In a Dark Time the Eye Begins to See
Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Lent (Mothering Sunday)
26 March 2017 – St John the Baptist Felixstowe
God give you peace my brothers and sisters.
Do you have a favourite Scripture verse? A passage of the Bible that has helped you understand the greatness of God’s love, or perhaps has held you during a dark time in your life, or even gives you great joy as you journey homeward with God?
Today’s gospel passage contains my ‘all time favourite’ scripture verse and is one I have included on business cards, committed to memory, and share most frequently with those who ask me questions about the journey of faith
‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ (John 9v25)
In my younger years, I think I can remember that far back (!), I used to use it as a ‘get of jail free’ card when my theology – ok, ragbag of presumptions and occasional learning that made up my faith – came slap bang up against the reality of life and our inhumanity to each other. In those days it was a kind of mantra that I would repeat to myself in the darkness. I don’t know how things will work out (this business of God ‘fixing’ a broken world) but it will work out, can’t you see what I can see?
Like Dorothy and her companions in the Wizard of Oz, if I said to myself ‘There’s no place like home’ often enough, with enough feeling, and occasionally with gritted teeth, I would find myself at Rainbow’s End and be able to say ‘All’s well that ends well’.
Nowadays, and for some decades of my life, it has meant something much deeper but also something much less certain. An uncertainty with which I have learnt to become friends and to be comfortable with. Though I can say (alleluia!) ‘Though I was blind, now I see.’ I know I don’t ‘see’ everything and I am content with that. It is for me a kind of deep faithful agnosticism which has moved beyond a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die’ understanding of redemption to one that shows me God at work here and now even in the darkness.
Learning to walking ‘by faith and not by sight’ is hard work because some of the things we see around us, in our close family relationships, in our nation, and across the world, are truly awful. I can understand why some of my sisters and brothers in the faith would want to retreat into conservative ‘safe’ views of God and spend much energy on what happens inside their church services rather than outside in God’s world. But the church will only find God’s healing presence for herself when we are active in the mud and mess of the world.
In the story of man born blind, we meet someone who has learnt to live with blame. For the whole of his life people have whispered around him and about him (what is it about us that we presume the blind are also deaf?) using that fatal word ‘sin’. For him it does not matter if blindness is a result of his or his parents ‘sin’ (and do remember that this scripture passage is not about sin but about light) all that matters is that he cannot see and he wants to end his blindness, the whispering and the condemnation of others.
Strange then, that when his eyes are opened he is rejected by those who, all his life, had told him that they were the ones who could see, who knew the truth, and could discern whether someone was a sinner or not. An odd ‘church’ to which to belong indeed!
The moment of change for him, and for the woman at the well in last week’s Gospel reading, comes when they ‘see’ Jesus for who He really is. She calls him ‘Messiah’, he knows Jesus as ‘the Son of Man’, both have come to a place of agnostic faith. They don’t know the details and the niceties of soteriology of this water that slakes thirst, this light that fills the world, but they are determined to tell others about Jesus. For the Samaritans of Sychar this is good news, for the Pharisees at the Pool of Siloam it questions the arrogance of a faith, which trusts in themselves, rather than God.
How do we avoid the trap into which some of these Pharisees are about to fall?
Both the woman at the well and the man at the Pool of Siloam, though the woman did give Jesus a run for his money, knew that they did not know everything. They knew some things. God had a place in their life even if she was not sure on which mountain God lived. Sin was a reality but blaming someone for being blind did not seem to fit in with the man’s picture of a God whose ‘love endures fore ever’. They were willing to take their un-knowledge, their misplaced faith, their unbelief, and allow Jesus to hold a mirror up to their lives and proclaim their salvation.
God often works this miracle. Showing us who we really are. Showing us that despite all the mess around us there are beautiful people. Many of us today are thankful for mothers, though for some, like the family of Aysha Frade, it will be a hard day full of tears. Others will be thankful for those who watch over us and protect us yet at the same time mourn with the family of PC Keith Palmer. Despite the terror of this week, as our Archbishop so eloquently said in the House of Lords, we saw love in action, with people running to tend the wounded, comfort the mourning and even give first aid to a terrorist. This is love in the midst of hate, light in the midst of darkness, life in the midst of death.
Friends, I honestly don’t know all the details of how all the mess will be made right, but I do know this. The more I hold on to my life the less I live, the more I grab at things the more empty-handed I become. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. So with mothers the world over, who know all about giving life away, and with weeping families in Westminster, I want to hand over my confusion to the wonder that is the Light who has come into the world and proclaim the, ‘one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’
© Andrew Dotchin 2017