Libby Caes delivered the following homily at Sunday Assembly at Holy Wisdom Monastery on April 3, 2011.
Libby Caes is the oncology and palliative care chaplain at UW Hospital and Clinics. She is ordained by the Mennonite Church USA but makes herself at home in the larger ecumenical community. She received her M.Div. at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Seminary) in Philadelphia, PA.
Have you ever gone to one of your favorite restaurants and hard time deciding what to order because there were so many wonderful choices? It has happened to me!
What am I in the mood for tonight?
What did I have last time?
Or I may say to Dave, what are you getting??
Sometimes I just take a leap of faith and get something I have never had before. Or, I change my mind two seconds after the wait service asks for my order!
Today’s gospel reading presents a similar dilemma…so many different rich themes that could be explored…all of them good!
Entrée #1 The Sabbath
The Pharisees are so preoccupied with right observance of the Sabbath they can’t even acknowledge that a person in their community has received sight.
Here’s a great opportunity to explore the meaning of Sabbath.
Entrée #2 Equal Opportunity Employment
Tim Little was my supervisor in my first CPE residency. One of the reasons I chose that particular residency was that Tim was blind and I felt I could learn from him about living with a disability.
One day I asked Tim his take on this story. Without a moment’s hesitation he replied…the guy wants a job!! He doesn’t want to beg.
This story is about economic justice.
Entrée #3 God as disabled.
In answer to the question of why this person is blind. Jesus says it is so that the works of God may be made manifest.
What comfort is this to someone who can’t lead a meaningful life because of a disability or illness? What makes live worth living?
Over the last few weeks I have gotten to know a woman with spina bifida. On top of everything else she has had to cope with she now has stage 4 cancer. She told me about needing to be the “cheerful cripple” growing up. Life is challenging for her.
If a disabled person reflects the character of God, what does this say about God?
Entrée #4 Labeling and prejudice
This story asks us to consider our attitudes of those we do not consider whole.
Did this man or his parents sin? The question passes judgment. Imagine what it was like for the person sitting on the side of the road to hear the question posed again and again and again.
How often do the homeless hear similar remarks?
I will never forget the labels I grew up with in junior high and high school because of my hearing handicap…called deaf and dumb, my given name “Elizabeth” twisted to names like Lizard. Who knows what I didn’t hear!
These are ly a few of the many options on the homiletic menu.
I am going to pick another entrée that I have not yet mentioned. Let’s call it the Lenten entrée of remembrance.
During Lent we remember who we are, where we have come from, we remember what has shaped us as God’s people, both individually and as a community.
We remember so that we stay centered and faithful in the midst of the challenges of today and the unknowns of tomorrow.
What does this story invite us to remember?
We remember our baptism:
The blind man is instructed to wash in the pool of Siloam. By obeying Jesus the blind man begins his journey of faith.
We, too, have stepped into the waters. We have been cleansed and taken on the identity of God’s beloved.
We are to remember our baptism, remember the events that have shaped our lives of faith.
Often I ask persons newly diagnosed with cancer or in the midst of a medical crisis to tell me about their faith journey. This often centers them.
I imagine the blind man telling the story again and again throughout his life of this encounter with Jesus.
From this story we are reminded that we gain our wisdom and understanding in fits and starts:
Did you notice how over time the man became more certain and bolder in his understanding of Jesus? With each encounter there is new awareness.
So, too, we grow in our understanding.
I will never forget team teaching a seminary course in pastoral identity at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. One day someone made a comment about how dense some of the students seemed. Peter Schreck, the faculty member who had invited me and others to team teach with him, gently reminded us that it took each of us time to get it, too. We didn’t learn overnight.
How right he was.
Growth is not linear and instantaneous! It takes time and life experience and mentors.
We remember times when we, too, have sat by the road.
I bet the blind man thought his life would never change…sitting on the side of the road yesterday, today and probably tomorrow begging.
Begging is a form of prayer.
How often we feel like nothing is going to change, that our prayers have not and will not be answered.
And, we remember the people who have come into our lives and touched us.
The blind man sitting on the side of the road could not see who passed by him. But, he could hear.
The blind man used his ears to make up for what he could not see. He listened to the tones of people’s voices, he heard the cadence of their walk. He listened to their laughter and could tell if it was genuine and kind or mocking.
Then there is a new voice he has not heard before:
“go wash in the pool of Siloam”
Somehow, this blind man, knew that this voice could be trusted. He instinctively knew someone wasn’t pulling a prank on him or being malicious but had his best interests in mind.
I remember the afternoon a few weeks after my cancer diagnosis and before surgery. I was trying to hold it together but then snapped. I sobbed uncontrollably and between sobs said again and again I didn’t want to have cancer. I remember the compassionate voice and gentle touch of Ned who became Jesus for me.
Lastly, we remember our moments of belief and clarity.
The gospel reading closes with Jesus asking:
“Do you believe in the Son of Man”
And, the man responded,
We have all had our moments of clarity when things shift and we are changed. There is no turning back.
I suspect there have been many of these moments for the sisters on their journey toward ecumenism.
There are so many voices demanding our attention and allegiance. When the voice of Holy Wisdom speaks, the voice of the Spirit, will we recognize it? Do we remember its texture and its call?
We are here today because each of one of us has been touched by Jesus. At some point or another each of us has sat by the side of the road.
In our remembering we are not pining for the good old days. Instead we are centering ourselves, putting our roots deeper into the soil of our experience of the holy.
We come to the table today and remember…Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. We have the collective memory of all times in the past we have come to the table and have been fed. We enter into the memory of all God’s people past, present and future nourished and sustained on the journey of life.
We remember who we are:
once blind, but now able to see
once alone, but now part of community.