Fourth Sunday in Lent

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Second Sunday in Easter, Year A May 1, 2011 Second Sunday of Easter, Year A Acts 2:14a, 22-32, I Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
Easter Sunday April 24, 2011 Easter Day, 2011 Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18
Good Friday April 22, 2011 Good Friday John 18:1-19:42
Maundy Thursday, April 21, 2011 April 21, 2011 Maundy Thursday 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011 April 17, 2011 Palm Sunday Mathew 27
Fifth Sunday in Lent – Raising of Lazarus April 10, 2011 Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45
Fourth Sunday in Lent April 3, 2011 Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A John 9:1-41; Psalm 23
Second Sunday in Lent, Year A March 20, 2011 Second Sunday in Lent, Year A Genesis 12: 1-4a; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3: 1-17, Psalm 121
First Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2011 March 13, 2011 First Sunday in Lent, Year A Matthew 4:1-11, Romans 5:12-19, Romans 8:18-25
Ash Wednesday Sermon March 9, 2011 Ash Wednesday Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Last Sunday After Epiphany March 6, 2011 Last Sunday after Epiphany Matthew 17:1-9
Don’t Worry About Tomorrow February 27, 2011 Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 49:8-16a; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
Choose Life February 13, 2011 Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
We are the Salt of the Earth February 6, 2011 Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Matthew 5:13-20, Isaiah 58:1-12
Shalom January 30, 2011 Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Matthew 5:1-12

 

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Sermon Date:April 3, 2011

Scripture: John 9:1-41; Psalm 23

Liturgy Calendar: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A


 

In August of 1914, Ernest Shackleton and his crew set out to be the first men to cross Antarctica “by way of the South Pole.”

Not long into the voyage, ice floes surrounded their ship Endurance.

By January, the ice captured the Endurance and froze it into place with an icy grasp.

Shackleton and his crew were trapped, trapped in an Antarctic winter that lasted for the next ten months.

Have you ever found yourself trapped?

Caught up in the middle of some intractable situation that has you frozen in place?

Maybe you are trapped in your job.

Maybe you are trapped  in a frozen relationship.

Maybe an illness has trapped you—an illness that is slowly destroying your body and you have no way out.

Perhaps you are trapped by seeing the world in only one way.

Maybe you are trapped by fear, or maybe you are trapped by anger, or depression or an addiction. 

In the gospel reading we have just heard today, everyone is trapped.

The blind beggar has been blind from birth.  He’s trapped in darkness. 

From birth!  Imagine never seeing light, never having experienced the wonders of color.  This man has never seen the faces of his parents, never seen another person smile. 

But being trapped in darkness is normal for this beggar, and he makes his way in the world by having people feel sorry for him.

The Pharisees in this story are also trapped.   They are trapped in a particular understanding of the world, a particular way of doing things. 

Being trapped  as disciples of Moses in scrupulous observance of the law is the norm for this group of Pharisees.  They are trapped in their belief that they are right and that everyone else is wrong.  They don’t even know that they are trapped. 

The parents of the blind man are also trapped—trapped by fear.  The temple authorities have threatened to throw anyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah out of the synagogue.  The blind man’s parents can’t imagine being shunned in this way.  Trapped by fear, they claim ignorance. 

As Jesus walks along, he sees that these people are trapped.

Now remember, at the beginning of his ministry, in the gospel according to Luke, Jesus stands up in the synagogue and reads from the prophet Isaiah.

He reads these words.

“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

And so now, in this passage, we see Jesus living into this calling as he enters the scene.

The blind man, used to his blindness, can’t even see Jesus passing by.  He doesn’t call out to Jesus to be released from his blindness.  He has managed to survive as a beggar.

Instead, Jesus sees the blind man.

So  Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud with his saliva and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes.

What must this man have thought, to feel mud being put on his eyes?  Who is messing with me?  Trying to change my life?

And then Jesus sends the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam.

Now at this point, the blind man has got two choices. 

He can decide to wipe that mud off of his eyes, remain blind and continue to beg and have people feel sorry for him.  He can decide to continue life as he knows it. 

Or he can decide to be sent out, to go to the pool of Siloam, and to wash the mud off of his eyes.  He can dare to see what will happen if he takes this risk.

The blind man makes the choice to go to the pool of Siloam. 

He washes the mud off of his eyes, and he can see!

And then he comes back, freed from his blindness. 

When a person becomes free, others notice.

They get nervous.  They start to question their own situations.

The neighbors, in disbelief, bring the man to the Pharisees.

The Pharisees are good people.  They believe that they have all the answers.   But they have been blinded by having all the answers.

Now this group of trapped people has to make a choice.

Is the man who gave the blind beggar his sight a sinner?  After all, he broke the law by healing on the Sabbath.

Or is this man from God?  Only a man from God could have such power!

The Temple authorities decide to gather more information.  They want to make sure that this really is the man who was born blind. 

So they go to the blind man’s parents, who are trapped by their fear of the Temple authorities.  After all,  these men can make sure that the two parents  never enter the temple again if they say the wrong thing.

And because the parents are trapped by their fear, they can’t imagine a life in which they will be continually questioned, reviled and suspected because the authorities have taken action against them. So they plead ignorance and say,  “We don’t know—ask him.” 

And then the temple authorities make their decision.  They decide to stay trapped too.   After all, they have a lot to lose if they give up the certainty which has blinded them to the truth of who Jesus is.   They will lose their power and their authority.    People will no longer fear them and follow their demands. 

And so out of all these trapped and blinded people, one man makes the choice for sight, and freedom.  Everyone else stays blinded and trapped.

The story ends with this zinger.  Jesus says that he is in the world so that all of us who are trapped and blind can make a decision.  Do we really want our sight and the freedom that sight brings with it or not?

We get to make the choice. 

And if we make the choice as the blind man did,  to be sent out by Jesus, to regain our sight and to find our freedom, we’ll find that we’ve made a difficult choice.

The beggar, who had a workable way of life, now had a whole new set of problems on his hands.  He had to figure out how to live differently.

 Now he would have to find a way to stop living on other peoples’ sympathy and to find some other way of making a living. 

We don’t know what happened to this man, but I’m guessing that his life would have been easier if he’d just continued on as the blind beggar.

What about us? 

We hear these stories about Jesus every Sunday and these stories offer us choices.

Sight and freedom, or the same old way we’ve always done things in our lives…… and we are constantly tempted to stick to the tried and true, to stay in our blindness, because it’s just easier.

Shackleton MapEarlier in this sermon, we left Shackleton and his crew frozen into place in an Antarctic winter.  What happened to them? 

When the thaw finally came in November, after they had endured those ten months of being trapped, their boat, which had been severely damaged by ice, broke apart and sank.

Now these men had to make a choice.  They could just give up and die, which would have been the easier choice, or they could try to survive. 

So they escaped the wreckage in lifeboats and managed to reach a large ice floe.  They stayed on this ice floe for five months and finally got to an isolated piece of land known as Elephant Island.

Shackleton knew that none of them would survive another winter trapped on this island, so he made a daring choice.

He and five of his crew took a small, open boat, about twenty feet long, across eight hundred miles of “hurricane swept waters.” 

For three weeks these men were constantly soaked in icy water from the waves that crashed over the boat, and they were wracked by raging thirst. 

They finally reached South Georgia Island, but discovered that the whaling stations were on the other side of the island.

Exhausted and feeling near death, Shackleton still refused to be trapped by this latest setback. 

He and two of the men set off across the island.  They had to cross over mountain ranges, frozen rivers and “vast fields of ice.” 

Finally, they found themselves at an impasse, surrounded by ice cliffs on both sides.  They only way forward was to throw themselves into a thirty foot waterfall, which they did.  Finally they stood on dry land and were able to reach the whaling station.

In the end, all twenty-eight of the crew members survived the ill-fated journey, thanks to Shackleton’s choices, over and over, that he and his crew would not give in to being trapped and end up dying.

 

For me, the point of these two stories—the story of the blind beggar who chose to receive his sight, and the story of Shackleton and his men—the point is this.

Choosing life is an incredibly hard choice.  Being trapped is easier. 

Consider Jesus’ own story.   His choice, over and over, “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,” led straight to the cross.

Those of us who choose to receive our sight will find that our journeys to new life are hard as well, containing within them many deaths and difficult passages. 

But God will go with us.

As the psalmist says so poetically in the twenty third psalm—

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

For though art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

Shackleton describes this presence in these words.

He said of his journey,

“When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. 

“I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me that often we were four, not three.  I said nothing to my companions on this point, but afterwards Worsley said to me,

‘Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.’”

The third man, Crean, had felt the same presence.

Shackleton said “that a record of our journeys would be incomplete without this reference to a subject very near to our hearts,” this presence that went with them through their impossible journey to freedom. 

So I challenge you today to consider—

What are the things in your life that have frozen you in an icy grasp?

Where are your blind spots, the things in your life that are keeping you from living fully as children of the light? What things in your life keep you from accepting God’s presence, goodness and mercy? 

I challenge you to take the risk—

To choose the gifts that Jesus offers to each and every one of us—the gift of sight, the gift of freedom from whatever it is that oppresses each one of us. 

To believe and to trust that no matter how hard our journeys into freedom get, God will go with us, through it all.

Amen  

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