so that no one should heal another person on the sabbath. This was over 2000 years ago, so we need to understand this was a culture deeply rooted in tradition and tradition meant everything to folks in their community. For some reason healing was considered work – and if you worked on the sabbath then you broke a law and breaking a law meant you had sinned. As far as they were concerned, Jesus-the-Healer was a clear and present danger to the established order.
So the Pharisees tried to get the blind man––the one whom Jesus had healed––to acknowledge that Jesus was a sinner. You would think that the formerly-blind man could resist that easily––but it wasn’t easy. The blind man had been a beggar all his life––begging was all he knew. He was going to need help to get established––and these Pharisees were movers and shakers––they could make you or break you.
But the man didn’t waver under their questioning. When the Pharisees asked the man what he thought of Jesus, he said, “He [Jesus] is a prophet” (v. 17).
So then the Pharisees questioned the man’s parents. You would think that the parents would have supported Jesus; but they too were afraid that the Pharisees would throw them out of the synagogue. It’s hard for us to imagine how devastating that would be. To be thrown out of the synagogue would have been like being run out of town on a rail. Faced with such a prospect, the parents said, “Our son is of age. Ask him.” (v. 23).
So the Pharisees tried to persuade the formerly-blind man that Jesus was a sinner, but the formerly blind man said this:
“I don’t know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know,that though I was blind,now I can see” (v. 25). When they continued to press him, he said, “If (Jesus) were not from God, he could do nothing.” (v. 33).
So the Pharisees drove the blind man out. Did they just run him off, or did they throw him out of the synagogue? We don’t know, the Gospel writer doesn’t tell us. But the man was undaunted. When later he met Jesus again, he said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe.” (v. 38).
I can’t tell you how impressed I am with that man. He was born blind and spent a lifetime begging alongside the road––but when the going got tough, he proved even tougher. He BECAME a man of faith when Jesus healed him, and he STAYED a man of faith when powerful people started threatening him.
This week ahead, let’s all keep our collective eyes open for the blessings, large or small, that God sends our way. These blessings might be something tremendous, like being told a medical situation you are dealing with is moving in the right direction. Or maybe the blessings will be more subtle, like re-discovering an old friend.
In the days since I have been working more from home than working in the office, I have spent much of my time calling the more senior members of our parish, as well as those who are medically frail. I can’t tell you how many wonderful conversations I have had – and might not have had – were it not for this virus. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love the virus; but I am choosing to do what I can given the circumstances we are dealing with.
I’d like to share with you a little journey I was on a couple of weeks ago … a journey all in my head and my heart. I was dealing with a particularly tricky situation where two people I dearly love are at odds with each other. I won’t say a word about either of them. This is a story about me, not them.
After dealing with this situation for a very long time, things sort of came to a[nother] boiling-over point. After a long day of working with these really good folks I finally went home and eventually made my way to bed, and of course I could not sleep. I tossed and turned for what seemed like a very long time. I prayed, but I was still stuck in my obsession with this issue. I had been trying to remember the words of The Serenity Prayer and the words kept getting all mixed up in my head. After a while I finally got up and out of bed, and went back downstairs to my kitchen table where my computer sits. Max following right behind me.
I Googled: Serenity Prayer. And there it was. All crystal clear and not all jumbled up. And then I noticed, I’d forgotten the prayer is longer than most people actually pray. We all know this part:
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change … courage to change the things I can … and wisdom to know the difference.
But, catch this: there’s more:
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
When I was in bed and all stuck and obsessed with what I was dealing with … I was literally blind. I could not find the words. I could not see myself through it. As soon as I found the right words for me to pray, I could see.
As soon as God reminded me that I needed to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, a calm came over me. I prayed those words over and over and over again like a mantra and it worked.
The anxiety left me, I relaxed enough to eventually fall asleep. I gave it to God. I gave it all to God. As a control freak I have to be reminded over and over again that there just are some things I cannot control. Sometimes there are things I cannot change.
I’ll keep working on the things I can change and pray for the courage to do so.
But some things I need to give to God. I need to trust that God has things way more under control than I ever will.
Thank you God for that prayer.
Please check out the rest of it though. Linger with these words. Do not deprive yourself of the rest of the words, the less(er) known part.
I need to live one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
We can’t control corona virus. There are some things I cannot change.
But I can change the way I respond. I can socially distance myself. I can call folks I know and love and check in on them. I can learn new technology tricks as Joani drags me into the 21st century.
I have to trust God will have the wisdom to help me to SEE the difference.
Lord God, please help me to SEE. To not be blind to all of the ways you are loving and working in this world all around us right now.
Lord God, during these turbulent times, help us all to SEE.
Please keep me in your prayers and know that you are in mine as well.