Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 3/26/2017
Lent 4A: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”
But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”
So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”
He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
They asked, “Where is this man?”
He replied, “I don’t know.”
Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees.Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”
He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”
His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”
Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”
The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”
They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”
He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”
The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”
They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.
Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?”
He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (John 9, CEB)
Today, we’re going to talk a lot about the word ‘nurture,’ the work of nurturing. When I say that word, ‘nurture,’ I’m sure a lot of us have images or memories that come to mind. I know that my parents nurtured me. When I was growing up, I always knew that I was safe and that I would have food.
They took an active role in my growing mind and skills. My dad was a trumpet major in college at Bowling Green like I was at Ohio Northern. My parents say that they had me buzzing on Dad’s trumpet mouthpiece when I was around 3 years old, and Dad was my first trumpet teacher when I started band in 5th grace.
Like I said, I’m sure we all have images and memories that come to mind with that word ‘nurture.’ Many of us have stories of nurturing from when we were growing up from our parents or teachers. And if you have kids, I’m sure you have stories from nurturing your own kids as they grow and how hard it is and how rewarding it is at the same time.
Or maybe you didn’t have a healthy childhood. Maybe you still have scars from it, and you don’t have a good association with the word ‘nurture’ from your life.
But whatever happened in our past, I’m sure we all have some kind of understanding of the concept of ‘nurture’ if we think hard enough. None of us would be here today without the nurture of someone else, even if it was outside of our family. And I know that we all have some kind of understanding of this because of the motto of the church that’s always at the top of your bulletin – “The Church That Cares.” You identify yourself as a nurturing church.
So that’s what we’re going to talk about this week – nurturing. We’re in the fourth week of Lent. In case you don’t know or forget, Lent is that forty-day season of preparation for Easter – 40 days not counting Sundays. And this year for Lent we’ve been working through a series called “Living Our Baptismal Calling.” The UMC has a series of vows or promises that we make when we’re baptized, or that our parents make if we were baptized as an infant. And each week throughout this series, we’re looking closely at one or two of those vows or promises that we make at baptism.
So if you’re baptized, whether as an infant or a student or an adult, my hope is that this series would remind you of what you or your parents agreed to in baptism, the kind of life which your baptism calls you to live.
But if you’re here and you’re not baptized, that’s ok. My hope is that this series would give you a picture of what a life of baptism looks like. And my prayer is that this series might call you to come under the waters of baptism yourself.
So like I said, we’re focusing on the word ‘nurture’ today. Our baptismal vows call us to be a nurturing community. Specifically, two of the vows call us to the work of nurturing.
The first vow is asked of the parents or sponsors of whoever’s getting baptized if they’re an infant or they can’t answer for themselves. “Will you nurture these children/persons in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?”
The second vow is for the congregation: “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?
They both say basically the same thing. The first vow asks the family and those closest to the person being baptized if they will nurture them in the Christian faith so that the faith becomes their own and impacts their own life. And the second vow asks the congregation to do the same work of nurturing in the life of the congregation. It calls us to nurture each other and include the newly baptized and confirmed in their nurturing. This is important – we’re called to nurture each other. A lot of congregations think that it’s the pastor’s job to do the ministry and care for the members, but these vows call all of us to do that work.
Now, before we go on I want to make sure we’re all on the same page with what the word ‘nurture’ means.
To nurture is to help someone or something – like a child, a spouse, a student, a pet, a plant, etc. – help them to grow and develop and succeed. To nurture could also mean to take care of that same someone or something by providing food or safety or a place to live.
So this action and skill of ‘nurturing’ is important one for a church to develop. Our baptismal vows call us to be a community who nurtures our members in faith and life.
Now, when I say ‘members,’ I’m not talking here about the people on our official membership role. I’m talking about everyone who interacts with us as a church. Our baptismal vows call us as a church to be a nurturing community for everyone we come into contact with.
So already, there’s some good news here. However we understand this action of ‘nurturing,’ God has put this system of nurture in place from the very beginning so that by our baptismal vows, we are never alone in our walk of faith and discipleship. We always have our brothers and sisters and parents in faith with us.
That story from John’s gospel that I read earlier gives us an example of Jesus’ nurturing – it shows us how he nurtured the man who had been born blind. Now in this story, we can see three communities around the blind man that actually do more to show us what ‘nurture’ is not.
So the first of these nurturing communities is the disciples. We read in that story that the disciples are with Jesus at the beginning of it, so they’re the only ones who see that first conversation between Jesus and man born blind; they see Jesus smear the mud on the man’s eyes. Now if we really read the story, we can see that the disciples aren’t really concerned about this man. “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” A lot of people at that time believed that disabilities or physical impairments were a result of sin,
The disciples don’t do anything to nurture this man in faith. They just want to start an abstract discussion about who or what they can blame for his condition.
I wonder, how are we like the disciples in this way? Do we make the same mistake today? Maybe we’ve seen someone in a physical or social situation that is outside of our normal and we draw conclusions about how they got there and who and how we can blame.
Maybe we see a woman collecting disability checks every month and we think “Well she looks like she’s able to work. Maybe she’s just cheating the system so she can be lazy.”
Maybe we hear about someone who looks like a man insisting on using the female bathroom because they identify as female and we think “Well he’s obviously a male, what a pervert.”
And maybe we create these boundaries around our community that are invisible but incredibly strong and we use them to define who’s in and who’s out, and we make judgements on people based on that. “She’s a female pastor and only males can be pastors, so she can’t be a part of us.” Therefore, we think that we don’t have to nurture these people, because they’re not in the community.
In the story in John about the man born blind, he also had the community of his neighbors and family. It’s a weird part of the story, right? They’ve known this formerly blind man his whole life, but for some reason they don’t recognize him, despite him telling them who he is. His parents won’t even stand up to the Pharisees for him. That’s just cold.
So like the disciples, this man’s neighbors and family don’t do anything to nurture him. This man’s healed of blindness – what an incredible miracle! – but there’s no open-armed acceptance of him as the man who once was blind, but now he sees.
Maybe they had difficulties accepting the huge change in this person. He broke out of the box they’d put him in. I wonder if we do the same kind of thing? Maybe we read or hear about or know someone who’s committed a heinous, awful crime. Can she or he be forgiven and rehabilitated? What about a father or mother who lost custody of their kids because of a drug or alcohol addiction – can they ever be trusted again?
Now when we talk to those who’ve been victimized by actions like those, the conversation totally changes. But for those of us who are looking in from the outside – do we accept and love them? Or do they stay in the nice, neat box we have for them?
Again, in that story of the man born blind there’s the third community of the Pharisees and religious leaders. We read that they don’t even believe that he was blind. They keep trying to pigeonhole him as an unrepentant sinner to fit their narrative of Jesus being a sinner and a false prophet. Then they excommunicate him and kick him out of his faith community, the only community this man had ever known.
Today, this is where I see myself. I’m a white-skinned male who has a middle-class upbringing and has always gone to good school systems. I have so many privileges handed to me that I didn’t work for, and they put me in the upper levels of society. And as a pastor, I also fall into the religious elite, just like the Pharisees and Jewish leaders who ran this man’s faith community and kicked him out.
When I was in middle school, I was a part of the youth group in my family’s church in Hamilton. The other students were mostly white and middle class like me. But there was this girl who started coming who was very different from us in life experiences, in her upbringing; she was different in so many ways from us. So the rest of us in the youth group rejected her. So this girl stopped coming to youth group after a few months.
Every so often I think of that situation. Here was this girl probably searching for a nurturing community. Maybe she didn’t have one in another part of her life so she thought she could find it at a church. But she didn’t.
So I often fall into this community of the religious elite who fail in their calling to nurture people who were born blind but then could see.
But then, after all that happened, after those three communities of the disciples, the man’s family and neighbors, and the religious leaders failed to nurture this man, along comes Jesus. And he reverses all those mistakes made by those communities.
Jesus refuses to get pulled into the disciples’ abstract question about who’s to blame for this man’s blindness. He just draws the circle wider for his community so that this man could come in. Then Jesus nurtures him by healing him.
Unlike the man’s neighbors and family, Jesus sees this man. Jesus doesn’t just notice him as that blind beggar by the road to throw a few bucks at on your way past. Jesus also sees him as a full human being who has just as much potential for happiness and joy as any non-blind human being. So Jesus nurtures him by recognizing and accepting him.
Like I said, the religious elite throw this man out. But along comes Jesus The man who was born blind but could now see says “I believe.” And Jesus nurtures him by saying “Come on in and join us.” Because Jesus was not in the business of drawing boundaries and rejecting.
So by his example with the man born blind, Jesus shows us how we might live into our baptismal call and become a community who nurtures our members in faith and life. So how do we do that?
I want to point you to a verse in the reading from Ephesians from before the sermon. Ephesians 5:10 calls us to “Test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord.”
I take that to mean that we should just try something. Baptism calls us to be a community who nurtures its members and wider community in faith and life. And everyone needs nurture, everyone needs help to grow into a life that is full of the love of God, whether you’re 5 years old or 90 years old. And remember, a lot of congregations think that this is the work of the pastor and not them. But I’m sorry to tell you – no pastor is able to be the only one nurturing and caring for the congregation, no matter how talented they are.
So when we see someone this week – maybe it’s someone from this congregation, maybe it’s someone in your family or a coworker or someone just out in the community – when we see them, think “I could do something to nurture them.” They need our love and companionship just as much as we need theirs. So try something.
I want to help you do that. You should have two identical inserts in your bulletins that say “Living the Call” at the top. Could you get those out? If you don’t have them, that’s ok. I’m just going to explain the two questions you can see on them and give you a couple minutes to struggle with them and attempt to answer them.
What is one way you are already nurturing someone in faith and life who is in your community (church, family, work environment, etc.)?
What is one new way you could nurture someone in faith and life who is in your community?