Lent 4 – 6 March 2005

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In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We might just begin with a plug for next week. Last week’s reading, this week’s readings and next week’s readings are very much, as I said last week, readings for Lent. Readings for preparation, readings for teaching and they build, they get, I think, more and more important. They’re really quite stunning the way they’ve been chosen. Last week was all about water. This week we’ve moved to light. There’s a huge movement there. A movement from atoms to photons, a movement to that which is tangible, touchable, of the earth, to that which is elusive, that is an energy, a power. Where do we go next week? Where does that movement continue? Next week we have some of the greatest readings that we’ll ever get on a Sunday. So, this week adds to last week and builds towards next week. I think it’s a helpful way of seeing Sunday by Sunday that there not the fifteen or five minute or three minute advertising grabs that we’re use to in our homes. They actually do have a sense of building.

The readings today, we’ll see if we can keep the sermon in proportion to the length of the Gospel, I think. The Old Testament and the Gospel today are fairly substantial readings. There’s a lot in them. And so that means there’s a lot of opportunities for us to connect, to make links, as well as making links across the readings, to actually link ourselves to them. Certainly with the Gospel reading, the story of the blind receiving sight, is so appropriate to us as a community of St Paul ’s. Because it’s St Paul ’s story as well. St Paul also moved from darkness into light and part of that transition was a blindness that overcame him and receiving the sight, the removing, the scales falling.

So let’s go back to the reading from Samuel. In verse seven it says, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.” The Lord looks on the heart. In that verse, it’s suggesting that there’s another way of seeing. I certainly don’t remember being taught it at school. I can’t go back in memory, but having visited some primary schools I can see that there doing what appears to be the same thing. They show you pictures of trees and say that’s a tree. So we’re actually taught how to see. That process continues. The soft and gentle primary school teacher is replaced by the TV set, the radio and the mailbox and the Internet. Held up before us are things that we’re told how to see them.

But in this reading we have the Lord doesn’t see in that way. But that’s just looking on the outward appearance. Rather the Lord looks on the heart. The story then underneath that is obviously related to it. And we might wonder why Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. Is there a link there with the seven days of creation? What we’re being told there, that the whole of creation, the majority, the status quo, the expected, the anticipated, the what we generally call “all” is what was paraded. And yet the choice was not made from those seven. Rather, we hear in verse eleven: “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep. Samuel said to Jesse, send and bring him.” And he was the one who was anointed.

Quite often in the Old Testament what we’re being given is the idea of the action of God. And in the passage you can very easily add up how God chooses us. “You do not choose me, but I choose you.” The whole world can be paraded before God but the choice is made. The choice is made. And the choice is not from the seven. The choice is the youngest and he is keeping the sheep. Now we’ll just hold that, because I think we’re meant to hold it, which is why we’ve got Psalm 23.

From the Old Testament reading we cross the bridge of the psalm into the New Testament. “The Lord is my shepherd.” It’s almost as if in putting the readings together, what we’re being asked to do is just hold the echo of the choice that was made in the reading from Samuel. And we move into Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. And in that reading what we see is there’s a movement from darkness into light. “Once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are in light. Live as children of light.” If we stay with the threads that we’ve already discovered, it’s amazing that – Paul says “live as children of light”, not as adults of light, not as good Christians of light, but children of light. Go back to Samuel – it was the youngest. The youngest. It’s as if the energy that we’re being asked to look at within ourselves is the energy of the youngest, the energy of the child. What does that energy mean to us as individuals? It’s not the energy that is weighed down with baggage. It’s not the energy that of the old and the tired. It’s not the energy of those with knee reconstructions, hip reconstructions, clinical depression, bad eyesight, hard of hearing, connected to pacemakers, receiving injections, on medication. It’s not the energy that’s being spoken of here. There is another energy in each of us, which is the youngest. That energy within us, that part of us that can align with “children of light”, no matter how blind we are, some atoms in our body actually are excited when they hear “children of light” as a possibility. Because it is our possibility to live as children of light.

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” Darkness and light. Once you were in darkness. Let’s go back to the psalm quickly, because the psalm as we read it was a disappointment to many, because it’s a more up-to-date translation. And so what we find in the psalm is “even though we walk through the darkest valley” – I remember the psalm when it said “when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death” – darkness and the shadow of death are perhaps very much linked together. “Once you were in darkness but now in the Lord you are Light.” Dwelling in the shadow of death, the place within us which is not illuminated. Verse 10 says, try, try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

The movement between the Old Testament and the New Testament is the choice is the choice in the Old Testament looks as if is was God’s choice. Well, what we’ll do is we’ll parade these seven sons and God keeps going “no”. It’s almost like selecting a jury. And you got to keep parading until God goes “Yes, this is the one.” It sounds like it’s God doing the choosing. And quite often is still looks that way. When we look at the whole of creation, there are some who appear to be chosen, gifted, blessed. It’s as if God has given them something that he didn’t give me. By the time we get to the New Testament, the encounter, the relationship, the experience of God has deepened. And what we hear Paul saying is “Live as children of light. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” The choice now has shifted. We don’t wait now for God to pick us; we actually are constructed in that choosing. We are the creators of choice.

So then when we come – trying to stay with some of those links, we come across the Gospel. And in verse six, we have this delightful scene where Jesus spits on the ground, makes up a little mud pack with his saliva and spreads it on the man’s eyes. I’m surprise you didn’t get thumped for doing that! What is that little bit about? Is that also a link back to Genesis? Is this the creation of life made from the earth. Is it also, for us, the story of Lent. “Remember that you are but dust; to dust you shall return.” This a story about our creation, about the creation about the all and the everyone. “After this had occurred, he went and washed and came back. He was able to see.” The action is now the being able to see – it’s left with us to work out. Was it the spit in the mud that did the magic? Or was it the fact that this guy followed the direction and did something. “He went and he washed and he came back.” There was movement; there was activity. “And he was able to see.”  I wonder if he just sat down with the mud in his eyes, where the story would have gone.

Quite often in the modern world, we live in a paradigm – and it’s a paradigm that’s been given to us so we don’t have to feel guilty about it – but the paradigm that we live in is knowing that we’re right. It’s stunningly important that we are right in the modern world because, my goodness, if we’re wrong, then terrorism might be right – and that couldn’t be the case. So we’re given in the modern world a position statement for our culture that says we are right. We quickly forget slavery, we quickly forget the invasion of other lands and all of that. We’re right. We are OK. We’re right because we know what we see. And once we’re right and we know what we see we can then rearrange the reality around us so that it confirms what we see. But if we listen to the Gospel reading today it’s actually about a different process. It’s a process in which something is required of us -- a seeing differently.

The Gospel leads us to the question of what was Jesus about? What was this man who spreads mud on eyes doing? What is he here for? Jesus said “I come into this world so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind.” Jesus came into this world to be creative of change, to reform, to reshape out of the mud of the earth. And the dialogue that is contained in the Gospel is valid today as when it was first told as a story.

The church, the socio-political leader, the Pharisees, they seek to deny, they seek to hold onto their own version of right, their own version of light. It’s very much like being in – if you just glimpse the whole globe for a moment and see us in the first world with our electric light bulb. When we turn it on we are the ones who are illuminated. We don’t even see those who are in the darkness. There’s something in this story that says the whole purpose of Christ, the whole purpose of the divine becoming flesh is that we may in fact see another way. That we may turn the status quo over. That we might realize that our version of light is blindness and if we don’t realize it then what we will be given is blindness.

I think there’s ample evidence that bears witness to the darkness and the opportunities for light. America is a free country and a free democracy. Yet it imprisons more people per capita than any other free country. It delivers freedom to others with more bombs than were dropped in WWII. And so it brings freedom. We don’t have to look that far afield. We can look to our own land and to our own lives. “I came that the blind might see. I came to change the accepted order. To bring light where there is darkness, sight where there is blindness, to recognize the energy of the child, the youngest in each of us. And I came to bless those who are keeping sheep rather than those who are keeping up appearances.”

They are stunning readings. And there just leading us towards next week’s readings, which will then lead us towards Easter. May we continue that journey together. Amen.