May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Our Lord, Our Strength, and Our Redeemer. Amen
“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”.
Don’t you think it’s funny? How a day that is meant to lift people’s spirits and focus our minds on those who brought us into the world, can actually evoke all sorts of feeling, that arise either out of past memory or lived experience?
On a day like today. Whatever you feel about it. Know that God understands. And forgive me if something I have said brings about painful memories – hopefully by now you know me enough to know I wouldn’t set out to do that. Mothering Sunday isn’t the easiest day for your Minister either!
It seems to me important to recognize that in scripture, we see all types of parenting examples – and the Holy Family, Jesus Mary and Joseph are far from the perfect blueprint in many ways.
(Ad lib) If you think that telling your husband that you are pregnant for a child that isn’t his, and then giving birth to that child in a stable after a long journey to Bethlehem makes for the beginning of a perfect family – think again. I don’t think Mary and Joseph thought so anyway…
In our readings this morning – we are faced, particularly in the reading from John with a real dilemma.
There aren’t many passages of scripture that make me cringe.
But our John reading is one of them.
At one level, I don’t know what I’m more uncomfortable with.
The people’s assumptions about blindness and its causes, or their misguided ideas about God.
Or, the anti-Jewish rhetoric that returns again and again…not just here in John’s Gospel, but also in chapter 8.
For John’s audience, blindness was a cause of sin, and there could be only a few explanations. Either the blind person had sinned, or their blindness was the result of sinful parents.
And then to add to our discomfort, Jesus himself goes on to say that the reason this man was born blind was so that God’s work might be revealed in him.
But you see there’s a lot here that is easy to miss –
The blind man’s obedience to Jesus. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t refuse to listen, he doesn’t refuse to trust.
And actually in the first few verses until after he is healed, he is silent as the disciples converse with Jesus about him.
But still. After all of that. He listens – he goes to the pool of Siloam to wash the mud and saliva off his eyes and his sight is restored.
We mis-understand this story, if all we see is blind man who is healed.
Friends this is a conversion – a miracle – a parable even…
Because the blind one is not the man who has no sight, but those who have eyes but cannot see.
The disciples look on that blind man and they see only his disability. Christ looked at him as a human being, with potential, who could be made to see.
So blind were those who were around this man, that when his sight was restored they couldn’t bring themselves to believe it.
“The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’”
Even after all of that – he is questioned. His parents are questioned. Jesus himself is questioned, until the Pharisees realize that they themselves are the one’s who are blind and who remain in sin.
In other words, why are you SO obsessed with this mans situation. With his blindness and his healing. When you are blind yourselves.
Blind to all God is.
Blind to all God is doing.
Blind to the power and majesty of Christ.
Blind to the gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Like Jesus, Christian leaders today have the difficult task of challenging and reshaping people’s understandings – Jesus had to help his disciples understand that blindness was not the result of sin.
And that said, when people are afflicted today, the one question you often hear is “what have I done to deserve this?”
In other words, surely someone somewhere has decided that this must be my burden, and I want to know why!
Think of Hannah in our reading from Samuel, and the way in which so many people today make similar prayers to God – Hannah says to Eli, “I am a woman deeply troubled but I have been pouring our my soul before the Lord” – and yet for some reason for so many, heaven seems to fall silent.
And Hannah makes her prayer to the Lord in 1 Samuel 2, and Mary echoes very similar words in her hymn of praise in Luke chapter 1. Today, as we think about Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ – we are of course also reminded to think about Mother Church. (Not Wesley’s Chapel!) but the Church planted immediately by the Apostles – that small group of unique and everyday individuals called by Jesus.
Called away from their boats, called down out of the sycamore tree, confronted at the well…called
To follow in the way in which he set for them.
To preach the Gospel.
To share bread and wine with one another.
To baptize those who were convinced by their message.
To witness through the shedding of their blood (in many cases) to the Truth and Power of the Gospel.
I wrote in my letter to you at the start of Lent, that we need to remember that we are here in this place because of people like John who spoke to us through his Gospel today.
John bears witness to Christ that we might bear witness to Christ too.
We hear in Samuel further on that the Lord does not see as mortals see, but the Lord looks on the heart…
So, brothers and sisters I wonder what God sees when he looks at the heart of the Church? If indeed in some places, there is a heart left….
At Presbyteral Synod on Wednesday, we were in Abergavenny and an item for discussion was of course, same-sex marriage.
And as of yesterday, this is something, which is legal now in England and Wales. And some Christians might well say “Thanks be to God” whilst for others it leaves great feelings of bitterness and anger.
What has been very clear to me from hearing the conversation at Synod and through social media is that this is not something that the Church will come to a decision on easily, nor should it!
It will cost.
It will cost on both sides of the debate.
And whatever we decide, we can be sure of one thing. The world over will be watching.
It’s clear to me I think, that many people in the Church have not understood the extreme rate at which the world has changed.
Where so much that we treat as hypothetical has become reality.
We live in a world where people of the same-sex as we speak are getting married.
Where children are starting families.
Where planes appear to go missing into thin air.
Where churches meet in coffee shops and cinemas and bowling alleys and many of the sacraments we once cherished are seen as optional extra’s.
The church must wrestle with itself on lots of things. But as it wrestles it must always remember to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, which I have to say…has not always been the case in some of the conversations I have heard…
We are still incapable of talking about sex in a mature and open way.
We still talk about human beings as being male and female and miss the enormous shades of grey that exist in between.
We still refuse to take seriously the engagement with science but also with serious academic theology.
Never before has the Church known a time of such scriptural illiteracy and anti-intellectualism.
(Ad lib) As someone interested in scholarship it pains me to hear people talk about children being the motivation for marriage when so many hetrosexual couples are unable to experience that – or to hear people screaming passages of scripture at each other without any theological understanding of those passages or their original language – and I can’t listen to discussions about male and female when there are many children of God who exist somewhere inbetween, this is something that affects me personally because I have a very close friend who is in that category and who tried only a few days ago to take their own life…
It seems as though the spiritual blindness we hear about in John’s gospel didn’t stay there.
In our quest for Truth let us not leave behind our intellect – which God has given to us for a reason. Let us not be led by pure emotion but by reason and by love.
It seems right that on the Sunday in which we remember Mary the mother of Jesus, we remember what a good example she gave us of what it means to follow God’s command.
Mary, the first Christian. Shows us how we can truly live as children of God.
She gave her all that God’s will might be done in and through her.
Her response to the angel Gabriel opened the gates for our salvation – allowing our Saviour to enter into our world.
Might we learn to obey as Mary obeyed so that we may give to God and God’s world as God gives to us.
With joy, and without reserve.
And in this time when so much change and challenge confronts God’s Church – let us remember those words of the apostle’s creed.
That tell us about that Christ – born of Mary, who suffered under Pontius ilate, was crucified dead and buried, descended into the depths of hell, who rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven and who sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty as judge.
This is the Christ who I deeply believe held and holds within himself all differences and conflicts – for the sake of the Gospel, the Church as Mother (that’s you and me!) must find a way of offering a home and welcome to all God’s children. For to do otherwise, is to turn her back on all for which Christ gave his life.
It’s not longer time for the church to be hypothetical about reality. But to be bold in engaging with the ever-changing world around…
And as we engage let us remember the words of Christ to Saint Peter: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”