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Getting Ready for Sunday: March 26, John 9:1-41

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Jesus asks, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" (John 9:35). This question comes near the end of our passage from the Gospel of John, but reminds me of a question asked when we renew our Baptismal Covenant: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?" This passage serves as a timely reminder to consider thoughtfully our answer to this question.

Having served as a hospital chaplain, the conversations among the disciples as they approached the blind man are very familiar. They were questioning where to place the blame for the man's blindness: with him or with his parents. I have had many conversations where a loved one was in pain or dealing with a severe illness, and the questions asked were: "Why God?" "How could this happen to someone so young?" "What did I do wrong?" When we ask how or why something happens, we assume the risk of not finding an answer. If we cannot find an answer with some degree of certainty, it is possible to fall into deep despair, into darkness. If we do find an answer, it feels as though we are in control over our lives, but it tends to be short-lived. Today’s gospel lesson helps us to see that the question is not "how" or "why." The question is "who."

While all those standing around Jesus and the blind man ask the wrong questions, Jesus keeps saying it is about who is at work before their eyes. After being healed, the blind man describes his healer by name, "the man called Jesus." Later, he calls him "a prophet." Even later, he recognizes Jesus as a man "from God." In increasingly greater depth, over a period of time, this man comes to confess Jesus as his Lord. Meanwhile, the people surrounding them, who claim to know the answers, become increasingly blinded by their obsession with the wrong questions. Fear and anxiety grips their hearts, while openness and trust enables the man who was blind to walk closer to the light. He is set free.

When we ask the wrong questions, we, too, can become bogged down in the wrong answers. Like the disciples, we can become caught up in believing that sin is the result of bad behavior, and we must have done something to deserve the inevitable punishment. From John’s perspective, however, this is not about our behavior. It is about God's revelation in Jesus Christ. The man's blindness is not an occasion for reflection on sin and causality. It is an occasion to consider the revelation of God's grace in the world. Jesus says, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."

All of God's children are born blind in some sense, and through our own anointing and washing, we are also given new sight. Knowing how the man became blind is not as important as believing in the one who can give sight to the blind. While, Jesus healed the man who was blind in verse 6 of this chapter, there are 35 more verses to the story. We are given new life in baptism early in our lives, but there are many more verses to our own story. Just as Jesus suddenly breaks into the blind man's life, God has broken into your life. The first words that Jesus speaks to the blind man are the same words that Jesus speaks to you today: go and seek the one who is sent, the one sent by God. By this invitation, Jesus brings you out of the darkness and into the light. You, too, have been empowered to see the marvelous works of God with new eyes, and you are free to give glory to God in the way you choose to live out your lives.

If like the blind man, we can hear the words of Christ without having to know how or why; if we fully accept the anointing of our heads and the cleansing of our sins; and if we can witness to the truth of Christ's light in our lives even in the face of darkness, then when we hear the question, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" we, too, can say, "Yes, Lord we believe."

Getting Ready for Sunday: By the Rev. Catherine Thompson

Getting Ready for Sunday

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 1, 2016

“I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.” John 14:29

The Gospel text this morning (John 14:23-29) is preparing us for Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Jesus is with his disciples, telling them what to expect after he is no longer with them. That’s why it is called the Farewell Discourse.

In chapter 14, verse 22, just before our passage begins, we read, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’” In other words, “If you leave us, how will we still feel, or know, your presence? The world will not be able to see you any longer. How will we?”

As human beings, we confront this issue all of the time. In this complex age of telecommunications, we have come to expect that we can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time. We receive phone calls, text messages, e-mails and social media updates. It seems impossible that we might not be able to reach someone instantly. It reflects a reality in which we feel the need to stay connected to the world around us, but what happens when we lose that connection?

The disciples were seeking the answer to this question as they faced the coming loss of a direct connection to Jesus. They had been following Jesus for years, and now, Jesus was telling them he was going to be with the Father. Jesus says to them, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father” (v. 28). I am sure their reactions were mixed. Yes, they loved Jesus, but it was difficult to rejoice at the thought of losing him.

In our gospel passage, Jesus was addressing that concern. He commits to staying connected to them in three ways. He promises to make a home with them, to send an Advocate, and to leave his peace with them.

I love the idea of God making a home within us. I am reminded of the historical precedent of God dwelling in the midst of God’s people, even on the move. While wandering in the desert, God led them with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Eventually, the tabernacle was created so that God could dwell among them. The word “tabernacle” means “tent.” God literally pitched a tent among the people. God then came and dwelt among us in the incarnation of Jesus. And, now, Jesus was promising that God would come and make a home within us.

Jesus also promised to leave the disciples with the gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. “Advocate” can also be translated as “Comforter.” There is a danger, however, in embracing this notion of a Comforter. We can be lulled into the notion that Jesus is only about providing warmth, safety or security. The earthly ministry of Jesus was defined by being on the move, preaching, teaching, healing, performing miracles and changing lives - the opposite of safety and warmth. The Advocate is sent to remind us of the blessing and the challenge of being followers of Christ. We are pushed out of our comfort zones, in order to grow our faith, so we can impact the world for the One who dares to dwell within us.

Finally, Jesus promised a third gift: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you” (v. 27). We hear the word so often, we may not hear it anymore. When Jesus speaks of the peace of God, he is not talking about the end of conflict, or the absence of suffering. Jesus is granting the disciples nothing less than the gift of salvation. It is that gift, not a false ideal of a perfect world, that will get us through the toughest trials and tribulations of our life.

These gifts - the indwelling of God, the Advocate, and peace - are the same gifts we now have to offer the world. Imagine a world where being connected is not defined by technology or accessibility, but by a life-giving relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, imagine how God might be calling you to help build that world. These gifts are not ours to keep. They are meant to share. How can you share them with others?

The Rev. Catherine Thompson is rector of Annunciation in Lewsiville

This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.