Scripture: Exodus 33:12-23 & John 9:1-15
Given on Trinity Sunday, 2016 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
By 1968 he had a gathering sense that his fate had been sealed. It had been 12 years since they had blown up his house and only good luck had spared he and his family from death. He had spent the time that followed that near miss crisscrossing the country and preaching sermons of love and nonviolence and the equality of all people. It had been bad enough when combinations of law enforcement from local municipalities had teamed up with members of the Klan to stop the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge, worse still when they turned the fire hoses and dogs on those who knelt in prayer, silently lifting up their enemies to God and to Jesus as if to say, “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.” Worse even when the buses had been burned and the riders for freedom beaten, some of them to the edge of death and yet still the drumbeat continued and the whole of the nation marched, albeit slowly, towards a dawn of greater fairness and tolerance. And, whether he wanted to drink that cup or not, he had become the Drum Major for the nation’s movement towards embracing greater strains of Liberty for all person, regardless of the color of their skin. And by 1968 he had a gathering sense that his fate had been sealed.
It’s not hard to see. In the photographs taken of him, especially the iconic one on the screen today taken only a few days before his assassination, King flanked on either side by Revs. Ralph Jackson and Ralph Abernathy, looking tired, looking haggard, looking defeated, looking for all the world like a lamb being led to the slaughter because by that point he knew. The late 1960s had represented a shift in King’s efforts towards greater justice and wholeness. He had moved his family into a tenement in Chicago to be closer to the impoverished population of urban blacks. He had shifted his focus from simply matters of race to the greater systemic issues that arose from racism. He talked more about poverty and leading a campaign for poor people. He came out fiercely against the war in Vietnam, a position that roused the hatred of millions of Americans against him and against his causes, but more than all that, he shifted his perspective to one that presumed that whatever liberty and equality the United States finally arrived at, whatever ultimate gains would be made as the moral arc of the universe bent more and more towards justice, they would be made after the expiration of his natural life. And so it was that he climbed into the pulpit on April 3rd filled with a mixture of hope for the future and resignation that he would not make it with those with whom he had traveled so many miles over the past decade. And in hopes of making greater peace with the course that God had directed his life, he turned to the life of Moses for strength. And after recounting all the blessings of his life, all the times in which he had seen the spirit of the living God moving through the nation and the world, after lifting up all those who had gathered there to be moved by his words, he finished his last sermon by saying this: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” Of course, we know how the story goes from there. We know of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, of Ralph Abernathy and a young Rev. Jesse Jackson pointing in the direction that the bullet came, of the aftermath of everything, with the collective pain, anger, and sadness of an entire community of people pouring out into the streets of every major American city. And if we are not careful, it is possible to become lost within that moment. That moment in which the one who preached nonviolence and love above everything else became just another in a long line of prophets who challenge the status quo and discover that the brokenness of the world cannot hear these words, cannot handle such a direct challenge to the halls of power and the principalities that walk in them, and to become dismayed that the only possible outcome in a world of sin is death. And so many people find themselves stuck there. So many people find themselves caught in a growing sense of callousness and cynicism. So many find themselves unable to allow for hope and redemption to enter into their lives and their worlds and can only see all the hurt and anger that we as a fallen race of human beings seemingly constantly level against one another. And yet, to do that ignores the words of King, ignores the words of Gandhi, ignores the words of Oscar Romero, and ignores the words of Jesus. And to do so is to worship a dead savior. To do so is to practice a dead faith. To do so is to be blind to the movement of the spirit in the immediate moment. And we are called to have sight.
As Jesus and his disciples were walking down the road one day, they came across a blind beggar sitting on the side of the road. In those days, it was not a rare occurrence to see those with some degree of physical ailment sitting in areas that were well traversed by travelers. Often it was the case that friends or family of the one who suffered from one issue or another would bring them to the same place each day to beg for something that resembled a day’s wages so that they could support themselves in some meager manner. And in the days before medical knowledge and understanding how the body worked, it was believed that ailments such as blindness were the result of the actions of a person or someone in their direct lineage. So it is that the disciples queried Jesus, asking, essentially, “whose fault is it that this man is blind and sitting out on the side of the road begging? Him or his parents. And in this situation, it would be easy to become lost in the brokenness of the moment. It really is just a human reaction to feel sympathy for this man and his plight and in that sympathy seek to understand how it is that he came to be in this predicament. But Jesus sees the world differently. Jesus sees each moment infused with the potential that arises from the presence of the spirit. Jesus sees each moment as in God’s loving hands and as an opportunity to demonstrate the love of God that is erupting all around him. He sees each moment as the chance to give each person, blind or not, sight. And so it is that what follows is an extended episode of persons that can see and those who are blind to the presence of God, the Christ in their midst, the movement of the spirit. The one who was blind now leading all the priests of the synagogue to a new sight in God, if they will only believe a little bit, just a single inch. If they will allow the spirit of God to infect their very being, the possibilities are quite literally, limitless. And so it is for us.
Over the past few weeks, I have begun to layout the foundations for what I think an expansive Christianity might look like. A Christianity that doesn’t turn away from the suffering of the world, nor our own culpability in that suffering but believes and works to make each moment better than the one before for the whole of the world. Jesus’s life was filled with heartache and suffering. From seeing all those who struggled with ailments of the body and the soul, to watching as the disciples time and again missed the larger truth, missed the voice of God speaking through Jesus, missed the Gospel erupting in their midst. Each day of Jesus’s adult life seemed to be filled with those in authority who didn’t understand why he was shouting so much at the seats of power that they occupied, be it the religious leaders of the day or those in the ranks of the Roman Empire. His life was filled with those who constantly vied for his attention, who hungered for bread and cup and for righteousness. His life was filled by those who sought to trick him with elongated syllogisms in which the word of God was placed in direct contradiction with the laws of man and how would Jesus make sense of that. And all the while, like King after him, he knew that his lot in life, his fate was already in the hands of those who wanted to end him and his movement of life and love. And yet. And yet even in the midst of all that, he gathered his disciples together and said, “I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance!” An expansive Christianity gathers all persons together on the road to God and proclaims the year of God’s favor for all people. An expansive Christianity never loses sight of the movement of the spirit through all of time and space because it never allows its adherents to become worried about the challenges of tomorrow, because tomorrow is never a given for any of us and we are called to live into the present moment. To never allow our vision to be casted further forward than the present because within the present is all the love, all the grace, all the hope that the whole of the universe can hold.
You would be forgiven if when you thought about this world you quickly became overwhelmed with the brokenness of it all. From airplanes falling from the sky to viruses that threaten to become a global pandemic. From the struggle of individuals to garner even the most minute amount of dignity in this life to the plight of those in communities that will never gain full acceptance in any community. You would be forgiven if all this felt totally and completely overwhelming to you and make you want to use anything you possibly could to distract you from it. And yet, there is a faith that plumbs the depths of all our sorrows, all our hurt, from petty squabbles to lifelong devastation, there is a faith that holds all of that and infuses each one of those heavy laden moments and holds us in the loving care of the source of all love, holds us in the peace that surpasses all understanding, leads us to stand even with all the weight of the world on our shoulders and boldly declare the the spirit of Christ dwells in each of us and we will not be overcome by struggle, by loss, by darkness, but instead we will allow ourselves to be conduits for the light.
Within the Reformed tradition, we have historically done an admirable job of declaring the world to be a single damnable mess and have offered the degree to which humans are capable of hurting and demeaning one another in seemingly limitless ways. To counter that, we have relied on the declaration that the grace of God is the only manner by which we might overcome our brokenness and return to the grounding of God. We spend a lifetime becoming justified in the eyes of God and then an eternity being sanctified in heaven and all that I believe with my deepest being. And yet. And yet an expansive Christianity declares that we do not have to wait, indeed, we shouldn’t wait for that moment in which we cross the chilly Jordan and go into the sweet by and by to experience the transforming power of love that is erupting in our midst each moment of everyday. We do not have to wait, indeed, we shouldn’t wait for some far-off time and space to be with God, all we have to do is dwell in this singular moment, unencumbered by all the fear and trepidation of the future, unbound by the limits that cynicism and despair place on the world. We are children of God now and this moment is all we have. And it is pregnant with grace and it is filled with love, and it is bursting with hope and opportunity and light, if only we take the time to have sight. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, amen.