Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sermon for Sunday, April 3, 2011 Lent IV "Blind But Now I See"

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound to save a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

Seeing. Sometimes it’s hard to see clearly. Sometimes it feels dark and misty and chilly, and we crave light and warmth. We feel like moles who live underground, no light or warmth in us, just feeling around blindly for the next turn of the underground tunnel. Cold. Dark. Worrisome.

It was gray and cold here much of this fourth week of Lent, and the warmth and light of Easter Sunday felt very distant, indeed.

In our first reading this morning, it sounds like the prophet Samuel was feeling the same chilly loss and loneliness. King Saul, the fair one whom Samuel anointed, had been dismissed by God as a failed king. Samuel felt that failure personally, but God prodded him to seek Saul’s replacement. It was a depressing moment and a frightening one. If Saul found out, he would kill the prophet. But God insisted, so Saul headed out.

It’s as if Samuel had proposed to a beautiful woman, the one whom he thought was the perfect match, and Samuel’s father said, “No, even though you’ve already proposed, she’s not right for you. Go over to that other family and check out their daughters – I’m sure the right one is waiting for you there.”

Now remember, Samuel was a prophet, a seer. He was someone who was supposed to be able to see things from God’s perspective, to see things that the rest of us cannot see, but in that moment, he must have wondered how weak his gift of seeing really was. He had anointed someone king who was not whom God really wanted. His vision had grayed somehow, and he had picked someone who failed. Thus his own ability to see was questionable, at least in his own eyes. It was all gray and chilly and dim.

Heeding God’s instruction, he went out to find another king, even though Saul was still on the throne. This was risky business – as I said, if Saul found out, he was likely to kill Samuel as a betrayer. But God’s call was more important, so Samuel went to visit the shepherd Jesse and examine Jesse’s sons, to find another king-to-be. Jesse paraded the boys before him, starting with the eldest. Samuel saw that boy, tall and handsome and strong, and thought this must be the one. But his eyes were still dim – the Lord told him it was not this one. One by one, he looked at the boys, and for each of the seven, he did not hear God’s voice saying “anoint him!” So he asked Jesse, “Is there another?”

Yes, there was another, David. The youngest, out with the herd. And Samuel asked that David be brought to him. And then Samuel heard the Lord’s voice, saying that this was the one to anoint. Samuel could not trust his own vision but he trusted the Lord’s voice.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound to save a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

How do we fix our vision not on the immediate grayness, but on the distant light? How do we recognize what we see? How do we wake up our "inner eye" as our Hindu and Buddhist brothers and sisters call it, or the eye that sees as the Lord sees, as we read in Samuel? That warmth and light may not be immediately apparent (just as David's destiny was not immediately apparent to Samuel) but somehow we sense the warmth, the presence of God, and we are unfolded into the light. We can see, when before we had not been able to.

So it was for the blind man whom Jesus met on the road. Blind from birth, it was assumed that he was stricken with this terrible thing because his parents or grandparents had sinned. Did the ancient scripture not say, “Let the sins of the father be visited upon the son even to the third or fourth generation?” Jesus said no. This man was blind for another purpose, to show what God could do. So he quickly cured the man of his blindness. How was he cured? By mud and spit and a quick wash-up in the pool, by the one who is the Light of the World. Light, the Light of the World, curing blindness, curing darkness, overcoming something thought to be beyond overcoming. That divine warmth and light and power….

…and what was the response of the people who witnessed this? Confusion. They could not see it, could they? They were more blind than the poor fellow whom Jesus had cured. The Pharisees, the people, not one of them got it. Their dialogue with the formerly blind man and his family and friends would be comical if it weren’t so very sad. He could see. It was simple. He hadn’t been able to see before. Now he could. But they kept asking him ridiculous questions: “Is he a sinner? Do you think you have something to teach us?” And all the healed man could say was the truth: “He cured me. I want to be his disciple.”

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound to save a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

So they drove him out of the village, where Jesus found him. Remember, Jesus had covered his eyes with mud and sent him to the pool to wash – the fellow had never actually seen Jesus. But when Jesus spoke to him, he recognized him, and said, “Lord, I believe!”

Sometimes it’s the voice of the Lord whispering in our ear rather than seeing him right in front of us that finally helps us understand who he is and what is going on. Jesus said “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Sometimes the light is not brightness but a warm voice.

Such an interesting sentence, and it is echoed in Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “once you were in darkness, but now…you are light. Live as children of the light!”

Again I ask: how do we fix our vision not on the immediate grayness, but on the distant light? How do we recognize what we see? How do we have the clarity of vision that the formerly blind man discovered when he washed the mud off his face, rather than the obtuse stupidity of the so-called wise men, the Pharisees? They are threatened by Jesus’ power, by the light that shines from him (because he is the light), because it doesn’t equate with their narrow and rule-bound view of relationship with God. He is everything they are not, first and foremost love and light, and it frightens them, so they ask Jesus a pointed question: “Surely we are not blind, are we?” They are so certain they know the answer…wise men who are faithful followers of the law must not be blind! They must be beacons of righteousness, and in their pride that is how they would describe themselves. But Jesus turns them and their world and their rules upside down. After all those question about whether the blind man had been sinful, all those challenges as to whether Jesus was sinful for healing him, they are made the fools. Jesus says, “if you were merely blind – stupid and not knowing what is true – I’d judge you without sin. It is not a sin to be wrongheaded because no one ever taught you. But you should know better. You yourselves say ‘we see.’ If you’re so smart that you can see, and you refuse to recognize who I am – the Son of God – yes, you are in a state of sin, and that state of sin is worse than blindness. It is knowingly denying God With You, for your own small and selfish reasons.”

That’s the thing: knowing God comes from living in the warmth of the Light. Knowing God means we see, more clearly, who it is we serve and worship. Knowing God means we were blind, but now we see.

When we see clearly, as Samuel suddenly did when David was brought before him and the Lord whispered, “This is the one,” as the blind man did when he rinsed off the mud and answered clearly and simply that he wanted to be Jesus’ disciple, we have no choice but to live in the light. We have no excuse for hiding or trying to avoid the work of being Jesus’ disciple, even though it sometimes puts us at risk, as the blind man discovered. We can do nothing but serve and love and praise and pray and worship.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound to save a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

That song…so familiar to us. Do you know its story? It was written by a man who had served as a seaman on a ship bringing poor souls in chains from Africa to be slaves. During a terrible storm he realized that his former life as a brawler and one of the most foul-mouthed sailors who ever lived – quite a title, to be sure – was one he wished to leave behind. In the darkness of the storm, he sensed the light, a clarity of vision that had never touched him before. He wrote this song in response to that moment of light. Over time, the light strengthened in him, and he left the slave trade and studied for ministry. He became a child of the light.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound to save a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

Most of us live our lives on the edge of darkness. We cannot see clearly. We sense the warmth, and like seedlings turn our faces toward the light. If we but open our eyes, we will see that light, and know how we are to live our lives in response to it. We were once lost. Now we are found, or on the way to being found. We were blind. We still see dimly. But Easter is coming, and with it the Light. We were blind, but soon, with his help, we shall see.


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