Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Fourth Sunday in Lent: I once was blind. And I still am.


Fourth Sunday in Lent

Pat is here, anxiously awaiting the birth if her first grandchild tomorrow.

We begin today with a reading from 1 Samuel 16: 1-3. It’s about the call of David as new king of Israel. As Samuel proceeds down through the sons until he gets to David, the youngest, the shepherd, it seems like the message is supposed to be don’t look on the surface of things. God doesn’t look at things that way. But then, ironically, the author has to tell us  that  David … 12 was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome…well, I suppose the point still stands.
Then we say together the 23rd Psalm in the classic King James Version and in Spanish:

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

23 El Señor es mi pastor, nada me faltará[a].
En lugares de verdes pastos me hace descansar; junto a aguas de reposo me conduce.
El restaura[b] mi alma; me guía por senderos de justicia[c] por amor de su nombre.
Aunque pase por el valle de sombra de muerte[d], no temeré mal[e] alguno, porque tú estás conmigo; tu vara y tu cayado me infunden aliento[f].
Tú preparas mesa delante de mí en presencia de mis enemigos; has ungido[g] mi cabeza con aceite; mi copa está rebosando.
Ciertamente[h] el bien y la misericordia me seguirán todos los días de mi vida, y en la casa del Señor moraré[i] por largos días

The next reading is the Epistle, Ephesians 5: 8-14:
8For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
     “Sleeper, awake!
          Rise from the dead,
     and Christ will shine on you.”

This continues the theme we began with Adam weeks ago. About being aware of your reality, awake. And not hiding but bringing  things out into the open, owning who you are. That resurrection is not just rising from the dead, but something we need to do over and over, even daily. Claiming our life as it is, engaging the world around us, being open to new life.

Finally, we come to the Gospel, John 9: 1-41. As I enter into its Spanish reading, the woman who has been gamely sitting here throughout the service finally leaves. She was looking for a Catholic service. Or at least the old Spanish service that used to be here. This clearly was not what she was looking for.
We’re dealing with the story of  Jesus and the man born blind. Plenty to deal with here:

* People first language. Our friends in the disabilities caucus have helps us to understand the importance of people first language. To say, the  blind man, is to allow one characteristic of a person to define their whole being. Any person is more than an adjective.

* The equating of a physical disability with spiritual or moral failure. The …who sinned?…question. (2Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind). As much as we’ve moved beyond it, the idea lingers.  Like people in the hospital who say I don’t know what I’ve done that God should do this to me…at some level that’s a way of trying to maintain order in creation. Even if I don’t know what I’ve done, if it’s payback, then things make sense. Otherwise, we have to be prepared to deal with randomness in life. Even chaos. And then, what are we left with?

* Then Jesus’ answer: that 3… he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  To that point, maybe better of he had remained blind and still revealed wholeness. Beauty. Power. A friend from a PHEWA disabilities group used to say when we sang Amazing grace, I once was blind and I still am…I recalled my friend at Oral Roberts University, born with a withered leg. His fellow students would gather around him and pray. When his leg never changed, they actually got angry. At him. It must be his fault. The fact that his leg didn’t change threatened their faith. Finally Oral himself had to intervene and tell them that sometimes God has his own plan for any person that we might not fully understand. That God’s works might be revealed in ways we don’t immediately see. (Like choosing David.)

* The relationship between power and metaphor. One of my members once complained about the hymn Amazing Grace to our (then)music director who was African-American. But it’s just a metaphor, he said. Yes, like wash me and I shall be whiter than snow, she said. Oh, he said. 

Last Wednesday in our clergy lectionary study, a seminary student said, And we are all blind in some way, and I gently pointed out that we can’t really appropriate the particularity of a community’s experience.

We always need to be aware of who has the power to define metaphors and their meaning and that they often come from a place of dominance over against the other as an expression of power. 

* The one born blind speaks to the center of experience. 25…. I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see….That is all that matters. Interestingly, this verse was the ascription for Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film about Jake La Mottta, Raging Bull.

* The one born blind now speaks for himself. As his parents say, 23… He is of age; ask him…In the terms of Liberation Theology, he has become the subject of his own history, responsible for his own destiny. This liberation is the true healing in the story.

Some of us with experience in the 12 step movement talk about the power of getting your life back. Some about the necessity of recognizing a higher power, something beyond yourself.  There is a correlation here with depression as well.  In Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, he describes how Lincoln was subject to depression, even periodically suicidal. It was his shift from seeing the struggle against slavery as a political issue to a personal call, a mission, that helped Lincoln move beyond depression.

* 22….. they were afraid of the Jews…We have to be careful with passages like this. Everyone in the story were Jews. It’s better translated Judeans or even better religious authorities. Such passages, even in John, the so-called love gospel, have provided fuel for anti-semitism.

* Likewise, the Pharisees were the protestants of their day. They believed that God lived not only in the Temple, but anywhere the word of God was, in holy scripture. This of course can lead, as we’ve seen in the American Christian Bible belt, a torahology, or bibleology, where rules take precedence over justice or compassion. Justice and mercy need each other, neither survives alone.

* As for their blindness, Jesus seems to be arguing when you don’t know you can’t be held responsible, but once you do, you are. Like the Adam story again. Like  coming of age and Bar Mitzvah. Once you know, once you see,  you are responsible.

All in all, a good discussion. Geoffrey comes in as we are finishing.

While he wants to stay, I have to tell him I am closing soon.

At the Metro IAF neeting

There’s a night meeting of Session. We are wrestling with the increasing demands of an ever more problematic building, it never ends. And how to not get distracted from the important work of moving the congregation forward, of really getting into the process of implementing our transformative ministry model. The building has worn many of us out. It is the people who are the church, not the building.  We can’t lose sight of that.

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