Sunday, April 03, 2011

Give Glory to God!

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Gainesville FL
The Chapel of the Incarnation, Gainesville FL
April 3, 2011

Year A: The Fourth Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Give Glory to God!

Well, another Sunday brings another very long reading from the Gospel of John.

As I mentioned last week, most scholars consider the Gospel of John to be the last of the four gospels to have been written – probably sometime around the end of the First Century – several generations after the earthly lifetime of Jesus.

That late date means that this gospel is the product of divine inspiration working through several generations of Christians as they reflected on the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Gospel of John is also the product of an early Christian community in crisis.

The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. Jews had considered the Temple to be the holiest place on earth – in a sense God’s dwelling place - so its destruction was a extremely traumatic experience.

The Temple’s destruction led Jews to reassess and restructure their faith. Judaism had been amazingly diverse – in fact, there were many different Judaisms, many different ways of being a Jew. But now the Temple’s destruction led Jews to think carefully about what exactly it meant to be a Jew.

By the end of the First Century many Jewish religious leaders had real doubts about whether the Jewish followers of Jesus – the people who claimed Jesus was the long-awaited messiah, the people who believed Jesus was the Son of God who had risen from the dead, the people who gathered each week for the Lord’s Supper - were in fact still part of the Jewish community.

So, the Gospel of John was written at a time when Jewish followers of Jesus faced an excruciating choice. Do they continue to follow Jesus and cut themselves off from the community – the nation – the people - of their ancestors? Or, do they remain part of the synagogue and turn their back on Jesus and his followers?

When we hear passages from the Gospel of John like the one I just read, on one level we are hearing a story of how different people responded to a powerful sign performed by Jesus – giving sight to a man blind from birth.

But, on another level, we are hearing a story about the crisis faced by a Christian community decades later. The people referred to as “the Jews” are really the Jewish religious authorities. The people referred to as “the Jews” are the Jewish religious authorities who challenged the followers of Jesus to take the risk of their lives, to break from the past and head into an uncertain future.

Over time, the Church forgot some of this history – forgot that everyone in this and other stories was Jewish – including Jesus. The negative depiction of “the Jews” in Christian scripture, especially in the Gospel of John, served as a tragic foundation for the horrors of Christian anti-Semitism.

All that I’ve said so far is a – hopefully – interesting history lesson. But it’s much more than history. As Christians, you and I face the same kind of choice as the man born blind, the man’s parents, the religious authorities and those early Jewish followers of Jesus living near the end of the First Century.

How do we respond to what we’ve seen – what we continue to see?

The man’s parents pass the buck. Talk to our son – we don’t want to get involved.

The religious leaders stubbornly and arrogantly think they’re the only ones who can really see - and so they miss out on seeing God at work.

And how does the man born blind respond to his extraordinary gift?

The Pharisees said to him, “Give glory to God!” In this context, “Give glory to God!” is a legal command to testify. The Pharisees command the man born blind to testify to what he has experienced, to testify to the gift he has been given, to testify to what he has seen.

Give Glory to God!

And, as best he can, that’s exactly what he does. Although his physical sight was restored after he washed in the pool of Siloam, it takes time to for his spiritual sight to clear.

First, he doesn’t know where Jesus is.

Then, he declares that Jesus is a prophet.

And finally he recognizes Jesus as the Son of Man.

But, although it takes time for his spiritual sight to clear, all along the man born blind testifies as best he can to what he has experienced, testifies to the gift he has been given, testifies to what he has seen.

In our own lives, you and I have probably never experienced something quite as dramatic as what happened to the man born blind. But, then again, maybe we have. When we stop and think about it, we see that we have received extraordinary gifts from God.

We’ve received the gift of life itself. We exist – which in itself is pretty amazing. We all receive the simple pleasures of life on this beautiful planet - feeling the warmth of the sun on our faces, hearing the birds chirping in the morning, enjoying the taste of food and the refreshment of cold water.

And most of us have received the gift of Baptism – the water in which God makes an indissoluble, an unbreakable bond with us.

In the water of Baptism God shows us the bottomless depths of love.

And day after day, Sunday after Sunday, we receive the gift of being part of the Church. For all the church’s failings and faults, it’s here that we experience God’s love in a community like no other. It’s here that we experience God’s love with people we might not otherwise ever meet or might not otherwise even want to meet. It’s here that we experience God’s love through God’s Word, through the Body and Blood of Christ, through the simple exchange of peace, through our fellowship and care for one another.

No doubt the distractions, burdens, disappointments and fears of life can cloud our spiritual vision. Like the man born blind, it takes time – maybe a lifetime – for our spiritual vision to clear.

Yet, although his spiritual vision was still not clear, the man born blind gave glory to God. The man born blind testified to what he had experienced, testified to the gift he had been given, testified to what he had seen.

How about us? are we willing to give glory to God by testifying to what we have experienced, by testifying to the gifts we have been given, by testifying to what we have seen?

We testify by the way we live our lives out there in the world.

We testify by living lives and by having values that are very different from the values out there in the world.

And, sometimes, like the man born blind we testify through our words. Like the man born blind, each in our own way, we tell people out there in the world, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

The story of Jesus giving sight to the man born blind operates on several levels.

On one level, it’s a story about how everyone responds in very different ways to what they have seen.

On another level, it’s a story about the Jewish Christian community around the end of the First Century facing the excruciating choice between the faith of their mothers and fathers or stepping out into an uncertain future as followers of Jesus.

And now here today you and I face our own decision. Although our spiritual vision may not be completely clear, how do we respond to the gifts we have received?

How do we respond to what we have seen – what we continue to see – all around us?

Like the man’s parents, do we pass the buck?

Like the Pharisees, do we stubbornly and arrogantly refuse to see?

Or, like the man born blind, do we testify?

Do we give glory to God?