my miscellany

Lent 4: Lætare, 2017 — 26 Mar 17

Lent 4: Lætare, 2017

RCL A Lent 4
I Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, Saint John 9:1-41

“Jesus said to [the Pharisees], ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.’”[1]

The Gospel today follows thematically the Gospels of the last two weeks. The Lectionary is giving us Gospels that drive home one of the central themes of the Gospel of John. And it’s a theme that encourages us along our spiritual journey whether or not we are in the midst of Lent.

Nicodemus stumbles on the subject of birth, particularly spiritual birth. The Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well stumbles, and quickly recovers, on the subject of water, particularly running or living water, “spiritual” water, if you will. And in the Gospel today the Pharisees are stumbling on the subject of sight, particularly seeing the truth of spiritual things.

The man blind from birth testifies to the Pharisees that Jesus cured his blindness. He tells them, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”[2]

The Pharisees do not believe him. Teasing out the duality of physical sight and spiritual sight, I say to you that for the Pharisees seeing is not believing. And that, dearly beloved, is no way to live. The Pharisees know the man has lived his whole life without seeing, but now he sees. And they do not believe that Jesus did what they plainly see. Seeing is not believing. At the end of the Gospel Jesus pointedly reminds them of their blindness to spiritual things when he tells them that since they say they see spiritual things—but actually do not see them—their sin remains.

The theme of John’s Gospel I mentioned earlier is this. There is a spiritual world and a physical world. The spiritual world is primary. It is our true home. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”[3]

This Gospel encourages us to use our God-given sight, our ability to see spiritually that is part of our being made in the image of God, to perceive, as we say to God in Baptism, “a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”[4]

The witness of the Church through the centuries is that God raised Jesus from the dead. The choice before us throughout our lives is whether or not we believe that, whether or not we believe because we have heard their testimony. There can be no better preparation to celebrate the Resurrection than to train our sight on the spiritual truths that God has strewn all around us in virtue of the empty tomb. The tomb is empty, because God raised Jesus from death on the cross: the spiritual world and spiritual sight God has preferred to be the true and everlasting reality. Through the valley of the shadow of death that rod and that staff comfort and strengthen us.

[1] Saint John 9:41.

[2] Saint John 9:11.

[3] Saint John 1:14.

[4] BCP, page 308.

Lent 3, 2017 — 19 Mar 17

Lent 3, 2017

RCL A Lent 3
Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, Saint John 4:5-42

The Gospel today serves as a sequel to the Gospel last week. Like last week, we have the old dichotomy between the physical and spiritual worlds, and we have a sinner who is puzzling her way between those worlds. Last week we had Nicodemus, and this week we have the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well.

Nicodemus was stumped by the subject of birth. He well understood being born as an infant. But being born again, from above, in a spiritual way was his stumbling block. I think he recovered from that, but we cannot be sure.

The Samaritan Woman similarly stumbles over the water, the still water, from Jacob’s well and the running or living water that Jesus offers to her. But she recovers quickly.

When Jesus offers her the water “gushing up to eternal life,”[1] she asks for it immediately. Jesus reveals to her the situations in her life before identifying himself as the Christ. She goes and asks her neighbors if he is the Messiah. She becomes an evangelist like Peter, James, and John. She brings others to Christ having herself discovered who he is. In the end, the Samaritan Woman and her neighbors believe that Jesus “is truly the Savior of the world.”[2]

Nicodemus at the end of his encounter with Jesus seems unresolved as to Jesus’ identity. But the Samaritan Woman is satisfied that he is the Christ.

And I want to make the simple point that when we are poised between belief and unbelief in Jesus, we are poised to write our own happy ending. Believing in Jesus leads to a happy ending for our lives. We are free to choose which ending we shall have. And in choosing to believe in Jesus, we are choosing to believe in the Spirit, in being born from above, and in the water that gushes up to eternal life.

And in making that choice, we are holding out for the possibility that what Jesus tells us in the Gospel is true. We are letting him be God, and we are simply holding a place for God to be God. In letting God be God, we are declaring ourselves to be faithful, to be God’s faithful creatures. We are declaring that we choose to live.

I am telling you that I believe that is the way to live. That is the way to choose life. That is the way to be what God created us to be. If it takes the thirty-ninth observance of Lent, or the sixty-ninth, or the twenty-fifth time of reading the story of the Samaritan Woman, or a Gothic church, or a decided mission, or the old-time religion, to make this decision to live, to be born from above, or to taste the living water, so be it. Coming to this decision, however you do it, is the best use of your God-given time.

[1] Saint John 4:14.

[2] Saint John 4:42.

Lent 2, 2017 — 12 Mar 17

Lent 2, 2017

RCL A Lent 2
Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5 and 13-17, Saint John 3:1-17

Most every one of us, I believe, either has struggled with the questions Nicodemus poses, or we have not been aware of them, and we’ve let them fly right over our heads. After all, why should we bother the Spirit if the Spirit isn’t bothering us?

Nicodemus’ central question, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?”[1], is the question any one of us has asked if we have wondered about the spiritual world. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus suggests that Nicodemus hasn’t had yet the opportunity to make up his mind about the spiritual world, because he has not yet experienced the spiritual world: “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”[2]

Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must be born into the spiritual world. Nicodemus is a practical man and a lurker on the edge of Jesus’ disciples, but he hasn’t made his way into the spiritual world. It has eluded him, and maybe it eludes us. But it is there as Jesus says.

How can Nicodemus walk through the looking glass and experience the spiritual world since he doesn’t know it? His first step, I believe, is to hold out for the possibility that what Jesus tells him is true. He needs to frame in his mind the possibility that there is a spiritual world and that he may be born again in it. If he can do this, if he can open his mind to the possibility that what Jesus says is true, then he will not be surprised when he bumps into the spiritual world. Certainly, he will bump into it at one time or another. I believe we all do. It would be very odd not to bump into it since Jesus tells us that it is there.

We see Nicodemus again after the Crucifixion. He provides the customary embalming spices, and he assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial. The reverence he gives to Jesus’ body opens up the possibility that Nicodemus has changed. Something has happened to him. What is it? We cannot know for sure. But I like to think that he sees a significance in the physical world, in Jesus’ body, because he associates them with their true source, the Spirit that Jesus told him about. He inhabits both the physical world and the spiritual world, and he behaves differently for knowing both.

This is the season when we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. And that celebration will not be very much if we think that Jesus’ body was his only remainder. Like Nicodemus, we are challenged to hold out for the possibility that every teaching and every pronouncement of Jesus is exactly the case. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”[3]

[1] Saint John 3:4.

[2] Saint John 3:6.

[3] Saint John 3:16.

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