“Truly Seeing” Colchester Federated Church, March 22, 2020, (John 9:1-41) Fourth Sunday in Lent (**Virtual Worship)

On this Fourth Sunday in Lent we move from Jesus talking about being born from above with Nicodemus, and offering Living Water to the Samaritan woman at the well, to Jesus healing a man who was born blind in the Gospel according to John.  Here’s yet another amazing one-on-one encounter where Jesus fundamentally changes someone’s life with his compassionate heart.  Jesus walks along and sees a man who was blind from birth and his disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”[1]  Now we may react to that question, as if blindness is caused by sin in the first place, let alone how someone would figure out who’s to blame—the man or his parents.  Though Jesus answers by saying that neither the man nor his parents sinned to cause his blindness.  Yet God’s mighty works will be displayed through the blind man.

Then things get really interesting and real.  Jesus spits on the ground and makes mud with his saliva.  He smears the mud on the man’s eyes.  Jesus tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  And he does—the man goes away and washes in the pool, and lo and behold he can see.  The story goes on from there because it ends up that Jesus performs this healing on the Sabbath and some of the Pharisees don’t particularly agree with healing on the Sabbath because it’s not as if the blind man’s life was on the line or anything.  Technically, healing him could have waited a day.  There’s that whole debate about whether Jesus should have healed him on the Sabbath or not.  And the religious leaders have a hard time believing that this healing happened in the first place (whether on the Sabbath or not) since they know that this man was born blind from birth.  So the man is brought forward before the religious leaders and his parents are even summoned to see what’s what.  At the end of the day, the formerly blind man who received this miracle of healing from Jesus’ spit and the mud concoction and washing in the water, this miracle of sight for the first time in his life—declares for all to hear, “Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see . . . No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind.  If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”[2]

This is an interesting story to hear in the midst of our needing to have Virtual Worship because of the coronavirus in our region.  Jesus is clearly not practicing good social distancing here by spitting on the ground, making mud with his spit, and smearing the mud on the man’s eyes.  Part of me—devoted Lectionary preacher that I am—thought, are you serious, God?  This is what we’re talking about right now on the Fourth Sunday in Lent?  Really?

Well, yes.  Because perhaps it’s a Gospel story that helps explain why what’s happening right now is so hard for us in the Christian Church.  Many Christians believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine.  That Jesus was God incarnate who lived and breathed and walked among us to teach us how to love as God loves.  Ours is not a religion where God is removed from the human experience, where God is removed from the joys of human life and also the suffering and pain of human life.  It ends up that our God is a God who spits on the ground, makes mud with God’s hands, and rubs that mud on someone’s eyes in order that the person might be healed.  How much more personal and human and tactile of a God can we possibly see here in our story?  Jesus shows us over and again just how far God will go to bring healing and wholeness to God’s people.  This is an encounter of physical touch and bodies and spit and mud—how much more human can Jesus, God-with-us, possibly be here?

Christianity is inherently a religion about the beloved community that Jesus built around him, the beloved community that continued after his death and resurrection.  The beloved community of his disciples that continues on today.  It’s a religion about Jesus as God-with-us and among us and beside us and before us.  The founder of our faith wasn’t some high and mighty figure far removed from our human experience.  No, he was a human being who spat on the ground and made mud and rubbed it on someone’s eyes and healed them.

To be worshiping virtually for however long it’s not safe for us to be physically together, that is a hard reality that we are facing in the Christian Church.  Because it means a great deal for us to come together as Christians to worship God week in and week out.  Even within a typical Christian worship service we greet one another at the door of the church with a smile and a handshake or a hug.  We pass the Peace of Christ by shaking hands or hugging one another at some point in the service.  At our church here at CFC we even gather around the sanctuary in a circle and hold hands to bless each other as we finish our service of worship.  Those very physical acts that in these days cause anxiety because of the social distance we are being encouraged to keep are touchstones of our faith in some ways.  Because Jesus was never some impersonal figure, but a human being who also gathered people around him.  This is part of the reason why we may be struggling spiritually and emotionally right now with all that’s come to pass.

On Facebook this week there was a quote going around that read: “When this is over, may we never again take for granted a handshake with a stranger.  Full shelves at the store.  Conversations with neighbors.  A crowded theatre.  Friday night out.  The taste of communion.  A routine checkup.  The school rush each morning.  Coffee with a friend.  The stadium roaring.  Each deep breath.  A boring Tuesday.  Life itself.  When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be, we were called to be, we hoped to be, and may we stay that way—better for each other because of the worst.”

Last Sunday we talked about Jesus and the Samaritan woman and you were encouraged to keep washing your hands very well for 20 seconds as we all have been encouraged to do.  Though to imagine as you are washing that you are washing with the Living Water Jesus offered to us all.  This Sunday there’s another ritual that it may help to do.  Because it was author John Shea who once reflected on the perennial Christian strategy in his book Stories of God by saying that we are to “Gather the folks.  Break the bread.  Tell the stories.”  We are still doing this the best we can virtually.  But it makes sense that this time apart feels rough because we in the Christian Church so value our community and that is especially the case here at Colchester Federated Church.

So here’s your next task, should you choose to accept it.  Take some time to write a reflection on what gathering the folks together here at CFC means to you, on what the community here at CFC means to you.  Tell your story.  It could be sharing a memory of a time our congregation really had your back or a time when you were able to have someone else’s.  It could be a reflection on what it means to you to attend worship on Sunday mornings and worship together side by side in community.  As your Pastor, I would be thrilled to get 10 of these reflections from our congregation (or even more!)  And once they’ve been collected, I would like to share them with one another with the permission of the authors of course.  Maybe to be read as a special moment in worship or maybe to be featured for a few weeks in This Week’s Thoughts.

Take time to think about this as we all get used to and process this time that we are physically apart.  What does gathering with the folks here at CFC mean to you?  What does worshiping together mean to you?  Why is it important for you as a Christian to be part of a faith community that comes together to worship God and help one another on this journey of life?  What’s your faith story?  Let me know.  And remember that though we are in separate homes and Nicole, Kim, Dave, and I remain at our church most days holding down the fort until it’s safe to reopen to the public—we remain connected through Jesus Christ.  And thanks be to God for that.  Amen.

[1] John 9:2, Common English Bible.
[2] John 9:25, 32-33.