Wednesday, January 4, 2012

There But For the Grace of God

There but for the Grace of God
(Jan 2, 2012)
John 9:1-7 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4Wemust work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 

You know, there is just not that much difference between people in the first century and people in the 21st century.

In the first century, people commonly believed that your sins would be visited on you and on your children and their children for generations. They believed that if something ill befell you, it was a sign of your sin. They even had certain sins assigned to certain illnesses, impure thoughts might manifest themselves as insanity,   gossip resulted in throat cancer,   anger might emerge as bile in the gut.     Envy is commonly associated with blindness.

And so in this text, our 1st Century characters see a blind man and wonder what he did to deserve to be blind.

To our 21st Century ears, that sounds inhumane, completely lacking in empathy, unthinkable.
Or does it? How often do we hear of the misfortune of others and immediately look for a way to distinguish ourselves from them. Our first instinct is to erect a wall between what happened to them and what is possible for us.     “I don’t live where there are tidal waves”      “We never go to Brown’s Chicken”      “We never leave candles burning.”

The implication is that there is something about me or my circumstances that will keep that misfortune from happening to me.The implication is that there is something about her or her circumstances, that resulted in his misfortune.

You see, people in the 1st Century and in the 21st Century are not that different at all.

But that misses the whole point of this Scripture and indeed of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels as a whole. In our Gospel today, Jesus is not concerned with the reason that the blind man is blind. Jesus is concerned with the opportunity it offers him, the opportunity it offers all of us, to be the vehicle for transformation in the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.
The Scripture says:
“he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day;…. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 
·         Bad things do happen to good people.    Accidents, illness, misfortune, they are indiscriminate.        No one deserves to have their entire community swept away by a tornado.   Nobody deserves to be blind. But the answer is not to make a distinction; The answer is not to define an “us” and a “them.” The answer is never a wall between people.
(Here’s a tip: when you are wondering if your actions are following in the footsteps of Christ… if you’re building a wall between people, they’re not.)

The Good News in this Gospel is that Jesus takes people where he finds them. No looking back with regret, no “what if.” Jesus teaches us to start where we are and move forward. There is an opportunity for God’s grace here, the potential for the presence of the Lord.
“he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day;…. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 

In this Scripture we are called to work the works of mercy and kindness…to be the light when there appears to be only darkness. We are called to be the instruments of consolation, the conduits of God’s healing love.

And how are we expected to achieve such an awesome task?Th ese are scenes of tragedy and trauma and suffering, how can we possibly be expected to make the love of God present in situations such as these? 
Well, Jesus spit on the ground.
He spit and made a mud ball and smeared it on the poor blind man’s face...

This is one of those cases where it helps to know the context. Galilee is a pretty arid place. The soil is fertile, but it takes some work to grow things. What Jesus does, then, is take dry, arid dirt and add water to make it fertile. And not just any water, water from his own mouth. His own essence is part of what makes the dirt into soil and releases its potential for growth. Jesus’ saliva represents something essential to him, something unique and priceless.

He took a little bit of himself, some of his DNA and added that to the soil to make the poultice. 
And that is what this text calls us to do. When we are confronted with tragedy, with suffering and with misfortune… we are called to be instruments of God’s grace. And not just with some soil and some water from our water bottle.

Now, you may be thinking, “Oh no. I have no more time in my day to cook for the soup kitchen. I work full time, I cannot train with the Red Cross.” Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to. There are times when all we can do and in fact the best thing we can do, is write a check.
In that case, by all means write that check. 

But when you do, add a little of your own essence to it. Enclose a note to the relief worker – there are places on the Episcopal Relief website to do that. Or just stop before you press send and say a little prayer over your gift.

Join your energy with God’s to transform the lives of the less fortunate.
That is all this Scripture is asking us to do…
to add a little of ourselves,
become invested,
draw on our own resources,
So that the healing and the mitigation and the resolution are part of us and we are part of them.
No longer is the suffering person “other” or distinct from us,
now we are blended,
blind man and healer,
sufferer and comforter,
friend and friend.

That is all we are asked to do. To give of ourselves, as we are able, and with the grace of guidance of God, to heal what is broken in Creation.

In the first Century and in the 21st Century, When we witness human tragedy, we are tempted to have the same initial response of fear. We whisper, “There, but for the grace of God go, I”
But we are called by this Scripture to respond differently. We are called to say, not in a whisper but in a loud and very clear voice,

“Here, by the grace of God, are we…all in it together.”