“I am he…the Light of the World”: Lent 4

“I am he…the Light of the World”: Lent 4

Year A, The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 19, 2023

Year A:  1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

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We heard last week, and this week Jesus say the same thing to people. “I am he.” It shouldn’t go unnoticed that he said it to the Samaritan woman and this week to a person who was blind. Jesus is revealing his identity to not the Pharisees but to those in the world most in need of having Jesus in their lives. I found it interesting, and I didn’t pick up on it until about 6:00 this morning.

We’re hearing a series of powerful messages from Jesus as we go through this Lenten season.

Today we hear this story of Jesus encountering a man born blind. His disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”[1] This question reveals the common assumption at that time that suffering, and disability, were the result of personal sin or the sin of one’s parents. But Jesus challenges this belief, saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him”.[2]

Jesus’ answer to the disciples leads to another conundrum. Exactly what does Jesus mean? It becomes problematic. It’s hard to preach this passage because it leads us to the question whether our God of love would allow suffering. It’s a complex, theologically challenging issue that has been the subject of debate for thousands of years.

And even within Christianity, even within the Episcopal Church, there are many different answers to this question. I think we have to touch on it a bit to really wrestle with it.

There is undoubtedly suffering in the world. Humanity has free will. God allows humans to make choices, good and bad. We all know people who make choices, good and bad at different times in our lives.

There’s another perspective. We live in an imperfect world. This perspective holds that suffering is a natural consequence of living in an imperfect world. According to this view, God’s love is evident through the beauty and order of creation, but suffering exists due to natural processes.

Some believe that suffering can lead to personal and spiritual growth and a deeper relationship with God. Sometimes it does happen, but not always. I don’t think God allows suffering for that reason, but I think growth can happen.

We hear this God of love and this miraculous healing, this healing of a blind man. We hear it more than once in the Gospel, but I don’t think we can touch on this passage without asking ourselves our questions about suffering, why it happens, because none of us want it to happen, none of us like it happening. But what I do believe is that God is with us when it happens.

But the miracles. The miracles we hear about.

We hear about becoming sighted. Some of you will remember that two weeks ago I couldn’t see a thing with my new glasses. Sight is a wonderful thing.

The Gospel of John is full of metaphors. And in today’s Gospel, John is talking about spiritual blindness as much as anything.  He’s talking about Jesus proclaiming, “I am the light of the world”[3].

This theme of light overcoming darkness resonates throughout Scripture, from the creation story in Genesis to all things in Revelation. During this season of Lent, we are reminded of the power of light to dispel the darkness, this lengthening of spring, we’re coming into the light, we’re coming toward the tomb, but we’re also going to come out on the other side of it, to that kindling of the new fire.

Paul’s words to the Ephesians provide a profound insight into the nature of our transformation from darkness to light: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light”[4]. We heard that in our wonderful gospel hymn.

This transformation is made possible through Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who overcame the darkness and sin into resurrection. It is through Christ that we can walk in the light, embracing lives marked by love, goodness, righteousness, and truth.

The Old Testament reading reminds us that God’s perspective on light and darkness differs from our human understanding. When Samuel was sent to anoint a new king for Israel, he was instructed not to judge by outward appearances. Samuel anointed David, the youngest and least likely of Jesse’s sons – it becomes clear that God’s ways are not our ways, and that light overcomes darkness.

The light of God’s wisdom in choosing Davis as the king of Israel, that God’s light can break through whatever biases, whatever prejudices, whatever misconceptions we have about life.

So, I ask us as we continue our journey in the next several weeks to let the light of Christ into our lives even amidst the dark and suffering.

Last week, I talked a bit about my friend, Sister Joanne. I started to cry today as we sang our Gospel hymn this morning because all I could think about in that moment was her.

She died this past Thursday morning at 9:41 and it was a rainy morning. But at that moment, I’m told there was light streaming into her room. What I will always remember about her – she was the light of Christ in the world.

So, as we encounter all the difficult things around us let us remember Christ. Christ is present with us, guiding us, empowering us, bringing wholeness and transformation.

There are so many questions we can ask ourselves concerning today’s readings:

  1. How have you experienced suffering in your own life, and how has it shaped your faith or spiritual journey?
  2. Can you think of a time when suffering led you to a deeper understanding of God’s presence or love in your life?
  3. In what ways can our community support those who are going through difficult times and experiencing suffering?
  4. How are we light in the world? How do we bring God’s light, Christ’s light to the world?

To be light in a dark world involves spreading hope and providing encouragement, support, and a sense of hope to those struggling or in need. It means promoting love and compassion and empathy, pursuing truth and justice, building relationships, and encouraging spiritual development. By embodying, by becoming people of the light, the church and individuals can act as a source of light in a dark world.

I invite you as we reflect on the story of the man born blind and the themes of light and darkness, may we be challenged to look beyond our preconceived notions of sin and suffering. May we allow the light of Christ to illuminate your hearts and minds so that we may all see our world with the eyes of faith, hope, and love. And during our Lenten journey, may we find strength and courage in the promise of the resurrection. Amen.

[1] John 9:2, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] John 9:3, NRSV

[3] John 9:5, NRSV

[4] Ephesians 5:8, NRSV