John 9:1-12, 24-25, 35-41
We gather today with half of our journey through Lent behind us and Holy Week only two weeks away. Remembering that the season of Lent was historically a time of preparation for people who wished to become followers of Jesus who would formally enter into this covenant through baptism on Easter morning, we have been working through the baptism covenant we make as United Methodists.
We have considered the need to resist temptation, to accept the power God gives us to resist evil in all forms, and the need to confess our experience of the living Christ to our world through all that we say and do.
Today we come to the part of our baptismal vow where we hear these questions: “To parents and sponsors: Will you nurture these children/persons in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?… To the congregation: Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?”
We have all heard these questions. Many of us have answered: “I will” more than once. Yet I wonder how many of us check in with ourselves to see how we are doing at keeping the promise we made. I think this morning’s gospel lesson gives us an opportunity to consider how we are doing.
Our baptismal vow to nurture one another speaks to community. We cannot teach, set examples, nurture in the Christian faith and life unless we have a relationship, a community where we spend time together praying, studying, working, playing together. The time, stories, tears, and laughter we share with one another are critical to our fulfillment of this promise to one another.
As the writer of John weaves us through this story of the man who sits begging because he doesn’t not have physical sight, we encounter three distinct communities: the disciples of Jesus, the neighbors who had known the blind beggar and his family since the man was born; and a small group of religious leaders. All communities in which we would expect to find nurturing.
The Disciples have witnessed Jesus doing miracles, talking with many who were considered of no value by the world in which they lived. They have heard the teachings of love and a new way of looking at things. They have experienced a reversal of priorities that puts caring for those least able to care for themselves above personal gain of any kind. They have witnessed the power of “God with us” first hand. Yet as they look at this man who has been unable to see since birth, they look past the person and are distracted by why this would happen. As many people of the day believed, the Disciples believe that when a person is suffering from a physical or mental ailment it is a punishment for sin. It is not surprising from the world-view then, that they want to know if the man sinned or if he is without sight because of his parents’ sin.
As the story unfolds in John, we see little empathy from the Disciples for the man. No efforts to nurture him in the faith or to get to know him. Their focus is fixed on who to blame for his condition.
Jesus focuses on glorifying God through the healing of this person. The man didn’t seek the healing, Jesus saw his situation and reached out. In the context of the passage before this one, at the time he sees the man begging, Jesus is aware there are people in the area hoping to get an opportunity to stone him. He is in the midst of his own personal crisis, and yet he sees and responds to the need of another, setting aside what many may consider the more pressing concern for his personal safety. He stops, makes the mud out of spit and dirt, and spreads it on the man’s eyes. An outward sign of the grace-filled work God of within the Man. Nurturing body and soul with his touch before sending him to wash in the pool of Siloan.
This man’s life is transformed in many ways because of the actions of Jesus and yet the community of His’ closest followers make assumptions about this man’s condition that justify the wider community to continue to reject him. Through the Disciples actions the community can infer that they don’t have to nurture him because his blindness is his own fault, they can ostracize him and deny him access to what those who have not committed the sin that leads to blindness take for granted, such as employment opportunities, a place to live, and friends and family who won’t deny knowing him in order to protect their own privileged status in the community.
The neighbors who had known the blind beggar and his family since the man was born should have known this man the best of anyone. They saw him sitting begging every day, they know his family. Yet when he returns with his eyes open, his barriers to experiencing the world as a sighted person, the community of his birth doesn’t recognize him. They don’t seem to believe he is who he says he is. They focus how it could happen, if this person is the one who was blind. His community wants to see the person who made it possible. To find the remedy. By questioning and seeking the source. They reject the person who stands before them. There is no indication of joy in this miracle, of celebration. No evidence they reach out to nurture this member of the community into all the possibilities for him that now exist.
Then there is the community of this small group of religious leaders. They too seem to focus on things that are outside the understanding of nurture. They are caught up in a discussion over whether Jesus is from God because he healed on the Sabbath, suggesting he is both a fraud and a sinner, and in so packaging Jesus, put the fact a healed man with who they are talking face to face is healed, into question. When the healed man answers their questions as to what he has to say about Jesus with the declaration Jesus is a prophet, the religious leaders can’t accept that as truth and look for ways to prove the whole story is a lie. The man’s parents, confirm that their son was born blind, but don’t acknowledge any further information. They seem to want to stay clear of any association with the followers of Jesus for fear of what their religious community will say about them. They don’t want to lose their position in their church by confirming the actions of Jesus on their son’s behalf.
The religious leaders still can’t accept the facts. They go back to the healed man trying to establish proof that he is following a false prophet that he is still an unrepentant sinner who continues to practice a sinful lifestyle. They reject his testimony and drive him out of the only community he has ever known.
Three communities which should love others as God loves them. Three communities which should see beyond the labels and the things of the past to the transformed hearts and lives of those touched by Jesus. Three communities which should have rejoiced, embraced, and nurtured this person witnessing to God’s work in his life.
Three communities that missed an opportunity to live out their faith through the nurturing of another person because they were focused on Why this would happen, How healing could have possibly taken place, and Finding a way to reject it as true because it messed with how things have always been.
Jesus discovers that the one healed is now rejected, without a nurturing community, and he reaches out again. He invites him into the community of his followers, establishes a relationship which opens the man’s spiritual eyes as well, and provides the example that allows the man to become part of a community that will actually see him for who he is and nurture him in the faith.
In many ways the UMC of the Abundant Harvest is a nurturing community. We take time to hear each other’s stories, to pray for joys and concerns of those within our faith community and the community beyond these walls. We dream together as to how to witness to the world the healing power of Jesus in each of our lives. We explore ways to support ministry in new ways. We gather together to worship, pray, study, work, and sometimes even to play.
There are times, however, when we all can get distracted and fail to nurture. We can get caught up in the history of things, not recognizing the amazing things that sometimes come with change and transformation. We can be frightened by circumstances which make us feel out of control. Sometimes we can find it difficult to accept facts that surface and we look for ways to discredit them so we can ignore them.
Jesus has healed each of us in some way, possibly multiple times. Jesus reaches out to each of us welcoming us into His community of followers with a focus on loving us and equipping us to love others. He calls us to watch out for each other, to love each other, to model Christ in each conversation and each action. He moves us beyond the limited sight modeled by the Disciples, friends and neighbors, and religious leaders, opening our eyes to how things are in His Kingdom. He calls us to look for ways to love and build each other up: those we know well, those we are just getting to know, and those we haven’t met yet. He calls us to nurture in the most difficult times and places so that all will come to know and glorify God.
We have promised to live this way.
He has promised to give us the power to fulfill our commitment.
 Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser, Preaching Notes Fourth Sunday of Lent, Discipleship Ministries UMC