The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Reflection and Scripture Intermingled

  3 readers - Marg on Scripture with Liz & Sharon on Relfection and Prayers

Marg: In these lenten weeks, the Exploring Faith Team have been inviting us to ponder the question “Who is Jesus for Me?” This is the question continually being considered by the community of John’s gospel, in chapter 9, reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message.  

I think of this community in their original context as understood by most biblical scholars… a small community of Jewish Christians, living apart from their Jewish brothers and sisters, at the end of the first century of the Common Era. They know the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but when we read this gospel, we note that they seem not to be familiar with so many of the stories of Jesus’ life, healing and teaching that are common to all of the other three gospels.

John’s community know each other very well, intimately, we might say. Privacy is hard to maintain… and their understanding of life is based in a culture of honor and shame… quite unlike our own culture of guilt and innocence, truth and lies. This gospel is commonly referred to by biblical scholars as the “Signs” gospel. John’s community is continuously focused on answering our lenten question… “Who is Jesus for us? — as individuals and as a community?”

In other words, who is Jesus? Who am I? Who are we? And how does it all fit together… what does it all mean? If Isay I’m a follower of Jesus, as these ones travelling with him in today’s text are — if weare his friends — what difference does it make in our community, our choices?

John 9: 1 - 8

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

Sharon: Jesus is telling his companions who he is, and how knowing him can make a difference for them.

Our actions matter. What we do makes a difference. We know this, and it’s important that we remember this always. Our actions have consequences. It’s true for us as individuals, and it’s true for us in our relationships. We contribute to the well-being of the world around us almost without realizing it, within our families and our neighborhood.

Sometimes we have the opportunity to make a significant difference as we are doing with the Al Zaza family, helping them to adjust to life in this new homeland. The world is in a refugee crisis… We can make a difference globally, when we choose to get involved, to offer of ourselves. When we become actively involved, we can create real joy and healing.

The stories we are hearing about the work of the UN High Commission on Refugees, as lifted up during our lenten coffee hours, offer a simple way we can make a global difference — when and how we choose to respond makes a difference… the envelopes are in the pews before us… and there is the donate button… why not try it?

Jesus said, “I am the world’s light.” If Jesus is our light, what difference does that make in our lives?

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Liz: Following Jesus is a choice. That ‘choosing’ makes a difference in how we live. Who do you choose to follow — and how does that make a difference in how you live?

Marg: John 9:6 - 12

Jesus said “I am the world’s light” and then he spat in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said,“Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying,“Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”Others said, “It’s him all right!”But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”He said, “I am he, the very one.” They said, “How did your eyes get opened?” “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me,‘Go to Siloam and wash.’

I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”

“So where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

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Liz: Change is difficult! Change is stressful! When we’ve lived with difficulty and everything gets turned around, it can be a real struggle to accept and believe that it could be so. We’ve adjusted so well for so long! We know all about this. We’ve tried everything! Nothing ever really changes, does it?

Does it?

But then, looking at the man, we wonder: “Is it really possible?” “Surely not,” but then, gradually it dawns on us: “Just maybe its true!” On the other hand, we might need to stay with being safe and skeptical here. We might convince ourselves that such a miracle is just not possible. We are convinced that we must be missing something here!

To be sure, change is hard — even a small change can be a huge adjustment. It’s really hard to maintain! Old patterns of behavior, old ways of interpreting situations, old ways of seeing, or not seeing, and old ways of being in relationship pull us back like a strong magnet. Change always takes courage and wisdom and strong faith!

This makes me think of the denominational changes we’re facing. Boy, those Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist visionaries who found the courage and wisdom to join their denominations together in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada — now there’s a good example of courage and strong faith. Those people literally take my breath away!

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Sharon: Their prayerful speaking and listening led them to see themselves and one another with new eyes. It was not easy. It took years of sharing stories and comparing their models of how to do church before they found “their way” which (over time) became “our way.”

This one named Jesus was with them then and has continued to be with us still and always… still sending us into action… still opening our eyes, inviting us to see and be made new… if we are willing to be touched, (to risk vulnerability), and to go and wash… (to get involved, to follow through)… We have to do our part… New vision leads to new understanding which leads to new relationships.

Think about the news coming into our homes every day… Our world is changing! Our culture no longer stops for the sabbath. Congregations are shrinking and there’s too much work for too few people.

I hear the voice of Jesus inviting us… don’t play the blame game. Look instead to how God is working through us energetically. Get ready to be changed… Be explorers!

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Marg: John 9:13 - 17

They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?”

There was a split in their ranks.

They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened youreyes. What do you say about him?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

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Sharon: John’s community was a Jewish Christian community. It was dangerous to be a follower of Jesus… Jesus’ followers were a small minority among their people. I have a picture in my mind’s eye of a small group of people who have been debating like this with family members — heated disputes — He can’t be the One! — He is the One! Families have become split over this question of who Jesus is. This group is on the edge, and keeping pretty quiet about this man whom they follow — except among themselves.

Sound familiar? They were not a large and influential group. Certainly not the majority. They were a small minority who were struggling to figure out what it meant to be followers of The Way.

Isn’t that who we are?

The Jews, remember, had long been waiting for the coming of the Messiah, but this Jesus was not what they had expected… did not fit their picture… there was no agreement.

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Liz: We could say, those first followers of The Way and our story’s characters were “blind-sided” by their own expectations about what Jesus would be like.

They were “blind-sided” by who Jesus chose to welcome; who he chose to affirm, include, and heal. This brings us to the topic of physical and spiritual blindness and our own realization that the movement from blindness to sight in this story is as much about new belief and new understanding as it is about ‘sight’ as one of the five senses.

In this story, not only is the man born blind’s physiology completely changed but also his spiritual capacity to really ‘see’ Jesus with new eyes. This, of course, is particularly overwhelming for the man’s family, so long used to their son being defined by his limitations. Now they, too, are being held to account for their son’s transformation. Terrified by the implications of this miracle for their own safety, they can barely fathom what has happened never mind try to explain it to the religious authorities.

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 Marg: John 9:18 - 23

The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.”

(His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

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Liz: Perhaps we can identify with their reluctance to stand with their son? “To be sure, he is our son, — yes, of course, he is! But, this! It feels too big, too radical, too fast… Perhaps, over time,” they think, “we could come to accept but supporting him here and now in this present moment, it feels too scary. Who knows where this risky endeavor called Christianity will take him?” It feels more than ominous, it feels downright dangerous! “If we were to go along,” they think, “We could lose everything we have held dear up to this present moment…. Clearly, we don’t have enough information to make a sound decision. We don’t know the whole story. Better to leave the big decisions to others. We know this will take more courage, wisdom and strong faith than we can summon up, even for our beloved Son,” they tell themselves.

Sharon: But then, I think about the Samaritan woman from last week’s story who stepped outside of her comfort zone big time when she rushed back to her village to make sure everyone within earshot heard about her encounter with Jesus at the well. I recall how her natural instinct up to that point would have been to keep her thoughts to herself; to hold back, to stay on the sidelines. But, once she had experienced Jesus, she could barely contain herself. To do anything less than fully walk the talk of her faith would have felt lacking in integrity. In proclaiming her story of being seen and affirmed by Jesus for who she was, this unnamed woman from Samaria became one of Jesus’ first evangelists.

The parents in this morning’s story are not about to do something as radical as that. “Let him tell his own story”, they tell the authorities. “After all, he is a grown man. His story is his to tell, not ours!” Sound familiar?

Liz: But, then I hear something different. I hear Jesus’ voice calling them and us. Calling and nudging us to walk the talk of our faith, right here and right now in our own context where change is coming at us faster than we can comprehend. Added to this, with fewer of us working hard to keep things going, we know we need change, but it is hard to let go. It is hard to make space for what is yet to come.

Sharon: It’s hard to embrace a new vision when we have become so skilled at doing things the way we’ve always done. Here’s the thing: we feel the ground shifting; we know change is necessary, but we feel unprepared, and I think vulnerable. The world is changing so fast, and for many of us the church has been the one reliable constant… and now we hear that the church is being changed. We’re asked to get involved — to talk about the proposed changes. I want a clearer vision of the new church structures that are behind and under the proposed remits coming out of General Council.

The man born blind was surrounded by confusion in his moment of sudden 20-20 vision, but he did not allow the confusion to distract him. He was clear and quite steadily moved forward more and more deeply into his new reality. It was knowing Jesus that changed him.

We too follow Jesus. Jesus is still with us. In this changing time, we ask ourselves how we can move beyond a sort of “blind trust” into a place of 20-20 vision and understanding about the changes being proposed?

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Marg: John 9:24 - 41

They called the man back a second time — the man who had been blind — and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.” He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened.Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?” With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is,he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, butlistens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does God’s will. That someoneopened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’tcome from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him.He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.” Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”“Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshipped him.Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and thosewho have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

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Sharon: As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we have an amazing, life-saving, life-affirming, transformational story to tell. The question John poses, the question the Pharisees pose, the question our Exploring Faith team poses is, “Who is Jesus for You?”

The parents of the man born blind were not about to tell the story. They were afraid, and decided it was not theirs to tell. I wonder if they were afraid of the changes that they knew would happen in their lives as a result of their involvement with the story. Their son saw in a whole new way.

Change is hard. Imagine how the life of this man must have been changed in that instant… from being a beggar… to what? Witness? Convert? Evangelist?

New sight was awesome! And scary! And vitally important!

Liz: We’ve been talking about how our denomination is in a time of seeking to move from near-sighted stumbling to a new vision… a new structure… a new shape. In recent years, our leaders have been in deep and prayerful discernment, and discussion.

Following worship today our Presbytery Rep, Debra, is going to help us consider 4 remits coming to us from the General Council. We are in a time of changing our structure to fit our changing context.

This work is essential and important and needs our involvement. New vision is our goal — and it is just a touch away!

Jesus said “I am the world’s light” and then he spat in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw. Soon the town was buzzing.

Sharon: I want Jesus to walk with me — this is the first step.

Liz: The next step — the big step — the step that can make a difference in everything

— I want to walk with Jesus!

(invite a pause…)

Let’s keep trying to piece it all together as we sing:

VU 23 Joy Shall Come…

Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

Thanks be to God, amen.

Sharon: Prayers for our World

Holy God, we come now with our prayers for your world. For all the beauty and the goodness that fills our lives we give thanks. For the beauty of creation, the joy of music, the gift of friendship, the surprise of kindness shared among strangers we are so thankful. In moments such as these we feel your healing touch of holy love.

We come acknowledging our vulnerability and our longing for clearer vision and courage to move more deeply into your way of living. Open our eyes to see and our hearts to celebrate that you weave love and compassion into the very fabric of our lives. Awaken us to the reality of your nearness.

Loving God, so often the news we hear is filled with fear and confusion and struggle. We pray for those who live in the midst of jealousy and fear and war. We pray for refugees in so many places, and for the ones we know well. We pray for the work of the UN High Commission on Refugees. We pray for a deeper understanding that we are all your precious children, in every land, in every community, in every place of worship. When your creatures lose our way, and become blinded to the needs around us and doubtful that we can make a difference, open our eyes, Loving God. Open our hearts and our hands, spur us into faithful action. May our words and deeds touch the tender and fragile places of our world with your transforming and renewing love.

And we pray for our United Church of Canada as we seek discernment about our way of living faithfully in this present time. Be with us and others in congregations across our land as we gather to discern where you call us to venture as followers of Jesus in our time and context.

We pray in the name of Christ. Amen.