19 March 2023 – Fourth Sunday In Lent
by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a TRANSCRIPT of the homily. It may vary considerably from the prepared version. Please do not cite without permission.
The name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Please be seated. And I’m going to take a moment to take a drink of water after the gospel that we just that we just worked our way through.
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him and without Him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. With these words, the Gospel of John begins. The Irish poet and theologian Patrick Otama, describes the gospel as opening with the poem, praising the word and the beginning, praising light, light that shines in darkness. And oh, Tom has words with this introduction, the main themes of the gospel are set out, life and death, belief and unbelief, acceptance and rejection of the world, humanity and God, flesh and glory, seeing and not seeing. It’s like in Otah misdescription, in his words, a film that starts with a dream. The opening sequence only makes sense, once you’ve seen it all. I would suggest that the reverse holds true as well. Just as this opening sequence only makes sense, once you’ve seen the whole the pieces that follow one of which we heard today only make sense, when you consider them in light of the beginning. Life and death, belief and unbelief. Seeing, not seeing. So let’s start at that beginning. Because honestly, we can use all the help we can get with today’s Gospel. Sometimes you come across stories in the Bible that are just baffling, sometimes troubling. And this is one of those passages. I received an email from a parishioner earlier this week, it was addressed to Richard and me It said something like this, God be with you. On Sunday morning. To you, Tammy, the Proclaimer of this gospel into you, Richard, the preacher of this gospel xao, we is I think how this person closed their email. So, as it turns out with Richard’s COVID diagnosis over the weekend, I get to be both proclaimer and preacher, God be with me. There’s a lot in this passage. And as I dug into it more over the weekend, I actually came to be strangely fascinated by it, it is incredibly rich. But before we can explore the richness, or perhaps as part of the exploration of that richness, I think my email correspondent this week, was referring to the ethical challenges in this passage. In this passage, and also in much of the Gospel of John. So I want to dig into a couple of those items together here today, starting with the treatment of the Jews. More than any of the other gospels, the Gospel of John has been interpreted through the centuries as pitting Jesus, against the Jews and against Judaism irrevocably in opposition to each other. But that’s not the only way to read the Jews. In fact, most scholars agree it’s quite a sloppy reading. One commentator describes the alternative reading this way. The dominant conflict in John’s story is between Jesus and the Galileans, the Samaritans, and especially the Jew, Dan’s who trust in Him on the one hand, and the rulers of the Jew, Dan’s based in the temple in Jerusalem. On the other. Many would say that contemporary translations, including the the NRSV, which the Episcopal Church uses in its lectionary continue to perpetuate a more slanderous view of the Jews. So every time you read the Jews in the Gospel of John, know that the original Greek says, Hey, boy, you die boy, or the Judeans. And when you come across the Jews, you might slow down and think instead in its place, the leaders of the temple in Jerusalem at that time. So let’s ethical issue number one, a second challenging portion of today’s Gospel comes early on. Jesus’s disciples asked him about the blind man, Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind. So the first part of Jesus’s response seems reasonable neither neither this man nor his parents send says Jesus, it gets troubling though as he continues, he was born blind, so that God’s works might be revealed in him. It doesn’t really sit well does it? Is Jesus suggesting that God made this man suffer his whole life, so that Jesus could come along these many years later, and heal him, thus demonstrating God’s hand at work in the world? It could be read that way, couldn’t it? So for the moment, I just want to call that piece out and hold it there. It does demand a response. And we’ll get back to it in a minute. And it demands a response because words are powerful. And through the centuries, these words have been used in problematic, sometimes lethal ways in the name of the church. So having called these things out, how are we to understand a passage of scripture like this? I would suggest that the first thing is, we should never let a season of Lent or a Holy Week go by without reminding ourselves in public, of the ways in which an uncritical or an irresponsible approach to the Gospel of John can continue to cause harm today. Every year, every year at some point, we should publicly remind ourselves, perhaps we place a stumbling block in our way, like using the original Greek, why you die boy, Galileo hoists, summarize it, so that we have to slow down and be reminded. And you will hear this again on Palm Sunday. When you do keep this in mind. It is critical to an ethical use of the Gospel of John. So that’s the first step in understanding this passage. And once we’ve done that, we can further understand the piece as Otama recommended by looking at the whole. The gospels are curated works of literature and theology. They are designed to reveal who Jesus was at that point as who Jesus was, as that particular community understood him. And the author of this gospel, what message was this author trying to convey? We go back to the dreamlike poetry with which the Gospel begins. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him. What has come into being In him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Life and death, belief and unbelief, seeing and not seeing. When we look at that hole, we see that today’s Gospel, this ninth chapter of John, is not really about a miracle cure. It’s about Jesus, going about God’s work in the world. Beyond rejecting the idea that this man is blind because he is sinful or his parents were sinful. Jesus doesn’t really offer an interpretation of why he was born blind. He sort of changes the subject. His interest in this story, is that God’s work be revealed in the world. And that work We see it play out in the gradual enlightenment of this man as he regains his sight. When first question by his neighbors he initially identifies Jesus as Jesus. With further interrogation by why you die, oh boy, the temple leaders in Jerusalem. The man asserts that Jesus is a prophet. When questioned a second time, he proclaimed Jesus as a man from God. And finally, when Jesus seeks out the man after he has been ejected from the gathering, he identifies Jesus as Son of man, and Lord. We watched this realization unfold. The man’s gaining of physical sight is a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment. In the beginning was the word All things came into being through him. What has come into being In him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. So in these last days of Lent, may our eyes be opened to the work of God in the world. May Jesus come along and wipe metaphorical mud in our eyes, opening our spirits to know the light that shines in the darkness Amen.