Sunday, March 22, 2020 – Lent 4

March 22, 2020  

Lent 4 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

John 9:1-14


A seminary professor, doing some research on the gospel of John, discovered that the phrase “put out of the synagogue” (which we see in verse 22) is used three times in John, but nowhere else in the New Testament and in no other known Jewish or Christian writings of that time.

Knowing this, the scholar proposed that this phrase to “put out of the synagogue”

refers to the Benediction Against Heretics that was introduced into the synagogue liturgy sometime after 70 [AD] and probably between the years 85 and 95 . On the basis of this benediction, [the writer] concluded that the Fourth Gospel was written at the end of the first century… in and to a community that was being expelled from the synagogue, and that this conflict with the synagogue decisively shaped [John’s] story of Jesus.

(Gail R. O’ Day “John 9:13-41 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 657)

As is said in verse 22 of our reading, the parents of the blind man Jesus healed feared the Pharisees that interrogated them. The parents feared the Pharisees because, if the parents were to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, they would be “put out of the synagogue.” The Pharisees’ questions were a trap. And, in real life (in the late first century), this was happening. Christians were put out of the synagogue for confessing their faith in Jesus.

You who are watching this service have been “put out of the synagogue.” Literally. And you aren’t alone in that.

Doors are closed in mosques, temples, churches, shrines and other holy places around the world. Like you, people are worshiping at home: maybe sitting at the kitchen table watching the screen on their tablet, maybe in another part of the house at an altar of their own construction.

Most of us would prefer anything but this. Others of us, because of illness or age or frailty, have been worshiping online for weeks or months or years—unable to physically be in the sanctuary of their choice.

We have been told to take sanctuary outside of our sanctuaries.

The crowds of people in normally our sanctuaries create risk.

Some of us feel hurt. Some of us are angry or frustrated because we think everything is being exaggerated. Some of us are afraid. Some of us are lonely. Some of us might be doing ok, having fun with family or with friends online.

The parents of the blind man Jesus healed feared the Pharisees that interrogated them. The parents feared the Pharisees because, if the parents were to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, they would be “put out of the synagogue.”

They feared they would be “put out of the synagogue” because of their faith in Jesus.

We are not in our places of worship, in part because our faith in Jesus leads us to stay home. Because Jesus calls us to love one another we stay home to minimize risk. Because Jesus calls us to care for the sick we stay home, not wanting to make things worse for them. Because Jesus calls us to care for our elders we close our doors to people who have been accustomed to “going to church” every Sunday for decades. Because Jesus calls us to care for those who are most vulnerable those who are strong do all they can to protect those who immune systems are weak or weakened.

This is hard, in part because many of us are used to doing whatever we want whenever we want with whomever we want. We have had this privilege. Now our privileges, our freedoms are being denied us.

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When the Pharisees were questioning the man who had been blind, they said of Jesus “we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). The man who had been blind replied (in part) “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes” (John 9:30).

How might Jesus open your eyes today?

What astonishing things might you see?

Close your eyes and imagine a place you would go if you wanted to find sanctuary. A place you would feel safe. A place you would feel protected and comforted and calm. Your place might be a geographic location or in a specific building. Your place might be outside. Your place might be wrapped in your loved one’s arms or held by a parent…

Now imagine yourself in that place. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath.

Imagine yourself with friends or family there if that makes your safe place a better place for you.

Now answer in your own mind or speak the words out loud… Why is this the place you are imagining as your sanctuary? Why do you feel comforted there? Why do you feel calm there?

Now, in your mind hold on to your safe place, your sanctuary because this place you are imagining is a place you cannot be “put out” of. This place lives in your mind and you can take yourself there anytime you need to.

Your place is your place.

And you are not alone there. God is with you. Imagine being able to physically feel God’s presence with you there.

Now open your eyes and look around. God isn’t just in the place you have imagined in your mind. God is with you now, in this moment. Where you are.

If you haven’t already done this, are there ways you can make the place you are into a sanctuary? Can you make the place you are into your own or your family’s sacred spot? Can you add a candle? Can you lay a few smooth stones or beads or coins to the desktop or table that you can pick up and hold in your hands? Can you add a photo of a friend or family members? Do you have a bible or a hymnal you can keep near you as we worship? Can you or someone else color pictures to decorate the area for worship? Think of your home, or wherever you are, as your sanctuary during this pandemic.

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The hymn we are about to sing is an advent hymn: All Earth is Hopeful. Advent is our season of hope—hoping for the return of Jesus to the world even as we remember and re-tell the stories of people waiting for Jesus to come.

This moment, these days, these weeks are not a time to lose hope. Jesus is here, with us. As the 4th verse of the hymns tells us: We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib. This same Jesus today has come to live in our world; he is present, in neighbors we see our Jesus is with us, and ever sets us free. (ELW #266)

Jesus is with us. Always.