Sermon,  Sermons

Art of Joy

4th Sunday of Lent

sermon video

I am sure you are all riveting by the continuing saga that is the growth of my Nasturtium plant. Last week I confessed my temptation to give up hope that my plant would grow, and succumb to the embarrassment of facing Wes and my Trustees with truth of my deeply blackened thumb. But, I listened to suggestions, followed them and bolstered my faith, and I shared a photo last week of a healthy sprout growing well above the lip of the cup.

What I didn’t tell you is that there are two cups, one in which Greer planted the seed. So when I shared this story, Greer said, “You know, that might have been the one I planted.” And from that time onward, she taunted me with, “That one is probably mine. Yeah, it’s definitely mine.” Because, you guessed it, nothing was coming through the soil’s surface in the other cup.

But, I persisted. I coaxed the bits of mulch a teensy bit each day, declared that I was not giving up on the life that is surely germinating within. And guess what?! YES! Something popped through mid-week!

As with the Royal Official in last week’s reading, the blind man engages a process of belief. And like the paralytic, the healing is imposed on him – Jesus approaches him about whether he’d like to see, and instructs him to do some things. He 1st allows Jesus to rub mud made from Jesus’ spit into his eyes. Next he goes to the Pool of Siloam (which means Sent). As his eyes gained physical sight, spiritual sight emerges – he exits the pool believing.

But when he is questioned by the neighbors and then the Pharisees, his faith grows each time he must affirm what Jesus did: “He put mud on my eyes and now I see.” And he keeps having to tell people, over and again he testifies. And for some reason the people are compelled to take him to the Pharisees who drill him with questions. Again, the now sighted man explains, each time more resolved in his faith, and his newly illuminated spiritual sight recognizes the how lacking the Pharisees are concerning the scope of what God can do.

            So he preaches to them!

30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’

John 9

And the only response the Pharisees have is to mock him like little children

‘Well you were born entirely in sins, so there! You can’t teach us; You’re not the boss of us’

Jesus hears about this and finds the man, straight up asked him, “do you believe?”  “do you believe in the son of man?” He doesn’t understand exactly what Jesus means by that, but knows already that he does believe.

– in stages, by acting on it, in different ways and by different means than the development of faith we’ve seen in the Royal Official, the paralytic, the Samaritan Woman, and the Centurion. No one’s faith development and pace are identical.

Jesus then explains why he came – for judgement. Remember, this is not the kind of passing judgement of accusations and punitive measures. It is the kind that indicates discernment – discerning, the action of God in our midst, distinguishing the blindness that keeps us from believing, recognizing what it is that makes us hold on to certain ideas (that might have helped us along the road to belief, insight, but now prevents us from it) – because no one’s faith development and pace are identical.

Pride. Control. Humiliation. The inability to rejoice with those who rejoice. This man who was blind from birth can now see, for heaven’s sake! Why isn’t anybody rejoicing?! His own parents even try to brush it off, pass the story back to their son. John tells us it is their fear of the Pharisees. Ok, I guess.

This man who was blind from birth can now see, for heaven’s sake! Why isn’t anybody rejoicing?!

But the Pharisees? They try to intimate that the power Jesus has is from the devil. And that is the one sin that cannot be forgiven, by the way, if you remember from previous conversations we’ve had here: To name something as evil that is actually from God, goodness.

These people are so encrusted with envy, the need for power, the need for recognition, the need to be right, be worshiped, that they cannot see goodness. They don’t even try. They are absolutely not choosing to notice the beauty of healing, of life – of God-made-flesh – before their very eyes.  – because no one’s faith development and pace are identical – they can’t control that.

It is a practice. And it is only by practicing – well, and the outpouring of God’s graces and mercy on us every moment of every day – it is in persistent, intentional spiritual exercise that the fruit of practicing this kind of seeing, training our eyes to notice the hints of goodness, the tints of laughter, the hues of friendship, the color of love shown by the phone call from my gorgeous neighbor from around the corner just to make sure my family is ok.

It is from this practice that judgment turns to discernment – discerning what Jesus is doing in this moment to bring me back to myself, to bring my focus back to the Source of EVERYTHING, to open my eyes to true seeing, the sight of the Child of Humankind ReCreating me – and you – and everything before our very eyes.

How is Jesus recreating you and everything in your space – even in the midst of this pandemic?

            What is keeping you from experiencing joy?

“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”


Choosing Joy

Rainbow Landscape, c.1636, Peter Paul Rubens

Rubens is consummately the painter of happiness. But this sunlit, unreflecting sense of well-being, precious though it is, is not joy. Joy is something deeper, and in a sense sterner. Although we cannot command it, we choose joy, making a deliberate commitment to happiness (essentially another word for peace). Rubens delights in the positive: the rainbow symbolizing hope (and in itself so beautiful), the light glinting on the rich meadows, the benign cattle and their fruitful surroundings. Yet there are dark elements too, in the picture if we want to seek them out: the sunless woods are not far away. Rubens chooses: he emphasizes the good things. Joy is independent of choosing: it overwhelms and suffuses us.

Sister Wendy Beckett, The Art of Lent

So we can choose happinesses, but there is something about that deeper, truest sense of joy that has the power to suffuse us – that happens because we cultivate it. We choose the bits of happinesses when darkness is present, we choose to see the goodness when so much around us looks grim. It’s not a putting one’s head in the sand. Rather, it is meeting the darkness, the grim, the same four walls we’re confined to for the unforeseeable future – with a deep and abiding sense of joy that we are alive! That God is always present.

That Jesus’ work is being done in us even in our confinement – to turn our blindness to true sight. And it is then that we might also see all the beauty for all its worth – Art. God’s artful work in this world and in us. What joy! What rapture! The art of joy.

            What is keeping you from experiencing joy?

When I was working on this yesterday morning, another gorgeous person emailed this poem. It was perfect, and it lifted joy right out of my soul:

Today, by Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

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