4 Lent

The Rev. Mary Grambsch

Your Word, O Lord, is a lantern for our feet and a light upon our path.  In the Name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

      In these past few months I have been thinking about the passing of time, both in my life and in the world.  In my private prayer too, I am reminded of people I have lost touch with and about things that happened to me in my youth.  I’m not sure why I should be so caught up with remembering the people and places of my past, or thinking about the world events of my lifetime.  I have learned that, inevitably, when I get caught up in a pattern of thinking, or a pattern of prayer for that matter, God is trying to show me something.

Many of the events I am pondering mark turning points in my life; events I think of as “before and after” points.  You have them in your life as well, everybody does; the time in your life before you graduated from High School and after, the time in your life before you moved to New York and after the move, before you got married and after, before your first child was born and after, and so on.  Our lives are marked by life changing decisions or events that we respond to, that change our lives.. 
Some of these events are happy ones; falling in love, getting your first job, meeting a special person who changed your life.  However, many sad, unwanted things happen to us that change the direction of our lives; the death of someone dearly loved, a fire or flood or a natural disaster, a change in world events –  an assassination, a revolution, or a terrorist act, such as happened here in New York on Sept, 11, 2001. Whenever you ask someone “where were you when such-and-such happened?” you are talking about a life changing moment.

We all have these turning points, these “before and after” moments in our lives, and they reveal a lot about us.  Something that is crucial to the flow of one person’s life may pass un-noticed by another person.  Often a difference in ages is decisive; I don’t really remember the Viet Nam war, but my older brothers and sisters surely do and it affected them deeply.  Most often location plays a part; living in Florida during a hurricane is very, very different than seeing it on the News in New York City.  I am endlessly fascinated by the “before and after” events in peoples lives; where they grew up, where and how they met their spouse, how they decided to live in this place instead of some other place.  These are important personal events and decisions that are worth pondering, and not just on birthdays and anniversaries.

I have noticed that these past three weeks in Lent we have been hearing several “before and after” stories in our Gospel readings.  People meet and talk with Jesus and their lives are never the same again.  Nicodemus comes to meet Jesus late in the night and receives some startling answers to his searching questions about faith and being “born again”.  Likewise, the Samaritan Woman at the well has a conversation with Jesus and receives Living Water that will flow within her for the rest of her life.  She will remember the day she met Jesus for the rest of her days.  In today’s Gospel reading, a man blind from birth, in a chance meeting with Jesus receives the gift of sight and nothing will be the same for him ever again.   All these people were changed in meeting Jesus.

They are changed, yes, but notice that each one goes through some trials because of that change.  Nicodemus learned the truth about Jesus, that he was the Messiah, and he had to make a decision to live as a believer, which meant giving up his place of leadership and prestige to follow Jesus.  So too, the Samaritan Woman was called to go and share the good news of the Living Waters with people who distained and shunned her.   The people of the Village were not her friends or family members, she had to go among people who did not like or respect her and give them a gift, to share the precious Living Water with them.  Only the remembered conversation with Jesus and the Living Water bubbling up inside her gave her the courage to do this difficult thing.
The blind man Jesus healed, also had his share of blessing and trials because of his meeting with Jesus.  After Jesus healed the blind man he went to his family and friends.  They were astonished and could not believe the miracle that had happened to him; they question and argue but do not give glory to God or praise him because of this healing.  The formerly blind man is dragged before the Jewish authorities and questioned sharply.  The authorities do not believe his claim that Jesus is a Prophet and question his parents, who in their turn do not defend him against the Jewish authorities, washing their hands of him.  Then this poor man is brought back to stand before his judges again and is called a liar and cast out of the community.  All this because he simply told the truth about what had happened to him!

Jesus, in giving this man his sight revealed the blindness of those who would reject the gift of God, reject God’s Messiah, reject Jesus.  Jesus in accepting the faith of the healed man also acknowledged the trials and difficulties that faith can bring. 
St Paul, writing to the Church in Ephesus, also acknowledges this “before and after” quality of faith and the trials and responsibilities it brings.  He reminds them, and us, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light-for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.”  We are called to not only live in the light, but to BE the light, to live in such a way the God’s goodness and mercy shines from us and leads other people to God.  We are to, “try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” and to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness”. 

St. Paul makes it easy for us – he names the fruits of Light, “in all that is good and right and true.”  If we are to shun the “before” life of sin and darkness we must learn to live in the “after faith” life of goodness, rightness, and truth.  How do we do that?  By doing as Jesus commanded; by caring for our neighbors and for the stranger, helping those who are sick, visiting the lonely, defending those who have no defenders, protecting children and the elderly, speaking up for the downtrodden and homeless.  But remember, we are also to shun the “unfruitful works of darkness”.  How do we do that?  By putting aside evil or mean thoughts, to have no dealing with lies, to not slander or gossip about another person, to not say anything about another person that you would not say to their face and to not listen when other people try to gossip with you, to harm yourself or another person physically, emotionally or mentally.  All these things gain us nothing and they tear down, rather then build up, the Body of Christ.

A life lived “before faith” can be very dark and difficult indeed.  A life “after faith,” after the acceptance of Jesus as the Lord of your life, can be difficult and painful as well, but the great difference between the two is that the “after faith” life is filled with liveliness and hope and promise.  In Jesus we have a helper and guide to a life that is “good and right and true”, we are give the power to live as “children of Light”, and we are given the hope that our journeys end will be the bliss of heaven.  So leave behind the last traces of your “before” life of darkness, and let this day, this moment be a turning point for you into the “after” life of light and faith.  Amen.