March 10, 2002
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture reading

Psalm 23:1-6
1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff -- they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. (NRSV)

John 9:1-41
1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, 7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." 10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." 12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." 16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet."

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." 25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." 26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" 28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34 They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36 He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." 37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." 38 He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains. (NRSV)

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When I was in college I was a psychology major, which meant that we were given assignments like “analyze your own life in terms of the theories in chapter 2.” We would labor over these papers, only to have the professor write on the bottom of the last page of agony one terse comment. “life happens”.

The first time I was so outraged that I decided to complain. Right at the door, I realized, he was right… Life happens. It is messy. It never seems to be neat. We make plans, and sometimes nothing we can do will keep those plans on track. We all try hard, because it is everyone’s goal to keep their lives happy and unfettered with troubles. But stuff still happens. We want to be in control of our destiny, but that isn’t always possible. “Stuff” is out there and sometimes it catches up with us. Cars run stop signs, viruses float around infecting even the most innocent people, life threatening illnesses seem to appear without provocation, weather brews up huge storms that can do great damage, loved ones die, companies lay off employees and transfer folks, the stock market goes down, and terrorists wage war against us.

There is a long list of stuff that we all try to avoid. It is that list of the things that drag us into the valley of darkness. That place that seems endless, filled with confusion, hurtful and destructive. when we land there, We wonder where we are and how we got there. The path that would lead to the bright sun of happiness is hard to see. Confusion stays in our hearts, anxiety eats at our lives, fear chips away at our ability to function. The valley of the shadow of death is not a warm fuzzy place.

The issue isn’t how did you get there – because life happens – it is impossible to avoid all pain and suffering. The bigger issue is “how do we survive those experiences?”

The lectionary readings in this season of Lent hold the key to that answer. On the first Sunday of Lent we heard about Jesus wandering in the wilderness – he was tempted by the devil and resisted… He invited us to leave the security of our daily lives to discover in the desert the real meaning of our faith. He invites us to be introspective as we prepare for Easter Sunday.

The second Sunday we heard Jesus tell Nicodemus that “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of the spirit.” Faith is born of the spirit.

Last week – the third Sunday we heard Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, telling her all about herself, until she believed. Faith comes from being confronted with the undeniable truth of God’s presence.

This week we hear about Jesus healing a blind man him who is then harassed by the authorities and thrown out of the temple – despite this he becomes a man of faith.

Where did you get your faith? Do you remember times when it wasn’t there? Do you remember when it arrived? Did it come suddenly – out of the blue? Did it come like the wind – like Jesus’ description of being reborn – of the spirit.

I once asked my mother in law if she was born again. I just couldn’t get a grip on that concept. I knew that I believed in Jesus – in God, and couldn’t imagine how I could have more faith than I did. She said that she also had struggled with that question. She echoed my words when she said that she couldn’t remember when she didn’t believe.

I would suspect that that is true for most of us – we don’t remember when our faith began, it seems as though we have always had it. True – but stuff happens. Then what? What happens to our faith when the worst possible thing befalls us… Is it challenged? Does it remain the same? Do we continue to believe?

In our passage this morning we hear Jesus healing the blind man, then we hear the authorities investigating what actually happened. First they interrogate the healed man, then they go to his parents and when they don’t get a satisfactory answer they go back to the healed man. Each time their questions become more insistent, each time the man is forced to defend this Jesus person who did the healing. Eventually the Pharisees drove him out of the temple. That is the next time that we hear Jesus –

Jesus brings about the initial healing – and then seems to be absent from the antagonistic inquisition of the Pharisees. Where is Jesus when the questions and the accusations are flying around?

Isn’t that our question sometimes. When life happens – in its messiest – its most unpredictable - when we are at our lowest, in that dark valley, and we ask “where is Jesus right now, when I need him the most”. This story is your story and my story. It is offered just for us, the ones who want to believe even in the face of their own pain and sorrow. The ones who get stuck in life, and struggle to get out of the dark valley, in the shadow of death.

Even though Jesus seems absent during the Pharisees inquisition, we find out at the end he wasn’t. Jesus comes to the man once he hearts that he has been thrown out of the temple, and Jesus knows all that has happened to the man. When Jesus arrives at the end of the story it is to comfort his new disciple – not to defend himself.

As the healed man lives through the dark valley he realizes how Jesus has been present for him. And his faith grows in proportion to that realization. When we look at the story we see that there is a clear progression – from an inkling of faith to a profession of faith. At first the healed man describes his healer as “the man called Jesus” after his first encounter with the Pharisees he calls Jesus “a prophet” during his second questioning he says “this man must be from God” and finally, when he realizes that Jesus was with him – all along, he exclaims “Lord, I believe”.

This passage tells us that faith is a process that grows out of our realization that God is with us, especially when we are facing adversity. Slowly, gradually the healed man comes to his faith. And in that process he receives a new life – a life in the spirit.

His story is our story. At the beginning of pain and sorrow we may have doubts about Jesus’ presence with us. We may well wonder where God is, – but as we look back we know – we were being carried – Jesus was with us all along, even when it seemed as though he had disappeared. The faith that we begin with isn’t diminished by the suffering we experience, if we can realize that God walked beside us all the way. The tears that we shed were God’s tears. God’s peace gave us comfort and restored our souls.

The point of this season of Lent is to remind us – the faith of our baptism isn’t real until it becomes the faith of our hearts. We may start out with only a tiny shred of faith. But life happens – and as we reflect on those challenges and realize that God was with us, our faith deeps and grows and our love for the Man from God expands to fill our hearts.

Lent is about reflecting on our lives – it is about preparing our hearts for Easter…It is about walking in the footsteps of the disciples – finding in our hearts a deep reverent love for this man Jesus – and finding that is grows day by day, so much so, that on Good Friday we will weep with the pain of losing the one we call our savior.

This is the reason for the season of Lent. We are to truly experience - through our own lives – the power of the story of Jesus – as sour savior. Because without that reflection and introspection, Easter Sunday will be just another day – but with better music and chocolate. But We want the joy – so we need to walk in the footsteps of his disciples – we need to reflect – we need to prepare… and on Easter Morn, the good news of his resurrection will heighten our spirits, deepen our faith, and fill our hearts to overflowing with joy. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Amen.

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