|Sunday, April 3rd, 2011||
The Fourth Sunday of Lent
The Reverend Nina R. Pooley
Sermon Preached by the Reverend Nina Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Yarmouth, Maine
Sunday, April 3, 2011 ~ The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Seeing Clearly, Getting Dirty
Yesterday India won the Cricket World Cup, which hasn’t happened in 28 years…those of us who are life long members of Red Sox Nation understand that kind of joy. The huge exhale, the overwhelming relief that comes with that win for the fans, for the nation.
It was bittersweet for us in our house, because my cousin brother would have been on top of the world and insufferable about it. There would have been phone calls and Facebook posts about the superiority of Indian cricket, and that low, knowing chuckle as Abhay tried to explain to us the details of the match that we’d only partly understand. This cricket win is a strangely appropriate celebration at the end of this week of grieving the deaths of my cousins in India. I’d forgotten how weird grief is, how it makes you feel funny. Makes things move more slowly, makes you feel like you’re moving through jello, clouds your thoughts, disconnects you from the world.
So maybe its no surprise that when I began to work with the lessons for this Sunday I tripped over the opening verse of the OT passage, seeing it in a way I’ve never seen it before: “The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul?” For the first time ever, I realized that Samuel was in this place of grief when the Lord told him to get it together, and move on. We don’t know how long Samuel had been grieving Saul’s fall from grace, we don’t know how much time was ‘enough’ time. But we do know that at some point in that grief, the Lord steps in and sends Samuel out to get on with it. To get on with the work the Lord needed Samuel to do, which was to go and anoint the next king.
Which was no simply task, it was dangerous – what if Saul found out? It was heartbreaking – an active acknowledgement that God had transferred his favor from Saul to whomever was next. And it would challenge all of Samuel’s assumptions, everything he thought he knew about the way things were supposed to work, the way God was supposed to work.
Naturally when Samuel arrives at Jesse’s, Samuel assumes that the Lord means for him to anoint the oldest brother – who was tall and handsome, so much like Saul was described to be when the Lord sent Samuel to anoint him Israel’s first king. And God essentially says to Samuel, forget your assumptions, even the ones based on what you think you know of me, for I am doing a new thing. The Lord works in ways that exceed Samuel’s expectations – saying, stop trusting your own reasoning and start trusting in God. And eventually, after all of Jesse’s sons have walked before Samuel and the Lord hasn’t chosen any of them, Samuel gets it. Do you have any other sons? Could we have missed one? Jesse answers, Just the one that’s so young he’s of no account, the one we left out in the fields tending the flocks. That one, let’s see that one too, answers Samuel. He must have known by then. David, the youngest son, the one of least account, would be God’s chosen one. Ruddy and handsome, this young David was chosen. The Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. David – not the likely choice. Not the one to back with everything you’ve got, not necessarily the one to inspire you to risk your life and your kingdom. Yet God chooses him.
To see as God sees isn’t about improving our vision, it’s about expanding our imagination. Imaging more than we see with our eyes, realizing that we are often blinded by our lack of understanding, by our own brokenness. To realize that God’s ways are not our ways, God’s thoughts are not limited as are our thoughts.
Jesus puts mud on the eyelids of a man blind from birth – whom the disciples and the community at the time understood to be blind because either he or his parents did something to deserve it. And Jesus heals him, gives him sight. And with that healing, Jesus corrects the blindness of the community – this man didn’t earn the blindness, God doesn’t work that way. God wants us to be healed, to be made whole, to see.
We shake our heads at the ‘blind because you deserve it’ theory. We have science to prove that’s not how blindness works. We know better. Yet we can be tempted to a similar kind of rationalization. What if he were homeless? Might we distance ourselves from his problem, so we can pretend it would never happen to us? What if he had AIDS? Would we find ourselves hunting for explanations to distance ourselves from his situation – we might. Lack of moral imagination – the inability to imagine ‘those people’ as ourselves – is our form of blindness. It allows us to make excuses for our lack of vision, our lack of compassion, our lack of empathy. Margaret Guenther writes about imagination in her book, For God Alone My Soul in Silence Waits – in it she’s talking about our imagining God, how we see and understand God, and the images that the psalms put before us which expand our understanding of God. God is my rock, though as much as I love rocks, I know God is more than a rock, more permanent, more alive. But there is a quality of God that is rock-like. Strong, solid, something firm I can lean on, reassuring in it’s rock-likeness.
How do we see God? How might an expanded vision of God allow room for our relationship with God to expand as well? God is both mystery and intimacy, God is both power and love, God is both a guiding strength and compassionate forgiveness when we choose the wrong path. How do we take this same imagination to see the world as God sees? Little David as king, the blind man who sees more clearly than the disciples. Imagination, so we are able to see what is possible, what is hidden, what might be.
And imagining is good, really good. Essential to our ability to act, but it’s that moving into action that truly makes it worthwhile – soul-shaping, world-changing. Putting our expanded imagination to action.
Because Jesus does more than imagine that a blind man can see, he makes it happen. The Rev. Rick Morley is an Episcopal priest, and the rector of St. Mark's Church in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. He writes a blog that I read relatively regularly.
I love the way he describes the scene: “And so the Son of God, Prince of Peace, Lord of All, and Creator of the Stars of Night, reached down into the dirt of the ground, spit into his own hand, and slathered a paste onto the man's eyes. He didn't just look on him with sorry pity. He touched him. He got down in the dirt. He heals him. He lifts him up. Because that's what Jesus does.”
So yes, it’s about imagining beyond the limitations of our vision, our initial impression, or limited perspective. Trying to see as God sees. But it’s also about doing more than imagining. It’s about our getting in there and getting dirty to do something about it.
Because that’s what Jesus does for us, gets down in the dirt to touch us and heal us, to be in the midst of this earthy world and respond to our brokenness. You could say that Jesus is following in his father’s business, continuing in the work of the Creator who stooped to create man and woman out of clay, forming us with his own hands, breathing life into us. Jesus too lifts us up, heals us, opens our eyes, brings us new life.
To walk in the way of Jesus is to be willing to do the same, for there are lives that need to be lifted up, whole countries of lives, like in Japan, or Libya, or the Sudan, or New Zealand. And while the world’s vision might look upon these folks and wonder how they got there, or just revel in the fact that we are well, and not in the same predicament, the ways of God are bigger than that. We are called to do more than feel badly for those poor slobs, we’re supposed to imagine something better for them, for us, for the world. And then to get down and dirty, in the mud and bring life, abundant life to the world.