28 Mar, 2017

Setting the Table for Grace (4): Now I See

28 Mar, 2017

Setting the Table for Grace (4): Now I See

By Lauren Kenney and Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall

Today’s sermon will be delivered as “spoken word,” an oral art form that employs word play and rhyme, intonation and inflection to tell a story and connect with its hearers.  Though we may think of it as a fairly new phenomenon — rap and hip-hop, Tupac and Macklemore, and the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton—it is actually as old as language itself.  Every culture has an oral tradition of stories, lore, epic poetry and more that was passed down from generation to generation long before the written word.   The Biblical Psalms, for example, were spoken and sung by individuals and groups, in the temple, at home, in the synagogue classroom, and around campfires.  I can imagine Jesus teaching in this way, because it’s much easier to remember short phrases and turns of speech than lengthy discourse.   Spoken word is quite literally the language of the people, meant to be said and heard.

I’m grateful to Central member Lauren Kenney for collaborating with me.  Lauren has written and performed spoken word at the Mercury Café and other venues, and has won numerous awards for her work.

We’re presenting text and sermon in a single unit, and I invite you right now to open a Bible to John chapter 9, page 976.   In some ways this is a typical healing story:  Jesus, confronted by human need, restores health and wholeness.  A man who has been blind from birth is given the gift of sight.   That occurs in the first 7 verses.   But the story doesn’t end there—the rest of the chapter (some 34 more verses) concerns reactions to the healing by the man’s parents and neighbors and the religious leaders.   And rather than evoking joy, relief and thanksgiving, the miracle is met with confusion and controversy.   There’s the little detail, for example, that Jesus “worked” this healing on the Sabbath.   But even more telling is the nature of the healing itself—-bringing sight to one congenitally blind was thought to be an utter impossibility; certainly no one had ever seen anything like it before.   When Lauren’s fiancé Alex read the text, he commented on how similar it is to Easter with its testimony to something beyond reason or experience.  He’s on to something, because the bulk of the text narrates an unfolding story of belief and disbelief.   Imagine:  a blind man becomes an “eyewitness” to the Light of the World!  And the learned religious scholars and priests refuse to see what (or who) is before their very eyes.

And one more thing:  the man born blind begging by the side of the road does not call out to Jesus for help.   He’s not pursuing an intentional quest for sight or insight.   On what for him was an ordinary day, in the middle of his routine, Jesus and his disciples approach. . . and grace surprises.     Listen….listen for God’s word to you.

 

 

His followers ask—our shared task—

“Who has sinned—this man or his kin?”

This isn’t Dante’s Hell  — on earth

Our pain isn’t earned; through Him we learn

Even the good ones get burned

But it all tolls for thee:

Through the chaos comes His hand

Even if you can’t see

No man is an island

You’ll hear the angels sing

And this bell will un-ring.

He is the light

Before night, He works

With mud, He sends the healed

As a witness, given sight

What once was blindness

Emerges new from the dark

Miracles are here—-

Earnest requests earn God’s ear.

Yet doubters are we!

Can he really see?

It seems impossible—

And so with God’s arm, we wrestle.

Same struggle, same questions

Every week, day, hour —every moment—

We ask Him, [“This man is the light?”]

But in what dark are we that yet we feel fright

At the dawning of the Peace. . . .

Instead we bring our Faith to a third entity

Those in power among us must be

In possession of the answers we need.

These few leaders are quick on their feet:

“Rules, charters, laws—we regard them,

How could one who does not

Be truly of God?”

Dragging answers from the

Once blind—who testifies

He answers clearly, “This man is a prophet.”

Then of they, who brought him blind into the world:

“Is this your son?”  The very question, a slur—

“He once begged for alms,

And now he’s

Begging us to believe

In some liar’s charms?

I mean,

We want to know what you think—

But only if it’s what we think

(and if you don’t want any trouble

You won’t call him ‘Messiah’).”

Out of fear, then, they refused to dare say

Who had opened their son’s eyes to the light of day

“Ask him, he’s grown enough—

And as for us,

Who are we to know?”

Victorious through their silence,

We gloried in our righteousness—

Laying doubts once more before the Lord’s witness:

Questioning him—again—was this miracle born of sin?

But we cannot judge, we can only defer to Him.

The witness—believing—thought they must also want healing—

“Now, you see too?  Through Him we receive truth!”

Invited to follow, but clinging instead to hollow

Logic without heart, they still shook their heads—“No.

Impossible. From where we stand, this healing must be

A trick of dark art —  and not by God’s hand.”

The once–blind witness was driven out by doubters,

But Jesus went to find him and asked, “Do you believe now?”

“Show me who or what,” he said, “so that I may say [Yes.]”

”Here I am, standing right before you,

But even before you had sight,

I was in your heart’s view

To bless your darkness with light,

and feed your hungering need.”

“[I believe.]”

The leaders, the ones who were sure they knew

Answered indignantly – professed complete certainty

“Our vision is twenty-twenty, no more work here to do.”

Their eyes closed by choice; all horizons eschewed.

                                              *

Can we really see?

Same struggle, same questions

Every week, day, hour —every moment—

We wonder, “This man is the light?”

And darkness still threatens the daybreak of peace…

But there in that darkness a flicker of light

In a question, a longing, a prayer for new sight

Orthodoxy transformed into doxology

[Look at each other]

LAUREN:     Grace in the place of certainty

LOUISE:       Grace in the place of certainty

[Look out at congregation]

 BOTH:         Grace in the place of certainty

The holy crack through which the Light gets in

And we can see.

Now. We. Can. See.      [growing softer]

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