Proper 16, Year C, 2016

I am bad at watching the Olympics. I was at work during most of the good gymnastics stuff, and kept forgetting to watch the swimming at night. Finally, my husband and I caught the men’s 100 meter butterfly. The camera was on the stands and my husband said, “Oh, there is Michael Phelps’ baby!” Now, I may not keep track of sports, but I’m usually on top of celebrity gossip, but I had NO idea Phelps had a child. My husband looked at me and said, “Yep, he has a baby and he found Jesus.”

Well, that led to some googling. An article in Christianity Today reports that two years ago September, Phelps was struggling with severe depression and contemplating suicide after his second arrest for DUI in ten years. Ray Lewis, a friend of his, gave him a copy of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, and in reading it, he came to understand that God loved him and had a purpose for him. He used the resources in the book to reconcile with his father and do some internal work. Two years later he is engaged, has a baby, and a new handful of Olympic medals.

Phelps’ story is a powerful story of healing and it is no wonder that Christian websites are so eager to share this story of redemption of such an inspiring and gifted athlete.

But these kinds of healing stories lead to questions, don’t they? Why hasn’t God intervened in the life of my loved one with depression? Where do I fit into God’s story if I haven’t experienced miraculous healing from my medical issues?

Our healing story from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Luke can help us with some of these questions.

Once again, this is a story only in the Gospel of Luke. And unlike some of the Gospel of Luke that focuses on God’s story being expanded to gentiles, this story is in an entirely Jewish context. Jesus is in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath when he sees a woman bent over with some condition that has plagued her for 18 years. Like the Widow of Nain, about whom we heard earlier this summer, she does not ask for Jesus’ help. Jesus sees her, invites her over, and heals her.

Well, he lays his hands on her and announces she is healed. Our translation reads that she “stood up straight”, but the Greek reads, that she “was straightened up”. Jesus is making it clear that it is not he who is doing the healing, but God through him. In fact, to Jesus this is more than a healing. He describes this woman as being bound by a spirit, and God doing the work of unbinding her. Jesus is making it really clear that the same God who has been preached about in the synagogue for generations is the one who is doing the healing and the unbinding.

God sees this woman. God has the power to unbind her and chooses to do so. God restores her to herself and to her community. God returns her to a place of honor in her community. She is described as a Daughter of Abraham. This is a really unusual title, not used anywhere else in the New Testament. But you get a sense of her place as part of Israel, part of God’s beloved community.

Now, the leader of the synagogue is appalled that Jesus heals on the Sabbath, but Jesus uses the conflict as an opportunity to teach the crowd about the nature of God. God has compassion on people and God absolutely wants to heal us and for us to take care of each other on the Sabbath. God values people.

Immediately after this passage, Jesus starts talking about the Kingdom of God and how it is like a little mustard seed that takes root, or how a little yeast can leaven an entire loaf of bread. Jesus sees this woman’s experience as part of what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God.

Now, while we have a healing service once a month, I’m not aware of anyone in this congregation with the actual charism of miraculous healing. We just don’t live in a world where every person who needs physical healing gets that healing. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t deeply care about that person, or that we shouldn’t deeply care about that person as members of the Kingdom of God. We may not do any miracles together, but we can still live out the principles that Jesus teaches us in this story.

First, Jesus shows us that God sees this woman for who she is. Do we see each other clearly? When we are in the world and meet a person with a disability do we see that person for all that person is, or do we just see their limitations? What would it mean to take the time to ask good questions, to get to know each other, to truly see one another?

Second, Jesus restores honor to the woman. He restores her place in the world. Now, we do not live in an honor-shame culture in quite the same way she did. We know that ill people, or people with disabilities are not deserving of shame. But illness and disability can still be isolating. How can we as a community stay connected to those who are ill? Make our space welcoming for those with disabilities? As members of the Kingdom of God, we are called to see each person as a beloved child of God, worthy to have a place in our community.

There is a lovely story on CNN this week about an engineer who works on accessibility for Facebook. He is blind, himself, and is working on ways to make Facebook and Messenger more accessible to those who are blind. At one point in the interview he says to the audience, “your life matters.” If Facebook engineers get it, how much more can the church! We should be on the forefront of welcoming those with chronic illnesses and disabilities into our communities.

Third, God wants to unbind each of us from whatever holds us back from being the person God designed us to be. What binds you? Unresolved trauma from your past? A conflict with someone? Your fear? The life of faith is a life that is going to involve facing the hard stuff and working through it with God’s help. While God may not give miraculous healings to every person, God can give us the courage we need to go to therapy, to get help for our addictions, to work on reconciliation with difficult people.

We aren’t all going to have a dramatic transformational experience like Michael Phelps. We are definitely not all going to win dozens of Olympic Gold medals. Well, maybe if I start working out every day. . . But God sees each of us. He knows who we are, behind all of our defense mechanisms, beyond all of our surface accomplishments or weaknesses. He knows the person we are deep in our core, and he loves that person.

And we get to be part of a Kingdom in which it is our job to spread that love around—to truly see and know our neighbors as children of the living God. We are invited into God’s healing and transforming work.

Thanks be to God.

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Proper 5, Year C, 2006

 

Last week we heard about the faith of a Centurion. The Centurion, a soldier who was part of the Empire that ruled over the Jewish people, had such faith in Jesus that he sent out his friends to ask Jesus to heal his slave from afar. He had faith that Jesus did not even need to come to his house, but could heal the slave just by thinking about the slave.

The centurion’s faith is the faith of a confident guy. His is the faith of a CEO who is used to people following his orders. He sees in Jesus another man in command, someone able to do God’s work with power.

After healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus and the crowd that is following him walk toward a town called Nain. As he moves toward the city gates, Jesus sees a funeral procession. The members of the procession are not looking for Jesus, they just happen to be moving the body of the dead man outside of the city gates so he can be buried. This man has just died—in Jewish custom a body had to be buried within 24 hours—so the grief of the crowd is fresh.

No one is grieving more than the man’s mother. This man is her only son. Not only that, but this woman is widowed. With the death of her son, she has lost her family. Her world is forever changed. She is devastated.

She does not ask for Jesus’ help. She may have never even heard of Jesus. Her mind is fully absorbed in the moment.

Jesus, passing by the procession cannot keep walking. He is moved by compassion to help her.

Now, the author of the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus as feeling compassion pretty regularly. But Luke strips that phrase out of the stories he borrows from Mark. But here, in this story, a story that only appears in the Gospel of Luke, Luke chooses to describe Jesus having compassion. He wants us to understand the power of the emotional Jesus experiences seeing this woman’s grief. It literally moves him. He cannot help but to act.

This story does not stand in isolation. You may have noticed all the similarities between Jesus’ resurrection of this man, and Elijah’s resurrection of the widow’s son in 1st Kings. These stories are speaking to each other, and their conversation speaks to us.

Elijah prayed to God to resurrect the widow’s son. He threw himself on the son’s body. And God resurrected the son. Jesus needs to do none of that. He simply touches the stretcher the young man is lying on and tells him to rise. He is not asking God to bring the boy to life. He, being God, commands the boy to live.

Jesus, has all the power of God. And he uses this power of healing and of life, not just for confident Centurions, but for grieving women who don’t even know that asking Jesus for help is an option.

We so often think about healing stories as being about the faith of the recipient, but healing stories are about the power and the compassion of God. Jesus chooses to resurrect the widow’s son not because he has earned it or his mother has earned it, but because it is in the nature of God to feel compassion for human beings. It is in the nature of God to transform suffering into healing and death into life.

He restores the young man to life and restores the widow to the life she knew. He gives her back some of what has been taken away from her, even though she is completely passive. She doesn’t speak once in the story. She doesn’t move toward her son after he is resurrected. Jesus does everything for her in this story, even handing her son to her after he is resurrected.

We cannot all be the Centurion. Most of us don’t walk around in complete confidence of our authority and God’s authority. Whether it is a crisis in our own family, or a hurricane, or a political season, we often look around in shock and ask ourselves, “What is happening?” We are often too overwhelmed to act, or even to know how to ask God for help.

And yet, the God of compassion who was moved to restore sons to their mothers through Elijah and Jesus, moves towards all of us in compassion as well.

Jesus restores the life of one man in this story, but through his death and resurrection he restores the lives of all humanity. All the people we have mourned, all the people we will mourn, they will all be restored to us. New life will be breathed into each of us after we die. We will all be restored to God and to one another.

If we look for them, we can find moments of God breaking into our world and bringing little resurrections in the here and now. These little resurrections help us hold onto our faith as we await the great Resurrection.

Charlie has a book out from the library right now called Maybe Something Beautiful. It’s a whimsical story about a little girl who lives in a drab city, who hangs a picture on a wall and then meets a muralist. She and he begin to add color to the walls of the drab city and soon the whole neighborhood is painting with them. At the end of the book, you find out that this is a true story, and the illustrator is the muralist who helped create the Urban Art Trail in San Diego. The art helped heal and bring life to a city that needed it. A small resurrection.

These small resurrections can take many forms, the first laugh after a period of grief. A new friend after a difficult move. The first job when you are trying to start over.

The first time you hold hands after a difficult patch in a relationship.

Small resurrections are not spectacular. They are nothing to tweet about. But they are life sustaining. They remind us that there, somewhere, is order to the universe. They remind us that we are loved. They remind us that there is a big resurrection waiting for us.

Whether we are heroes of faith, or barely faithful, Jesus’ love and resurrection are for us. Whether we are confident or overwhelmed by life, Jesus’ love and resurrection are for us.

We follow a God whose is moved by our suffering, who longs not only to comfort us, but to transform our story. We follow a God who does this, not because we deserve it or even want it, but because it is in his nature.

May you be blessed this week by small resurrections that remind you of the great one waiting for you.

Amen.

Proper 11, Year B, 2012

We disciples were so tired.

We hadn’t always been so tired.  When Jesus sent us out into the world two by two we were thrilled.

Jesus gave us power.  Real power, over unclean sprits.  We could feel the energy shoot through our arms when we practiced healing the sick exorcising demons.  Peter in particular, loved to find a good demon possessed person.  He loved the loud whoosh as he sent the demon flying.

When Jesus sent us out, we knew we were up for the challenge.  We might have been nobodies, fishermen and tax collectors, but now we had God on our side!  We had the magic touch.

We strutted into a nearby town and knocked boldly on a door.   It was slammed in our faces.  We tried again and again and eventually a desperate mom with a sick daughter let us in to her home.  The back room was dark.  We could barely make out this tiny girl lying on a pallet.  Suddenly, all our bravado was gone.  This mother didn’t care about how powerful we were, she just wanted her daughter well.  We held the girl’s hand and prayed more desperately than we ever had. In front of our eyes, the girl sat up, took a deep breath, and looked around disoriented for a minute.  When she saw her mother she ran to her and held on to her skirts.  She was perfectly healthy, just a little unnerved by two strange men in her house.

From then on, things were different.  We healed so many people.  You wouldn’t believe the problems people had.  Boils, blindness, leprosy, bad legs, lung diseases, any disfigurement you could imagine.  For days we did this, walking and healing; walking and healing.  Our strutting turned to dragging feet.  We were physical guys, but this was different.  We could haul fishing nets all day long, but fish don’t break your heart.

Eventually, it was time to go back to meet Jesus.  We made our goodbyes and dragged ourselves back to him.  We were so glad to see the other disciples.  Even Peter looked like the wind had been taken out of his sails a bit.  We just wanted some time to decompress. Jesus took one look at our bedraggled condition and immediately started leading us away to get some rest.

We got on the boat together and began to cross over.  Before we landed we could hear a weird buzz.  As we pulled in closer, the buzzing turned into the sound of human voices.  Hundreds of human voices.   On the shore were thousands of people as pitiful as the ones we had been healing.  Sad people, sick people, desperate people.  As soon as we got off the boat, their hands were on us, tugging, pushing.  People were climbing on top of one another just to put a hand on Jesus.

We kept expecting Jesus to get us out of there—to lead us away, but he didn’t.  Your lectionary may leave this out, but what Jesus did next was just infuriating.  He did not ask the crowd to leave, he didn’t find a private place for us to connect.  What did he do?  He invited the crowd—we are talking thousands of people—to sit down and eat!  That’s right, instead of giving us a retreat, suddenly he was expecting us to be waiters to a crowd of what must have been 5000 people!

This is how he was—no matter where we were, no matter how closely we needed to keep to a schedule, no matter what our original plan was, Jesus just couldn’t stand to see a hurting person.

I can’t describe adequately how overwhelming this was.  Once Jesus got really famous, everywhere we went, he was surrounded.  We were surrounded.  Hundreds of people every day asking things of him.  Hundreds of people every day begging him to change their lives.  It was like a plague of hope.  People who had been resigned to their lives for the first time thought there was a real chance that their lives might change.  That hope turned them into fierce, dogged, relentless pursuers of Jesus.

And Jesus loved them.  Even as they crowded us, and stepped on our toes, and ruined our plans, he felt only compassion for them.

But here’s the dirty secret.  Jesus couldn’t heal everyone.  Not because his healings were ineffective, not because he was unwilling.  No, the sheer numbers were just overwhelming.  For every hundred people he saw and healed, there were another hundred, two hundred, a thousand who showed up too late, or on the wrong day, or stood a little too far back in the crowd.

The crowds were like tidal waves, and Jesus could only deal with a bucket at a time.

And even once he gave us powers for healing and exorcising demons, we weren’t able to pick up the slack.  We did our best, but keeping up with the demand would have required an army of thousands.

Jesus never seemed anxious about this.  As much as his gut wrenched when he saw a particularly wounded soul, he never experienced despair.

We disciples were exhausted and discouraged, but Jesus just got more and more determined.

At the time, of course, we did not understand the big picture.  We saw how he poured himself out for these strangers, but we never could have predicted his end game.

We thought we needed more of him, more like him, or for him to work harder or more creatively, or to deputize more people.

Instead, Jesus walked toward Jesusalem.  Jesus handed himself over to the insecure, grasping, anxious hands of the enemy. The healer of the wounded became wounded himself.  He threw himself towards death and despair.  He poured himself out, completely.  We were devastated.

And then, that third day.  That third day, everything changed.  When he rose from the dead and showed himself to us, we finally got it.  In order to heal every person in the world, those in the world during his life time, and those after, Jesus had to change the rules.  Jesus needed to die so he could defeat death and all the suffering that comes along with it.  He needed to go to the source of the pain and the horror and trample it under his feet.  Human suffering might have been a tidal wave, but he was the Son of the One who created the oceans in the first place.  There was no limit to how far he was willing to go to bring healing to humankind.

We disciples knew what it was to be around Jesus, the living God.  We knew what it was like to be loved, to be healed, to share meals with the creator of the universe, come to earth.  In his death and resurrection, Jesus did more than bring healing to humankind, Jesus transformed the relationship between his Father and his Father’s creation.  Now all people could share the same intimacy with Jesus that we did.  Every Sunday across the planet, people share a meal with Jesus, much like the final meal he had with us.

Jesus shares himself with you, just as he shared himself with the crowds.  No matter how broken and needy you are, Jesus longs to heal you.  No matter how hungry your spirit is, Jesus longs to feed you.  No matter how lost you are, Jesus longs to be your shepherd.

We disciples knew Jesus for a few years, but you have your whole lives to get to know him.  But be careful, before you know it, you’ll be dropping your fishing nets and following him to the ends of the earth.  Getting to know Jesus is a risk, but trust me, it is a risk worth taking.

 

Epiphany 5, Year B, 2012

Listen to the sermon here.

Imagine it. A pint sized University of Southern California cheerleading uniform, complete with a maroon and gold pleated skirt, the letters USC proudly emblazoned on the front, and pom poms with a full head of extremely shakeable maroon streamers. When I was five years old I owned this very uniform and on one fine fall day, I was going to wear this uniform to Kindergarten to participate in a play. I dreamed of this day for weeks. I was going to enthusiastically shake those pom poms as long as they would allow me. I was going to embody the spirit of both my parents’ alma mater and cheerleading in general. The day was probably going to be the peak experience of my academic life.

And then, of course, I got strep throat. As I watched the mercury rocket to the top of the thermometer, the tears began to well up in my eyes. A fever meant no school. No school meant no cheerleading uniform. No pom pom shaking. No proudly cheering on an imaginary team. My best day ever dissolved into resting on the couch, weepily watching cartoons, feeling sorry for myself.

Being sick is no fun. While we often focus on the physical symptoms of illness—the pain, the exhaustion—perhaps the most difficult part of illness is the dislocation a person experiences. While it was sad that my five year old self did not get to fulfill her role as a cheerleader for a day, I did manage to overcome that developmental obstacle. But what about kids that are so sick that they miss weeks or months of school. What about adults that are so ill they cannot keep up with their work and have to go on disability? What about parents that are so sick, they can no longer take care of their children?

Think about all the roles you occupy on a given day. You are a worker, a friend, a daughter, a parent perhaps. You are a customer, a teacher, a volunteer, a pet owner. Now imagine you were no longer able to fulfill those roles. Imagine that you no longer had the strength to leave your home; that all your time was taken up with doctor’s appointments and treatments. Imagine other people coming in to do your job, to clean your home, to nurture your children, to walk your dog.

Would your deepest grief revolve around the pain you were experiencing, or suddenly losing so much of your identity?

Simon’s mother-in-law was ill and she did not have the hope modern medicine offers to us. She lay in her home, unable to fulfill her role as matriarch.

Now, I have to admit, this passage always makes me laugh a little. Jesus has just left the temple, to go to Simon’s house. He is probably starving. I imagine him looking at Simon and asking, “What’s for lunch?” And Simon saying, well, usually my mother –in-law would make something really delicious, but she’s been sick lately. . .”

But, let’s be clear, that is just my imagination and is NOT what is going on in the text here!

Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever and this fever has knocked her out. The fever is severe enough that the people in her household are very concerned about her and tell Simon and his friends immediately upon their entry into the home. Now keep in mind that Jesus has not healed anyone yet. He has sent some demons flying, but the people in this house do not know there is a healer in their midst. They are just concerned about the health of this woman.

Jesus goes to her bedside, holds her hand and lifts her up, healing her. Jesus does not heal her and then tell her to stay in bed and get some rest. No, his healing is so complete, she is immediately fully restored to health. Jesus lifts her to her feet and restores her to her place in her household.

In my sermon last month, we talked about how God brings order out of chaos. Jesus demonstrates this in the first chapter of Mark. By exorcising demons and healing the sick, Jesus is ordering what is chaotic in his followers’ lives. He restores the order of Simon’s mother-in-law’s life and her household.

Now, we might be made uncomfortable by the woman’s servile response, but the text does not say, “And Simon’s mother-in-law got up and made them a delicious lunch because she was a woman and that is all women are good for.” The text says that she served them—the verb here is diakoneo—the verb from which we get the word deacon. This word is only used twice in Mark. Once here and once in Mark 10:45—For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve”. Her service is holy service.

When Simon’s mother-in-law is healed by Jesus, her response is to serve Jesus. She is restored not only to her role in her household, but has a new role, as a servant of God. Even though some of his disciples are right there with him, they will not be able to live out this type of response to Jesus until after his death. Simon’s mother-in-law understands what it means to follow Jesus, long before her son-in-law and the other disciples do.

We in the church still believe that Jesus is in the business of healing and restoring us to our rightful places in our lives. We offer healing prayers in the Unity Chapel every Sunday, trusting that God hears our prayers and acts in our lives.

Now, the Kingdom of God is not fully realized. Just as mercy and justice are not fully present in our world, the full healing of God is not completed in our world, either. So we may pray our hearts out for our own health or the health of someone we love and not see any results. We may stay sidelined, unable to live out the roles we were called to live.

So, why do we continue to pray for healing?

We pray because our illness reminds us we are not as in control of our world as we thought we were. We pray because we know God knows all the roles we fulfill, and desires us to be our full selves. We pray because we believe God will heal us, that we will be restored to our full selves, even if the healing will not happen until we are in our resurrection bodies. We pray because we believe Christ’s healing is a sign that points to the fundamental nature of who God is—that our God brings order out of chaos and wholeness out of brokenness. We pray because we believe the Kingdom of God is in process of coming to fruition and we want part of that life with God. We pray because we want to be healed and we want to joyfully serve our God.

Where are you in our story today? Are you ill? Have you been dislocated from roles in your life because of sickness, estrangement or unemployment? Are you feeling consumed by the chaos of your life?

Or have you experienced the blessing of God’s healing? Are you ready now to serve our God?

We are all somewhere in this story.

During our communion hymns, I invite you to spend some time praying about where you might be in this story. If you would like healing prayer for yourself or someone you love, please join us in the unity chapel for prayer. If you feel ready to serve, pray that God might show you where you can best serve him.

We are all part of God’s story. No one is too ill, too sidelined, too unemployed to be without a role in God’s Kingdom. On the other hand, no one is too healthy, too important or too rich to have a role, either. All of us are necessary parts of this church and the greater Church. Each of us has something to contribute.

Jesus extends his hand to you, inviting you to get up. Will you take it?

Lent 4, Year A, 2011

The blind man did not ask for any of this.  If you’ll recall, he was quietly sitting by the side of the road, minding his own business, when suddenly the disciples notice him.  The disciples, who clearly have still not fully understood Jesus, ask Jesus whether the blind man or his parents sinned to make him blind.  I’m sure the blind man was used to this kind of conversation.  People probably felt free to talk about him as if he wasn’t there all the time.  Maybe the blind man was insulted.  Maybe the blind man wondered about the cause of his blindness himself. In any case, you can almost hear Jesus’ irritation as he tries to explain that the blindness was not caused by sin.  Without the blind man’s request or permission Jesus spits in dirt, rubs it in the man’s eyes and then tells him to go and take a bath.

Can you imagine?  The poor blind man just wants to be left alone, or maybe get a little change from a sympathetic passerby, and instead some stranger rubs mud into his eyes!  And not only mud, but mud that has been moistened with human spit. What a disgusting thing to do to another person!  The blind man gets out of there, goes to the pool that Jesus suggested, washes the mud from his eyes and sure enough, suddenly his sight is restored.  He can see!  Suddenly Jesus’ interruption into his life is not an annoyance, but a huge blessing.

The man returns to his neighborhood and once again the neighbors start talking about him as if he’s not there.  “Isn’t that the guy who used to beg?”  He can hear them gossiping.  Finally they ask him directly and he tells them exactly what happened.  A man named Jesus.  The mud.  The pool.  The sight.  No, he doesn’t know where Jesus is now.

This starts to happen over and over to the man.  The Pharisees drag him in for questioning.  He gives the same answers.  Jesus.  Mud.  Now he can see.  The man can see things around him for the first time, and he can also see what the Pharisees are up to.  The Pharisees start to whisper gleefully—“Oh, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  He can’t be from God.  We’ve got him now! “ But the formerly blind man knows their logic is as short sighted as the logic about how sins cause medical conditions.  He is brave enough to tell the Pharisees that he thinks Jesus is a prophet.

Then the authorities haul his parents in for questioning.  Now, his parents’ sin might not have caused his blindness, but they don’t win parent of the year awards here, either.  Instead of rising to the blind man’s defense they say, “Yes, he’s our son, but that’s all we know.  We swear!  Ask him!  He’s old enough!”

Once again, the man is hauled before the Pharisees.  They tell him to “give glory to God” by admitting Jesus is a sinner.  The irony here is delicious.  Once again, the man sticks to his story.  All he knows is that he was blind and now he sees.  When they ask him the same questions over and over again he finally snaps back and asks them, “Why are you so interested?  Do you want to become his disciples?”  Our man has some spine!  The Pharisees are horrified, of course.   They tell the man that they don’t even know where Jesus is from.  They are starting to sound like old Southern biddies.  “We don’t know who his people are.”

What’s interesting here is that the more the Pharisees push, the more the man sees, and the more the man believes.  With every encounter, his boldness at describing Jesus deepens. He might have started out as a man on the sidelines, but the Pharisees are pulling faith out of him thread by thread, even though they intend the opposite.  After the Pharisees curl their noses at Jesus’ lineage, the formerly blind man uses their own logic against them.

“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  The Pharisees are infuriated and drive the blind man out of town.

The man has nowhere near the education the Pharisees have.  As a blind person, he could not have studied the Torah.  In their world view the Pharisees have all the knowledge about God and the formerly blind man has none.

We know the opposite is true.  After the man is cast out of town, Jesus searches him out and reveals his identity to him.  Jesus is not just a man.  Jesus is not just a prophet.  Jesus is not just a Godly person.  Jesus is the Son of God.  While the Pharisees are debating about the fine points of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, the man Jesus healed is having an encounter with the living God.  His lack of education, his lack of resources, his former disability—none of that stands in the way of the encounter.  His faith helps him see God in a way that the Pharisees are unable to see.  We learn that they are actually the blind people in this story.  They have every opportunity to see the work of God, but they are too caught up in their own rules and power to see it.

Jesus may no longer be walking around on earth occasionally muddying someone’s eyes, but Jesus still shows up in our lives whether we ask for him or not. Experiences with God are not limited to those brilliant professors at Princeton Seminary or the clergy in this town.  In fact, sometimes the “experts” get so caught up in the details, like the Pharisees we can miss encounters with God right before our noses!

The Holy Spirit can break in to anyone’s life at any time and give a person an encounter with the risen Christ.  History is filled with these moments.  St. Augustine, who had a notoriously naughty youth, was visited by a man named Potitian, who told him about the conversion of some other men.  St. Augustine was so moved by the stories, he ran into a garden, crying out to God and suddenly he heard the voice of children singing, “Take up and read.  Take up and read.”  He picked up his bible and opened it to Romans 13:13-14, “let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  In that moment, Augustine felt as if he had encountered the risen Christ, who was speaking directly to him.

My favorite modern story of this kind of encounter, is the story Anne Lamott records of her own encounter with Jesus in her book Traveling Mercies.

After awhile, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone.  The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there-of course, there wasn’t.  But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus.  I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled.  I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen.  I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”

I just felt him sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that ‘s not what I was seeing him with.  Finally, I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.”

Now, if Augustine or Anne Lamott tried to tell their experiences to the Pharisees, they would be stuck in the same position as the blind man.  They would sound ridiculous!  Their experiences are not logical.  Their experiences don’t fit into our understanding of how the world works.  But like the blind man, all they can do is tell what happened to them.  Augustine lived a selfish life, had his encounter with Christ, and became one of the great Saints of the Church.  Lamott was a woman with a serious addiction, had her experience with Christ, and went on to give up drugs and alcohol and became famous writing about faith.  They were blind and then they saw.  And when the saw the truth, they communicated that truth to those around them.

So, be on watch this Lent.  You never know when Christ will sneak up in your life and radically transform it.  Whether you are new to faith or have been worshiping for sixty years, Jesus may not ask first.  He may just come up to you and heal you in ways you never expected or knew you needed.  And if people don’t believe it happened to you all you have to say is “All I know is, I was blind and now I see.”

Amen.