Benediction Online

Sunday, March 02, 2008

May God's works be revealed in us.

The disciples asked Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.”

“He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.” I always used to think that this meant that God’s work would be revealed when the blind man was healed. In other words, that it was a divine set up by which he was born blind in order for Jesus to heal him and this whole debate to take place. Reading it again this time I wonder whether Jesus meant that he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him, even if he stayed blind for the rest of his life.

Some of us are born with particular challenges or limitations and we get to glorify God not just despite the difference but through the difference. Over the last thirty years gay and lesbian Christians have come to understand our different sexuality as a gift from God which can enable us to serve and glorify God in a different way from most heterosexuals. In our Tuesday evening series we are reading a book by Henri Nouwen, who came to understand and cherish the gifts contained within the limitations of the very disabled people among whom he lived.

Even if we weren’t born with anything particularly unusual about us, all of us are limited. It is the human condition. We humans have tremendous potential and tremendous limitation, and as we get older most of us become more aware of our limitations: both our personal limitations, and the limitations of the situations in which we find ourselves.

So what if we have these limitations in order that God’s work might be revealed in us?

Please take a moment to think of something that you find particularly frustrating, disappointing, limiting…
What if that frustrating, disappointing, limiting thing were precisely the thing given to you in order to reveal God? What if the situation or relationship in your life which gives you the most grief was exactly the thing given to you by God to enable you to become more Christ-like?

When I was on vacation last week I was kayaking in the Sea of Cortez. We had large double touring kayaks and my paddling partner, Scott, was a graphic artist and editor from Nevada. Scott had a wonderful ability to ask questions. Was it difficult. he asked, running a small church? (He told me he preferred to attend large churches where he could be anonymous and not get involved in the politics.) I found myself explaining to him that it is much more difficult to be a member of a small church because there isn’t anywhere to hide.

Small churches are only for those who are serious about discipleship because it is in the relationships we have with those who are close to us that we are transformed – if we allow ourselves to be. Relationships bring with them limitation because in relationship our egos no longer have free rein. In relationship we have to adjust and compromise. We do not always behave as well as we would like to be. Relationships bring up not only our beautiful, joyful selves, but also our angry, resentful, self-righteous selves. We want very much to get rid of the limitation, to make the other person see things our way.

But we cannot force anyone else to change; ultimately the only thing we can really control is our own reactions. Letting go of resentment, letting go of anger, letting go of the need to be right. This is the transformation of discipleship. Letting go of the negative habits of the little ego and embracing the Christ-like habits of forgiveness, compassion and selfless love is the calling and promise of our baptism.

I imagine there were times in Jesus’ ministry when he felt deep joy. I imagine putting clay in the blind man’s eyes and having him see again was pretty cool. But there were also times of great difficulty and how Jesus acted under pressure is a great example for those of us who are called to be his disciples. When he was tempted in the wilderness, as we discussed a few weeks ago, his human limitations were pressing on him. But he didn’t go along with the temptation to use his godly powers to make himself more comfortable by conjuring up a three course meal, he didn’t jump off the top of the temple in order to get praise and adulation. He took the difficult route, the humble route.

Pressed by Pilate to defend himself, he did not. On the cross instead of anger he showed forgiveness.

That is what it means to be Christ-like.

Being a disciple of Christ means allowing the Holy Spirit to use our limitations to transform us and to make us the gentle, humble yet canny people we were created to be.

Fire comes from the spark when a flint is struck. As we come up against our disappointments, our frustrations, our limitations, the friction is an agent for the transforming and purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. We are baptized with water and brought from the dark into the light, but we are also baptized by fire. It isn’t usually a comfortable thing.

The blind man was not born blind because he or his parents sinned -today we might understand it in terms of genetics or disease. Sometimes we find ourselves in difficult situations because of our poor decisions or our sin, sometimes because of someone else’s sin, and sometimes there is no fault – it just happens. How we got there doesn’t make any difference to the Holy Spirit’s ability to use the situation to transform us. What does make a difference is how we respond.

Frustration and anger are normal human reactions and they are useful when they give us energy to make changes. They are not useful when they simply reinforce our little ego’s way of seeing things. They are not useful when they make us feel more self-righteous, more judgmental, more resentful. These things separate us from other people and so they separate us from God. They are ‘sin’.

The desert fathers and mothers had a saying, ‘our life and our death is with our neighbor’. They understood that the things which separated them and made barriers with others were the exact same things that made barriers with God.

This is why we pass the peace before we come to the table for communion. It is not so much a time for greeting people we haven’t seen for a while as a symbolic act of reminding ourselves that we are to be at peace with each other before we come to God together.

Radical acceptance means acknowledging that the situation we find ourselves in, whatever it is, whatever limitations are around us, is precisely the situation that can best reveal God’s work in us. God’s work in us to transform us into truly Christ-like beings. But we are not passive recipients of transformation. We are co-creators with Christ of our own salvation.

When we were baptized we were translated from the dark into the light. That is what gives us hope as we deal with the difficulties of our own little egos. That is what gives us hope as we experience the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in us, challenging us to become more Christ-like. We dip our fingers in the water of the font in order to remember, to remind ourselves that the battle with sin has already been won. The promise of our baptism, the promise of eternal life, the promise of oneness with God gives us hope that transformation is possible and that God's work will be revealed even in the midst of our limitations.

Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.Where there is hatred let us sow love;Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is discord, union; Where there is doubt, faith;Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understoodas to understand; To be loved as to love. For it is in givingthat we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen


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