Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon; Lent 4A; John 9:1-41

What is the mission of the Church?
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

The mission of the Church is restoration. The focus of Lent is reconciliation. This theme was introduced last week with Jesus and the woman at the well. It continues today and next week in the story of the man blind from birth, and the raising of Lazarus. While this is the theme of these three weeks, today's gospel also points to the difficulty of this mission of the Church.

The Gospel of John is filled with meaning – literal and metaphorical, straight-forward and ambiguous. This gospel has a sublime quality to it that allows for this breadth of meaning. A prime example of John working on two different levels was two weeks ago in the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus and that misunderstanding between being born from above and being born again. Because of these variety of meanings I'm going to play with today's passage a bit.

As Jesus walked along he saw a man born blind from birth. After Jesus met him, the man's eyes were opened and he was able to see. What kind of eye-opening was this? Was it literal? Maybe. Or was it something deeper? It's probably a both/and.

Our world is full of blind-to-sight images. REO Speedwagon sings of recognizing that a friend is more than a friend. John Newton wrote of once being blind, but now being able to see. Saul was blind to the presence of Christ until he also had a first-hand experience where he gained his sight, seeing the face of Christ in others. And there are countless other images and stories of people gaining their sight, most of which have nothing to do with physical ability.

As I said last week, restoration and reconciliation have to do with being willing to cross boundaries and reach out to the other, as well as being willing to open our eyes to the possibility we may have been wrong and/or being willing to see how we have sinned against another.

Restoration and reconciliation have to do with opening our eyes.

Through an encounter with Christ, the blind man was able to see the light of the world. Through his willingness to see things in a new way he was restored to fullness in Christ. Jesus said that he was born blind not due to sin, but so God's works might be revealed in him. That revelation wasn't necessarily the one-time-event of gaining sight, but may have been how he lived out the rest of his life – revealing God's works to those around him.

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Through an encounter with Jesus, this blind man was restored to unity with God through Christ. This blind man was told to wash in the pool of Siloam, which means “sent.” This is the gospel of John, so I don't think that's a coincidence. After he gained his sight he is sent to proclaim the healing nature of Jesus. He proclaims the healing nature of Jesus to the crowds. He proclaims the healing nature of Jesus to the Pharisees, as well as proclaiming that Jesus is from God to those same people. He who once was blind is now able to see. And what he sees is restoration and unity through Christ.

The problem, though, is that those to whom he was sent are having none of it. They are more focused on maintaining their divisions and barriers than they are in pursuing restoration. They would rather keep their eyes closed, living in the darkness of their own blindness, than risk opening their eyes to the light and being part of a fully restored people living in unity. I'm reminded of the final book in The Chronicles of Narnia in which the dwarves refuse to open their eyes to the wonderfulness around them – that wonderfulness found in the unity that comes through reconciliation and restoration.

Again, this is hard work.

It's hard work for those who initiate the process because it asks us to put aside our animosity and pride and risk being rejected. It's hard for us to get past the possibility that those with whom we wish to reconcile may not want that, preferring an adversarial relationship, or no relationship at all. And it's even harder for us to get past the possibility that those with whom we wish to reconcile may accept our offer, putting us in a position to actually live out what we preach.

It's also hard for those on the other side. Mistrust is always there – is there an ulterior motive being played out? Or a belief that we are being asked to change to satisfy the desires of those asking us for reconciliation?

And in both cases it seems easier to remain blinded by our own ways than to open our eyes to a new life.

This is played out in today's gospel story. A blind man has an encounter with Jesus and his eyes are opened to a new way of living. He is sent to proclaim reconciliation and restoration through Jesus. His message is rejected. And those to whom he was sent double down on their refusal to see, thereby remaining blind.

None of this is about converting people to Christianity. Neither is it about using this passage to condemn the Jews for refusing to accept Christ.

What this is about is understanding that, as the Church, we are to look for ways of reconciliation, thereby restoring all people to unity with God and each other, through the methods Christ himself used.

We may be ridiculed. We may be rejected. We may be thrown out by those with whom we are trying to reconcile. But we are all sent in an effort to show others that there's a better way than walking in the darkness of our own blindness.

And if, through our efforts, people open their eyes to a new way of seeing, then we are one step closer to fulfilling the mission of the Church – restoring all people to unity with God and each other.



First time comments will be moderated.