March 30, 2014

Encountering Oil and Mud

Passage: I Samuel 16: 1-13 & John 9: 1-41

Encountering Oil and Mud

 I Samuel 16: 1-13 & John 9: 1-41

Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship – March 30, 2014

We are in the midst of our Lenten theme of Encountering God.  Such a path is not straight, but contains curves, valleys, and mountains.  We often do not know what lies around the next corner and even when there is a clear vista before us…we might have blurred vision or no vision at all like the man in the story that was blind from birth.  Or like Samuel who went to anoint a new king of Israel and he was sure he knew which of Jesse’s sons was the one to call.  He never thought it was the youngest son who was tending the flock of sheep out back.

There was a movie out a few years ago with Sandra Bullock nurturing a football player to self confidence and greatness on the field.  It was entitled Blind Side.  The title of course refers to the quarterback being hit by surprise from the side that he is not looking.  The term Blindsided has become a metaphor for those times in our lives when we are shocked and surprised by events we never saw coming.  As a nation we can look back to Pearl Harbor in 41, the assassination of President Kennedy in 63 or to September 11 in 2001. 

On a more personal level I know that my son-in-law who was close to his dad is feeling blindsided this past week in the death of his father who went from seemingly good health in a short time to his end of life this past Tuesday.   We have all had those times in our lives when we have been blinded to some portion of truth or reality that sometimes comes crashing into our lives.

The lectionary today lays out two stories where blindness was present in each.  Truth and vision only came to light after an encounter with God…an encounter with oil in one case and mud in the other.

The narrative in Samuel 16 of the anointing of David is intriguing.  It begins with reference to the departing leader…how long will you grieve over Saul?  Saul had lost his way as the first king over Israel.  (It is a bad habit that kings often face) He couldn’t see it was over, but others could including wise old Samuel.  At least Samuel saw things up to a point and went out to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem to consider and look for the next king of Israel among Jesse’s numerous sons.

Well old Samuel gets to Jesse’s house, flask of oil at his side, and the first son who is paraded out is Eliab, probably the oldest and a fine candidate and old Samuel thinks that this is the one.  He begins to uncork that flask of oil…however, he gets the inner word that he should not look at height or appearance as mortals tend to see when they are choosing a leader, but to look at the heart as the Lord does. Then comes Eliab but he is not the one.  Next comes Abinadab, but he is not the one either. Then Shimmah comes before Samuel, but nor is he the one the Lord is calling.  Neither are any of the seven sons that father Jesse parades before Samuel acceptable leaders to be chosen.  Samuel is thinking there has been some mistake…in exasperation he asks Jesse if there are all the sons he has.

The story goes on and Jesse says in his forgetfulness…why there is one more son out in the field tending the flocks…this is David.  He was the youngest and unlikely the one.  Jesse calls him in and he is the one that the Spirit is looking for as the next leader and king.  Finally Samuel can pour his flask of oil on the head to anoint the new leader in David.  Once again I find intrigue in this story of looking for a leader in that Samuel is chided earlier for looking on Eliab as being tall and handsome.  Well when David steps forward we hear he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." 

There is both a premature eagerness in Samuel as the earlier sons are brought forward and than a hesitation in pouring out the anointing oil on the young shepherd until the Lord speaks a go ahead word in Samuel’s ear.

As I think about this congregation calling your next leader you may want to anoint him or her taking your cues from this passage of the anointing of David.  Of course you would want to use Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil of the highest quality to do it right.  You could talk to Conference Minister, Lois Kaufman about such an installation service of pouring oil.  I don’t think it is in the current manual.  Seriously, the oil on David’s head was a true encounter with God as we are told the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.  So even in spite of David’s low points, his dalliance with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah he is the chosen one of God and is part in the lineage of Jesus the Messiah.

The Gospel reading for today is all 41 verses of John chapter 9.  Some have described this long chapter as a one act drama with 7 scenes.  It opens with Jesus walking along and he sees a man blind from birth.  All metaphors aside, this man was totally and literally blind.  The disciples immediately got into a theological discussion of who sinned, this man or his parents?  Sickness and disease were viewed as directly connected to sin in a person’s life. That perception is still alive today.  When I was conference minister I remember being called to come to a congregation where the minister was telling some people that they were not healed from their disease because they did not have enough faith.  You can imagine that such a perspective did not have a very healing effect on persons in that congregation…even those who were well who called me about this concern.

Well Jesus did not fall into that trap of the blame game.  He simply spat on the ground and made some mud and spread on the blind man’s eyes.  Then he told the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam and he came back able to see.  Well neighbors started talking if this was the same man who they knew that would sit and beg. Some said, Yeh, that’s him and others said No, it is someone who just looks like him. He kept saying, “I am the man”, Well if you’re the man how were your eyes opened? He said the man called Jesus put mud on my eyes and now I can see!.

This drama goes on as the Pharisees come on to the scene and question the man, then they go question the parents.  Mom and dad were careful about what they said and told the Jewish leaders that their son was of age go back and talk to him.  The parents did not want to get kicked out of the synagogue it appears by claiming Jesus as the Messiah.  The argument continued between the Jewish leaders and the man and he was finally driven out and accused of being a sinner from birth.  As Jesus got word of this he sought the man out to talk with him.  Jesus ask him if he believed in the Son of Man.  He answered, who might that be? Jesus said your talking to him and the once blind man responded “Lord, I believe”. Thus, the encounter with mud concluded in a confession of faith in Jesus.

Jesus then makes a penetrating statement about who can see and who is blind…”I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”   OUCH!  Should we just skip over that line?

Well friends, here we are in the upside down kingdom where those of might and pride who see everything their way are blinded and brought down and those of lowly estate and viewed as blind are lifted up and are able to see kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

What do we take from these two dramas that happened about a millennium a part…?  Why did the recorders of the scriptures include these stories?  Why has the lectionary that evolved over the years linked these two vignettes’ together?   These are some of the questions I lived with this week

Someone once ask how many points should a good sermon have?  The answer is at least one.  I think there are several points to these two stories that we are left this morning.

1.    Once again it is the lowly that God calls and becomes available to them to lift them up and empower them.  It is clearly so with David who is almost left out in the pasture until the last minute.  It is a beggar who is blind from birth that Jesus gives him sight.  Who is Jesus and the Holy spirit giving sight and vision to today?  Certainly women over the past century and I was reminded this week of the African Americans journey who have come a long way…even though it is a long road to freedom.  Kay and I went to the Freedom Center this past week.  That is an amazing place with a horrible and amazing story that needs to be told.  We were inspired to go from the 9 women who came here last weekend from Elkhart and Chicago. There is an extraordinary quilt display of black history on display for the summer that alone is worth the admission.

2.    God has the freedom to do confounding things in the course of bringing about truth and salvation.  David is called as the next king while Saul is still around.  Life is not easy for David as Saul seeks to kill him.  Jonathan, Saul’s son, who typically would follow his father to the throne becomes a dear friend of David and shields David from his father’s wrath. The miraculous deed of Jesus in giving sight to the man, born blind, left the religious leaders in a complete tizzy.  They are seen running back and forth between the man and his parents as they vainly tired to comprehend what was going on.  Might these stories give us courage when we face those times in life when going with the flow or with the crowd does not let us easily rest.  Thus we join God in stepping out as did Jesus and “upset the apple cart” in a desire to stay on the path of following Jesus.  Remember the closing words of Jesus on this matter, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind”.  Maybe such a miracle story is preparing us for Easter.

3.    The last point is about the oil and mud.  Two very earthy elements are central in these stories of encountering God..  They take on the same significance as the bread and the wine.  The God of the cosmos took on the basic elements and substance of our humanity, our very lives.  One can go to Capernaum in Palestine and see the ancient stone olive presses.  They supplied a basic part of the sustaining diet and also the oil had ritual meaning as anointing was practiced in that hot, dusty, and dry climate.  I am sure a farmer could speak more intimately about mud then this city born boy. The healing mud I recall as a child 7 or 8 years old was when my parents were visiting friends on a farm and got I into a hornets’ nest on the ground and got about 25 stings.  Screaming back to the house the adults made a mud bath and plastered me head to toe with soothing mud.

 As I thought of these very plain earthly elements of oil and mud I thought of Brother Lawrence.  Outside Paris in 1632 brother Lawrence at age 18 joined a Carmelite monastery.  He chose the mundane tasks all of his life of working in the kitchen.  He is remembered for finding the presence of God while peeling potatoes and being totally focused on God in all that he did.  There is a book of his writings entitled, Practicing the Presence of God. 

Our call in this time of Lent is to encounter God.  God has a goal of engaging us in this season.  May we create and time and space for that to happen in our lives.

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