Remember when you were young and your parents and other people who obviously were in the knowledgeable group of people that know about these things would tell you not to look directly into the sun because it would harm your eyes, but you did it anyway? And, knowing it was not such a great thing to do was not a real hard concept to figure out, because it would make your eyes water and so “blinded by the light”, you had to look away.
In our reading from the Gospel of John today, Jesus tells the crowd that He is going to be crucified and die on a cross. And, the crowd figures they are one up on this guy theologically and decide to set him straight. They actually challenge the authenticity of Jesus message with these words: “How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up…what’s this nonsense about death? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus knowing they are blind to the truth he is teaching says, “I know you don’t have a clue. You all are in complete darkness here. If you walk in the darkness you are blind…you have no clue of what’s up do you?” Okay folks listen up: “While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light”. In other words when you are blinded by the light of God, your eyes will be opened and then you will not only see, but you will become the children of the light”. (John 12:31-36a)
In our reading last week in James we talked about the mandate to “love God and to love our neighbor”, and James encourages us “as we love our neighbor, not to show favoritism”. Then we talked about the way of the Cross. We talked about the importance of loving God, seeking Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s the vertical part of living under the sign of the cross. Then we talked about loving others, the horizontal part of the cross that completes the picture, the horizontal beam laying on the vertical beam, the dual picture of living under the sign of the cross telling us to love and seek God and to love and serve others. You can’t have one without the other. (James 2:1-17). Walking under the sign of the cross is a testimony of being blinded by the light of God.
We have been reading the past few Sundays from the Gospel of Mark. This is Holy Cross Day and the Gospel reading for today is from John as we just talked about, but if we were continuing our narrative from Mark from last week, and we will next week, the passage for today is similar to the reading today from John. A group of people from Caesarea bring a blind man to Jesus. Jesus takes the man aside, spits on his eyes and then touches the eyes, and says “What do you see?” The man says, “I see people that look like trees walking around”. Jesus again lays his hands on the blind man’s eyes. He is blinded by the light of God and sees perfectly. (Mark 9:22-25) It reminds me of another saying of Jesus: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:39)
After Jesus heals the blind man in the Mark narrative, he then turns to his disciples and says: “Okay guys who do the people out there say that I am?” They respond; “Some say you are John the Baptist raised from the dead. Others say Elijah, and some say one of the other prophets”. Well, just for the record, “who do you say I am?” Peter, never wanting to miss an example to lead jumps right in with these words, “You are the Messiah”. Okay Peter, you can move to the front to the class, not because you are right, but because you are wrong, and you will now be part of a “Jesus teaching moment”. Peter like the blind man could see but his vision was blurry.
Peter takes Jesus aside, maybe because he does not want to embarrass him in front of the other disciples, and since Peter thinks he should take charge of any and all situations, he takes it onto himself to straighten out Jesus’ theological views of how a Messiah should act and talk. But, Jesus uses Peter as an object lesson to open his disciple’s eyes to the light of His mission and how it was to be played out in the near future.
Jesus says: “Not only will I die on a cross, but I expect everyone that comes after me to be willing to pick up their cross and follow me”. I know that if I were to take a survey this morning from everyone here I would get various views of who Jesus is, what his purpose is in the world, and how we should live this mandate that Jesus requires, to “pick up our cross and follow Him”. How does our interpretation influence the way we “see Jesus”.
You ever get bored with the Bible, especially reading those passages that you have heard at least a hundred times in your life? You ever look at a scripture reading and you know what the reading is about even before you read it, and mentally you fit it into your belief system, the creed, the things you believe and the things you do not believe, and where that Scripture reading fits into your world-view, the way you view all things and the filter in which you review and analyze all things?
I have a spiritual practice that I hold dear when I read especially the gospel readings, but also other Biblical readings. My practice is to read the Bible like I have never read it before. What does that mean?
I’m glad you asked me that. That does not mean I don’t take time to study, to do my best to place a passage into its historical and cultural context, to analyze original language, to ascertain to the best of my ability, when, where and who wrote the passage, why and to whom it was originally written, of course again in the historical context. And, it is impossible for me when doing my homework for a sermon not to connect views from favorite theologians, Church creeds and beliefs. Neither am I in favor of checking your brain in at the sanctuary door and picking it up on the way out. Nor am I a fan of opening the Bible and letting your emotions get the best of you and rattling off whatever comes to mind.
For me scholarship is important, but as theologian Soren Kierkegaard said: “You can tell Christians by their lives, concretely manifested human experience, more than by their words. Words that tell the truth come out of lives that live that truth, that follow that Truth, first”. Theology, creeds and dogma cannot replace a transformed life, a life that is marked by the sign of the cross, both the vertical part, loving and seeking God, and the horizontal part, loving others and ministering to the needs of those around us.
My prayer when I read passages, especially those that I am preaching from that I read them as I have never seen them before, that I can discard all the baggage and beliefs and in my reading I pray that I my eyes will be blinded by the light, that I may see Jesus again for the very first time. “Lord may I be blinded by the light so that I may see Jesus”.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Year B Holy Cross Day September 13, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
490 Farragut Circle
El Cajon, CA 92020