For our contemplative service I shared a brief commentary on the Gospel reading, not a sermon, before moving to our Prayer Stations. A description of the Prayer Stations follows.
by Ellen Sims
text: John 9: 1-41
The healing stories of Jesus have given hope to many—even as they may have diminished the faith of others. For some, the stories of Jesus healing lepers, the demon-possessed, the lame, and the blind attest to his power, for which they name him their Savior. For others, these stories provoke more questions than they answer: How does Jesus heal? Why did Jesus heal some but not others? Why does God seem to withhold healing from so many sick people who pray for healing?
We yearn for a God who cures every ill, who responds to our beck and call, who fixes everything that’s broken—and cures/responds/fixes just the way we request, just as soon as we request. When this God doesn’t show up, many give up on any God at all. Many of us have prayed and prayed for healing or some other kind of intervention from God—to no avail. How dispiriting that can be!
This story is more about questions than answers.
The first question is WHY? It comes from Jesus’ own disciples. The story begins as Jesus notices a man blind from birth. Immediately his disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned—this man or his parents?” Because surely his blindness is God’s punishment for something somebody did, they were thinking. WHY, Jesus?, they were wondering. Why did this terrible thing happen to him?
That question bring another question to my mind: Why do we need to assign blame? Why are we especially quick to blame the victim? Maybe because assigning cause makes us feel we have more control over a universe over which we have very, very little control.
Jesus’s answer (verse 3) may sound as if he’s saying, “GOD caused the blindness in order to give God a chance to show off God’s healing powers later on.” But Jesus’s answer can also be understood this way: Regardless of what caused the blindness, a healing reveals something of God. God is a healing God. Then Jesus reiterates one of his signature “I am” sayings: I am the light of the world. He teaches his followers: “When we act in this world as light, we permit others to see God better. Like me, you, too, can light up something of God. By our light others are supposed to see God a little better. If God is more a verb than a noun, then God is seen when healing happens—healing of bodies or hearts or spirits.
That this healing is more than a physical healing is symbolized by the man’s washing in the pool of Siloam, an image of baptism and the new life the man who was blind is stepping into.
In the middle section of today’s Gospel reading, we hear a question from the skeptical neighbors. Their question is not WHY but HOW? Some people start implying that the man is not really the blind guy after all. The miracle worker must have been a charlatan. It’s a trick—replacing the man born blind with a sighted one. So the neighbors want to know HOW the healing was accomplished. I’d want to know that, too. The crowd keeps repeating, “HOW were your eyes opened?” And the man formerly known as the blind man retells the literal steps: “Jesus made mud with his own spit, spread it on my eyes, and told me “Go wash in Siloam.” Then the neighbors brought in the Pharisees, who ask the same questions about HOW? Soon the rule-bound Pharisees declare that Jesus is NOT from God because of HOW he healed: he had broken the rule against doing work on the Sabbath. A witch hunt then commences to expose who has tricked the people into thinking a healing miracle occurred. So they call back the healed man. By now he might be wishing he had just stayed blind. More intense interrogation ensues as the healed man maintains he was healed just that way. But the religious leaders conclude he’s lying, and they ex-communicate him.
In the final verses of today’s reading, Jesus asks the question. It’s not “why?” and it’s not “how?” Jesus has searched for the man who’d now been driven out of the community. Here’s the question Jesus asks of the man he healed: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man responds with a question: “And who is he, so that I may believe in him?”
Remember what the word translated as “believe” meant in John 3 and 4, the Gospel readings from the previous Sundays. To believe is to “belove,” which has nothing to do with any doctrine and everything to do with a relationship. “Do you love me?” the resurrected Jesus will later ask Peter near the end of John’s Gospel. Do you belove me? Three times he’ll ask Peter this question. “Lord, I believe,” says the now sighted man. “Lord, I love you.” Again, believing in Jesus has nothing to do with affirming some doctrine about salvation and everything to do with his trust in and love for Jesus.
But the final question was asked by the scholarly, pious Pharisees, having followed Jesus as he tracked down the man they’d cast out: “Surely WE are not blind, are we?” the Pharisees asked.
They did not like Jesus’s answer.
Healing One, we pray for healing of mind, body, and spirit—without needing to know how such healing can happen, without expectations that your healing will come when and exactly how we would order it. We know that healing encompasses so much more than what happens to our bodies or even to individuals. In fact, we pause now to pray for healing of this world. Yes. This world that John 3: 16 tells us you so loved. . . . . Amen.
1. Coloring our prayers. Take a page from a coloring book of designs and a few colored pencils and return to your seat. Let go of thoughts and just focus on creating a colorful design. Relax into this experience of letting go. Enjoy the pleasure of color and creativity. Then take some moments to see your creation. What were you feeling as you colored your design? What do you see in it now? How might this be a prayer? If you wish, place your colored pictures on the altar.
2. Lighting our prayers. Take some moments to ask God to reveal to you some area in your life where you may not be seeing clearly. Are there, for example, individuals you tend to ignore or regard superficially? Why is that? How might you try to see them more fully? Or perhaps there is something in your own life you avoid looking at. What if you did try to look very directly a weakness or challenge in your life and resolve to address it? Move to the windowsill lined with candles. With the taper provided, prayerfully light a candle from the Christ candle as you commit to pay more attention to someone you’ve ignored or to a need in your life you’ve not yet addressed.
3. Receiving through prayer. If you choose, receive prayerfully the Bread of Life and the Cup of Joy at the second prayer station. All are welcome. Look closely at these gifts of God. See beyond them to the story of Jesus’s life, death, and life again. Take the bread, dip it in the cup, and eat. Taste and see God’s goodness. Give thanks!
4. Giving with prayer. Move to the altar to share your gifts to and through our church. As you give your offering, offer a prayer for a particular ministry of our church that our offerings support. You might pray for the teens in our Free2Be LGBTQ youth group, or someone in poor health in our congregation, or the homeless families we served this past Tuesday through Family Promise, or the church council and other leaders who have taken on great responsibilities to serve our faith community, etc.