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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lectionary Leanings- Questions edition

1Samuel 16: 1 – 13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

If you were/are blind, how do/would you hear the words from John?

If you were Saul, how would you feel about the actions of Samuel?

If you were/are a person of color, how do/would you hear the words from Ephesians?

How do you proclaim the Good News of scripture without allowing the understandings of another generation define the culture of today?

I want to find a good answer for this question, because if I could, I would focus on this amazing story of Jesus. And how Jesus is just a little part of the text- the main part is the way everyone reacts to Jesus and spins around in their understandings and knowledge of who Jesus is. Some of them learn, some of them deny, and some of them can’t even bring themselves to proclaim what they believe. How do we respond to something new? Something that changes the whole playing field?

Another angle I've been considering- mud. Jesus uses mud on the blind man's eyes. On Ash Wednesday, we declare that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. What is the role of dirt/ash/mud? There are so many stories of mud in mythology as well (Hindu, Mayan, Chinese, Greek), what is it about mud that is so powerful and fascinating?

I like the story of Samuel and David, too, but it is hard to pass up the chance to read such a large chunk of one of the gospels...

What are you thinking this week?

This lenting
Is a longing, looking,
Isolating and locating process,
A passing of the time between
What has to be, what may become,
A late, last, solitary lingering
Among the soiled and crusted snowbanks
Of deep-drifted hurt and disappointment
Seeking out those tender-tough new shoots
That pierce the calloused surface
Of all losing with the agony
Of life becoming green
~~J. Barrie Shepherd
(written for a Lenten devotion published by The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York)


  1. I'm going to hang out with John this week.

    We also have a baptism on Sunday, so I can't pass up some kind of water/mud/cleansing thing - particularly because it is Lent and we don't much like to talk about sin (speaking of many misunderstandings).

    I'm also curious to do some more thinking about why Jesus chose to make mud - something physical we could see. Another place where God gives us something physical to represent a spiritual reality?

    Looking forward to hearing what others are thinking about this week!

  2. I am not preaching but Listing thoughts about mud immediately intrigued me. Ashes on Ash Wed and mud during Lent. Lent as a time for interior reflection. Perhaps the mud represents those things in life that we really do not want to see. Those shadow sides we all have and that hard to admit.

  3. you have some great questions--i look forward to mulling them over and really sitting with them.

    the thing about mud--perhaps because dirt and water are the most basic things of creation and we are totally dependent on them. of course the mixing of the two would create magical kinds of properties that could heal. (i love this question, i hope to learn more by pondering on it and perhaps reading some other mythologies on the healing properties of mud)

    great questions and a beautiful poem--thank you.

    btw, i'll be preaching with John.

  4. ps...great thoughts on the mud--"things we really do not want to see" and yet when made to look inward (having our outside eyes covered with it) we face those things that keep us blind and thus when the mud is washed away we are given new vision?

  5. Our pianist (absolutely gift blind jazz musician) is blind, and I always wonder how he hears texts like these. I'll be pondering that today.

    also, I love your J. Barrie Shepherd poem. Lots to start out with...

  6. Great questions and thoughts, LS!

    I'm going with Ephesians but have fairly unformed thoughts at this point....

  7. I am still off-lectionary and have set myself another problem.

    I am talking about what it means to be welcoming in a sermon called Who is the church? Who isn't?

    THe thing is how to be challenging and avoid sounding like I am chastising?

  8. I'm not preaching this week (yay for half a week of vacation!) but I know that SP is going with Psalm 23. It's a communion Sunday, and our lenten theme of Holy Insecurity seems to flow well from the psalm. "I have everything I need" and "a table in the presence of my enemies" I think are where he's going, but I could be wrong.
    We were originally planning to do David but found that it was almost impossible to do without overt references to current political context and our church is politically diverse, so that was a no go at this time of an election cycle.

  9. I am going with John and the mud - even handing some out!
    Thanks LS.

    Also, here is a fairly new site done by Luther Seminary:

  10. mud... well I would use the word clay. think potter & wheel imagery from the OT... and the creation story... we are clay but clay is immovable, unshapeable without the water... sorta like us without baptism. if I were preachin' this would be where the sermon would go...

    and i think the gospel stands for itself regardless of the generation - the messsage, the truth is still the same.

  11. After a couple more hours of thought, I'm going with John. I looked back and realized I hadn't preached this passage in 9 years (and that was a different congregation). So I'm looking at my old notes and finding some stuff that I want to chew on.

    The passage is so dense, so many ways to go with it, but right now I'm pondering the issue of knowledge in this text - who knows, how one knows. The word "know" is used in some form 7 times in these 41 verses. The Pharisees assume knowledge, the man claims very little knowledge. All he knows is the power and truth he experienced: One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

    This is Jesus' longest absence in a story - he shows up and heals the guy in the first few verses andthen we don't see him again until v. 35, after he has heard that they drove the healed man out - he goes to find him. The fact of Jesus' absence makes this story a nice correspondence to our own situation. How do we live in the absence of Jesus? What is our knowledge of God in the meantime? Perhaps premature and/or presumed knowledge will shut down opportunity for fuller knowledge. The fuller knowledge comes in the end, through Jesus himself.

    1 Cor. 8:2-3 - Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

  12. I'm bringing a few themes together, and hope that I can pull it off.

    First, there's the man blind from birth. He and everyone else has accepted this reality. Any rational person would understandably conclude that this is all there is.

    Second, like others I'm going to comment on Jesus' physical act with mud in order for the man to see.

    Finally, it's a communion Sunday, and I'm using the story from Sara Miles' Take This Bread of her faith-inducing moment: it's not a well-crafted argument or someone guilting her into faith...instead, it's the physical receiving of the communion elements.

    So at the table, our physical brush with Jesus shows us that there's more to life than what we can or cannot see.

  13. Interesting thoughts from all of you.

    One thing that a professor noted in the past is the progression through which the blind man moves. He describes Jesus as
    from God
    Son of Man
    and in the end, he says "I believe" and worships Jesus.

    This could be a "journey of faith in a nutshell" sermon. I don't know if I'm going there yet - there's some stuff on obedience and faith in 1st Samuel that I might pair with obedience and faith in John. But these are just some thoughts I thought I'd share.

    Incidentally, the professor I've mentioned is Craig Koester - his book "Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel" is worth its weight in gold.

  14. Oh, and Brian Stoffregen suggests that the mud comes from a desire to really push the Sabbath boundary with the Pharisees: "kneading" is apparently one of the things forbidden on the Sabbath, so kneading dirt and spit would probably really upset all the right people. :-)

    Here's the link:

  15. hotcup, this gospel passage really doesn't, because without understanding that John was writing for an audience of Jewish Christians, we would never know that he didn't mean to indict all Jews in all times and places. Given the way his gospel has been used to justify anti-Semitism in both language and actions, I feel a responsibility to give people in the pews a sense of context. In some cases the gospel does not stand for itself; it stands in its own time and place. Our challenge is to bring its principles to life for people now.
    That said, I am going with John and getting the congregation involved by preparing a reading of the story that will include everyone.

  16. Muddy water... as clear as mud... cheers to mud in your eye (I guess that's what happens after you've had a few drinks)... are all cliches we hear today. In direct contrast to these sayings which in some way indicate lack of understanding... our gospel lesson uses mud language to indicate clarity in understanding.

    The world tells/shows us one thing... Jesus tells/shows us another.

    I'm not sure how this sermon will be shaped... but I'm pretty sure that muddy water/mud in your eye/situations as clear as mud... in the church is a good thing... because this means that clarity... revelation... Christ... are near at hand.

  17. back when, in the last century actually, I wrote a term paper on John 9. I remember (without trying to exhume the paper itself)...that the chapter was just bubbling over with different Greek words for "see" -- so there are lots more distinctions between "seeing and seeing" than the English reflects. "Can't see it for looking at it" is one example of the same trick in English. And I also remember how funny it was...the humour of constant repetition -- like Monty Python. Why did Jesus use spit? First I thought of all the spit-cleanings I had as a child...but second I think that act kept us from formalizing, sacramentalizing, ritualizing, what Jesus did...
    And I love the reversal of seeing and believing at the end of the chapter. Everybody else sees, and sees, and sees and will NOT believe; the blind man is standing there just busting with belief and all he needs is a glimpse, to put it into action.
    and that, just about, is going to be Sunday's sermon, I think.
    The bulletin cover is to be a drawing by one of our eleven-year-olds; I'll try to post it on my blog when it's been scanned.

  18. After a lot of struggle, I'm going with John. Like SB, I know it will mean some explaining..but I did that a couple of weeks ago too.

    I'll probably go with the clay imagery rather than the literal dirt. And the different ways of seeing. As someone with impaired sight--I am literally close to blind without glasses/contacts)--this does resonate for me.

    And I promise to update my blog asap...

  19. Oh, and I may borrow SB's idea of the congregation doing the reading in parts...

  20. I've got the text in the form I'm going to use it and would be happy to share with anyone who wants it.

  21. Wow...these comments are wonderful in thinking about these passages in new and challenging ways. I especially am entrigued by PK's insights into mud cliches and how Jesus turns them on their heads. And by the thought that we began Lent with ashes/dust and now find ourselves at the halfway point talking about mud.

    It has me thinking not only of mud's ability to obscure things, but also to spark our imaginations. Who hasn't made mudpies, mud/sand castles and forts, and tried to dig through the mud to find another time and place? Mud connects with our imaginations, can protect us from the elements and hide us in a forest, can soothe us in a massage, and can connect us, ground us, root us (isn't there something about the red clay, sandy beaches, dark delta mud of our home?)

    So perhaps it isn't just the mud that can bring obscurity or clarity but can also remind us of the bigger picture and ground us - the feet of clay/mud. This reality that we are not in control and are blind to God in so much of our lives. Maybe it's only when the mud is put over our eyes that we are able to see that we need God and how much God provides for us each and every day - without even asking (the blind man never asked to be healed!). In this vein both Samuel and the Pharisees need a good lesson in mud (one Samuel receives in the reading this week) - a lesson in how to listen first and foremost for God's word and not the word of the world, not the word over which they have the most control...hmmm...

  22. It is Mothering Sunday here in the UK so I will be off Lectionary, it has been great to read your thinking, and Songbird I'd love to see that reading! :-)

  23. LS, you are so very good at this!

    Thanks for your insights.

  24. First I am still grieving for my blind pastor friend who died in Nov. and wish I had his insight on this passage.

    What was it that the blindman could see that the Pharisees could not? It was the experience of faith--"I know what God did to me." He exclaims. "I don't know How it happened, I just know it happened!" And how few of us are willing to tell what God has done for us! I think that is what I want to work with

    Also when are Christians going to start listening to one another's experience of God? All too often we want to show people how much we know--and it isn't about what we know--it is about who we know.

    I am also in awe of the parents unwillingness to be triangled! O for more of that in churches!

  25. "How do you proclaim the Good News of scripture without allowing the understandings of another generation define the culture of today?"

    Listening Straight, I am a bit flummoxed by your question. And perhaps I am being touchy because I am feeling old and a bit out of touch with the younger clergy in my area, even when I believe that my theology is perhaps even more futuristic that the younger ones in my denomination. BUT--there is NO WAY that we can either rid ourselves of what has past or speak only to our own culture. The old adage that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us is not just adage.

    I am a product of 3rd cent. theologians who trinitized God, 5th cent.theologians who originalized sin, middle age theolgians who dealt with superstition, plague-ridden theologians get my drift.

    I am a product of the 1950's and the Civil Rights movements, the anti war movements, and we are all products of the feminist movement whether we like it or not.

    We can only see through the lens of our accumulated experience--that is why the blindman's experience is so important. We see Christ in how he has lifted us--opened OUR--yours and mine. And that is why it is necessary to proclaim our experience seen through those lenses.

    I think that I have some good juice for a sermon, now

  26. Thank you for all of your good thoughts and comments---

    If I could clarify...
    "How do you proclaim the Good News of scripture without allowing the understandings of another generation define the culture of today?"

    In John, there was a general understanding that sin led to disability or disease. In Ephesians, the metaphors of light and dark are too easily transferred to racist understandings of the world.

    How do we live into the Good News of these passages without also encouraging those very intertwined aspects which we do not find faithful or of God?

    Thank you again...

  27. I like John Shea's poetic imagination on this passage:
    nother time
    Jesus smeared God like mud
    on the eyes of a man born blind
    and pushed him toward the pool of Siloam.
    The blind man splashed his eyes
    and stared into the rippling reflection
    of the face he had only felt.
    First he did a handstand, then a cartwheel,
    and rounded off his joy
    with a series of summersaults.
    He ran to his neighbors,
    singing the news.
    They said,
    "You look like the blind beggar
    but we cannot be sure."
    The problem was never
    that he was blind
    and could not work out
    but that they could see
    and did not look in.
    "I am the one, the seeing blind!"
    They seized him in mid cartwheel
    and dragged him to the authorities.
    "What do you think
    of the man who made the mud?"
    But the man born blind
    was staring at a green vase.
    His mouth was open slightly
    as if he was being fed by its color.
    "He is a sinner," said the priest
    who knew what pleased God's eyes.
    "Can one who lights candles in the eyes of the night
    not have the fire of God in his hands?"
    said the man fondling the green vase.
    The priests murmured
    and sent for his parents
    who looked their son
    straight in his new eyes
    and said,
    "Looks like our son.
    But he is old enough
    to speak for himself."
    Off the hook they hurried home.
    "All I know," said the man
    with the green vase tucked under his robe,
    "is that I was blind
    and now I see."
    But with his new eyes
    came a turbulence in his sould
    as if the man who calmed one sea
    turned another to storm.

    So before those who locked knowledge in a small room
    and kept the key on a string around the their neck
    he launched into a theology of sin and salvation.
    It was then
    that the full horror of the miracle
    visited the priests.
    "You, steeped in sin, lecture us!"
    They tore him from the podium
    and threw him into the street
    where a man was rubbing much from his hands.
    "How did it go?"
    "I talked back."
    The man with the new eyes
    took in every laughing line
    on the face of the Son
    who was as happy as a free man
    dancing on the far side of the Red Sea.

    John Shea The Son Who Must Die tories of Faith

  28. Another thought - a blind friend told me he could not easily comment on my blog if I used the word verification. So I took it off.

  29. Ann, I recently added word verification here because we have received comments including viral links. Blog authors do not have to verify, but all others do. I hear your point, but I am attempting to protect the readers here from deceptive commenters.

  30. "sin leads to disability or disease". the thing is, I think there are people who still think this. maybe not using the exact same words...

    I don't know exactly what "the text stands by itself" is supposed to mean. There are certain things that can be gleaned from the text, without the benefit of the context, but knowing who the original audience of John was both gives deeper relevance yes, even for NOW, and also helps us avoid the trap of anti-semitism.

    So, the original audience, according to one of my sem teachers, were Jewish Christians who had been recently kicked out of the synagogue. (so when Jesus says "I will not leave you orphans," in John 14, they feel like orphans.)

  31. I was not commenting on whether or not RGBPs should have word verification. I understand the problem with those who spam blogs -

  32. Was anyone going to do anything with the movie "Amazing Grace?" I was struck by the last line in the Gospel, and the fact that John Newton, who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, was physically blind at the end of his life, but was given sight to see the slave trade in a new way.

  33. Thanks for reminding me of Amazing Grace - that was a powerful movie! I am preaching on John and toying with the idea of bringing cloth and reading the gospel with parishioners who are blindfolded - to "hear" the Word in a new way. (I would donate the cloth to our quilters who make 100 quilts a year for LWR). I want to focus on spiritual blindness - what are we blind to in our selves, our lives. Nice focus for the reflection during lent.


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