This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Again, because of the COVID-19 threat, worship was done not in person but through an online pre-recorded video. You can view that here. The gospel reading was John 9:1-41.
That was another long reading. But I actually think there is a shorter, quicker way that John could have written that story. Here’s the short version:
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
Then the whole town went bananas. People started arguing about whether he was really blind, why he could see, how he could see. His neighbors, and the Pharisees, and even his own parents argued and argued and argued.
Finally, the Pharisees kicked him out of the synagogue.
Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
Or, even quicker, how about this?
Jesus cured a blind man.
There was pandemonium and chaos, and the leaders kicked out the formerly blind man.
Jesus welcomed the formerly blind man.
So we have this very long story, and Jesus is there at the beginning and at the end. But in the time when Jesus is absent, there is pandemonium and chaos.
And I wonder if we can in some way relate to this story. Think about where we are. Like the formerly blind man, we now find ourselves in a time of great confusion, a time of pandemonium. Our lives have become so transformed, so fragmented. We find ourselves wondering. Wondering when this will be over – two more weeks? Two more months? Longer? Many of us find ourselves wondering, “What’s the meaning of all this?” “What good can come out of this?” “What will happen to me financially before this ends?” “Where is God in all this?”
Where’s God? Well, let’s look in the story. During the Pandemonium, where is Jesus? Nowhere to be seen. Jesus was there at the beginning, and isn’t that true of us too? The beginning, where Jesus first heals the man, is like our baptism, when we first received the promise of salvation. And Jesus will return in the end. The end, where Jesus returns and accepts the man after he is expelled, is like the promise we trust: that Jesus will one day return and take care of us, perhaps when we’re at the very end of our rope, perhaps when we have nowhere else to turn, perhaps at the end of our life. Jesus will be here then, but for now we have to wait.
And that’s not wrong. And there is some comfort in that. Some comfort in knowing that on the other end of this, God is waiting for us, and we will be welcomed. That when this confusion and pandemonium finally ends, we will be whole. Jesus said, “Not a hair on your head will be harmed.” Now that doesn’t mean the coronavirus can’t touch us. It means, though, that it cannot destroy us. We will be saved in the end, whether in this world or the next.
There’s truth and comfort there. But that’s not all the truth and comfort there is here. There’s more. Because Jesus was actually there the whole time; he wasn’t absent at all. The narrator doesn’t mention him for 26 verses, but he is there. He is there in the formerly blind man’s eyes. Throughout the story, the formerly blind man can see. He could see, and he used that sight to speak the truth about Jesus. The healing Jesus brought him persists throughout the story, and it is precisely where Jesus is throughout every word.
And that’s where God is now. Even as we are separated. Even as we are quarantined. Even as some of us work so hard to keep others healthy. Even as some of us work so hard to keep food available. Even as some of us work so hard to teach our children. Even as some of us help our neighbors by simply staying at home.
God is in the places we’ve been healed, calling us to speak the truth that we see. The formerly blind man spoke the truth he saw, that Jesus had healed him. We are called to speak the truth that we see.
The truth, first, that is a dark time in our world. The coronavirus is a real problem. Health professionals and scientists tell us this is real, and we can trust them on this. The truth is, this is a very dark time in our world. Perhaps the darkest in living memory.
And we are also called to tell the rest of the truth, the truth that God is with us. The truth that we will get through this. The truth that we are called to do our part, which for some of us, like healthcare workers and supermarket employees, includes long hours. I for one thank you for answering that call. For some of us, our call to help right now is simply to stay home, and practice social distancing.
And in the meantime, use our healed eyes to look for joy and meaning. I asked this congregation a few days ago to share with me where you find joy right now. I received dozens of answers, from seeing creativity to working on hobbies; from using my work to help people to knowing my mother is cared for; from going outside to cooking to cats to having more time with children. There is joy out there everywhere, even amidst this crisis.
I also asked this congregation a few days ago to share with me how you’re trying to get closer to God right now. I received about a dozen answers, from seeking quiet time on the water to reflect on blessings, to reading and pondering a beloved book on Christ, to making yarn angels and giving them away. From listening to spring peepers, to taking the time to breathe, to trusting. And lots and lots of praying. People in this congregation are using this opportunity to seek Christ through quiet, through wisdom, through service, and through prayer.
Keep searching. Keep looking. Keep using those eyes that God has healed. Jesus is the light of the world. It’s a dark world out there. But there is light. Christ’s light is shining. Keep looking for it. Keep following it. Keep telling one another the truth. The truth that there is light.