Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – There are none so blind . . .

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:1 – 3)

While Jesus’ ministry on the earth ushered in a new time of enlightenment and understanding, it still took place during a time of little understanding of nature and biology. Physical disabilities were not (and are not) a result of sin or misconduct, but that was the common believe. That is why the disciples asked that question. Jesus’ answer was not meant to be an explanation of why it happened to this man either, but the rationale for what would happen as a result of Jesus healing him. Keep that in mind as you read this story (or read it again).

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (Verse 4 – 5)

The implication is that once Jesus has departed this world, darkness may come. But, each of us can carry the light of Jesus Christ and thereby hold back the dark. But, on with the story.

“When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” (Verses 6 – 10)

While miracles and healing from disabilities is comparatively frequent and attributed to a variety of means and interventions, in the time Jesus walked the earth miracles and healing were amazing.

“He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.” (Verses 11 to 14)

That it was a Sabbath day is important to the story, and to the Pharisees. While we understand there is no better day then the Sabbath to “work” a miracle, working on the Sabbath in Jesus’ time was very much frowned on. In fact there were complex laws about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath.

“Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” (Verses 15 – 23)

How typically, when something is not understood or believed, to explain it away by simply denying that it happened. Someone is cured – well, they were not that sick to begin with. In other words, the miracle is not that miraculous. It is a simple development and not a complete change in the nature of things. Beware, beloved reader, of those who would belittle those things that are marvelous, be they little or big.

“So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (Verses 24 to 27)

How clever, this formerly blind man, to turn the table on his questioners.

“Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (Verses 28 – 33)

Again, I admire this clever man. I am not surprised however. Think how much instantaneous faith it must have taken to travel with mud covered eyes to bath them in a certain place. His eyes may not have seen but surely his heart and spirit did.

“They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.” (Verses 34 – 38)

Jesus told his disciples that this whole episode would show God’s work in human lives – the power of God and how God can be with us and within us. And he explains further . . .

“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.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (Verses 39 – 41)

The evidence of who Jesus was and what he could do – miracles – was before them. Yet they refused to see. Jesus/the writer of the gospel of John puts in more bluntly than I would; when the reality of Jesus/God is before us, and we refuse to see it or acknowledge it, that is sin. May we not sin in this way. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Comfort now, praise later

O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!” (Psalm 95: 1 – 7)

If I had sat down to write on this passage yesterday, I might have something different to say than today. If, maybe, I would wait until tomorrow I might have something different to say about this passage. But I am sitting down to write today, with all the events of today swirling around in my mind. I comfort myself by remembering that by the time you, beloved reader, read this the events of today will be the memories of last week. And more than likely I will have yet another story of the Lord God carrying me through another difficult time. But that will be then, and this is now. And the now is hard. How can I praise when it is hard?

And if Psalm 95 were all praise and worship, I would be stuck and feeling very sorry for myself. But verses one to seven is are not all the the psalmist wrote.

“Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Beloved reader, do not fear for my faith, or think I am wavering in my belief. My heart has not gone astray. I have trust and faith that God will see me through, and that all will be will. It just goes back to one of my recurring questionings – how can I praise God when I feel like I am at a point in my life where petition and intercession are more of what I need? It is a relief to me, and a balm to my spirit to realize that whatever “wanderings” I have had in the desert have helped me realize several important things. First, whatever my travails might be now, I am not alone and God will see me through, Second, the psalmist makes room for times of uncertainty and sadness. Third, what is my disconcerting and dismal “now” will not ruin the ultimate good God has in store for me.

I may not be at the point of making a joyful noise to the Lord; but neither am I with out hope and comfort in God. And knowing that, I enter into the Lord God’s rest. Selah and shalom!

Third Sunday of Lent: Gospel Passage – Jesus is a “character” too!

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:5 – 15)

The writer of the gospel of John liked to use spiritual metaphors. And this account of the Samaritan woman at the well is filled with them. I have often thought the conversation as it is recorded between the two of them is rather stilted. It seems rather pulled and stretched to encompass the spiritual motifs; water, thirst, and the quenching of the spirit and inner life of humanity. Not exactly casual conversation.

“Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (Verses 16 – 26)

And throughout much of the conversation the Samaritan woman is placed at a disadvantage, speaking plainly without allusions while Jesus is speaking in allusions, metaphors and analogies. It seems very uneven. And yet, it contains a good bit of theology and foundational Christian faith. And Jesus in so plain and direct in identifying who he is. I am not sure he was a direct with his disciples. It is at this point they return and effectively put a stop to this conversation.

“Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.” (Verses 27 – 30)

While the people of the city were making their way to see Jesus, Jesus and his disciples are having some interesting conversation themselves.

“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (Verses 31 – 38)

By now the disciples might have been completely bewildered. Jesus talking to a woman – a Samaritan woman at that! Refusing food! Talking about sowing and harvesting when they had never harrowed the ground to plant and had no seeds to plant into the earth. What did Jesus think they would harvest, they may have wondered. For the literal minded, it is an unusual passage. Yet the writer of John tells us . . .

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (Verses 38 – 42)

Verse 42, I think, is the payoff verse. Jesus has been identified as the Savior of the world. Belief is spreading throughout the countryside. And not just among the Jews.

During this season of Lent we are journeying toward the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry on the earth. It is not enough that just one type of people belief. Believe in Jesus Christ is for all people. Those who are plain talkers, and those who talk in metaphor, analogy & allusions. This is one of the things I became aware of several years ago, that Jesus Christ and the Lord God have aspects and traits that call all to all sorts of people. We cannot nearly define what a Christian should be like. We can talk about authentic Christianity, but not about a narrow set of beliefs.

Every Christian journeys through Lent, whether they call it such or not. We all times of pondering and contemplating our faith. It is not done just in the weeks before Easter but at all times of the Christian year. Jesus comes to us in the form and aspect that we need the Divine in. These are some of the truths about Lent. Shalom!

Third Sunday of Lent: Epistles Passage – I am a “character”!

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

I can’t help but think of my own situation, beloved reader. Yes, things are better than last time I talked about this. But my situation is the same – job ending and I am not sure what I will do next for a job. It is not suffering, because I will not be destitute. But it will call forth endurance, and no doubt many of my characteristics (for good or for bad) will come forth. I think what is meant here is “good” character – positive traits and attributes. Because those things, the writer of Romans says, produces hope.

I will admit, freely admit, that I have struggled to understand this progression – from endurance to character and character to hope. How can one trait, I ponder, lead to another? And I have finally come to the simple answer, in the midst of my current struggles . . . . it simply does! I don’t know what the weeks will bring. In fact, as you read this, I am going through my second day of unemployment. And while I am writing this, I have idea what my next job will be. But I do have hope that there will be a “next job” for me. And that I am still within the Lord’s plan for me. If that is character that has resulted in hope, it must have happened while I was sleeping!

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Verses 6 – 11)

After that realization, I just sort of drift through the verse six to eleven, still back at verse four and five, thinking “this hope I have that has not basis or foundation comes from years of simply holding tight to the Lord and living out my faith.”!

Yes, the Lord Jesus died for me, a sinner and that was amazing. And yes, I am saved. And yes, I am reconciled to “God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yes, to all those things. But character tested and refined leads to hope, the hope that I have that all will be well. Don’t know how, just know that it will be. Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent: Old Testament Passage – We have needs

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:1)

This sounds like a set up to me! It is said that the human body can survive longer without food than it can without water. It is not surprising to me that “the whole congregation” was upset. And it occurs to me that the Lord must have known they would be upset. So I have to wonder, what this a time of teaching for both “the congregation” and Moses?

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Verses 2 – 4)

It is not easy to be a leader, any more than it is to be a follower. Even after 40 years of history together, they don’t seem much to understand each other. But neither they nor Moses were alone.

“The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Verses 5 to 7)

Moses felt powerless in front of these people, unable to fulfill their simplest need. And the people, “the congregation” doubted that Moses and the Lord could fulfill their simplest need. How can the people of the Lord trust for the complex needs of life when they cannot trust for the simplest. Maybe that is a lesson that we all need to learn. May the Lord God set people before who lead, and tap into our simplest and deepest needs to fulfill them. Selah!

 

Second Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Keeping my eyes, and hopes, lifted up

I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalms 121: 1 – 4)

My life has seen a lot of changes over the past few weeks. The changes have not been easy to take or manage. At times I felt like I was being stretched and tested. It was only after emerging from each interlude of being stretched and tested that I could see and realize always I was safe in God’s hands. It is a human reality, I believe, that we cannot always see that when we are in the midst of trials. It is at those times we simply have to have faith that God is with us.

“The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Verses 5 – 8)

I did not lose hope or faith; I just could not see how it would all work out. I could not find my way through what I saw was before me. All I could do was to hold on, and trust that a way would be made. And it was. And based on that experience, I will hold to the same hope and faith was events move forward. It is a little exciting and more than a little scary to not know how the events in the future will unfold and resolve themselves. All I can do is keep lifting my eyes up to the place where I know my help and strength will come. Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Jesus and Nicodemus talk; let’s listen

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (John 3:1 – 2)

If one went back to the Greek, as I did, one would see the connection between verse 2 and verse 3 . . .

“Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (Verse 3)

I was not sure what the connection was between the two verses; over the years of biblical and exegetical study this passage had garnered much discussion. But how, I thought, does the passage connect from one statement to the next? Jesus is actually telling Nicodemus (at least this is my interpretation) that it is significant that he recognizes that Jesus is from God. But Nicodemus does not understand the way Jesus is phrasing the transformation that Jesus states Nicodemus under went.

“Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Verses 4 – 6)

We (meaning us modern Christian folk) that the Spirit of God informs us and transforms us so we can understand belief, faith, spirituality and the other components of Christianity – each person being given/gifted with their own insight.

“Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ “ (Verse 7)

Then comes the next verse, that is not as often given spot light and consideration.

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Verse 8)

While many people share a common belief and a common faith, allowing them to gather together to worship, study, praise & honor God – each person has their own relationship to/with God, and that relationship forms their understanding and distinct faith system. That is why it is so important to recognize and respect authentic faith, even though it may not conform to what we understand authentic faith to be.

“Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” (Verse 9)

This is the question of many good intentioned (and not so good intentioned) people – how can another Christian’s faith (or other believer in/of the Divine) look so different than my faith?

“Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (Verses 10)

That is the answer that I think Jesus and our Lord God gives us – you are believers in me, the Diverse, Divine, and Almighty God, and you cannot understand this and take it on faith?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Again, only my supposition, but I think what the writer of John is trying to convey is that Jesus is really the only one who has full knowledge of the things in heaven. Then, the passage goes in a different direction and starts to speak about what Jesus’ ultimate destiny is. That Jesus, who knows all the things of heaven, will need to be made to atone for all the ways humanity has gone the wrong direction.

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (Verse 15)

Here comes the famous verse, often quoted and used . . .

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Verse 16)

Even though Jesus Christ knew all, all that is on earth and in heaven, he sacrificed himself for us. And God and Christ does not hold our lack of knowledge and understanding against us.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Verses 17)

We may not know all that there is to know, or understand all that there is to understand. But we have been found worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. Selah!