Sunday, March 30, 2014

To See As God Sees

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
March 30, 2014

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

To See As God Sees
            Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. That means we’ve been at this Lent business for a while now, so the Church in its wisdom sets aside this Sunday to lighten the mood a little – to encourage us – to remind us - that Easter is not too far off.
            This Sunday is called Laetare Sunday, from a Latin word meaning “Rejoice.” In England and I’m guessing in former British colonies around the world this is Mothering Sunday – when mothers are honored much as we do in this country in May on Mother’s Day.
            And you’ve probably noticed that, to symbolize the lightening of our Lenten mood, I’m decked out once again in the rose vestments.
            It’s the Fourth Sunday in Lent – Laetare Sunday! Rejoice! Lent is almost over and soon we will celebrate the joy of Easter!           
            But, actually, although I wouldn’t mind saying the “A” word, I’m not in a hurry for Lent to be over. Part of that is because Holy Week and Easter are pretty grueling for us professional Christians. But part of it is because, so far, we’ve had a good Lent here at St. Paul’s.
            This may sound weird but I’ll be sorry to see Lent end.
            Our Sunday attendance has been good and parishioners – many of you - have been coming out for our special offerings.
            Not that it’s a Lenten event, but our weekly service at Christ Hospital has gotten off to a great start – thanks to your support.
            Stations of the Cross has been very popular, drawing about a dozen people each Wednesday evening – almost too many, actually, considering the narrowness of our side aisles.
            But, even in our narrow aisles, walking the Way of the Cross is a powerful spiritual exercise. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll come join us at least once this Lent.
            We’ve begun our Saturday morning adult confirmation / refresher class with lively discussion about the Church and our own faith stories.
            But for me the highlight of this Lent has been our group that’s reading the book, Speaking of Sin.
            Now, I picked the book so of course I knew I liked that. But, I’ve enjoyed so much our discussions among the interesting, thoughtful and diverse group of parishioners who’ve joined us.
            In our second session we talked about how we would define sin.
            What is sin?
            Well, the Prayer Book offers a solid and clear definition of sin: “Sin is seeking our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all of creation.”
            In our group we talked about different definitions of sin and types of sin. And then one parishioner in our group talked about sin as not paying attention – sin as failing to be mindful – sin as not paying attention to God at work in the world– sin as the failure to be mindful of God at work in our lives, at work in the people all around us.
            Sin as not paying attention – failing to be mindful.
            I was immediately reminded of a quote by the great writer John Updike that I read years ago. I’ve never been able to again find the exact quote but the gist of it was that since, as far as we know, we’re the only creatures who have any sense of the grandeur of creation, our unique vocation as humans is to pay attention.
            In the Book of Genesis, God saw everything that God had created and God knows that, indeed, it is very good.
            We are called to see as God sees.
            And, today’s lessons are all about seeing as God sees.
            In our Old Testament lesson from First Samuel, the Prophet Samuel is sent by God find a new king to replace Saul.
            God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king.
            Now, any reasonable person would think that the new king should be one of Jesse’s oldest, strongest, most experienced sons.
            But, of course, that’s not God’s way – that’s not seeing the world as God sees the world.
            In the words of First Samuel: “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
            So, Jesse presents his sons one after the next, but Samuel knows that God has not chosen any of them.
            Samuel asks, “Are all your sons here?”
            And, of course, Jesse and everybody else had assumed that the youngest son, the weakest, the least experienced, would never be chosen so he wasn’t even presented to Samuel. Instead, the youngest, weakest, the least experienced son was given the job of keeping the sheep.
            Samuel is able to see as God sees and anoints David as king.
            And then today’s long gospel reading is all about sight.
            It’s the story of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles – or signs as the Evangelist John prefers to call them – Jesus gives sight to a man blind from birth.
            And, as always in the Gospel of John, this story operates on a couple of different levels.
            Some people can see and others can’t – or won’t.
            After Jesus performs the sign – after the man washes in the pool of Siloam and gains his sight – some people are unable or unwilling to see. Some people are unable or unwilling to see as God sees.
            Some people think it can’t be the same person – this can’t be the blind guy who used to sit and beg, right? Some people can’t see because they don’t expect to see – they don’t expect see the wonders of God at work right there all around them – God at work in the people in their lives.
            Then there are the Pharisees. In the story the Pharisees are presented as unable or unwilling to see. They get caught up in rules and regulations, noting that Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath – surely a violation since it wasn’t an emergency and could have waited until sunset.
            True enough, but really misses the point doesn’t it?
            This man was blind but now he can see!
            And then there are the parents. They are able to see but they’re afraid – so afraid that they are unwilling to boldly proclaim what’s happened to their son. Instead, they pass the buck saying, “ask our son; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”
            Then, finally, there is the man born blind.
            Obviously, he physically receives his sight and is able to see. Amazing enough.
            But, the man born blind receives an even deeper gift of sight.
            At the end of the story, Jesus finds the man and asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
            He answers, “And who is he sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”
            And just like the story we heard last week when Jesus revealed his identity to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus says to this formerly blind man who now sees: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”
            The seeing man says, “Lord, I believe” and immediately worships Jesus.
            This formerly blind man is able to see as God sees.
            It’s Lent – this holy season when we reflect on – when we speak of – sin. In the words of the Prayer Book, we sin when we seek our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all of creation.
            We sin when we neglect our special vocation to pay attention to God at work in the good creation, to be mindful of God at work in the people all around us.
            We are called to pay attention so we can see as God sees – to see the good creation - to see the value and the potential of the David’s of the world – the youngest, the weakest, the least experienced.
            We are called to pay attention so we can see as God sees – to see the good creation – to love the man blind since birth begging, day after day on the sidewalk.
            And when we finally pay attention and see as God sees – when we value and love the weakest and the poorest  - when we really see the good creation - then God and we will truly rejoice.