Tuesday, April 1, 2014

“Now I See”, Sermon on John 9:1-41, Limestone Presbyterian 3.30.14

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be back at Limestone Presbyterian Church.  I was given the “green light” to speak on whatever scripture I felt compelled to use and to use any hymns and prayers I thought appropriate…the only caveat I was given was that if it didn’t go over well in the first service, use the hour in between to radically change what I would say in the second!

Especially during this time of Easter in the Church, I feel it is important to not deviate and to speak on the scriptures for the fourth Sunday in Lent.  Yes, there are the obvious somber overtones that are present during this month and into April.  But, this is also a time highlighting Jesus preforming miracles and it is reaffirmed that, not only that he is the Son of God, but that all who follow in his steps will bear witness to God’s great love.

What a direct connection to Family Promise!  Every day I witness miracles. Every day I see faith in action and disciples of Jesus performing miracles.  I see these in the twinkle of a child’s eye, the open arms of a volunteer greeting perfect strangers for dinner, the faith our families have in our volunteer drivers, the smile and pride that comes when a mom secures employment.  I see God’s love when we pray before board meetings, when volunteers and families are unknown to each other on Sunday and by the following weekend, a transformational relationship has begun.  Miracles happen all around us; it is just a matter of whether our eyes are open to seeing them.

The initial passage in John chapter 9 contains powerful language.  The disciples ask of Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  And Jesus answers, “neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:2-3).  It is these words and the notion of sinning, spiritual blindness and God’s work being revealed that I want to discuss further.

Someone once said to me, “many people talk about Spiritual Bankruptcy, having faith but then something happened and they lose it all; they abandoned God, though God did not abandon him; they doubt Jesus and stop believing in miracles.  I fear I suffer from Spiritual Poverty- I never had my spirit nurtured.  I never gained faith to even have lost it.  I just don’t have it”.   Imagine the darkness this person must have been feeling!  Haven’t we seen this with our families we serve at Family Promise?  They have lost jobs, lost housing, perhaps lost a spouse and many other “things” in their lives.  Some also lose hope and faith in the process.  And some may have never had hope or faith to rely on when the sea waters got tumultuous in the first place. 

Families come to Family Promise with shattered pieces of who they once were but also with a kernel of hope and faith, or they would not have ever made that phone call for help.  As we learned from The Parable of the Mustard Seed, we know where the seed of hope and faith is planted, it will take root and grow, regardless of the health soil.   We have seen families get back employment, housing and in the process, hope and faith, two sides of the same coin.  They start attending their home church again; they found a men’s group through Family Promise in which they felt like they belonged.  They might not immediately return to a house of worship, but they leave Family Promise with the best version of God, the Bible and of faith.  This happens because you, as a member of Limestone Presbyterian Church, show the unconditional love that Jesus showed to the blind man in John’s epistle. You do not judge, do not see sins and you serve as we are all called to do.  That is a continuation of the miracles that Jesus once performed!

I have always seen this blind faith working throughout Family Promise but recently, I have personally been touched by it.  As some of you may know my other half, Michael, sustained a bad injury in December which led to major back surgery in February.  Not only did this derail his business endeavors, but around the time he had surgery done, our heater went out in our house, his brother passed away from cancer and to top it all off, we had to put one of our beloved cats down.  It was a dark time to say the least.  I never once felt like my faith was being tested; it certainly was a time, however, when I had to rely on my faith and trust in God.  This was a time that I had to put into practice what I preach and reach out for help, as Galatians 6:2 calls us to.  Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, you try to find really great people you can give them to who can make lemonade and then they serve you up a glass with a box of tissues.    

Limestone Presbyterian showed such compassion and blind faith in Michael.  You do not know this man the way I do but you did not think he must have sinned to have sustained his injury, like the disciples initially thought of the blind man.  Instead, you sent a card and a prayer shawl which he consistently wears now around the house.  I’d like to read his thank you card….    …..In James 2, we learned that, “faith without works is dead”.  Because your light shined, you helped when it was dark for Michael.  Sharing your light helped opened his eyes to the beauty that still surrounded him. 

As we continue with the concepts of “blindness” and “seeing”, I am reminded time and time again through Family Promise, “there is more than what meets the eye”.   There is a story I would like to share.  We love any and all donations at Family Promise.   We welcome people dropping of household items, paper products, toiletries, laundry detergent and cleaning supplies to our Day Center, as our families need this when they move into their own housing and we need these items to keep our center running.  Occasionally, we will receive donations of clothing.  This particular day, I had arrived and we had numerous large black garbage bags in the Day Center living room, overflowing with clothing.  The families were encouraged to look through and see if anything would fit them or their children before we passed them on to another ministry to help people in need.  A mom pulled out a toddler pair of Timberland Boots. 

Now, if you don’t know, Timberland is a pretty hip brand, and, the brand is not cheap.  Because the shoes were toddler size, they were still in pristine condition.  The mom put the boots on her son and they fit perfectly!  Everyone was happy for her and we all laughed together as the boy gave us a little fashion show with his new boots.  The mother thanked me profusely and I reminded her, the boots came from a donor so the real praise goes to that person and a general thank you to Family Promise for connecting people who want to give with children that have boots with holes. 

As I walked up the stairs to my office, I had a wave of sadness come over me.  I thought about how this mom and her son might go somewhere and be judged.  Why you ask?  Because people may see all the negative adjectives of who she appears to be: homeless, unemployed, receiving food benefits.  How dare her son have name-brand boots!  They may judge her for poor money management skills; for “milking the system” and whatever else.  What people won’t realize is that those boots were left, in a garbage bag, as a donation to the program in which she is currently residing.  There is always more than what meets the eye and in John 9, in the third verse we are reminded to not judge and question about “sin” or “worthiness”.

I titled this Sermon, “Now I See” because John 9 describes a man who could not see and now he can and as a nod to Amazing Grace.  Amazing Grace, the most beloved and well-recognized hymn, was written by John Newton to represent his own conversion to Christianity; he was a slave trader and through a series of spiritual awakenings, he surrendered the profession and became a Priest.   John 9 and Amazing Grace tie together miracles and God’s Grace with forgiveness and redemption.   I find the choice of words is important: “I once was lost but now am found; I once was blind, but now I see”.   The words are not “I was sinning and now have stopped”. This line from Amazing Grace places no ownership; it merely states there was a fall from grace but now he is back; it was not God’s fall (it never is, right?) nor it is important to stress how much of it was his own sinful nature.  What is important is that now he is found, and now he can see.  This is the same transformation for our families.

Just like the blind man was not sinning our families have not sinned to land them in Family Promise.  Our families experience a job loss, a disability, a family break-up or some other catastrophic event.  In these past few months, I have experienced how close one can be to the edge.  But, our eyes were reopened to all that we had to be grateful for:  Michael had health insurance, he had a house he could come home to and recover peacefully in, he had technology at his fingertips to keep him preoccupied and, he of course had a loving, amazing partner to care for him.  Spending any time volunteering or working at Family Promise, you begin to count your blessings.  Our plight was no different than what our guests’ experience, but the resources we had, and choices we could make, were what sets us apart.  Our guests experience life on life’s terms just the way we do; it is this series of unfortunate events and not having the resources to stay afloat that leads to homelessness, not some inherent sinful character defect.

When you volunteer, donate items, give of your treasure to Family Promise, you show blind faith in our families, just like you did in Michael, perhaps because you too are counting your blessings and want to pass a little of God’s love.  You believe our parents ability to be good parents, secure employment and get back on their feet.  But, don't the families also show their faith in us?   The families that come through Family Promise do not know who will be driving the van and they show up at a congregation not knowing who will be serving them dinner (and even what will be served sometimes!). Imagine the faith you would need to put your life, and especially to put your children’s lives in the care of Family Promise.  Imagine, having to hold on to the promises that we make through the reassurance from smiling volunteers, and the citing of the successful outcomes of families that have come before; THAT is God’s grace and though the families might not identify it as such, and we might forget to acknowledge its presence....it is there, omnipresent just like God himself.

 -Carolyn Gordon, Executive Director, Family Promise NNCC

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