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Based on the Scripture reading:
John 9:1-25

2005 March 6
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Rev. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

See: the Healing

Twenty years ago at my very first church office in Yarmouth, Maine, I had a sign on my door that someone had given to me. In very big letters it said, "Life is a test. It is only a test." And then in rather small letters, "If this were your actual life, you would have been given better instructions."

People used to ask me for copies of the sign all the time, although to be quite honest it's not very good Christianity. But it made us smile and nod, knowingly. Since even liberals have some appetite for clarity and possible instruction. And all of us share the experience of duress, although in different measures.

There is something about a healing worship service that gives rise to similar expression. There is something about coming together to worship and to pray for healing that invites us to consider how we are under duress and even to admit that we are tested in some ways. Whether we are openly or privately contemplating issues of physical illness or emotional need or whether we lift up community brokenness or global violence and hunger, each of these issues does challenge us, and each of them is a weight upon the soul of the person and the whole of the creation. All of them are appropriate for our prayers today. All of them are areas where we trust that God cares and helps and hopes today and tomorrow.

When Jesus got involved in healing worship, it was never a simple thing. When he tried to cast out community demons, feed the hungry, support those who were limping, or get people to see a little more clearly, it often caused controversy, confusion, and condemnation. In John we have a whole chapter dedicated to helping the blind, but only about four of the forty-one verses concern the actual act, and the rest are taken up by criticism, conflict, and censure.

The act of helping a blind man to see is called one of the seven signs of Jesus by the Gospel author, but it's easy to get distracted from that enumerated message. In fact as I read the chapter, it teaches me these five points: that miracles are always the subject of dismissive debate, no good deed goes unpunished, religious suspicion is not a 21st century exclusive, everyone wants to be in the witness protection program, and the words "I see" usually mean you don't. Back to topYou have to get through almost forty verses of all that to notice that Jesus is trying to help someone, and He is succeeding.

You see, the folks in the Bible are just like us or at least just like some of us. When they are confronted with a physical need, they want to know its cause. Actually, they want someone to blame. Blaming a victim doesn't so much interest Jesus, and He moves immediately from cause to purpose, saying "What next? How can we help? Where's God in this?" And for those people who wonder if it is OK to wear blue jeans to worship or curse when you hurt, Jesus breaks a religious law by healing on the Sabbath, clearly displaying that recovered sight is more important than Pharisaic tradition. Our presence and our prayers are more important than our perfection.

When we find those four verses of truth amidst the consequences, they have a lovely dimension. That is, Jesus is very hands-on in His healing; He touches people. And He's faithful in His approach, too. He gives God the credit. And He uses mud as a healing resource. He takes the thing that some of us might even think to be the problem, dirt, crud, stuff that's underfoot every day, and He makes it the medium of the miracle. If you can see through this, if you can wash this off, you'll be better, really better. And then, of course, after everyone has pointed the finger at him and even his own parents have stepped away from their son, the man who was treated says "All I know is this: I was blind, but now I see."

We have all these ancient distractions in our modern experience. The victim of sexual assault must have dressed provocatively. You're not supposed to get your drugs from Canada. You've got to sign aBack to top waiver of responsibility if you want help. Almost no good deed goes unpunished. The Biblical pattern lives on.

But we've got something else, too: the shared experience of duress. Whether it's thirteen-year-old angst, prostate cancer, unfair wages for textile workers in China, or continuing political assaults on gay marriage, we have a bumper crop of duress in our world. Life is a test. Yet we have instructions, too. Some of us bristle at that word, but it's the right one. The instructions are, remember Me as often as you do this. Go forth and baptize, sharing good news. Love your God, love yourself, love your neighbor, love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. Ask. Believe. Wait a while and pray.

Whoever we are, wherever we have been, if we can find a way not to fixate entirely on where our mud came from, and if we can find a way with the help of each other and with the help of God to wash it off, then we'll see something new.

Not all healing restores the things that have been lost. Not all prayers are answered in their enumerated specificity. Jesus doesn't always lead us where we ask to go. But the journey from blindness to sight is possible. It may be criticized, but it's possible.

Perhaps that's our invitation today. To consider the instructions and try to navigate through the commentary and the confusion and just let God touch us, even as we touch each other. That is God's promise. Amen.

Copyright 2005 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.

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