Archives for March 2008

Companions in resurrection, 2 Easter (A) – 2008

March 30, 2008

Acts 2:14a,22-32Psalm 161 Peter 1:3-9John 20:19-31

The journey to Easter is one filled with questioning and reconciliation as we follow the narrative that brings us to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. These stories provide many examples of what God would have us do and be through the living example of his son, Jesus. We even experience through Jesus the mystery of belief complete with its companions: questioning, doubt, and obedience.

The mystery and complexity of belief is woven throughout scripture. They are at the heart of what it means to be Christian, making the stories of mystery and belief essential for our own understanding of faith and challenging our ability to share that part of ourselves with everyone we encounter in obedience.

Aside from the miracle of creation, for which there were no witnesses, most of the stories in scripture invite us into believing through the relationships of others. Take for example the mystery shrouding Mary’s conception or the miracle for Elizabeth both as she recognizes the child Mary bears to be Jesus and as her own unborn child leaps – already going ahead, announcing Jesus. Or consider the miracle of Lazarus or the widow’s child being raised up from death. Or the healing of the lepers, the blind, or people otherwise afflicted. Or the faith of the Syrophoenician woman that her child could be healed if only Jesus would acknowledge her. Or the Samaritan woman at the well whose only task was to draw water but gained new life instead.

All of these are fine examples of what we might want to explain away with reasoning, but in reality they require our belief – a much greater task. Just ask Thomas, who, unlike the rest of the apostles, was not given the opportunity to see Jesus when he first appeared showing them his wounds and acknowledging their disbelief and wonder. Or ask the two apostles in the gospel of Mark who traveled on a road and ate with Jesus before they recognized their teacher. And what about “the disciple whom Jesus loved” who went into the tomb following Peter and saw and believed? Thomas had been known for so much more, but somehow all anyone remembers him for now is being the one who doubted.

What would people say about you? What do you need to “see” to believe? And do people you encounter know by your actions what you believe?

The gospel reading encourages us to be faithful and believe, to trust. There is a temptation then to say that doubting is bad and belief is good, but I would challenge that perspective. Certainly we encounter doubt every day in our lives. But the presence of trust allows us to process information so that even when we cannot see, we can believe. We seldom have unequivocal proof of anything. So how can we ever be certain?

Doubt and faith are not opposites. The opposite of faith in God is not doubt, but believing in something or someone else. The faith journey is filled with doubt, and maybe doubt needs to be present before belief or faith can be realized. Times of questioning can actually lead to deeper relationship with God and reveal new aspects of understanding what we believe. Periods of questioning open our minds to imagine infinite possibilities with God.

When left on our own, we cannot imagine how God would love us, let alone forgive us. Faced with the grandeur of the universe, we wonder at God’s concern over us as little specks in this diverse creative process. We doubt the usefulness of our gifts in a world where it seems there is so much to do. Our doubt becomes the barrier to the fullness of believing and faithfulness. It becomes the stumbling block rather than the passage to a better understanding of our faith.

But when we allow doubt to be a gift from God that opens us up to deeper levels of understanding and closer relationship to God and all God created, we appreciate that faith and doubt are our companions. They coexist, allowing us to see the many paradoxes of God in Christ: human and divine; with us and transcendent; dead and risen, present in the bread and wine. The Easter experience of resurrection challenges any box we might use to confine the God of infinite possibilities. The gospel uses Thomas to demonstrate that God cannot fit into any box and invites us into the imaginative and creative power of God still loose in the world.

Some 2000 years later, Christians all over the world believe, because we know and experience the realness of the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It would certainly have been nice to have been there and known Jesus – to see. Today we are given ample opportunities to see the face of God all around us. We only need to believe, and then we will see.

Jesus calls those who do not need to see to believe “blessed.” And then he commissions us by saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He said this to the gathered disciples and then sent them into the world breathing the Holy Spirit upon them.

The First Letter of Peter reminds us, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of souls.”

We are tempted to believe that these readings are about faith and doubt, but we must not forget the rest of the story – the commissioning. Blessed are we who believe without seeing and receive the Holy Spirit. Blessed are we who rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, sharing these gifts with everyone we encounter. Together with the apostles we are captured by God’s living presence, imagining the infinite possibilities in creating a world that believes even without seeing.

Our faith in Christ, and his resurrection allows us to live as witnesses to the rich diversity of creation as God continues to be present in all that is around us. We rejoice in receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, applying God’s abundant love in ways that bring the fullness of God’s glory, in the presence of the Kingdom, here and now, through our actions.

In this season of Easter let us all come together as companions in resurrection, approaching our doubts as an invitation on our faith journey to believe without seeing.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member.

God raised Christ by divine love, Easter Day (A) – 2008

March 23, 2008

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10

The arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus occupy the largest single incident in any one of the four gospels. This incident has been the most widely depicted of everything in Jesus’ life. Every detail of this grisly process seems to have been carefully recorded by the evangelists. The heart-rending details of the final suffering of the Son of God reveal how deep God’s empathy is for the pain and sin of the world and how far the divine love will go to redeem them. Evil in so many forms – political, religious, psychological, and spiritual – poured itself out completely in this event. Yet all these forces exhausted themselves without finally exhausting the faith, hope, and love of God in what happened. In a way, the forces of evil, as powerful as they are, were finally put in their place, exposed as ultimately unreal, and finally overcome in resurrection. The resurrection is the place in human history where evil, injustice, and prejudice are transfigured into justice, goodness, and enlightenment.

However, the details of the resurrection itself are not recorded in Matthew’s account, neither is there an attempt to record them in the other three gospels. What we have are various accounts of the results and fruits of the resurrection, but not any attempt to describe how it happened. This is because no one was present. No one could have anticipated it; the event itself didn’t fit into any of the known categories of knowledge or understanding.

What we have is an event without comparison. You can understand something scientifically today only if you can compare it with something else or with some sort of pattern that already exists. With the resurrection this is not possible: we have an utterly unique, mind-blowing, heart-changing, spirit-restoring mystery of God. The resurrection cannot finally be assessed by human method.

However, various attempts have been made to explain what happened. Here are four of the most common explanations.

It has been suggested that Jesus didn’t really die; instead, he recovered in the tomb, rolled the stone away, and walked out. But this does not square with the known facts we have about the way he died. The Romans knew how to kill people, particularly politically prominent people. A spear was used to impale Christ’s side to make death certain.

Another version of the above explanation is that Christ was offered a highly sedative drug, mixed in the wine that was presented to his lips on a sponge. There were drugs in the Middle East capable of this effect and would have given the impression of death for a time. However, even if this were the case, the use of the spear, preceded by many lashings, would have made him unable to remove the stone or to recover within three days.

It has been suggested that the disciples were lying about the resurrection appearances. This is most unlikely, given that the disciples were not expecting an immediate resurrection in the first place, and they themselves were prepared to meet similar deaths for the Risen Christ in the years that followed. Whatever else the disciples were, they show remarkable courage and integrity. Why spend the whole of your life on something you knew to be untrue? This is how Luke, that careful recorder, summarizes their position in today’s reading from Acts:

“We are witnesses of everything that he did in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem. Then they put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from death three days later and caused him to appear, not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen.”

The fourth suggested theory is that the resurrection appearances were grief-induced hallucinations. It is true that some people in deep grief do have a sense of the deceased loved one being present. However, this sense fades over time, whereas experiences of the Risen Christ remain tangible and widespread. Further, hallucinations produced by grief have never resulted in anything like the Christian mission in the world. With the resurrection, there seems to be something much more world-changing and transformative going on.

So what are we left with? None of the above explanations are convincing. In fact, there is no proof either way, in the scientific sense, for or against the resurrection of Christ. In the end, a belief in Easter is a decision of the mind and the heart. It is a choice. You can believe the witnesses who say that something remarkable occurred that has gone on recreating the world ever since by the triumph of life over death, of love over hate, of light over darkness. Or you can believe that the witnesses were mistaken and that life and death, love and hate, light and darkness are evenly matched and that there is no ultimate power for good that is stronger than death.

In the end it is very simple: you either choose to have faith, or you don’t. But the decision you make about Easter will profoundly affect the way you live and other choices you make for the rest of your life. I choose to walk in an Easter light and to live by an Easter faith because I know it brings abundant life and makes intuitive sense even in the middle of death, hatred, and darkness.

The movie “The Body” is a drama about archaeologist who discovers what he believes to be the bones of Jesus in Jerusalem. For much of the story the evidence builds toward a belief that this probably is the body of Jesus and that the idea of resurrection is unreal. At the end of the film, however, it becomes clear that the bones are not those of Jesus. Early in the story, a Jesuit delegate from the Vatican who was sent to investigate the issue says, when thinking about the meaning and reality of the risen Christ:

“I believe that Jesus Christ is God because I spoke to Him this morning in my prayers. And I’ve known that He was God since I was a boy. He has always been my best friend even though I haven’t always been His. In Him, I have peace.”

But how do we speak with the Risen Christ? Through sharing in his banquet where he is present in a communion of bread and wine; by breathing in his Spirit in contemplative prayer; by reading and hearing his thoughts, parables, and visions in the gospels. Christ becomes living bread, life-giving breath, and living word in these ways.

Because the New Testament does not try to explain the mechanics of the Resurrection, neither do we: it cannot be explained. We can only stand under its grace and let it understand us as an unrepeatable miracle of love. Love is its only meaning because love is the only survivor, because God is love all the way through. The only people to whom the Risen Christ appeared were people who loved him – as Luke says, “to the witnesses that God had already chosen.”

The Resurrection, therefore, is made visible and possible for those who experienced it because of the love that was in them, because God is love and because God loved the world so much that he gave Christ to these people in a new and living way. With them, if you believe that love is stronger than death, then you can believe in Easter. We see this in a passage from the book With Roots and Wings by Jay McDaniel, as he describes Thomas Merton’s view of resurrection:

“Christianity may or may not make sense to you, the reader, but perhaps resurrection can make sense. It is a process of being reborn, moment-to-moment, in a freedom that is wise in its sensitivity to the interconnectedness of all things, compassionate in its empathy for all living beings, and centred in the very mystery of God. We understand resurrection when we taste a freedom and freshness that lies in the very depths of our lives. From my perspective as a Christian, this freedom and freshness is the living Christ, the resurrected One. ‘He’ does not have a body that is located in space and time. ‘He’ is more like the wind, or our own breathing, or the sky. The resurrected One is the very freshness of God, the very freedom of Holy Wisdom, as a centre that is within us and beyond us, ever-present yet ever-new. There is a freshness and freedom in the very centre of things. In this freshness and freedom, we find our roots and wings.”

Christ did not raise himself from the death-dealing hatred that killed him; God raised Christ by divine love, in and through the heart love of the disciples, so that the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from death may be divine love alive in us.

 

— Archbishop David Moxon is the Anglican Archbishop of the seven New Zealand dioceses of the Anglican Church in Aoteoroa, New Zealand, and Polynesia. This co-presiding role is shared with the Archbishop of Aotearoa and the Archbishop of Polynesia. Archbishop David is also the Diocesan Bishop of Waikato, a diocese that occupies a third of the North Island of New Zealand, a position he has held since 1993.

Longing to rescue, Good Friday (A,B,C) – 2008

March 16, 2008

Isaiah 52:13-54:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:79; John 18, 19 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Good Friday comes to us each year with a nearly unbearable weight of remembered pain. We know what will happen. The desperate human heart that always longs for salvation, despite its knowledge of the end of tragedy, longs to change the ending, to move it from death to rescue. How many times have we wished for the same when watching Romeo and Juliet, Antigone, or Hamlet? We want to shout to the protagonist, “No, no, don’t believe the lie. Don’t kill yourself. There is hope yet to come if you only don’t give in, if you only stay alive.”

When Judas comes into the garden for the arrest, we want to cry out, “How can you, Judas? Go back, don’t betray the one who loves you.” When Pilate acknowledges that Jesus is without the guilt of political insurrection, we cry out, “Why then did you have him flogged? Why are you allowing them to choose Barabbas instead of this innocent man? Why do you give in to the cries of ‘Crucify him’?”

And even as we weep at the injustice, we know that nothing can possibly change what came to pass in that distant first century. And we are sad but grateful. What if it hadn’t happened? What if Jesus had not been arrested, unjustly condemned, and crucified? Would he have lived a fairly long life only to be remembered as a good man?

It is the tragedy of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday that assured the cosmos that Jesus would never be forgotten, no matter how misunderstood he was during his lifetime and in the centuries that have rolled since then. Every year during Holy Week, we read these two chapters in St. John’s gospel marveling at their simplicity, at the quiet unfolding of the greatest drama in humanity’s history, at the startling details, at the dignity of the prisoner and the folly of those accusing him, and we wait for the unbearable weight to be lifted, for the darkness to be dissolved, for us to reach Easter Sunday.

During these hours, between Thursday night and Sunday morning, as we reenact the tragedy of the Cross, we also need to be aware of other tragedies: we need to feel the weight of humanity’s sorrow, of the injustice being perpetrated against so many of our brothers and sisters around the world; we need to share the guilt of those who kill the innocent, we need to be made aware of those befriended by Jesus during his lifetime – the strangers, the outcasts, the unclean – and not avert our faces. We cannot experience the sorrow of Good Friday without experiencing humanity’s sorrow also. This is the meaning of this sacred night. The writer of Second Isaiah knew all this without actually knowing the story we reenact tonight.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
And carried our diseases …
But he was wounded for our
transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that
made us whole;
and by his bruises we are
healed.

How else can we, weak human beings, bear the sorrow we witness around us? How can we read newspapers and listen to the news of the world – so much deceit, so much injustice, so many killings, so many wars – without the assurance that God is suffering with us?

This is the night that gives meaning to what seems meaningless.

He was oppressed and he was
afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the
slaughter …

By a perversion of justice he was
taken away …
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in
his mouth.

All of you who mourn tonight, remember this: He too knows what suffering means. This is not a God removed from the world. Listen once again to the words of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of Walking the Way of Sorrows (Morehouse, 2003) among other books of Biblical monologues. She lives and writes in Boone, North Carolina. 

 

Jesus would live and die for us, Palm Sunday (A) – 2008

March 16, 2008

Isaiah 50:4-9aPsalm 31:9-16Philippians 2:5-11Matthew 26:14- 27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

Today’s gospel story, at the heart of the Church’s faith, should be at the heart of our faith: that Jesus would live and die for us.

That Jesus would say to our heavenly Father, “Thy will be done,” even though his commitment would lead to his death.

That Jesus would have compassion on the crowds, whether they shouted praise or condemnation, whether they welcomed him as a hero or rejected him as a criminal.

That Jesus was willing to suffer excruciating pain even though he did nothing to deserve it.

That Jesus could have called down legions of angels to defend him, could have taken himself down from the cross, could have condemned his accusers and damned his betrayers; but instead, he hung there, knowing his death would mean the defeat of death, even if he had to go through hell to find out for sure.

That in God’s eternal heart, you were present, and if you were the only person in the world, Jesus would have done this for you.

This should mean the world to us. This means life. This means hope and comfort. There is no suffering we can experience that is not known by God’s very self. There is no heartache we can have that Jesus cannot touch; no temptation we can face that Jesus cannot strengthen us against; no hard decision we have to make that Jesus cannot prepare us for; no burden to carry that Jesus cannot remove; no wounds we have to bear that Jesus cannot heal; no injustice we can suffer that Jesus cannot conquer; no assaults can assail us that Jesus cannot help us to endure; no loneliness we can feel that Jesus cannot come to meet us in.

The cross means there is no failure we can face that Jesus cannot fix; no sin we can commit that Jesus cannot remove; no mistake, misjudgment, act of meanness, ignorant thoughtlessness, petty-mindedness, or selfish seeking after security in this world instead of trusting in the eternal that Jesus cannot take and transform; no hardness of heart that Jesus cannot grind down and sift through and remold and reform into something that can love and receive love.

When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, one who went to death willingly for us walks beside us. When we know discouragement and sorrow, Jesus knows. When we know pain and grief, when the innocent suffer, when the vulnerable are wounded, Jesus knows.

And knowing wasn’t enough. He didn’t just want to give us divine company in grief and trouble. Jesus would actually give his own life to transform ours.

Maybe this is why you’re here today. Because you love Jesus and are awed by his always faithful love for you, his unconditional outpouring of love for you, his grace and mercy and power for you, undeserved, immeasurable, unstoppable.

Maybe you, too, join the crowd that shouts “Hosanna!” one day and “Crucify him!” the next, that praises one day and forgets the next, that adores one day and ignores the next. Maybe you also join the crowd that needs a savior so badly, that hungers for a reason for hope and courage, that longs to know a purpose in life, but turns away when the Savior suffers in the course of bringing that hope and courage and purpose.

Perhaps you too know that the size of the crowd doesn’t matter. That Jesus would have gone to the cross and suffered death if it were only for you. If it were only for any one of us.

If this is not why you are here today, then this is your invitation to get to know Jesus and his love more deeply. This is your invitation to spend time with our Savior here in worship, in reading his story of love for you, in talking with him and listening for his love to you in prayer and quiet, so you may know the freedom of forgiveness, the assurance of eternal life, true peace, and deep joy.

During this next week, we walk in the way of the cross. As we enter into Holy Week, joining with Jesus on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and in the lighting of the new fire, the flame of hope at the Easter Vigil, we all receive his gracious invitation to know love, to have a reason for hope, to be set free to experience joy.

May we follow in the way of the cross, finding it to be none other than the way of life and peace.

 

—  The Rev. Amy E. Richter is Missioner for Lifelong Christian Formation for the Diocese of Maryland. 

Spiritual Enslavement, 5 Lent (A) – 2008

March 9, 2008

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45 

Many of us hearing today’s Old Testament reading from Ezekiel – that rich and vivid story about the valley of dry bones – instantly remember the words of a song learned in childhood. These words:

The toe bone connected to the foot bone,
The foot bone connected to the ankle bone,
The ankle bone connected to the leg bone,
The leg bone connected to the knee bone,
The knee bone connected to the thigh bone,
The thigh bone connected to the hip bone,
The hip bone connected to the back bone,
The back bone connected to the shoulder bone,
The shoulder bone connected to the neck bone,
The neck bone connected to the head bone,

Less easy to recall, however, are the song’s opening words:

God called Ezekiel one morning,
“Go down and prophesy.”
Ezekiel taught the Zion the powers of God,
And the bones begin to rise.
We’re going to walk around with-a dry bones.
Why don’t you rise and hear the word of the Lord?

The words, of course, come from an old negro spiritual. There can be little wonder why it emerged out of the experience of African Americans in the southern United States. It welled up from the midst of a people trapped in that dark period of our history when slavery still prevailed – when whites stole the labor of captive Africans, who as slaves, mostly embraced the Christian religion of their masters.

It is easy to understand why those who had, against their wills, been removed to North America found in the stirring words of Ezekiel great cause for hope – easy to understand how they translated that imagery into a song that could help them walk as human beings in the cotton fields of oppression. They understood, like no others on this continent, the experience of Ezekiel’s people.

The Israelites of old were also a people enslaved by foreign masters. They had been forcibly removed from their native land into exile, far from their beloved home and accustomed ways, compelled to toil in the service of a conquering nation. Though alive, they felt like they were dead. They were a people without hope. Like a nation of dry bones, they cried out in their misery as all enslaved people must.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, we hear the prophet Ezekiel sharing in vivid detail how God carried him in a vision to a valley full of dry bones – bones symbolic of the rotted bodies of a subjugated people. Then, as the prophet watched in astonishment, the bones were covered with muscle and flesh, and once more encased in skin. They were alive again!

Then Ezekiel prophesied as God instructed him. He told the people of Israel, enslaved in exile, that this vision was God’s way of saying that their lives, all but dead from depression and distress and despair, would have breath put back in them and flesh and muscle returned to their bones. They would be a nation reborn. For those slaves of old, those Israelites separated from home and in bondage, Ezekiel’s vision gave new hope as they dreamed of a time when they would once again be free and whole and could return to their beloved Jerusalem.

There is little wonder why American slaves embraced this story from the Old Testament as their own. And despite their misery, as they suffered cruel injustice, they gained the same hope as the ancient Israelites. They knew that their God gave them a reason to live despite the fact that they were enslaved; despite the fact that in spirit and emotion and self-esteem they were mere skeletons of the powerful men and women they had been in Africa; despite how often they thought their fate was doomed; despite how much they felt they were as good as dead.

Despite all this, their religion gave them the hope of hopes, empowering them to sing with joy, and happiness, and trust – to sing a truth that they would indeed rise like the dry bones of Ezekiel’s forsaken valley.

But what is the lesson for those of us who live in a day when human slavery is considered unthinkably obscene? For us, not forced into exile or bound in chains, what can we learn?

Above all, we can recall, as our Lenten discipline reminds us, that we, too, are often subjugated by strong powers – the powers of evil – leaving us enslaved in sin: the sin of selfishness; the sin of neglecting those in need; the sin of lying, and cheating, and stealing; the sin of greed and prejudice; the sin of ignoring God again and again.

Such spiritual enslavement turns us away from God’s ways and separates us from our Savior. It leaves us in a land as desolate as Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones – spiritually dead, mere skeletons who have lost our religious muscle and skin of faith.

What hope is there for us who have erred and strayed from God’s way like lost sheep? The hope is that which Ezekiel envisioned and that which the North American slaves sang about. In our own barren valleys of the soul, we can follow them, gaining strength by realizing there is renewal. We can find new life for these dry bones of ours. We can find the will to move beyond spiritual despair and to embrace the hope that lies in a loving and forgiving God – a God who takes our pitiful spiritual skeletons and gives them flesh and muscle, who takes the spiritually dried-out bones of our faith and gives them life in all abundance.

Our African American brothers and sisters from a terrible time in the past reach out to us in this generation to take heart from the word of the prophet. They remind us that God treats us the same as those dry bones of Ezekiel, offering us rebirth, again, and again, and again. When we stumble, our Savior is there, calling us out of the slavery we have created for ourselves into the light of love and forgiveness. They remind us that as we, through self examination and rising up to hear God’s word, find the Lenten valley of our sinful dry bones, we can, through repentance and the grace of God, go walking with lives restored.

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas. 

What kind of blindness lives inside you?, 4 Lent (A) – 2008

March 2, 2008

1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41  

Eddie was the extrovert in the community for the disabled in the assisted living unit. He always plunked himself down right in the middle of where the action was – in a chair by the mailboxes, at the entrance to the dining room, or right in front of the TV in the sitting room.

He knew everyone by name. “Good morning Miss Liddy. Your knees must be hurting you today.” “Hello there, Harry. Lydia was looking for you, and, my, but she was mad.” “Hello, Maxine, you got a letter today. Maybe it’s from that son of yours.” “Watch out, Charlie, someone spilled water there, and the floor might be slick.”

Eddie was blind. He was born that way. But he didn’t miss a trick. He saw more with his blindness than most of us see with our two good eyes. He saw with his ears, and his gut, and his heart. Sometimes “blind” is not really blind and “seeing” is not really sight.

All of us are born blind in one way or another. Some of us have blindness of body: a crippling disease, cancer, diabetes, or bad bones.

Some of us have blindness of heart, and that is a terrible blindness. The blind of heart can’t love another beyond a superficial level and usually can’t even love themselves. The blind of heart often live lives corroded with addictions to material things, possessions, and work, to cover up the empty hole.

And worst of all is blindness of the soul, which wraps all the rest of life in gloomy darkness.

What kind of blindness lives inside you?

Jesus notices our blindness. Jesus sees. Jesus invites us to see. Jesus invites us to see with our very blind eyes, with our wounds and brokenness. Jesus uses our weaknesses as grace. When tragedy of one form or another strikes us, we often ask why. “Why did this happen to me?” In today’s story the crowd also asks why. “Whose fault is this? What did they do wrong to deserve this?”

Jesus’ response is that the blindness was an opportunity for the works of God to be manifest. We look at our physical and mental blindness as a curse. And indeed Jesus does heal the blindness. Yet at the same time, the blindness is a door to grace. It is the sick who need the doctor. It is the blind who need to see. It is we who need the redemption, the transfiguration, the Burning Light.

“Manifest,” phaneroo in Greek, means to be revealed, to be seen, to be made visible. It is the same root as in “theophany,” a physical visionary experience of God, or “epiphany,” God revealed. It is the name of the Greek god, Phaeros, son of Helio, the sun god. It is a burning expression of light that conveys its own image.

Our call in life, our reason for being, is to make Christ manifest. Jesus is the image, the exact reflection of God. We are called to become the image of Jesus. We are to become like the Shroud of Turin. The shroud is believed by many to be the scorched, branded, burned image of the Light of Christ’s resurrection, an image left behind. We are the image left behind of Christ, called to be the burned, branded, reflected image. As we hymn together:

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.

So let us manifest Jesus. Let us reveal, reflect, burn with the Light of Christ. Let us be manifest in every aspect of our lives. We come to church to be near the Light, to be touched by the Light, to see Jesus. Do not turn off that light when you go out the door. Think bigger. Think constant. Let God be manifest within you to others. Be a blinding light of God.

Light and dark, blindness and sight are nebulous mystical places. The saints often speak of the darkness of God; the closer one gets, the harder it is to see the form, the shapes, the definition. We know not to stare into the sun to prevent blindness. If you stare for a long time into a light bulb and then look at something else, it is blurred by the light. Look long enough into the light of Christ, and everyone around will carry the shadowed reflection of that light.

It is easy to see Jesus, to reflect Jesus, in the serenity of the church on Sunday. It is quite another to manifest Jesus when your feet hurt, when the kids are screaming, when the spouse is neglectful, when the budget groans, and when the traffic is jammed. But that is exactly where Jesus paused, stopped, saw, healed. Those ordinary places are the places of God’s work in us.

The Franciscan brothers in San Francisco are beautiful examples of transforming darkness into light, blindness into sight, making God manifest in the underbelly of humanity. These brothers are a lumpy, motley, wounded dozen men, beautiful in their humanity, all seeking the face of God in themselves and others. They see God in those to whom we are blind. They do not pass by as most of us do, but stop, and touch, and see, and heal, as did Jesus. These Franciscans are our Episcopal brothers. They show us how to be brothers and sisters to the world.

Each Franciscan has a ministry out there in the real world where God’s broken ones live. They hand out clean socks and underwear to the homeless. They cook and serve and get up to their elbows in dirty dishwater serving the street people meals. They visit the prostitutes in the brothel areas to be a listening ear of hope and unconditional love. They provide shelter for families whose loved ones are in the hospital and can’t afford motels. They run a crisis line outreach to the suicidal. They have a night ministry for those on the streets in despair. They offer Bible study to the homeless. They bring breakfast to the migrant workers waiting in the dark lines for day jobs. Their work is astounding, hidden, and holy. These brothers manifest God’s glory because they see the face of Christ in the most hidden of places, in the millions of faces.

Jesus plays a lot with the concept of blindness. There is an upside-down turning pirouette between the sighted that are blind and the blind that see. Jesus is like Copernicus, saying that things are not as they appear: the world is not flat, the earth is not the center around which all else revolves, and what we think is true often is not. The sighted are blind and the blinded see.

The Pharisees, who were like our clean white Sunday church-going, hymn-singing, altar-guild-serving, chairman of the vestry, committee leaders were not the ones Jesus loved most. He hung around with the outsiders. He loved the drunks, the sinners, the tax collectors, and prostitutes – those on the edges of society. The only ones Jesus ever expressed anger toward were those who thought they were good and had all the answers

The first step toward movement from blindness to sight is to realize we are blind. All of us are blind to one thing or another. Jesus wants us to see. Jesus wants us to pause, to stop, to notice what is right in front of us every day that we so blithely pass by on our way to work, to church, to home.

The blind man was given Jesus Eyes. When we truly see, we are given new eyes, new insight, new vision, new understanding. Jesus Eyes are not like the flat-seeing, self-centered world around us. Jesus Eyes are world shattering and paradigm changing. Jesus Eyes are often unwelcome and threatening. It can be lonely and frightening to have Jesus Eyes. There is a cost to Jesus Eyes. It always brings the cross, and with the cross comes transfiguration. God’s love is the laser light that cuts away our cataract blindness.

What needs to be turned upside down in your world? Where do you pass by when you need to stop and see Jesus? Where in your own brokenness can God’s glory be made manifest? How can you use your own weaknesses to become holy? And how can you see what is holy in what is broken around you, in yourself, and in others?

Let us pray for Jesus Eyes. Let us pray to see Jesus in each face we meet, each life we pass in this life. Let us pray to see God. Let us worship with our lives and make God manifest, as it says in the hymn: “God in man made manifest.”

 

— The Rev. Sister Judith Schenck is a retired priest and a Franciscan Poor Clare Solitary in the Diocese of Montana.