Sunday, March 02, 2008

It's All About Choices

Grace Episcopal Church
March 2, 2008
The Fourth Sunday in Lent

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

It’s All About Choices

Well, another week, and another long gospel reading. Once again we’ve modified our gospel procession to save the arms of our verger. And once again we get a long, but powerful, reading from the Fourth Gospel. This time we get a whole chapter – the healing of the man born blind. And what a chapter it is! There’s the healing itself, of course. And the conflict with the Pharisees who are so concerned that this healing has taken place during the Sabbath. And there’s the skepticism of the other bystanders who doubt that this seeing man is the same person as the blind man who sat and begged for all those years.

It’s a great story, filled with irony and paradox and lots of theological meat to chew on. But scholars suggest that there might be something else going on in this story of blindness and sight. There’s general agreement that the Gospel of John was written around the end of the First Century. And it was around this time that the Jewish followers of Jesus were faced with a very difficult choice.

For the first few decades after Jesus’ earthly ministry it seems that Jews who believed that Jesus was the messiah were able to continue going to the synagogue with not too much problem. But now, for a variety of reasons, it had become very difficult to be both Jewish and Christian. Now, a choice had to be made.

The bad news for us today is that we have inherited all this hostile language about the “Jews” in the New Testament, most especially in John’s Gospel. And it’s probably needless to say that this hostile language has all too often served to fuel anti-Semitism among Christians. But, of course, the Gospel of John was written nearly two thousand years ago by Jews for Jews. So, the angry language reflects a bitter battle between Jews who had accepted Jesus as the messiah and those who had not.

In this story of the healing of the man born blind, John the Evangelist is calling the Jews of his time to a choice – Jesus or not. And, of course, you and I here in Madison today are faced with the same choice – Jesus or not. Can we see or are we blind?

Choices. At one of the schools I taught at the dean of discipline had a little mantra for both students and teachers: “It’s all about choices.” “It’s all about choices.” So when a student cut class and got caught, he would say with a little half-smile, “It’s all about choices.” Or when a teacher would create problems for himself by being inconsistent or unfair with students, the dean would give him the same line, “It’s all about choices.”

After a while, of course, we all got sick of that line. But the dean was right – it is all about choices. And as I get older I’ve become more and more aware how my own choices – good and bad, big or seemingly small – have shaped the unfolding of my life.

To give you one little example, many of my seminary classmates chose to attend General Seminary because of its history, or its style of worship, or particular professors. I chose to attend General Seminary really for one reason – it was an easy commute from Jersey City. But that choice, made with very little reflection or consideration – frankly made with very little discernment - set in motion a chain of events that led me to be standing in this pulpit today.

So, yes, it’s all about choices. And today’s gospel lesson is all about choices, too. The bystanders choose to be skeptical about the miracle right in front of them. I can imagine them squinting their eyes and tapping their finger on their chin and saying, “Wait a second, I bet that’s not even the same person as the blind man who used to sit and beg.” They’ve seen the truth - but they choose not to accept it.

And there are the blind man’s parents. They acknowledge that it’s their son who used to be blind but now can see – but they’re not quite able to proclaim that it was Jesus who did it. They are reminiscent of Nicodemus – in a very real and personal way they know about Jesus’ power but are not quite ready, at least not yet, to proclaim Jesus in public, in broad daylight.

And there are the Pharisees – who come up with everything they can think of to discredit Jesus. The Pharisees who, because of closed-mindedness and perhaps fear, choose not to accept the miracle right in front of them. The Pharisees – who choose to be blind.

And finally there’s the blind man himself. It’s interesting that he doesn’t ask for anything. When the story begins he’s sitting there minding his own business, trying to eke out a living. But when the miracle happens he chooses to accept it and is unafraid to tell everyone what happened to him. And something else happens to this man blind from birth. By choosing to accept the miracle and to tell his story, his spiritual vision improves. First he says that Jesus is a prophet. Then later he confidently tells the Pharisees that Jesus is from God. And then finally he tells Jesus that he believes that Jesus is the Son of Man. He sees that Jesus is the messiah.

All of the people in today’s gospel made their choice. The followers of Jesus at the end of the First Century made their choice. So, what about us? It’s all about choices.

Obviously, we’ve already chosen to be here this morning. Obviously, we’ve already chosen to make at least some kind of commitment to Jesus. We’ve chosen to make some kind of commitment to the Church.

The question is how does that commitment translate into the choices we make when we’re not here in church? How does our commitment to Jesus and our commitment to the Church translate when we’re at work or at school, or with our families and friends? How does our commitment translate when we’re out there – out in the world? Jesus or not? Can we see or are we blind?

[And I can’t think of a better question to ask on this Sunday as we mark some of our young people taking another step toward adulthood. So far in your lives most, but not all, of your choices have been made by your parents. But now – and I’m sure this is scary for your parents – more and more choices will be yours to make. And the choices you make will very much shape the kind of person – the kind of Christian - you become. It really is all about choices.]

[This is why I believe discernment is so important. One writer says that discernment is the whole Christian endeavor. Which is a fancy way of saying being a Christian is all about choices. Every day we are presented with all sorts of situations and questions which call us to choose what will either bring us closer to God or drive us away from God. Ignatius of Loyola called them consolation or desolation. Every day we are presented with situations which call us to choose what will help to build the kingdom of God here on earth. And those questions or situations usually don’t come up here in church. That would be nice and easy! Instead, we face them at work, or when we try to balance our checkbooks, or in the parking lot at Shop Rite. It’s all about choices.]

Are we like the parents of the blind man, or Nicodemus from a couple of weeks ago, who although they know the great gift they have been given, choose to keep their faith in Jesus secret because we are afraid or ashamed?

Or are we like the man born blind? Do we see the amazing gifts we have been given – gifts that we never asked for or deserve? Do we see that it’s all gift – the love of our families and friends, the laughter and the tears, the good times and the bad? Do we see that this wonderful church of ours is a gift – a gift freely given by God for us to nurture? Do we see that our very life, our every breath is a gift? Do we see that God has given the greatest gift of all – the gift of God’s very Self in Jesus Christ? Does it make any difference at all?

Are we like the man born blind? Do we see the great gifts we have been given and boldly proclaim, “Lord, I believe”? It’s all about choices.

The early followers of Jesus faced a choice. And today we face a choice. Jesus or not?

It’s all about choices.