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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:1-14
Psalm 23
John 9:1-38

This week I had a fun adventure: I bought a new guitar! I’ve been trying to learn to play for a while now, without much success. The guitar I had been practicing on was old, and the neck was bowed. Every time I’d try to play, I’d simply end up quitting in frustration. So finally, I decided to take some money I had set aside, and see about getting a new guitar.

I went with a friend over to a local store, where they had a whole room full of acoustic guitars. Different sizes and shapes; and some of them were very fancy, with mother-of-pearl inlay on the pick guards and the necks; one even had brass or gold tuner keys.

But guitars are not about looks; they are about sound, and feel. And after holding and playing several of them, we found this one. By comparison, it’s pretty plain: no mother-of-pearl anywhere, nor even a shiny lacquer finish like most of them have. It’s also, as you’ll notice, a bit of a nontraditional shape. It has this cutaway at the top of the body, which makes it look different than you might expect a guitar to look. If I had been clinging to the picture in my mind of what a guitar ought to look like, if I had been blinded by my preconceived image, I would never have picked this one up, and would have missed the wonderful sound that is has, and the joy that it is to use, even for a rookie learning to play.

This experience put me in mind of today’s readings. Samuel had to go through a string of Jesse’s sons, each of whom looked like suitable king material. But he was blinded by his image of what a king ought to look like; he couldn’t see what the Lord saw. Certainly Jesse was, as well; he didn’t even bring David to the sacrifice.

There’s an awful lot of blindness going on in the Gospel, too. We start, of course, with a man born blind, “so that God’s works might be revealed in him,” Jesus says. And indeed they are, for Jesus mixes up a mud mask for his eyes, and when he washes it off, he can see.

But he’s not the only one in this story who struggles with blindness, is he? The Pharisees remain stubbornly blind, clinging to their preconceived right answers. Jesus had the nerve to heal on the Sabbath! He didn’t follow the rules from God, so he couldn’t be from God. And the man testifying otherwise-- the one he healed-- must have been a sinner, an understanding which was ingrained in their culture. Why should anyone listen to an obviously tainted person? They don’t understand these challenges to the established order, so they become angry, and refuse to consider other possibilities.

I will admit, brothers and sisters, that I have some sympathy here with the Pharisees. Think about it from their point of view: there’s nothing wrong with the idea of keeping the Sabbath holy, is there? And respecting God’s law is certainly laudable. And yet, their very devotion to that law was getting in the way of seeing God at work.

We still do that all the time, don’t we? We human beings are such creatures of habit. It’s so easy to fall into routines, good ones even, that make us feel secure and stable. And then, when those routines are challenged, or the possibility arises that they may need to change, we are threatened.

Change can be hard. It is unpredictable, and and to some extent uncontrollable,. And there’s no guarantees. We can hope, but there’s no way of knowing for sure that the new will be better than the old. There’s always a risk that it won’t be an improvement at all.

I know what my own reaction can be like when faced with the fact that a habit I’ve developed, or skill that I have, might be well done another way. I can dig in my heels and get as stubborn as anyone you know. (Trust me-- I can give you a whole list of family and friends who will be glad to confirm this!) But I am learning, slowly, that when I open up my eyes and my heart, that God can speak to me in ways I would never have imagined.

I found this to be true of the service of Evensong. When I first got to seminary three years ago, I was not enthused about the idea at all. I have generally been centered on the Eucharist; and though I love to sing in worship-- both traditional, multi-part hymns, and contemporary praise music feed my soul-- the idea of monotone and plainsong chant, quite frankly, sounded just deadly dull.

But I discovered, over time, the solemn beauty and the quiet rhythm of plainsong, and meditative nature of the service, spoke to my heart. It didn’t take a thing away from my love of rousing hymns and joyful, upbeat praise music; not a bit. Instead, it added another dimension. By being willing to try, and to change, a bit of my blindness was stripped away.

We here at Trinity also can begin to try and to change. We know that changes are necessary here. Over and over, that has been made abundantly clear. Things can’t continue the way they have been going; we have reached the point in the life of this parish, where, as my dad might say, we have to “fish or cut bait.” But what exactly do we do? My brothers and sisters, if I had the answer to that question, I’d be shouting it from the rooftop. The one thing I will say is that I believe we need to not refuse to consider anything. We can’t cling to any of our comfortable blind spots.

Let me give you a few examples. Hear me clearly, brothers and sisters: I’m not saying that I think any of the things I mention need to be done, or ought to be done. I simply want to ask you to consider your own reactions to those ideas, and what that says about where those blind spots might be for you.

  • What would happen, for example, if we swapped liturgies at our services: if we did the Rite II Eucharist at 7:30, and Rite I at 9:00?
  • What would happen if we didn’t do incense at one service? Or both?
  • What would happen if someone moved the tabernacle, so that the priest and congregation could celebrate facing one another if they so chose?
  • What would happen if a hymn were accompanied by guitar rather than organ, once in a while?
  • What would happen if we responded to the greetings we’ll hear in a few minutes-- “The Lord be with you” “Lift up your hearts” “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” --enthusiastically, sounding as if we meant them?
  • What would happen if every person here committed to tithe? Not only money, but time, and the gifts and skills that God has given each one of us in abundance?

Do any of these questions push your buttons, or threaten your blind spots? I know that some of them do mine. But I put it to you, brothers and sisters, that Trinity Church has choices to make. Do we choose to remain comfortable within our habits and expectations; or can we open our eyes and our hearts to the possibilities?

On this my last Sunday with you, I want to say that it is my heartfelt prayer that Trinity Church lives on; that it not only survives, but thrives. There are so many wonderful gifts here to share! As Episcopalians we have the gift of liturgy, which becomes beautiful when we step beyond rote habits to worship “in the beauty of holiness.” In addition, you have a rector who has earned my deepest respect and admiration for his kind heart, his deep faith, and the rare gift he has for courageously speaking hard truths, gently. You have committed parish leadership seeking to follow Jesus in this place, the best way they know how. And you have certainly shown yourselves as caring people, in the warm and loving welcome you have shown me over the last several weeks.

The peace of God be with you, my brothers and sisters. Please know that you will be in my prayers: in gratitude for your support and fellowship, and in the hope that God will continue to work at opening all our eyes, yours and mine together; so that we can see, as Paul says, “the fruit of the light which is found in all that is good and right and true.”


Blogger Mark said...

Well said, sister!

Does that count as your one brave thing today? :-)

March 06, 2005 3:12 PM  

Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

I'm assuming you weren't drawn and quartered. How was it received?

March 07, 2005 9:04 AM  

Blogger Dawgdays said...

There you go, challenging people again.

Good work.

March 07, 2005 10:34 AM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Ref: Better than I had expected, overall; I got one or two odd looks, but no one charged the chancel steps or anything. Of course, I was already leaving, so a lynch mob was unnecessary. . .

March 07, 2005 6:38 PM  

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