Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Alleluia! Let the Whole World See and Know"

Easter, Year A April 24, 2011

Alleluia! Let the Whole World See and Know The Reverend Howard J. Hess


I. Introduction: Alleluia! Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up. Alleluia, the Lord is risen. But listen, there’s even more. “Let the whole world see and know . . . that things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made [God’s] Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” These words constitute part of a collect from The Book of Common Prayer’s Good Friday Service. This prayer has special meaning for me because it was given as an ordination gift to me in calligraphy by the Sisters of the Episcopal Convent of the Holy Spirit in New York City. The Mother Superior there had been my spiritual director as I was going through the ordination process. It was she who had helped me comprehend that the Easter story is not just an accounting of an historical event, although it is that. But rather, the Easter story of suffering, darkness, and new life is written into the very fabric of our lives. There is more to the Easter story than first meets the eye.


II. Let’s start with the miracle of Easter as an event. Some 2000 years ago, God sent his Son Jesus Christ into this world to be one with us, to be born as we are born, and to die as we die. But the life he lived, short by human standards, was not extinguished by his crucifixion. Just as he had told his disciples, in three days he rose from the dead in bodily form. Matthew dramatically recounts the story in this morning’s Gospel.


For a very long time I understood and believed that Jesus Christ died and was resurrected. Because of Christ’s Resurrection, death has no hold over us. But just as my spiritual director had hoped, I more recently began to see the full multi-faceted meaning of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. So therefore, this morning, in addition to celebrating anew Christ’s resurrection from the dead, I ask you to ponder the many meanings of new life in Christ and the way new life in him can overcome shame, fear, and despair.


III. Shame is deadly because it causes us to constrict and to draw in upon ourselves. In our shame, we fail to appreciate how wonderfully God has created each one of us. By way of example, as a child, I constantly struggled with issues of shame. I was asthmatic. When I ran I wheezed; when I woke up at night wheezing I became anxious, which caused me to wheeze even more. In retrospect, I understand now how my asthma attacks became a trigger for anxiety about where my next breath would come from. When I played sports I wheezed and thus never had a chance to learn the stuff that little boys learn about how to throw and catch a ball, hold a catcher’s mitt, and how to successfully hit a ball with a bat. The longer this went on, the less forgiving my friends became. When I came time to choose up sides I was inevitably one of the last ones to be chosen. I remember feeling the shame of standing there as all the other boys were chosen before I was. Because I believed that I was less than all the other boys my age, I lived with shame, deep down inside of me, shame that followed me for many years and often got attached to other areas of my life.

What changed that? In no small part, the lifting of my shame emerged from my relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ. There is no shame that I felt that he had not already experienced many times over. His shame on the cross was a part of his passion. But he emerged from that shame intact and whole. Over time, I began to realize that Jesus’ love for me had nothing to do with how well I could throw or catch a ball. He loves me altogether, through and through for who I am. When Jesus died for me – he redeemed that shame. I believe that my struggle with shame has made me more empathic in ministering to those dealing with their own wide-ranging experiences of shame. Let the whole world know, let each of you know, that things which were cast down are being raised up.

IV. New life in Christ can also overcome fear and despair. In today’s brief gospel reading from Matthew, fear is mentioned four times: the guards shook in fear; the angel told the women not to be afraid; the women left the tomb with fear and joy; and Jesus greeted the women telling them not to be afraid but to go and tell the others that they would see him. Observe the crescendo of fear in this passage. The soldiers were “scared to death;” the women were frightened, but did as requested with fear and joy when they met Jesus. They heard him, they saw him, and they touched him. Then fear no longer bound them, just as our fear need no longer need bind us. Let the whole world see and know that things that were cast down [in shame and fear] are being raised up. Jesus Christ dispels fear and nothing, no, nothing, can separate us from his love and presence.


Despair can keep us bound in dark, hopeless places. When our experiences are dreadful and solutions seem improbable, we can fall into a place of desperate futility. But it does not need to be so. Several years ago, Peg introduced me to a friend, Becky, who had lost all of her children, one through illness and three in a tragic episode of violence. For a year Becky mother retreated to her bed in despair. Slowly, however, by God’s grace, that began to change. For Easter this year, she sent Peg a card with this story inside. I share this with Becky’s permission:


When the blooms die, plant it outside, Mom! That’s what the lady at the florist said to do and it will come back next year,” exclaimed my nine year old daughter, Kami, as she proudly presented me with a beautiful potted stargazer lily for Mother’s Day. I told Kami that I did not believe the lily would come back next year. “But Mom, the lady said it would!” When the blooms faded and died, Kami kept reminding me to plant the lily outside. I kept putting her off by saying I just didn’t believe the lily would come back. Kami remained persistent and insistent until I finally relented, and together we went outside to plant the lily in the backyard. Winter came and the lily died. Kami and her older brothers, Buzzy and Todd, also died that winter. My world became totally dark.


The following spring when the lily sprouted and grew to produce 27 fragrant pink blooms, I was filled with an inexpressible joy. Joy in my darkness! How could that be? Without my children I believed I could never feel joy or happiness again. Yet here was this beautiful gift. A gift from Kami, which was a gift from God. Kami, an innocent child, had no trouble believing that the lily would live again. Jesus said we are to have the faith of a child. God can resurrect even those things which we believe can’t be resurrected. I did not believe the lily could survive the darkness of winter and I did not believe that I could survive the darkness of my grief after losing my children. God was working on the lily in the darkness of the earth, and He was working on me in the darkness of my grief. I just couldn’t see it. Just because we don’t always feel God’s presence with us doesn’t mean He isn’t there. God has not promised that bad things will not happen to us, but He has promised that He will never leave us. He has kept His promise to me and I am thankful. Because I believe His promises are true, I know that my children will be with my always.” Becky concludes her story with a verse from Matthew: “You are blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you” (5:4) (from The Message).


V. Conclusion. Jesus’ promises are true, his resurrection from the dead is true, and his willingness to bring light into the dark spaces of our lives is true. To experience these truths, we need only believe that Jesus Christ is risen today; he is risen around us; he is risen between us, and he is risen within us. “Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Love Casts out Fear

Easter Sunday Sermon – 7:30am Rite I Eucharist Service, April 24, 2011

Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN

Scripture: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2,14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10

Sermon Text:

Easter is a joy-filled celebration,

but it is also a celebration of Love,

and living in the knowledge that Jesus died for love of us,

conquered death,

and rose to new life, shows us the power of that love.


But as we approach the empty tomb with Mary

this early morning,

we notice that there is also fear.


As we think about the world around us,

it can often seem like things aren't that great,

for them it was an approach of despair,

going to annoint the body of their leader,

and the absence of His body, and the presence of

an otherworldly being, created fear,

the evidence was in their faces,

and they were afraid,

but love casts away fear.


for us sometimes the evidence of His resurrection is

not so clear, and we also begin to be afraid

we miss the evidence of the Resurrection

because it seems pale in comparison to the suffering

that continues on earth.


I think for that reason,

I was struck especially this Easter,

by the passage from Paul to the Colossians.

He says, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

For serious Christians,

(and if you're at this early service on Easter Sunday,

I think I'm probably speaking to you,)

It can often seem like we miss out

on enjoying the redemption of the world,

as we see so much more that needs to be redeemed.

There are so many ways in our own lives

that we're hurting,

and there are so many others hurting more than we are.

I know there have been many times,

especially since I grew up in the church,

that I kind of took for granted,

the grace-filled life we enjoy,

and even thought things aren’t well at all.

Of course, that kind of thinking leads to fear,

and we know how the women

who approached the tomb were afraid.

Love casts away fear.


The angel says to them, as angels always say,

do not be afraid!”

Right after greeting them, Jesus says

Do not be afraid!


From that moment onward,

the redemption of the world,

of all creation was being accomplished.

There was reason to no longer be afraid,

though there was still much to be done,

much to endure,

and a long way to go

before the world was fully recreated.


We see love casting away fear in the early church,

If it had not been for the Christians in Rome,

society would have been utterly destroyed by the barbarian invasions when the empire fell.

It was the Christians, headed by the bishop in Rome,

who took care of all the starving people,

all the sick, all the widows and orphans,

the bishop of Rome negotiated with the leaders of the invaders, for mercy.


We see it in the middle ages,

as it was the Christian Church,

the risen body of Jesus in the world,

who provided stability to an otherwise

horribly difficult time,

full of war, famine and plague.


We see it throughout history,

that the resurrected Jesus is working among us,

making all things new,

but don't get me wrong,

this is not a misguided 19th century ideal of progress,

of the progress of man to make the world perfect.


If anything, the people of the world

are as much involved in creating the fear we still see,

in the force that seems to always be trying to destroy,

what God is doing.

No, this is recreation of the world.

Love is casting out fear,

in spite of our ignorant attempts to remain afraid.

It’s something that God has been doing all along,

and that he continues to do,

though sometimes the glory of it seems hidden from us,

the abundant life Jesus gives us seems as hidden,

as his resurrected self is to us on the earth.


Christ is hidden in the “what-ifs” of our lives,

those seem to be sources of fear

that prevent us from seeing

how truly wonderful God has made things.


Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina,

wrote in his Easter message about those “what-ifs.”

They are the source of phobias,

those fears that prevent us from living.

I'd like to share with you some of what he said:


When Marjorie Goff closed the door of her apartment

in 1949 she was 39 years old.

For her the door stayed shut for the next 30 years.

To be accurate there were a few exceptions.

She went out in 1960 to visit her family,

two years later for an operation,

and once in 1976 because a friend came to her apartment

to take her out for some ice cream.


Marjorie suffered from that metaphor of the human condition known as a phobia.

The list of recognized human phobias is legion.

There’s agoraphobia, aerophobia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, pyrophobia, thanatophobia—just to name a few.

Robert L. DuPont a past director of the Washington Center of Behavioral Medicine called phobias,

The malignant diseases of the ‘what ifs.’”


What ifs” add up to fears,

and fears are right smack dab

in the middle of the Easter story.

Matthew’s gospel tells of the chief priests'

and the Pharisees’ fear of a hoax by the disciples.

So they pressured Pilate to send a guard of soldiers to secure the world against a scheme (Matthew 27:62-66)...


Mary Magdalene however didn’t know this,

so she was fearful for quite other reasons

than the priests and Pharisees.

When she returned a second time on Easter morning

to the empty tomb and to face a fearful future

without even the dead body of Jesus to console her,

the “what ifs” got the better of her.

The Gospel of John recounts how she mistook the risen Jesus for the gardener.

Sir,” she queried, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him…”

Our fears and “what ifs” as did hers

may well hide from us the presence of the risen Christ.

No wonder in the Easter narratives the attending angels

and the risen Jesus tell the disciples “Do not be afraid.”

It is Christ’s victory on the cross and in the tomb

over every mortal enemy of humankind

that makes these words have substance

and therein makes them liberating.


Christ is risen—Jesus lives”

that is the telling message of Easter:

even in the face of Death, Sin, Hell, Judgment, the Devil,

and all the “what ifs” of fear— Jesus lives!

After all these enemies of mankind have done their worst,

He still Lives—and He still delivers.

This is what gives truth

to those wonderful words of Julian of Norwich,

All is well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

She too lived like Marjorie Goff in a room with a closed door. She was an anchoress.

Her room was attached to a cathedral.

She had only two windows in this room.

One looked in towards the altar of the Norwich Cathedral. The other looked out to the world.

Unlike Marjorie, however,

it was not fear that kept Julian behind a closed door.

It was love—love for Christ and love for a needy world.

It was for this world that Jesus died,

and for which He now lives to make intercession,

and within His love and intercession

she presented her intercessions and so can we.


C. S. Lewis once wrote of Christ’s resurrection: “He has forced open a door that has been locked

since the death of the first man.”

It is this opened door that made Julian of Norwich free,

free enough to be joyous in a single room,

two windows and a closed door so she could live devotedly with an open door of abiding prayer (Revelation 3:20).

It is the Gospel, the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection that when rightly heard and understood

will open the doors and lives of those like Marjorie Goff who have lived in the fear of “what ifs.”


I have seen first hand, the way love casts out fear here,

in a small but very significant way,

in the ministry of a few of our men,

to a formerly homeless man named Cecil.


When we first became acquainted with Cecil,

(through the Circles of Support program of Compassion Coalition,)

he said barely a word to us,

he was so afraid of everything.

Or as he would say, he was askeered.

It was the love these men showed,

that came from their shared love of the risen Christ,

their faithfulness in seeing him each week,

that has made a difference

in how he interacts with the world.

Now he talks freely,

now he engages the conversation with these men,

and with others.

He has even been able to come to a social gathering

of hundreds of people here at Ascension.

The love of Christ, shown through these men

and their simple service of being a friend to him,

cast out fear, and continues to heal him to this day.


There are many more stories of the risen Christ

casting out fear, in our community,

in the world around us.

Those stories are hidden among us,

as our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.”

I would say there is probably at least one story

for each person in this room.


Be encouraged by all of those evidences of Christ

being alive, and making all things new.

Even more importantly, as you become aware of them,

share those stories with others.

So that your experience of his Love,

Can cast out the fear of those around you.

Invite others them to come

and hear of the resurrection life this year,

during the Great Fifty Days of Easter,

is a wonderful time to bring a friend to church.


Perhaps if enough people hear this Good News

and of the door that Christ has opened for you

and keeps open for them as well,

his life, our life will not remain hidden,

but will be revealed for all to see.

Alleluia – Christ is Risen!

Amen

Monday, April 11, 2011

Unbinding and Letting Go

The Rev. Amy Hodges Morehous
Lent 5, Year A
April 10, 2011


From the icy coldness of the pit,
I will praise your name,
for like a shepherd
searching for a lost sheep
you will not give up
until you find me.
Here in the gloom,
I wait for the light of your coming.
Then I will shout
that my God is the God
who does not rest
until all are
gathered in
from the threat of night.

--Ann Weems, from Psalms of Lament


Unbind Him, and Let Him Go

John 11:1-45

After the length of that Gospel reading, I suspect what you would like me to say is, “Isn’t that a nice story? Doesn’t Jesus do some terrific things in people’s lives? Amen.” - and then we can all move on with the service. Well, I’m not going to do that - I know you’re all shocked.

The Gospel begins in the depths of pain and grief. Martha and Mary send word to Jesus that their brother is seriously ill. Responding quickly, because of his great love for the three of them, heedless of the danger the trip might put him in, Jesus rushes to Lazarus’ side, heals him, and they all live happily ever after.

Except that isn’t the way the story goes, is it? I don’t think it is a particularly nice story. I think it’s difficult. I think Jesus make some very clear choices in it - choices we may have a hard time understanding. Jesus does not come to Lazarus’ bedside. He doesn’t even make it back for the funeral. He is late. He is so late that his friends probably assume that he isn’t coming at all.

So, it’s very easy to understand Martha’s response. Hearing he is coming, she runs out of town to meet him, flinging herself toward him with no regard for social propriety or self-protection. Nice, single women did not run outside town to meet men. Not only was it shocking, it wasn’t even safe. She runs to meet him, to pour out her anguish and grief. Although Martha and her family have been faithful followers of Christ, and very visible members of the community, it is clear from this story that being faithful to Jesus is no guarantee against pain and tragedy. There is no one on earth whose righteousness, wisdom, hard work, or good planning will save them from seeing the depths of grief. Good people suffer, bad people suffer. Or, as Jesus says, “Rain falls on the just and the unjust.” Rain falls into each of our lives, and we all get wet.

What can we do in our suffering? We can cry out to God. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” “Out of the depths have I called unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice.”

In Martha’s pain and grief, she says to Jesus the same angry words that many of us have said to God in tragic and painful times. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. If you had been present, Jesus, this terrible thing would not have happened.” It is a statement of both great faith, and great anger. Jesus’ response to Martha is kind. He could have said any number of things. He could have returned anger for anger, said “How dare you be angry with me, when my friends and I risk our very lives to come back here?”

But Jesus does not say that to her. He does not rebuke her, or chastise her for behaving improperly, for breaking social customs, or tell her she’s got it all wrong. He returns to town, he weeps with his friends, he shares their pain. Jesus doesn’t rush in and upend everything immediately. He pauses to mark the change in their lives. It matters to Jesus that they all grieve together before new life begins. It is only after publicly grieving with them that Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the tomb.

Now, I’m not going to stand up here before you this morning and talk about the redemptive power of suffering, about how much we grow as a result of our pain. While I do think that can be true, I also don’t think God causes us pain purposefully, in order to push us to mature spiritually. There are few things that will drive a grieving person away from God faster than telling them that their loved one’s suffering or death was “part of God’s plan.” I don’t believe in a God who plays with our lives like chess pieces. There are just as many people who are crushed by their pain and suffering as there are those who take that pain and make something redemptive from it. That does not mean that one is strong, and another weak. God does not exist solely to beat us over the head with clubs until we say “Thanks be to God for the headache.”

However, I do believe that we can cry to God out of the very depths of that pain, and anger, and suffering. I believe that God will always be present with us as we wrestle with it. God weeps with us during painful times in our lives, just as Jesus weeps with his friends before Lazarus’ tomb. I know how it feels to watch my own child grieve; I cannot believe that God would ever be aloof to any of His children’s suffering.

There is no depth, no loss, no tragedy, no disease or death, nothing on heaven or on earth beyond God's redemption. We may suffer, but we will not do it alone. God will not leave those He loves alone. God is present even when we cannot feel it.

And there is something more than that, even, something more amazing: God is still present and redeeming the universe that He made and loves. Sarah Dylan Brewer says, “When we cry out from the depths, God hears. When Jesus seems slow in coming, he is coming. And if we worry that it is too late, Jesus shows that it is never too late. After we have become convinced that all is lost, when we are ready to concede to death and are seeking only to contain the damage or bury it because it smells, Jesus demonstrates that there is no loss, no death, no tragedy beyond God's redemption, beyond the reach of infinite love and abundant life.”

We hear this story in Lent as a forerunner of The Resurrection story - Christ returning to life from crucifixion and death. Jesus calls Lazarus forth from death into life. Just as he calls to Lazarus, he calls to each of us. We’re all here this morning because we’ve heard some faint echo of Christ’s call to us. We may not have understood it, but we heard it. Something has called us out of our individual lives, into this community. We’re here this morning, blinking in the daylight, not looking too much like the newly risen dead, and wondering how we got here. We assemble here in this beautiful space, together, every Sunday, and wonder, “Now what?!”

Luckily, Jesus has a direction for us, with our new lives, our shiny, newly risen selves. What does he say to the crowd after Lazarus is returned to life? “Unbind him, and let him go.” Unbind him. Let him go. Jesus doesn’t unwrap the grave clothes that are tightly wrapped around Lazarus, that hold him captive. He doesn’t tell Lazarus to go and do it himself. He tells the people present to take care of the newly risen man, and restore him to his place in the community.

Jesus Christ can call me forth to new life. He can summon me to this place, to be with you, where I can rejoice in that life. But I cannot unbind myself. I can’t unwrap myself from my grief, and my cares, and my fears alone. For that I need God, yes, but I also need you - each of you.

After our son died last year, my first Sunday back happened to be St. Andrew’s Sunday. Before agreeing to come back that day, I had read all the readings, had thought I could make it through the service without completely coming undone. I had forgotten to look at the hymns. The Gospel hymn that day was “Amazing Grace”, accompanied by the bagpipes. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I could possibly make it through that. I was not able to sing “Amazing Grace” for myself - I just didn’t have the words, or the song. Instead, I stood, and listened, and you sang “Amazing Grace” for me - I closed my eyes and listened, and the church echoed with your voices, and your song, and something in my heart floated free. When I could not sing “Amazing Grace” for myself, I knew that others could carry the tune for me. So if you ever wonder if your presence here matters - know that it profoundly does. If you were here that day, you helped to unbind me and set a small part of my heart free - even though you didn’t even know it happened.

We are here, together, to be about the business of unbinding. We are here to unbind each other - and all God’s children - from those things that hold us captive in this life. From fear, and grief. From disappointments, from disasters, from pain. From injustice and separation and sin. From all the things that hold us back from living full lives as children of God. We are responsible for each other and to each other as part of a community of God. To do that, we must be present for one another. We are here to listen, to learn, to support, to serve, to worship...to grow into the free, redeemed people, as God created us to be.

Jesus Christ calls you forth this day to new life, calls you just as you are, just where you are. Be present for one another. Unbind one another from the clothes of the grave, and go forth into a world that is thirsty for God’s love and hope. The spirit of the Lord will be within you, and these dry bones will yet live.

Amen.


“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Be Transformed by the Renewing of your Mind

Rev. Robert P. Travis

Lent 4A Sermon – 8am and 10:30am Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN

RCL 4/3/2011

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14 (and Romans 12) , John 9:1-41

Sermon Text:

Wow, Two weeks in a row

we have these very long, extended Gospel passages.

But they are very different.

There seems to be a lot going on in today's Gospel,

but it is happening on at least two different levels.

I might say,

there's more to this story than meets the eye!

But of course that's a terrible pun.

Really it is all there,

right in front of our eyes.

But we have to be able to see it

That's what I want to help you do this morning.


The difference between this and other stories

of Jesus bringing sight to the blind,

is mentioned right in the first verse.

Jesus saw a man blind from birth.

The disciples' question about sin,

reflects the relationship that sickness and sin

had for jews at the time.

And while there is some connection between

sickness and sin,

Jesus answers them clearly,

that this man was not born blind because of sin,

but “so that God's works might be revealed in him.”


There is more of God's works here than simply a healing.

The thing that struck me about this,

as I was praying over the gospel this week,

what I feel the Holy Spirit revealed to me,

was the way Jesus goes about this healing.

After explaining the need to do the work of God,

Jesus spits on the ground and makes mud,

and spreads the mud over the man's eyes.

This is not some kind of primitive medicine,

Jesus does not heal in this way at any other time,

he was not a doctor, and he is not creating some

poultice or potion out of the mud.


The connection I had missed every other time I read this,

was that Jesus was doing what he did in creation,

when with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

he formed human beings from the dust of the ground.

This man was born blind,

it seems to me, that his eyes were not created fully.

So Jesus, recreates the mans eyes,

from the dust of the earth.

Jesus reveals that he is God,

by participating in creation the same way

as happened in the beginning.


The next thing that happens also speaks more

on a level below the surface of what's happening.

It says the man went and washed,

and came back able to see.

It does not say his eyes were opened,

or that his eyes suddenly worked.

What it says is, he came back able to see.

That is where the deeper miracle here becomes apparent.


I came to understand that because of a job that Jackie did

while we were in Florida.

She worked for Lighthouse Central Florida,

an agency that helps the blind and visually impaired,

and she confronted this story with some understanding

she gained from her work there.

This is what Jackie told me,


Throughout the history of mankind

there are about 20 accounts of people

who were blind for most or all of their lives

having their eyes restored to normal.

But all of these stories bear similar characteristics.

Instead of becoming joyous for receiving sight,

these people sink into a depression

and rely on the skills they developed while blind

to help them interact with their world.


Modern science has an explanation for why this happens.

In the brain are cells called neurons.

According to wikipedia,

neurons "are electrically excitable cells

in the nervous system that process and transmit information". These cells are instrumental in processing the images

our eyes take in and helping the brain interpret them.

By the age of 4 or 5,

all brain neurons are permanently assigned

to the task they will do for the rest of our lives.

The neurons that help us interpret images

do things like help us see motion,

give us depth perception

and help us differentiate the subtle differences

in faces and facial expressions.

If your brain neurons are not assigned to these tasks

in the first years of your life,

you will never perceive these things.

Neurons cannot be reassigned to a new task as adults,

though they may be able to be reassigned at a young age,

so someone who loses their sight as an infant

may be able to use those vision neurons for other tasks.


What this means is that in the 20 or so cases

of miraculous eye restorations

that have been recorded by humans over the centuries,

the person could not see.

Yes, their eyes could now take in images,

but their brains could not interpret those images.

They sank into sadness,

because what should have made life easier

was actually a burden.

They were bombarded

with unintelligible sensory experiences.

I suppose it would be like

how it feels to be in a room full of people

speaking a language you've never heard before:

it all sounds like noise, but it makes no sense,

you can't even distinguish a single word.


What is truly amazing about the miracle John records is that it's very clear that the man came back able to see. In other words, Jesus has changed not just his eyes, but the very wiring of his brain.”


It is recorded here, in scripture,

long before we understood how these things worked,

and yet what we see is different from those other accounts.

This man was born blind,

and Jesus recreated his eyes, and neurons so that he could see.


It reminds me of

another place in scripture,

St. Paul exhorts us to

be transformed by the renewing of our minds.


It's in Romans chapter 12:

Do not be conformed to this world,*

but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,

so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”


There's the connection to our Epistle from Ephesians today,

We heard we are to “live as Children of the Light,”

and “find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

How do we do that?

Well in Romans, Paul teaches us

that we will discern what the will of God is,

what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In other words,

when we are transformed by the renewing of our minds,

we will know what is pleasing to God.


Who accomplishes the renewing of our minds,

the recreation of our minds?

Jesus does!

He recreated the eyes, and the neurological connections,

in the man born blind,

he can certainly renew our minds.


And all it takes it to be willing,

and not to conform to this world,

the Pharisees show us what conforming to the world is about.

For in this passage they refuse to see what is happening,

and has happened,

they are so concerned with proving things,

according to their own standards,

to what they already know to be true,

that they resist even the clear explanations.

Finally, the man becomes exasperated with them,

saying, “I've told you already, and you would not listen!

Why do you want to hear it again?”


Much of the time we are like that,

God tries to give us clear directions,

but we're so caught up in the ways of the world,

and so enmeshed in our own agendas,

that we refuse to see what God is showing us.

We are blind, but not from birth,

but by our own fault.


The only solution is to allow ourselves

to be transformed, by the renewing of our minds.

To be open to the healing and recreation of our senses,

that God wants to accomplish in us.


Some of us have already experienced this,

and will gladly share stories of our eyes being opened.

If you're already there, give thanks to God,

for what he has accomplished in you.


If you desire this new vision,

if you're sitting there this morning,

saying yes, Lord I want to know

what is pleasing to you.

Pray this with me in your heart.


Lord Jesus,

I know that I have been blind to God's will

for a long time,

and I want to see,

I cannot do that without you.

Help me to no longer be conformed to this world.

Come and transform me by renewing my mind,

recreate my senses to see what it true,

and good and perfect.

Help me to see Lord, so that I can do your will.

Amen