“Eyes Wide Open”
March 26, 2017 – Lent 4 – Year A
One of the stories that came out of Haiti during the earthquake in January 2010 is the rescue of 23 year old Wismond Exantus. Wismond was a shopkeeper in a grocery store in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. As the earth shook and the building began to crumble, Wismond took refuge beneath an old oak desk. Afterwards, he could reach a few cans of pop and come cookies to sustain him, but that was all. For 10 days he waited to be rescued, but after 10 days, the government of Haiti called off the search. The next day Wismond’s brother and a friend came back to the store to look for him. They called his name and heard his voice beneath the rubble. Then they got a French rescue team to make a narrow tunnel through to Wismond’s head. But his feet were trapped by the desk and he could not crawl out. So the rescue team made a 2nd tunnel to free his feet and discovered that someone would need to squeeze into that second tunnel with a saw to cut away the desk and free him. A member of the rescue crew, a tiny woman from Israel, volunteered to enter that place of death and cut away the wood. When she did so, Wismond did not have the strength to pull himself out, so she pushed on his feet and his rescuers were able to pull him out the rest of the way.
That small woman was like Christ, who enters our places of death, and pushes us into the light, into new life. Christ enters into our places of blindness and restores sight. You and I are called, like her, to enter the distressing places of our world, to visit the sick, to assist the needy, to comfort the sorrowful, to gently remove that which blocks, blinds, or traps …. And push them into healing light. It is a call to open our eyes and respond.
Hearing our gospel text, it seems a strange and wondrous notion that mud, made of earth and spit, could be part of a cure for blindness. Imagine mud providing clarity of vision!
And yet I can so easily imagine a deep healing, as Jesus spread a layer of mud on that man’s eyes and sent him to wash. Just thinking of it seems restful to me.
So, the man born blind could now see. Look with me at what he saw –
- The neighbours talking about him: “Isn’t that the blind beggar?” “No way – it must be someone who looks like him.” When they ask, he tells them his story and they look right past him for the one who did this.
- The Pharisees, talking about him and past him. They hear his story and look for the one who did this – on the Sabbath!
- His own parents – who don’t want to get involved in the argument – look the other way and say, “Ask him. He is of age.”
- The Pharisees ask again for the blind man’s story. He replies, “One thing I know; I was blind and now I see.” Then he begins to teach the teachers about God and they drive him out, preferring their own muddy, mixed up view of things. Preferring, perhaps, that the blind beggars of this world would stay in their place so they would not have to adjust their own vision.
Jesus saw through it all and I wonder whether God laughed or cried.
Can you imagine being blind from birth, having mud spread over your eyes, being guided to a pool, finding your way into the water, and washing the mud away to find only annoyance and distress and no one to celebrate with you?
What do you see when you look at the world? What do you need to wash away to be able to sing and dance and rejoice with the one who is made whole?
There is a wonderful old gospel hymn that says, “Walk in the light, beautiful Light, come where the dew-drops of mercy shine bright. Shine all around us by day and by night, Jesus, the Light of the world. That is the song that the writer of the gospel of John sings. I think it is the song that the blind man and everyone who walks in the Light sings as well.
When Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years on Robin Island and became the president of an apartheid free South Africa, lots of people thought that there would be more bloodshed, more payback, more state violence, but Mandela’s leadership and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did much to heal the brokenness within the community, build bridges between the polarized communities, and address the damage done by years of apartheid. It was not all sweetness and light. There is still much work to be done today but Mandela’s leadership did much to lead South Africa from a dark past to a brightening future. The book and the movie “Invictus” gives us a sense, albeit a Hollywood one, of this journey into light – into new vision.. Eyes were opened and new life for South Africa resulted.
The Pharisees and leaders of the church tell the healed man that they know Jesus to be a sinner. But what do they really know? Theirs is a dangerous brand of “knowing,” rooted in presumption, nostalgia, and a lust for power.
The healed man is operating out of a more useful form of knowing that is based on real experience in the here and now. He has learned from what he has experienced and can look the Pharisees in the eye and say, “This happened to me, deal with it.”
How bold this insightful man was to speak his truth! How boldly do we speak our own? How boldly does Christ’s church speak it present truth?
St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, here in Penticton has released a report to its congregation. The report is entitled: ”A Legacy to our Spiritual Great-Grandchildren” a report on our Life, Mission, Ministry and Stewardship – Building Sustainable Christian Community.” It includes the following quotes. ”Stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the children of God, the Church, in managing all of life and life’s resources. It is an acknowledgement that all that we are and have are God’s gift to us. We therefore have to care for and use these gifts wisely so that we can pass them on to others, including future generations.
Congregational growth doesn’t necessarily mean numerical growth, but rather, the growing strength of our faith in and commitment to Christ.
Are we content to be an ever-declining and ageing congregation, looking after one another in a caring Christian community, but one that will inevitably die in the next foreseeable future; or do we want to continue to work hard at also leaving a rich legacy behind for our spiritual great-great-great grandchildren?”
This report well describes the current and future reality for a sister church. It could well be speaking of Penticton United Church. Are our eyes open to our important ministry? Do we see the light, illuminating a path of faithful commitment which ensures that Penticton United Church is strong and able to meet the diverse needs of the people of Penticton? Do we believe enough that God has an important calling for us as a faith community – today and in the future?
Last week someone spoke to me suggesting that we will continue with full time ministry until I retire in January of 2020, but after that we will have to have part-time ministry leadership. I commented that it will be interesting to see what parts of our existing ministry we will be prepared to give up, if part-time ministry becomes reality. Will your new Minister be limited to only a few hours for visits and caring? Will the new Minister only work select days and therefore unavailable for funerals, weddings and other services on days off? Will the new Minister be expected to do all the many facets of paid ministry but only be paid part-time? But, I am an idealist and I believe that not only is there work to be done, but there is and will be the outreach, new initiatives, and compassionate leadership that marks us as a vital congregation. I believe that we together can see our ways clear toward stable finances. I believe that we together can see our ways clear toward being a thriving congregation. I believe that we have a mission and ministry that is vital and needs to be shared. I believe that Christ is calling us to be a presence of radical love in downtown Penticton. Such is the vision I have. What about you?
Miriam is from war-torn Somalia. Her father went to work one day and never returned. Her mother was brutally raped and killed by government soldiers. Miriam and her 4 brothers and sisters escaped to a refugee camp and eventually, through church sponsorship, to Canada. Miriam is now 27 years old. She works in a local Walmart store. Her brothers and sisters are all enrolled in school. Their sponsoring congregation is a big support, but nothing will replace the loss of their parents and the horrors they endured as children and occasionally relive in nightmares. Theirs is a journey from horror to light. Miriam’s eyes are open to the atrocities of the world, but also to the generosity and compassion of people of faith. Her new vision is one of hope and possibilities.
May we too see with eyes wide open. May what we see be loving, gentle and full of hope. May we see with critical eyes the plight of divisiveness, oppression and injustice. And once we have seen, may we risk to act compassionately. Amen.