The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2020
They are so many questions and so few answers. How did all of this happen? How did we get here? How will this impact us economically? How will this impact us, personally, financially? How long will this last? When will my kids go back to school? When will it be safe for me to go out again? What does the future hold? We are adrift in a sea of questions marks and the life raft of answers are few and far between.
But I can tell you this with certainty. I miss you all. I really do. I miss singing together, I miss praying together, I miss handshakes and fist bumps with kids. I miss normal, whatever normal was. And I miss seeing you.
And that’s exactly where we pick up in this long reading from the Gospel of John. It feels as if we have all been blinded. We can hear each other, we can view each other’s images through a screen, but we can’t see each other. Though we all thought we knew what the future held, that vision has been taken away. We have been blinded. And so we are filled with all those questions. Just as this passage is filled with questions. Sixteen questions, as a matter of fact, I counted them.
The first question is that of guilt. Seeing a man blind from birth, the disciples ask Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” The disciples want to pin this on someone. Indeed, in this time of pandemic and uncertainty, there is lots of blaming and finger pointing going around. We have racism rear its ugly head once again. And notice that Jesus skirts those questions of blame, because there is no one to blame. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus says, “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then breaking all boundaries of social distancing, Jesus spits in the dirt, spreads the mud on the man’s eyes, and tells him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. And the man can see.
While this is a gift, an incredible sign of God’s power, it is not without controversy. The people of Jerusalem question aloud, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” This man’s sight causes a crisis in the community. See, everybody had become accustomed to seeing this blind man on the side of the road begging for his daily bread. That was normal. But then Jesus creates a new normal, causing everybody to question everything. The people wonder to themselves – are we the ones who are actually blind? What is it that we cannot see? What is the new normal? Because he is no longer the blind man begging for bread, he is something new and this means that for the entire community, there is no going back to the way it was.
My friends, I have hard words for you this morning. There will be no going back to the way it was. What was normal then, is not normal now. For even when we do gather again, these times will be etched into our collective memory. We, as a church, as a people, as a community, as a country, as a world, have to adjust to a new normal. It will not do to blame, to point fingers, to get mired in questions of the past. It will not do to yearn for our lives as they were just a few weeks ago. We must not try to recreate the old normal when we are faced with something else. We must allow Jesus to spit in the dirt and put mud on our eyes. Then, with the eyes of our heart opened we will see with joy that God is still present, God is still faithful, even in this new normal.
I know that sometimes I sound like a broken record. But this is something I believe with all my heart. I believe that the way of Jesus Christ is the way forward, not the way backward. Never has that felt more real for me than it does right now. My mind is racing with questions, my heart is filled with doubt, I grasp for certainty. I have to consciously remember that the Holy Spirit is God’s future, and that I am being pulled into that future whether I am ready for it or not. I hope, and I pray, that I have the courage to go wash my eyes in the Pool of Siloam so that I may see what the good and gracious God has in store for us. Because whatever it is, it must be the new normal.
The good and gracious God. I do not think that disease, calamity, financial ruin, and death are part of the world that the good and gracious God created. I believe that they are invaders from another corner. Those pains, those evils – the ones you know in your own life and the ones we are experiencing right now – are not because anybody sinned. And yet, and yet, through those evils Jesus Christ will glorify God. Jesus Christ glorified God by giving this man new sight. Jesus Christ glorified God by overcoming the cross and death. We trust that somehow, some way, God will be glorified in this present moment and in whatever becomes the new normal. Because that is simply who God and what God does – God takes the ills of the world, spits in the dirt, rubs mud on our wounds, and tells us to wash in the waters of baptism, creating beauty out of pain. And in that, God is glorified. For God’s own glory God will take whatever is broken in the world, redeem, and remake it. Even you.