Visioning

A sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday in Lent at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: 1 Samuel 16:1-13Psalm 23Ephesians 5:8-14, and John 9:1-41.

There’s a proverb from the Bible that appears on the wall of many a church retreat — whether it’s a vestry, the diocesan council, or some national meeting of the Church, the phrase is often written on a banner, put on a white board, or printed on a the official meeting’s tee shirt: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). Where there is no vision, the group loses its focus,

  • the goals get fuzzy,
  • and in place of THE vision,
  • there spring up countless visions with energy, creativity, and passion all getting dispersed, and then frustrated.

At St. Peter’s, the Vestry has been working on a vision for our lives that is related to our mission statement:

St. Peter’s initiates and nurtures lives of Christian discipleship. We are followers of Jesus and seek spiritual transformation through prayer, worship, and acts of compassion that build relationships of love, joy, and hope.

Okay, now if every one of our ministries really worked to fulfill this mission what would its impact be? What is the vision that results from this mission being done well. We’ve been working on this but we wanted your input, too. So you’ll see in your bulletin an insert with that very question. When we do our mission well, what do you see? What is the impact on us, on our neighbors of our doing our mission? Can you describe it? Think about it and offer what you see?

  • It needn’t be global.
  • Maybe think about the ministry you are engaged in, and when you do it so that our mission is fulfilled, what’s the result? Describe that result.

Today’s scriptures invite us to shift our gaze and deepen our vision. (So you’ll be primed for this exercise from the Vestry). In all three readings we follow characters whose encounter with God presents an expanded vision of God’s purposes that are often a threat to religious convention. You have to love it when God intervenes to reveal that our vision of God is too small. That is what the spiritual journey is always about, btw. But these stories are pretty good at describing this.

Our OT reading opens with God’s frustration with the holy man Samuel. This is the fellow whom God called even when he was a boy and who has always been especially attuned to divine insight – seeing not as humans see with the eyes but with the spirit’s leading of his heart.

When our story opens, God cries out in frustration: “how long will you grieve over Saul?” Saul was then King of Israel; Samuel had anointed him king. He had been a great military leader but lately he had grown full of himself, unwilling to follow the command of God, or other sections of the story suggest he was growing mad.

Whatever the cause, Samuel felt Saul had turned out to be a disappointment. He was moping about, unable to either help Saul or do anything but endure this dreadful king.

  • because there’s nothing you CAN do, right
  • Samuel anointed him king, so that’s it
  • can’t unanoint someone
  • can’t undo what God had done

So, it’s more than a little beautiful that it’s God who says to Samuel, shaking him out of his torpor: “how long will you grieve over Saul?” We do that, don’t we, when we’re stuck. Being stuck can feel like grieving:

  • the vision is always back to when it was better
  • the focus is on our mistakes, back then, which we can’t now undo – which doesn’t stop us from replaying them with altered effect in our mind
  • and so we sit, spinning

How long will you grieve over Saul? How long will you grieve for the church of the 1950s and 60s? See what I mean?

It may seem obvious to say so, but it is worth noting that when Samuel did break out of his immobility and fear, once he does that, he becomes a man capable of things he never dreamed of

  • he takes considerable risks (going to Jesse’s family under cover of worship)
  • it makes no religious sense to anoint a new king when the current one is still around, but God’s vision is not ours
  • He goes to Bethlehem as God instructs
    • lines up all of Jesse’s sons
      • Jesse’s eldest, Eliab is tall and strong, surely this is the one. Nope, says God. Keep looking
      • And so through all the sons Jesse presents. None are the one God has chosen.
      • Well, crikey. Now what? Is there another?
      • The youngest, a boy, out tending the sheep
    • This is the one. David. David, the one who is credited with this most beloved of psalms from today and many others.
    • David, the greatest king
    • David’s who we know about.
    • We don’t even remember Saul
  • Samuel becomes an important instrument in God’s working in the world

And this is often the forgotten real tragedy when WE cease to be growing, functioning, creative people – people stuck

  • always only looking backwards
  • and not open to God’s promptings for a creative future
  • we cease to be engaged in God’s purposes

In the Gospel, we learn of a man whom Jesus heals of his blindness. For me, there’s such a sense of John’s immediate actual memory of this incident because the rush of different voices – astonished, challenged, or horrified by this healing. A cacophony of voices – just like in real life.

The disciples knew, just like everybody, that one born blind is a punishment from God. So their question is: who sinned – this fellow or one of his parents?

  • And Jesus just demolishes the thing everyone knows to be true: neither one
  • Blindness is not a punishment from God
  • And the disciples are standing there with their mouths agape

The villagers take one look at the fellow and wonder, “Is this the guy who used to beg on the corner, or is it someone else?” They can’t tell.

The Pharisees are in a froth about how and when the man’s sight was given. Can healing happen on the Sabbath? How did this happen?

The parents, who are just as bumfuzzled as the disciples and now are hauled before the religious authorities, say they’d just as soon not get involved. “Ask him, he is of age,” they say.

The man healed is conscious of only one thing. The rabbi Jesus has given him his sight. And our gospel contrasts that certainty, that seeing, with the confusion and blindness of all the others.

Like the man who received his sight, the evangelist is inviting us (all who follow Jesus) to possess a crystal clear, joyous vision of reality.

  • what barriers to imagining a new future need to come down?
  • if we follow Christ, what will that mean for us collectively? for each of us individually?
  • are we letting religious convention get in the way of seeing and living into God’s joyous purposes?

We all live in the healing power of God in Christ. Cast your eyes forward, my friends, to God’s good future. What do you see?

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