Wandering in the Wilderness with Jesus for Lent: Forgiveness

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for April 3, 2011 - the Fourth Sunday of Lent - and the midway point of my series, "Wandering with Jesus in the Wilderness."  I am using a suggestion from David Lose at Working Preacher to shape this week's reflection in a multi-sensory way. I am using the text of John 9 as reworked by Eugene Peterson in The Message.  And I am grateful to the wisdom and insights of Ernest Kurtz in his Spirituality of Imperfection.  Should you happen to be in town, please join us at 10:30 am on Sunday.  (And if you are around this weekend, stop in Baba Louie's on Friday night at 6:30 pm for some jazz, too!)

 Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent – that means we have been wandering with Jesus in the wilderness searching for new insights about God’s love for 24 days – giving us only 16 more to go. That works out to only four more weeks until Easter, so we’re at the half way point, ok?

• To date I’ve invited you to consider three pathways to God – release, humility and gratitude – and today I want to explore a fourth: forgiveness.

• And because we’re at the halfway point of Lent – an oasis of sorts within the wilderness – I thought we might really get outside of the Sunday morning box a bit and create a fully participatory scripture lesson that gives us some insights into forgiveness in a totally non-linear and counter-intuitive way, ok?

• It is a learning style that uses all our senses – and by the grace of God today’s gospel lesson from the 9th chapter of St. John’s story is just about perfect for a multi-sensory reading. It is one of the stories about Jesus healing a man who has been blind from birth.

And in order to get into the text, here’s what I would like to do – and I’m going to need your openness and trust to make it happen:

• First, we’re going to distribute blindfolds to about half of the church while the other half retains their vision, ok? As my helpers pass them out, I’d like you to immediately put them on so that you enter the realm of sensory darkness.

• Second, those who have received the blindfolds, I want you to make a decision about when to take them off – it is up to you – but I need some to take off their blindfolds when the man in the story receives his sight and some to keep them on until the whole story is finished. Is that clear? It is your call – you’re all adults – but my goal is to have some people with no blindfolds, some people who experience the return of light and some people who stay in the darkness.

• And third, I need my crew of readers – who will take on some of the different voices in this story – to come on up to the front of the Sanctuary now so that we can share this with you with some zip!

Are you ready? Do you have your blindfolds in place? Are you ready to use all your senses for the sharing of the gospel? Ok, let’s see what takes place…

(Light some sweet grass incense…)

NARRATOR: Walking down one of the streets in Jerusalem, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked:

DISCIPLES: Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?"

JESUS: 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.

NARRATOR: And saying this he spit into the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man's eyes, and said:

JESUS: Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam (Siloam means "Sent).

NARRATOR: 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,

FAMILY: Why, isn't this the man we knew, who sat here and begged? Others said, It's him all right! But still others objected, It's not the same man at all. It just looks like him.

NARRATOR: But the once blind man said:

BLIND MAN: Stop, everyone, it IS me, the very one! 

NARRATOR: So they asked him, How did your eyes get opened?

BLIND MAN: 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 and when I washed, I saw."

FAMILY: So where is he?

BLIND MAN: I don’t know.
NARRATOR: So they marched the man to the Pharisees. Now this day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. So the Pharisees grilled the once blind man again on how he had come to see.

BLILND MAN: Look He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see."

PHARISEES: 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?

NARRATOR: So there was a split in their ranks and they came back to the blind man and said:

PHARISEES: You're the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?

BLIND MAN: I believe he is a prophet from God.

NARRATOR: Well, the religious authorities 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 and asked his mother and father.

PHARISEES: Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?

PARENTS: 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—we 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!

NARRATOR: So they called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind— and told him:

PHARISEES: Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.

BLIND MAN: But 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.

PHARISEES: They said, What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?

BLIND MAN: 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?

NARRATOR: And 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.
BLIND MAN: So 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, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn't come from God, he wouldn't be able to do anything.

PHARISEES: They said, "You're nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us! and threw him out in the street.

NARRATOR: When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out he went and found him asking, Do you believe in the Son of Man?

BLIND MAN: The man said, Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.

JESUS: Jesus said, You're looking right at him. Don't you recognize my voice?

BLIND MAN: Master, I believe, the man said and worshiped him.

JESUS: 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 those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.

NARRATOR: When some of the Pharisees overheard him they said, Does that mean you're calling us blind?

JESUS: And Jesus replied, 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.


Let’s talk about your experience of encountering the gospel story like this, ok?

• What did you notice – what details or gaps in the story – did you find?

• What senses did you use during the sharing of this story?

• Now let’s consider those blindfolds: what was it like for some of you to keep your sight? Regain your sight part of the way through the story? Or be kept in the dark until the end?

And here’s the really tough question: what does any or all of this tell you about forgiveness? Any ideas?

I think that there are at least these two insights:

First, like the man born into blindness who received the gift of new sight from Jesus, forgiveness is not something we can create or demand or control. It is a gift that comes to us from beyond. It is spiritual – a blessing – that cannot “be willed any more than sight can be willed into existence when we are blind.” (Kurtz, A Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 218)

• Do you know what I am saying here – that forgiveness is not something we can control – but rather a gift from beyond?

• We can want it – we can pray for it – we can be open to it – but we cannot control or create forgiveness. It seems as if there is just a sacred time table to forgiveness that is beyond our control.

And second, for some reason we are only able to experience and encounter forgiving another after we ourselves have first been forgiven. Hmmm…?

In the research that has happened in our generation into the way forgiveness works, it seems that most people have discovered that they were only able to forgive another after first experiencing forgiveness themselves. As one researcher put it, “The experience of being able to forgive was preceded by some experience of being forgiven.”

• It would seem that we can’t really deal with the darkness until we have first experienced the light. Nor can we share healing until we have first known something of grace.

• You see, to “truly forgive involves letting go of the feelings of resentment we often hold near and dear as well as all those dark visions that underlie our resentments… you know, where we see ourselves as being offended… or victimized… or wronged.”

• It seems that as long as we focus on the feelings of resentment we are distracted from the healing God wants to share and give. “For at the core of resentment is a way of seeing yourself as a victim… the perpetually wounded and offended soul… and this makes forgiveness impossible.” (Kurtz, p. 222)

That is why God comes to us over and over again in the ordinary events and people who fill our lives and gives to us the chance to experience being forgiven by another.

• A lover – a child – a spouse – a therapist or teacher – or employer – or even a former enemy.

• Because only after we ourselves have had our eyes opened by the light of God’s grace, can we let go enough to share it with somebody else.

Jesus 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 those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind." And from my perspective, that is the good news for today. So let those who have ears to hear – and eyes to see – and hearts to feel – do it by the grace of God.


Black Pete said…
Wow--did you you write that piece, James? Suggestion--take out all the quotation marks. The colon after the speaker's name says it all. I'm going to share this with Joyce.
RJ said…
Hey thank you, Peter. I just broke up Peterson's setting of the scripture with some minor editing. But I will take out the quotation marks, etc. I am glad it resonates.
Black Pete said…
You can also shorten the speeches--you'll find that what takes no time to read silently takes much longer to read aloud.

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