Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Seeing God

In John 9 Jesus heals a man blind from birth.  It is a great miracle.  You would think that everyone would be excited.  That the predominant reaction would be joy and celebration.  That people would clearly see divine action.  That they would see God at work. 

Not the way it went.  In fact it is almost as if no one really wanted to believe.  No one wanted to see what God had done.  It is a crazy story – and it reveals all kind of traps that occur, all kinds of things that can get in the way of our seeing God at work in our world.

The first problem is that the people in this story wanted to get the whole situation wrapped up in a nice, neat, logical package.  In fact the first thing that happens, even before the healing takes place, is that the disciples decide to have a “theological discussion” about the situation in front of them.  But it is a discussion with the potential for disaster.  If this conversation had had its way, the healing would never have taken place. 

“This man is blind” the disciples said, “it must mean” (nice cause and effect thinking here), that someone sinned!  Who was it? And they started to try and figure it out.  Now, what’s the problem here?  One problem is that the disciples didn’t really see the man.  They didn’t see the suffering.  They weren’t even thinking about healing, or touching the life of this man.  It was all a theological exercise.  I believe that if Jesus hadn’t been there they would have walked right past this guy, talking theology.  And he would have remained blind, trapped in darkness. 

How often does the church have a theological discussion… and miss the pain and suffering right in front of it?  Too often the church sits around and “talks” theology while people are hungry, cold, trapped by poverty, devastated by addictions all around it. 

What makes it even worse is that so often these discussions reflect our need to have an answer for everything.  We can’t live with uncertainty very well.  We want things concrete, defined.  “If, then…cause and effect.”    But God is too big for that.  We will never be able to understand it all.  It’s simply impossible.  And our attempts to put it all in a box often leads to conclusions that are hurtful, even ugly.  Like believing that if something bad happens, the person must have been bad.  “Who sinned?”

Here is what I think.  The “Why” is not the most important thing.  What is important is that for God everything is an opportunity for God to work and show healing power.  If we are going to see this opportunity become reality, we have to have eyes wide open to the needs around us.  And not get hung up on theological distinctions.  We can’t wait until we get it all figured out.  We just have to see, accept the mystery that is God at work… and we have to, through our prayers, our compassion, our action, bring God into play.

The second issue is really interesting.  Here this guy is walking around saying, “Hey look at me!  Look at what God has done!”  And there are the people going… Nope!  Wrong guy!  Or worse.  By implication.  This is all fraud.  It didn’t happen!

Many were doubtful the healing was real… Sometimes we struggle to accept the ways, the acts of God when they occur?  Why? It pushes us out of our comfort zone?  It didn’t happen the way we thought it would?  God didn’t follow the rules?  We are back to everything having to be something we can understand, or agree with, understand…. God working according to our rules, within the scope of our understanding.

Which brings us to the final oddity in this passage.  The resistance of the Pharisees, based on what they saw as the Law of God.  They were upset because ( gasp) Jesus healed the man….. on the Sabbath :)

This is a pretty important part of the story, perhaps the most important part.  We people kind of like the Law.  It is concrete, black and white.  Easy to follow.  So we focus on law.  In fact we more than focus, we make Law the core of faith.  And in doing so we make things that might have a lot of positive benefits into something negative.

The idea of Sabbath is important.  God took a Sabbath during creation.  And tells us we need one too.  But for the Pharisees it had become something else.  With them the Sabbath laws became legalistic.  In fact they had so many rules about the Sabbath that were so restrictive that it became a day of where people were oppressed, not restored.  The day become almost the opposite of what it was intended for.

Reb Zalman says that one should begin the Sabbath by saying “Today I am going to pamper my soul”.  And then one should cease one’s daily labor, stop doing some things, so that other things can be born in the space created by our rest.  Things like love, prayer, friendship, touch, singing rest.

But here it was all about rules and restrictions and rules were created for almost every conceivable situation.  For example if it is the Sabbath, and your house is burning down, what can you do?

According to the Mishna, the books that put together all the rules accepted by people like the Pharisees,  putting out a fire was illegal on Sabbath, as was carrying things from one's home.  However, certain exceptions were made. One could carry food out of the house, but only enough to get each member of the family through the rest of the Sabbath. One could not carry clothes out of the house, but one could wear as many clothes as one could get on.  The rabbis differed as to whether or not one could go back into the burning building and put on a second array of clothes. Putting the fire out was not allowed, but if a Gentile volunteered, a good Jew could allow the Gentile to put it out. One could not, however, ask a Gentile for such a favor.

In this case… doing the “work” of making a paste of mud and putting it on a man’s eyes was clearly not allowed. 

But Jesus rejected this mentality.  He said in effect that the law is not at the center
I came not so that the laws will be upheld, but so that the blind may see.  And so that those who think they see, think they have it all figured out, so the self-righteous will realize they don’t get it.  Don’t’ see.  Are in fact spiritually blind.  So that everyone will learn they need God…

The bottom line is this
God wants people to be well
God wants to make whatever needs to happen to happen in order to bring wholeness into our lives

Our only job is to let God be God in our lives
And see God and God’s work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us
We don’t have to get it, be comfortable with it, understand it.. we just have to see it
Amazing Grace… I once was but now I see
I once was blind but now I can see)
I once was a drunk but now….
I once was …. What is it for you?

In his book The Magnificent Defeat Frederick Buechner writes:
“For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a a God right here in the thick of our day by day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world  It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but the experience of God’s presence.  That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also I think, the miracles that we really get.”

God give us the eyes to see!

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