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Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 30, 2014

My friend Penny had just gotten her dream job. She announced to those of us present at the gathering that she had discerned a call to be the dean of the cathedral in San Diego and the previous evening, San Diego had called to agree with her discernment. She had a big smile on her face and celebration and gratitude in her heart. But from the moment her transformation began from rector to dean, the disruptions started. First there were the physical disruptions. She had to sell her condo and find somewhere to live clear across the country. She had boxes and boxes of things to pack and lots of stuff to put on Freecycle and Craig’s list. She had to figure out transportation. All those things turned her life upside down for a month.

In addition to the physical disruption, there were the emotional social disruptions that go with a job change and a move. We experienced the beginnings of it in our meeting. We were delighted for her, but what would our group be like without her. How would we say goodbye? Would we be able to get someone else to join our group? We began to make plans for a farewell lunch together. Her church was happy for her too, but there was a great deal of anxiety, as there usually is when a rector leaves. How would the church develop now? What changes would an interim bring, and what kind of rector would they have next. Penny had to say good-bye to all her friends and colleagues.

There is certainly spiritual disruption to come. Penny’s call to look for this position came from the Holy Spirit, who surely has plans for her spiritual growth and development in her new job. All this disruption was worth it to Penny because she really wanted this position.

It is not so in today’s story. There is not one word of celebration or thanksgiving uttered in the whole gospel, yet a man born blind received his sight. Nobody seems thrilled, not even the man. The man does not ask to have his sight restored, and he is rather matter-of-fact about it through most of the story. But as the Holy Spirit’s transformation caused disruption for my friend, Jesus’ transformations always cause disruption (David Lose), whether there is celebration or not.

First there was the physical disruption of the miracle. The man has lived in a totally different world than the people around him for his whole life. He does not have a trade; he begs for money from passers-by. He had to learn not to run into things, to be led around in unfamiliar places, to be identified as “the blind man” by his neighbors. Jesus sees him as he walks along and decides to heal him. The man does not ask for it but he is available for the transformation. He lets Jesus put mud on his eyes, and then he follows Jesus’ directions to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. It is as simple as that. The man receives his sight.

Then there is the social disruption the healing causes. The man’s neighbors are divided. Some think he was the formerly blind man, and some think he is someone like him. How can they not know him? Is it because the world the way they know it has been shattered? Is it because the man has no identity except as “the blind man”. We all can have a tendency to put people in categories who are differently abled or just different – the deaf girl, the hyperactive child, the one who has had a stroke, the boy in the wheel chair, the man with artificial limbs, the woman with depression. When the situation changes, we have to change the way we look at people, and we may find we do not know them in this new way, as the man’s neighbors did not know him.

Then he gets dragged in front of the religious authorities to tell his story. He does, but they do not believe him, so they call the man’s parents in. The parents are frightened that they will be kicked out of the synagogue, so they prefer not to get involved other than to say he is their son and he was born blind. After some more badgering by the authorities, the man is expelled from the synagogue. The disruption Jesus’ transformation has caused leads his social networks to let him down.

There is disruption in the man’s spiritual journey as well. First he calls Jesus the man who healed me and says he does not know where he is. Then he calls Jesus a prophet. Finally, after the accusations of the Pharisees that Jesus is a sinner and that they do not know where he comes from, the formerly blind man tells them that he must be a man of God because he has performed a miracle that no one has ever done before. Slowly the man is moving in the direction of faith. As soon as he is driven out of the synagogue and thus separated from his family, his social network and his religion, Jesus finds him and tells him he is the Son of Man. The man believes him and worships him. Jesus begins to draw the man into a new community – the community of believers in Jesus as the Messiah – just as my friend Penny will be drawn into a new community in San Diego.

When Jesus enters our lives there is always disruption, and we do not like change, even if it is a good change. It is hard for us to change our habits and our patterns of thinking. The birth of a child changes our lives for always, even after they grow up. A new job brings new learnings, new ways of doing things and bosses and colleagues we may or may not like. Retirement brings its own challenges, like what to do with ourselves. Even starting a new exercise program changes our way of life.

Jesus is going to invite us into transformation that will heal us and make us whole. We can do three things to be ready for the invitations we know will come. We can be available for transformation. The blind man does not expect his life to change. Of course he wants to see, but he thinks that is impossible. Therefore he does not cry out to Jesus in his need but he accepts the transformation when it comes. We may not know we need to be transformed in a certain way or that it is possible to be transformed through healing of our bodies, minds or spirits. But we can always pray for Jesus to enter our lives in the best ways for us. What we must not do is be like the Pharisees who cannot accept a healer outside their authority and so stick to their old ways of thinking, labeling him a sinner who surely did not come from God.

After the transformation, we can deal with the fallout that is sure to come – positive or negative. As the crowds and the Pharisees are divided in their view of the transformative miracle, we can expect divided results – more free time but less money in retirement for example. Or more money, but longer working hours for a new job. We can expect pushback from our families and friends if we set new boundaries, get help for an addiction or change the family system in any other way.

After we deal with the disruption and gains and losses, we can turn to the giver of the transformation for hope, help and courage to be the new selves he wants us to be. We can allow ourselves to be discipled in a deeper way and witness to our transformations as graceful acts of a loving God.

Transformation brings disruption, and Jesus is in the business of bringing transformation to those willing to see him as the light of the world, receive what he has to give and be thankful for the changes that come. Transformation is not easy, but it is faith-building. Lent is a good time to be available for the deepening relationship with God transformation brings and to celebrate it, whatever disruption we may experience, with joy and gladness.

AMEN.

     - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works Cited:
David Lose, “Dear Working Preacher”, Identity Theft, Part 2, blog post March 25, 2014