Last week I had the privilege of leading the local SHARE burial service over St. Joseph’s Cemetery. SHARE of Lancaster is an organization whose primary value statement on their website is this: “We value the right of all families to have all of their children recognized as unique and beautiful human persons— both those who are living and those who have died.” Some of you have been part of this service over the years, either personally or in support of friends and family members.
The service offers closure to families who have lost children to miscarriage or still birth or other life-ending complications during pregnancy. Last week’s was a large gathering … I was told that there were 52 children whose cremains were in the casket. And that about 150 people were present for the burial service. Following the service I typically have two or three people speak to me with a brief word of thanks or a word about their child and their journey of grief. This year, one couple in particular touched my heart. They stopped to say thanks, and then offered this comment … “We’re not sure what we did that led to our son’s death, but we know that it must be part of God’s plan.” I tried to gracefully remind them that the world is not perfect, and that while a child’s death is tragic, it is never God’s intent that a baby dies during pregnancy, or at any other time. We spoke for a few more moments before they left. I don’t think they were able to hear that assurance, so I encouraged them to attend the social the SHARE organization offers after the burial, and speak with one of the SHARE counselors … I hope that happened.
As I drove home I found myself thinking about today’s lesson from John’s Gospel, as I had been working on the sermon earlier in the day. And I found myself thinking in particular about this verse which opened our lesson today:
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
It is so easy for a person to blame himself or herself for tragedies that touch their lives – we see it all the time in the world. Have you ever heard someone say, or maybe speak the words yourself, “What did I do to deserve this?” Now admittedly, there are a fair number of situations in which the brokenness we experience in life is a direct result of our poor choices. But I suspect that was not the case for the young couple I met, and it was not the case for the man born blind in today’s Gospel Lesson. We know that from Jesus’ response:
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
It is a bit of a cryptic response, but it seeks to remind people where God is at work in the presence of suffering and brokenness in our lives. God is not the one to initiate brokenness or orchestrates the arrival of death into the world … God is the one working on the other side of the equation, leading us to healing and wholeness in the face of suffering and illness and the loss of life. Sometimes that work of God is restorative to the person who is directly suffering – a person with cancer is healing through chemotherapy … or a child’s life is saved through a dramatic neonatal surgical procedure … or an individual gets well from a disease with the help of the prayer and support of loved ones. And sometimes the work of God is restorative to those of us who love and cherish the person who is suffering … our grief is healed in time following a death … our anger is resolved as we watch our loved one’s courage and faith and hope as they journey through sickness … our joy is spontaneous as we watch a loved one heal through therapy or prayer or medicinal treatment.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
In each of these situations, what God seeks to remind us of, is the blessing of staying focused upon the one who has created us, and the one who will save us. Jesus reminds us that there is purpose to each of our lives, and that part of that purpose is to reflect the grace and power of God revealed in our lives. At the end of our story after all of this rambling dialogue that occurs between the neighbors of this man, and the Pharisees, and his parents that focuses upon diagnoses and treatments and liability and consequences …. At the end of this story that sounds a lot like the kind of confusing mess of issues and priorities that we sometimes get caught up in when we are in the presence of powerful healing …. Yes, at the conclusion of this mess of human interaction, our story closes with these words:
Jesus heard that they had driven the man out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
At the end of the day, what matters is the purpose for which God has formed and fashioned us – belief … and worship … and witness … and service. Those are the tasks to which God has summoned us – not all the other silliness that we get all hot and bothered about. God calls us to see the light of Jesus in our lives, and to reflect that light into the lives of others.
Our Preaching Question captures the calling perfectly … Can You See Me Now? Can you see Jesus in your life? Some of you here might answer “no.” It is not always easy. A lot of things get in the way of our sight that we do not control … and a lot of things get in the way of our sight of which we are in complete control. Can You See Jesus Now? Can you embrace Jesus’ desire for you … that “God’s works might be revealed in you.” John the Evangelist would say, all it takes is a little light. Prior to today’s story in this 9th chapter of his Gospel, John the Evangelist has already used the word “light” in reference to Jesus … a lot … 15 times already, culminating with that classic and memorable proclamation in the previous chapter of his Gospel …
“Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’
We are to reflect the Light of Christ into the lives of others. You might choose to do that through your welcome to a visitor here at church. Or through the Power Pack meals you load into a backpack for a needy family. Or through a contribution you make to the orphans in Busoka. Or in the consolation you offer to a family who has lost a child, or a friend who has lost a parent. In our story today, the people around our formerly blind man could see the difference in this man. He didn’t have to say anything at the start – they spoke first … “How were your eyes opened?” It was obvious to them, that his life had been transformed.
Imagine what your life would be like if those around you could see the light of Christ within you … maybe they already can. I see the light of Christ in so many of you, day in and day out, through your service to others in the name of the one who has saved you. Dwight L. Moody, the 19th century American evangelist and publisher once said:
“We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining – they just shine.”
Why not give it a go being a lighthouse this week? Help those around you answer the question “Can You See Jesus Now?” You have the best light in town within you already … it is just waiting to be revealed to the world … through you. Amen.