Sermon 2017 March 26th

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 26 MAR 2017, LENT IV, MOTHERING SUNDAY

Listen Here: https://youtu.be/EMAOw1J6-Qk

 

He answered, “I do not know whether he (Jesus) is a sinner.

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” John 9:24-25

 

On the road to Jerusalem, on the way to the Cross,

Jesus encounters the man blind from birth;

a story about the opening of eyes long closed,

and the closing of eyes long open.

 

On our road to Jerusalem, our Lenten road, faithful or faltering –

in this most unsettling of weeks for London –

what do we open our eyes to, or what do we refuse to see?

 

Two quite different vignettes of vision have seemed significant this week.

The first, a conversation with the daughter of an artist.

Describing her father: “He had a passion for colour.

For him there were many different blues, many different yellows.

He looked at the same things as others, but saw differently.”

 

And recounting one occasion when they sat together,

gazing out a window at the hillside beyond, his words:

“It’s all there for us to see.”

How often it is the artist, or poet, or child, or scientist,

who teaches us to look, really look;

reminding us of wonders to behold.

 

The long Gospel passage this morning,

ping pongs, back and forth, over the issue of sight – outward and inward.

Last week’s Gospel, Jesus and the woman at the well: (John 4.)

the request and provision of a physical cup of water,

became launchpad/metaphor, for the reality of spiritual thirst.

Today, physical blindness is the occasion for spiritual insight

a revelation, that can be received or rejected.

 

It begins with some cruel theology –

blindness/disability is the sign of God’s anger and punishment.

The disciples ask: Who sinned, this man or his parents?

 

Jesus is categorical:

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned;

he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

 

Jesus doesn’t explain away the great Why? question

Instead, Jesus takes the things of life, earth and spittle,

then with firm touch and gentle command

sends the man towards the light.

Thus, the one blind from birth, judged by his religion,

excluded from his community, is brought back;

a wonderful restoration, an amazing grace.

 

But very soon, a volley of questions – not all of them kind.

Who are you? How did this happen? Why you?

Clouded by preconceptions and prejudices,

his neighbours barely recognise him.

Who is responsible? The man called Jesus.

 

The man’s word is not enough.; neighbours need validation.

So the religious authorities are is awakened;

law is invoked and intimacy banished.

 

Interrogation 1: This man is not from God – he does not observe the Sabbath.

Alternatively: But a sinner couldn’t perform such signs.

The Pharisees – opticians of the nation’s spiritual sight are divided.

They know an awkward truth;

sight to the blind, is one of the herald calls of the Messiah.

If this “sign/miracle” is pukka, Jerusalem we have a problem.

For this is not the Messiah they anticipated; nor the type they desire.

 

The drama rolls on; parents are summoned reluctantly into the spotlight.

If they validate their son, they support the messiah conspiracy;

eviction from synagogue and community, their reward.

Not our call. Ask the boy – he is of age.

Fear casts out love. How did the son hear those parental words?

 

Interrogation 2: vested interest, rising threat:

Give credit to God; not credence to Jesus, the sinner.

The immortal reply:

“I do not know whether he is a sinner.

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

 

Sadly, there is no voice to raise an Alleluia,

no singing, Thanks be to God.

Instead the stewards of the Mystery of Life

reject the miracle as an affront to their certainties.

 

They spiral downwards:

What trickery has he performed or persuaded you to pretend?

What thoughts went on behind those new-minted eyes?

Why can’t you accept what I am saying/be happy for me?

How many times must I explain? Are you are eager to be his disciples?

That was incendiary.

 

No. You are his disciple. We are faithful followers of Moses

and we do not know where this imposter comes from.

 

Well that takes the biscuit. You have no clue about him and yet he opened my eyes.

Don’t you realise: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

How dare you lecture us! And they drove him out.

 

The second vignette of vision this week came not from the quiet recollection of an artist,

but the public testimony of a political voice.

This week Martin McGuiness was buried.

As large crowds carried his tricolour-draped coffin to its final resting place

a piper played, Amazing Grace.

We sang it today, its opening lines echoing today’s gospel words:

I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

 

McGuiness travelled from military commander of the Provisional IRA

to Deputy Minister of Northern Ireland;

the Troubles to the Good Friday Agreement; violence to peace.

Like him or loathe him, his journey demonstrates a transformation,

both heartening and for some, difficult to take.

(As Rhidian Brooke commented on radio this week.)

“We all struggle with the idea that someone can change,

especially when that someone is an enemy.

What happens to us when enemies stop behaving as enemies?

Does it mean we too must change our ways? (Is that just?)”

 

Writing for the Belfast Times, Ian Paisley Junior, (son of No Surrender, Revd Ian Paisley)

wrote a profound response to McGuiness’s death.

Offering first, condolences to the family,

then recognition of the grievous violence and lasting hurt of Northern Ireland’s darkest days,

of which McGuiness was a part, he went on to describe:

But then his war was over. His journey took a new direction.

No one really knows why…

He moved from the godfather to the man in government.

A complex journey, a complex life.

 

As a Christian man, I must take a view that every soul matters to our maker

and we have a duty to witness God’s love to all.

That is not a message to forget

but a message more about how to go forward in life’s journey –

[and that journey for Martin McGuinness was one that changed considerably.]

How a person’s life ends is more important than how it begins.

 

In C18th New England, theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote:

“I make my business to lay hold of light no matter who is bearing it.”

 

Today, the images of Westminster Bridge permeate our thinking and prayers.

We try to exert a degree of control by declaring: Well it was inevitable.

For a while, we take care to give our loved ones a proper kiss at the school gate

or on the way to work.

Temporarily, we live more alive, more sensitively.

 

But what next? Fearful we may be,

but encouraged by the hard road towards peace that others have made,

can we resolve quietly this morning certain things:

to befriend someone across religious or ethnic boundaries

that we have not previously done;

perhaps resolve as a congregation to invite a Muslim to speak at St Columba’s

or for us to visit a mosque, maybe for the first time;

to pray for our enemies;

small ways to seek out our shared humanity;

knowing that the vast majority of all London’s citizens of all faiths and none,

woke this morning with the same hopes and fears as ourselves.

 

Today’s play – the final scene.

The man, blind from birth is cast out from his community,

sighted, but once again solitary.

Jesus finds him – which means Jesus was looking for him.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Tell me who he is, that I may believe.

You know him – he stands before you. Lord, I believe.

 

We have a choice – made new each day:

To open or to close our eyes, to truth and beauty,

to neighbour and to Christ:

“It’s all there for us to see.”