HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT 2014
1 Samuel 16: 1-13 - Ephesians 5:8-14 - John 9:1-41- Psalm 23
The themes from today’s scripture readings involve light and darkness, blindness and seeing, human ways of seeing, and God’s way of seeing. Like the Pharisees of today’s Gospel, we may assume that we see when indeed we are blind. We may not be blind in the ophthalmological sense of the word- we see objects, people, light and shadow, but we do not see in a spiritual sense. We may be blind to spiritual realities in the world around us. This is not how we should be- we are meant to see, with the eyes of faith, with the sightedness that comes from grace. We are meant to be light in a world that is often dark.
The themes of seeing as a human and seeing as God sees first comes up in our Old Testament reading for today. The Prophet Samuel has been sent by God to Bethlehem, to Jesse, because God has chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king of Israel, in place of Saul, and Samuel is to anoint him. That’s all Samuel is told- he is not told which one he is to anoint. Samuel has Jesse bring his sons before him. When he sees Eliab, Samuel thinks: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord”. Eliab is apparently tall and good-looking, but God says “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”. Seven sons pass before Jesse and none is God’s choice. Finally the youngest is called in from tending the sheep. This is David. “The lord said ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one’. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward”.
Anointing with oil is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that comes upon David-“the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” From that time on God spoke to David, and David to God. He passed from not seeing to seeing. The peace and tranquility that seeing beyond superficial realities brings is expressed in David’s greatest psalm, Psalm 23, which we also read this morning. Seeing brings faith and confidence in the Lord: “I shall not be in want”. That in turns brings a feeling of deep inward peace and trust in the loving kindness of God. “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. When we have received the anointing of God’s grace we can also feel the abundance of God’s goodness and mercy towards us- our cup overflows.
The anointing with God’s grace is of course the core of the sequence hymn, number 671, Amazing Grace, which we sang before and after the Gospel reading today. John Henry Newton who wrote this hymn began his life as an adventurer and officer on slave vessels carrying captured humans in chains from Africa to the plantations of the New World. In his early twenties he was captain of slaving vessels carrying Africans from the shores of the continent to the West Indies for sale. During this time he underwent several progressively more complete conversion experiences.
Was Newton born again in the Evangelical sense of the word? He claimed to have experienced conversion on May 10, 1748, and always marked the anniversary, but later acknowledged that real conversion took place in 1749 during a voyage to Africa where he became ill with fever and asked God to take command of his life. He returned to England in 1750 and continued his activities as a slaver. Between 1750 and 1754 he was captain of three slave vessels. Only a stroke in 1754 put an end to his active involvement in the slave trade, but he continued investing his money in a trading firm that was involved in the slave trade.
Rather than see Newton as an Evangelical transformed from sinner into saint virtually overnight, I see him with Anglican eyes as someone who sought and received God’s grace, but whose spiritual growth took place over a period of many years. That he grew in grace appears to me to be indisputable. He was ordained in 1764 as an Anglican priest. The hymn Amazing Grace dates from around 1779. His public condemnation of the slave trade took place in 1788, some 34 years after his last voyage as captain of a slave ship. The pamphlet Thoughts upon the Slave Trade was sent to every Member of Parliament. It was such a success that it went through several printings. It made a strong case for stopping the trade in slaves. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Newton.
Newton also played an important role in convincing William Wilberforce, a young Minister of Parliament who had a conversion experience in 1785, to continue in politics. Wilberforce as a young man was pleasure seeking and loved gambling. After his conversion experience, fearing public ridicule, he considered retiring from politics. He consulted John Newton, and Newton convinced him to continue in Parliament and to work for the abolition of the slave trade. He did so; his efforts culminated in 1807 with the abolition of the slave trade. This took place in the last days of Newton’s life. Wilberforce went on from there to become a leading advocate for the abolition of slavery. Despite retiring from Parliament in 1826, due to ill health, he also lived to see the abolition of slavery in Great Britain and its colonies in 1833, just before his death.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce
Whatever may be said about John Newton, and William Wilberforce’s moral weakness or inconsistency in their early careers, it is clear to me that they lived as children of light. Each of them, with God’s grace, came to see clearly the evil inherent in the slave trade and in slavery itself. Each of them contributed strongly to making the public aware of the evils inherent in slavery and slave trafficking. Both were instrumental in putting an end to this enormous moral wrong. Both of them rose from the death of moral blindness to the light of Christ. And Newton left us an enduring legacy in the hymn we know as “Amazing Grace”.
Blindness is also the theme of today’s proclamation of the Gospel according to Saint John. Jesus heals a man blind from birth, and this healing takes us through the various types of seeing as well as various types of blindness. There is first of all the physical fact of a blind man receiving his sight. Jesus’ disciples ask if the man or his parents sinned. This is a silly question, since the man has been blind from birth. What sin could he have committed? Since Ezequiel’s writings we know that the sins of the fathers are not visited on the children. “If you were blind”, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “you would not have sin” The man has not sinned because he has been blind all his life. Then Jesus tells the disciples “night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”. Jesus is light, and now we, his followers are too. The Letter to the Ephesians says to us “in the Lord you are light”.
Next in today’s Gospel we have the people who know the blind beggar. They cannot agree if it is him or not. He keeps insisting that he is the former blind man. “I am he”, he says. It is the Sabbath. He has been healed on the Sabbath, a day when all work is forbidden. A group of concerned citizens bring him to the Pharisees. Here he repeats his testimony before the religious authorities of the land. Pharisee reactions are mixed: “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath” say some- for them observing the injunction to abstain from work on the Sabbath is more important than healing the blind. Who are the blind ones here? Others said “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” That’s a good question. As for the man who now sees, he declares of Jesus “He is a prophet”.
The Pharisees refuse to believe the evidence before them. They call for the man’s parents, who testify that their son was born blind but now has received his sight. The parents are afraid to say more, for fear of being expelled from the synagogue. Again the man who now sees is called before them. He is asked to agree with them that Jesus is a sinner. He professes agnosticism on this issue except for one thing: “though I was blind, now I see”. The Pharisees accuse him of being a disciple of Jesus’, whereas they are disciples of Moses. “We know God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man we do not know where he comes from”.
At this point in the narration the man who received his sight begins to make affirmations regarding Jesus: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”. Let us say that he is now seeing not only physically but also spiritually. The questioning and the doubt of the Pharisees have opened his eyes in another way, a spiritual way. His affirmation that Jesus must be from God gets him thrown out.
Jesus hears about this, and goes in search of the man he healed. He asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. “And who is he, sir?” Jesus reveals himself to the man born blind: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he”. The man says “‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him”. At this moment the progression from physical blindness to sightedness is complete. The man has gone from being blind to seeing. From seeing the man born blind has come to the affirmation that Jesus is a prophet. This leads, under questioning to the affirmation by the blind man that not only is Jesus a prophet, but his works show that he is from God. In the final encounter Jesus reveals himself as the Son of Man, and the man worships him. His voyage of faith is complete.
How about your and my voyage of faith? Is it complete? Do we readily acknowledge Jesus as heaven sent, as our Lord and savior? Or do we still doubt. Do you and I still have blind spots? Are there things we do not see? Do we actively seek to be light in this world? I think that if we are to affirm that Jesus is Lord we will actively seek to be light in this world. Let me remind you of Saint Paul’s words in the letter to the Ephesians “Live as children of light-for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord”. May Jesus ever guide us in this search, and in our path to an ever deeper love and knowledge of Him.¨
St. Alban English Mission, Antigua, Guatemala is a outreach project of The St. James English parish, Episcopal Diocese of Guatemala, IARCA
The Most Reverend Armando Guerra Soria, Rector of St. Alban Mission, Bishop of Guatemala and Primate of Central America
The Reverend Ricardo Frohmader
St. Alban Mission, Antigua
St Alban Mission holds services every Sunday at Noon
Casa Convento Concepcion, Antigua Guatemalaj, All are welcome - See welcome letter at the
Casa Convento Concepcion, Antigua Guatemalaj, All are welcome - See welcome letter at the