March 22nd, 2020
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Lent 4 March 22, 2020 John 9: 1-41
Springdale Lutheran Church Pastor Paul Rohde
A workshop presenter recently began a presentation telling a story on himself.
I flew into the Carolina’s some weeks back. My route away from the rental car office took me almost immediately into the hills. It was glorious until I came over a rise and very nearly rear-ended a garbage truck that didn’t have it’s lights on. I did everything I could to get his attention—flashing my lights, turning on my signals, honking. But no lights appeared. I was able to pass him and tried flashing lights again. No success. I slowed way down, signaled to pull over and gave the trucker hand signals to do the same. When they’d stopped, we walked toward each other until I could yell, your lights aren’t on. He gave me two thumbs up; we got back in our vehicles and kept going.
When I got on the interstate I noticed cars waving, pointing and trying to communicate with me. Only then did I notice that my own lights were NOT on!
It’s so much easier to see some someone else’s dimness than our own. If we could be in church Sunday, you would hear Chris McGann play the blind person. Les Chaon was going to be Jesus [I’ve promised him he’ll get another chance!], and all of you would read the parts of the crowd. It’s powerful to hear the story enacted because it becomes clearer how repetitive the arguments are—whose fault is the blindness? Was it right for Jesus to do this? Even though Jesus says at the beginning that it’s not about right and wrongness, but about seeing the glory of God, the people miss the point. And the argument goes on and on.
I wanted to preach about seeing our blind spots, but realized that’s a contradiction. If we can see them, they aren’t blind spots. The first point needs to be simply, we have blind spots. It’s so much easier to see someone else’s blind spots than our own. The end of this chapter is poignant. The Pharisees ask, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” And Jesus responds, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
If the first point is that we have blind spots, another is that in the dark we are all blind. We need light to see. But the main point is that Jesus is the light. Jesus sees and touches and heals blindness. Whether today this comes to us or to a neighbor or to someone we’d least expect to receive a miracle, the Light of the World shows us the glory of God in healing gifts, in opening us to God’s light.
Each week in Lent we are watching Jesus engage peoples’ struggles. Nicodemus comes to him at night with questions about rebirth. The Samaritan woman at the well is astonished at Jesus meeting her—and our—thirst for life. In this miracle for the blind man, one of the astonishing lines is, “Night is coming when no one can work.” These days that sounds like quarantine. Work, our patterns, our freedom in the light is grinding down. And the virus that prompts it is dark indeed. None of us see it.
Before we rush ahead to the miracle of light, John gives us long stories of long discussions that empower the light coming into many forms of real darkness. The light of the world is resisted. The miracle of seeing takes time and practice and is argued against. Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As long as it takes; and as often as we need to return, Jesus is our light. And when we discover that that it is our own lights that are off, that we have blindspots, God persistently gives us signals to listen, to turn, and to begin to see.
I’ll admit to having very intense feelings when I hear how long this coronavirus threat could last. I mostly don’t let myself go there because it feels very dark, very intense. So for today I invite us to turn our focus to Jesus promise to be light—as long as it takes. I am eager to hear what this whole drama teaches us about our blind spots, about what really matters. And what we discover about the light of Jesus sustaining us.
And my prayer is that our church will continue to reflect that light—to each other and to any and all who are affected. Probably there are times that we are blind to the power of the encouraging, hopeful gift of being together. I really hope we can have Easter in church. The congregation my daughter serves has it right when they say, “Whenever we can be together will be Easter.”
First, we face the darkness and admit the blindness. We’ll endure the isolation because it is a matter of life and death for people who are vulnerable. And the light will come.
When John Newton wrote Amazing Grace, I’m glad he included the line, “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” As I write this sermon, I find myself wishing he had a poetic line for “I thought I saw, but I was blind!” OR “I thought the darkness was theirs, but it is mine.” I did some research on the hymn. I’ve known that the hymn speaks to Newton’s history with slave trade. It also reflects his struggle with alcoholism. There is a very dramatic chapter I didn’t know—in a conflict with the crew on the slave ship, Pegasus, Newton was left in West Africa with a slave trader who treated him as violently as the slaves they treated the slaves they captured. When Newton was rescued, the ship encountered a terrible storm and nearly sank. Newton’s prayer to God and rescue began his conversion.
“I once was blind,” he writes. Which of us have not blind to the dark devastation of slavery, the relentless power of addiction, the violence of stors, or the fear of death? I once was blind, but now I see. There is no counting how many times the song has been sung to bring light to darkness--from bedsides and funerals in our own families to the President leading us in singing it after the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Below is a link to listen to it again. There are words so you can sing along.
The poet Gerhard Frost has a very simple but powerful way of demonstrating the power of light over darkness. He says if there if you open a door between a lit room and a dark room, the dark does not spill into the lighted one. The light spills into the dark. As long as I am in the world, Jesus says, I am the light of the world.
In the dark, we’re all blind. That’s why Jesus came. And comes. To give us new birth, to quench our thirst, to bring us to Easter and to make us ready to see it together. Amen.
One of you suggested that I offer prompts for discussion. Feel free to reply.
When have you encountered your own blind spots and what did God teach you?
Can you think of a time the light of Christ was more powerful because you were facing darkness?
The following words reflect the prayers we share when we worship together. Please pray them often. Because this is being circulated online, I am listing conditions rather than names.
God of light, we pray for the power of your presence when we are alone. Help us know not only that you are with us, but that you continue to hold us together in loving community. Lord, in your mercy.
God of light, we pray for our trust when we cannot see the end of this—or other—crises. We pray for all who are afflicted with Covid19 and all who care for them. We pray for trust that staying home is helpful And we pray especially for those who work in hospitals and are doing research to bring your healing. Lord, in your mercy.
God of light, we pray for healing for any who suffer. We pray today for those who face cancer, especially those nearing death; for those awaiting birth, especially those facing complications, for those confined to nursing homes or memory care units, for those awaiting transplants, those suffering from accidents, those living with addiction or mental health challenges. God, as long as you are in the world, be light for your people. Lord, in your mercy.
God of light, Forgive us when we refuse to look at your light coming to the hungry or oppressed, the broken or those who suffer violence. We pray for the ministry of Church on the Street, the Banquet, the Bishop Dudley House, the St. Francis House, and Pueblo de Dios. Extend our church to care for each other and all our neighbors. Lord in your mercy.
God of light, we thank you for Springdale and all the ways we learn your love and joy and forgiveness as a congregation. Continue to bless our hunger to be together and our efforts to connect. Help us especially serve all for whom this is particularly challenging, Lord in your mercy.
For all else that we need and for the promise that you are light, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.