Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Mar. 19, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Mar 19, 2023 in Lent, Sermons

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Mar. 19, 2023

Bishop Steven Charleston, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation and an Episcopalian, writes,

Long ago, my ancestors understood what makes us [humans] different from the rest of creation. They said other animals were faster, stronger, wiser, or more beautiful than we are. But the Spirit gave us, weak as we may be, the one blessing we would need most: vision. Vision is the gift to see both what is now and what is coming. (Ladder to the Light; An Indigenous Elder’s Meditations on Hope and Courage, 2021, Broadleaf Books of 1517 Media.)

Vision and eyesight are not the same thing but are related; eyesight is a physical occurrence, vision happens in the mind or soul, often from what we see and how we interpret it. In this story we find rich layers of elements important to John. First lets notice that the man’s sight is not restored; he is given new sight for the first time, created by the one John calls the Word made flesh. Notice how Creation imagery is summoned by Jesus using mud he makes from his saliva and clay of the earth, recalling the dust from which God created humankind and to which we will return. 

Jesus is creating sight, and not only for the man born blind; he says it is “that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Revealing the new sight and also dispelling the falsehood of believing sin to be the cause of this man’s blindness. Today we have a GoPro (body-cam) view of this newly sighted man enduring varieties of blindness, each of them with their own departure from God, each ‘missing the mark’ as is one definition of sin.

First up are the disciples asking who sinned to cause his blindness, the man or his parents, and Jesus says neither of them did. The disciples’ blindness is theological and contextual, once taught to them as truth; for if you or your parents were sinful God punished you with some failure or illness or harm, a common belief then.

We still do this, though more subtly; she attacked because of wearing provocative clothes at night. It must be his laziness that caused the business to fail — or corrupt for it to flourish so. Can you trust them, you know their mom was an addict! Well if not this, he’s guilty of something else then. We want to think ‘it’ couldn’t happen to us because we’re smart or righteous or well off or live far from hurricanes and tornados, etc. 

After receiving sight the man saw his friends and neighbors, —and there’s no mention of their being happy for him or sharing his joy in this miraculous gift. Instead they don’t recognize him — he’s not the ‘blind beggar’ they’ve seen. If so, “how were your eyes opened?” He tells them about Jesus, the mud, washing in Siloam. Skeptically they ask, “Where is he?” It’s another sort of blindness; denial or I’d say they didn’t see him at all, he wasn’t valuable enough to really know as a fellow human being. 

The Pharisees don’t like this either, and ask how it happened. When he explains they declare Jesus cannot be of God since work on the sabbath is forbidden—he has sinned. All the man can say of Jesus is, “He is a prophet.” We hear their judgement, righteous indignation for this law-breaking sight-healing sinner. What rules do we hold so sacrosanct we wouldn’t break them to help someone? Which do we already break? Have you judged or been judged for breaking accepted norms? Are we assuming a person’s wrongdoing is always a choice rather than an act of desperation?

The man’s parents do not admit to believing their son for fear they would be put out of the synagogue. Instead of standing with him they step back to point out he’s old enough, “ask him.” When the questioning resumes with accusatory tones, he said, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” So, refusing to see any other possibility than what suited their cause of disposing of Jesus, they drive the man out. Does he wonder why sight made him outcast? Yet he has faith that this gift is of God, and when he sees Jesus for the first time (his washing mud off was apart from Jesus) he knows, saying, “Lord, I believe.” He not only has sight, he sees light, he has faith and vision.

I began with a quote about the Spirit’s gift of vision being the blessing we need most. It’s from Ladder to the Light An indigenous elder’s meditations on hope and courage. It came out in 2021and I’ve mentioned it before so for those unfamiliar with it, Bishop Steven’s image for these spiritual meditations is the Native American kiva; a “circular underground chamber, covered by a roof of wooden beams with an opening in the center. You enter [it] the same way you enter a submarine: by descending the ladder. Once inside the packed earth chamber you are in darkness. Without a fire the only light comes from above you.”

He says we are born from earth and emerge into the light by climbing the ladder, “not to heaven, but to home” and “discovering more light wherever we go.” That’s a hard truth to hold when we find ourselves unable to rely on the social systems intended to help us, when we cannot hold peace and disagreement simultaneously even within families. Clergy post wearily of taut arguments about the value of change versus tradition as if mutually exclusive, we worry about the health of our planet and cannot agree what to do, and as Bp Steven asks, “Can we learn that having more for the few is not as important as having enough for the many?” There is no one answer, and every day we decide how much of such news to take in, and find myself increasingly certain the only foundation strong enough to rely upon is faith in Christ Jesus. Like ascending the ladder up out of the dark kiva, from that solid ground of faith we can move from darkness into light, 

One of those ‘rungs’ is hope, and like the man with new sight, combining blessing and faith grows hope. It sparks light in ordinary days and unexpected moments; a conversation that lifts the grey clouds for a while, a kindness you didn’t see coming and now look to pass on. These are the sparks of light banishing darkness, Treasuring them is like tending the embers, blowing until they glow and ignite. 

On our vestry retreat we talked about how our spiritual lives and this community of faith grow. We have a moment of great personal joy or ‘new sight’ and are caught up in feeling the love of Christ within us. So, pause to give thanks, and then remember, that personal experience is is not the whole of it, if so ours is an ‘all about me’ kind of faith. We have more to see, to share — which helps faith grow. Surely the man with new sight was wildly excited, off to show everyone. Joy doesn’t want to be locked up, it is to be shared. Blessedly the suspicious reception of his good news didn’t make him doubt it or turn him away from Jesus, because the spiritual life is not a solo endeavor, nor a competitive one! How many times have you heard me say one cannot be a Christian alone? How could God’s works would be revealed in this man who was blind if he kept quiet or let them silence him? “I am the light of the world” Jesus says, and we are blessed to be bearers that light. 

We don’t even need to talk or explain to share God’s light. If my hope is linked with your hope and with you who are online, it strengthens and builds on itself. It is in your faces, in your grimy hands weeding and planting at the work party, vacuuming so Palm Sunday’s procession is a royal welcome. It is giving of yourselves and giving rides, cooking meals, praying, greeting, serving or seeing to the altar, in Godly Play and in the ‘Wondering Questions’! It is children being bread-bearers or with a bit of noise, getting baptized. Yes, it may be harder at a physical distance, and I pray there are ways you can share it ‘in the flesh.’ Even housebound our hope is linked, though letters, calls, emails, in joining this worship, in the prayers, our Sacred Ground course and the Deep Roots groups. 

God’s gift of sight is not our personal secret. God speaks, acts, creates sight within us, and sharing it is how we strengthen and support each other and those yet to come. How else would we know of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord? Someone told, and then kept telling until some eyes were opened, even when naysayers or authorities refused. For sight to become spiritual vision we keep watch, looking around in the present now and to the future. “Hope arises when we embrace a sacred reality,” Charleston says. In our greatest blindness or darkest nights hope can point us to God’s light. As we adapt to disappointments, absorb deep hurts, carry grief or pain, or grow weary of the long grey days, we don’t stop believing the dawn will come. I like to think we may need to pause and help our eyes, so conditioned to the dark of the world’s ills, adjust to the light of dawn, the light of new sight. For Hope is also creation in action.  May it be so.

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Wed., Mar. 19, 2025.