Sunday of the Blind Man and the Feast of Ss. Constantine and Helen, May 21, 2017
Acts 26:1, 12-20; John 9:1-38
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!
It is challenging to be a Christian in our times. It is challenging for many reasons—our attention and our allegiance are claimed by so many things these days. Even if we reduce our Christianity to Sunday morning church attendance (God forbid!), there is so much competition there—jobs, sports, vacation, exhaustion, leisure, family time, etc.
But this sermon isn’t about complaining that people do all those other things instead of worshiping God. After all, the people who are out doing those things aren’t here to hear me complain, anyway.
But this sermon is about how challenging it is to be a Christian in our time, and those things I mention are all related to what I see as the biggest challenge to being a Christian. To learn what that big challenge is and how we address it, let’s look to the Gospel reading for today, the Sunday of the Blind Man.
In this Gospel reading from John 9, Jesus, Who here calls Himself “the light of the world,” has an encounter with a man who was born with blindness. So His disciples ask Him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They want to know whose fault it is that he was born this way. And Jesus responds plainly that it’s not anyone’s fault, saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents.”
The question the disciples ask is what reveals to us what this great challenge is. They see this man, and they start thinking about his story or his parents’ story. In that story, what is it that happened that created this result? What did they do that God punished him with blindness? But Jesus says that he isn’t being punished, not for his own sins nor for his parents’ sins.
The disciples set up this false dichotomy. They want to know how God’s judgment fits into this man’s life. What is it about this man’s life, about his story, that merited judgment from God? Or maybe it was his parents’ story? But Jesus doesn’t pick between the choices they offer Him. He says, in effect, “Which one was it who sinned? Neither.”
Jesus often has a way of telling people that they’re asking the wrong question, though He doesn’t usually come right out and say it but is much gentler. But they’re definitely asking the wrong question, and it’s this wrong question that is the basis for the greatest challenge to living as Christians in our time. So what is that challenge?
The challenge is that we don’t know whose story it’s about. The disciples think it’s the blind man’s story or his parents’ story. But this isn’t their story. This is not the story of how someone sinned and then God punished him. It’s not even the story of how he was healed of the blindness. This is not the story of how Jesus fits into this man’s life.
Getting to our own lives, we tend to function as though Christianity is our story. My story is about the work I do, the achievements I’ve made, the milestones of my life. It’s my life story. And so if I am a Christian, I ask how Christianity fits into my life. How is Jesus a part of my life? Is He an important part of my life? Is He a big part of my life? How does He fit into what I’m doing?
But this is all wrong. Christianity is not a part of my life. God is not a part of my life. Jesus is not a part of my life, even a big part of my life. He is not a part of what I’m doing. He doesn’t fit into my life.
The question is whether I fit into His life. Am I a part of His story? Am I a part of what He is doing?
And this is exactly what Jesus says next to His disciples: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. I must work the works of Him Who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
This is about the works of God. This is about the works of the Father, Who sent Jesus. This is about Jesus, Who is the light of the world. He is not my private night-light. He is the light of the world.
It is a challenge to be a Christian these days because everything in our culture now tells us that the story we are living in is our own life story. It tells me that I am in fact the center of the universe. Oh, maybe it won’t say that outright, that I am the center of the universe. But it definitely tells me that I am the center of my own little universe. We even talk this way, saying things like, “In my world…” or “In my life…”
That is the basis for thinking of Sunday morning or any other time as being something of a competition between different things all trying to get our attention. The context is my life, my desires, my story—so who gets to be a character in my story? What will the plot twists be in my story? How does all this fit into my life?
I don’t think we can completely escape thinking of ourselves this way, because we are deeply influenced by our times. Talking about “my life” or “my world” comes pretty naturally because of long cultural training. And because of how we think, that is our main way of understanding what’s happening.
But we should not let ourselves speak or think that way when it comes to what God is doing, and we should be open to being trained to think in a new way entirely, to have our minds renewed (Rom. 12:2) and to acquire the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16, Phil. 2:5).
So how do we get ourselves out of this trap? How do we start seeing this story as being His story rather than our own stories?
First, we have to become truly committed to learning His story, especially His story as it is expressed in the Gospels. Read the Gospels. Read them frequently. I recommend starting with Luke’s Gospel, which is one of the most accessible in many ways. But all the Gospels are accessible to everyone to read. Learn Jesus better. Learn what He did when He walked this earth. Learn that He is both the Beginning and the End of everything (Rev. 1:8).
Second, change your physical environment to reflect that you are part of the story of Jesus. A great way to do that is to make sure you have icons in your home. We live in a time when doing that is not expensive. If you can, put icons in your work space, your relaxation space, etc. Icons remind us that it is the story of Jesus that is the context for how we live.
Third, make sure you have a regular framework of both private and corporate prayer. It doesn’t need to be long and drawn out, but it does need to be regular and consistent. Prayer puts us in contact with Christ and puts us in the position to listen to His story. And doing it with other people reinforces that in a way that just trying to think differently on your own can’t accomplish very well.
The Scripture and all our Church tradition tell us that salvation requires humility. And humility means that I have to realize that it’s not all about me. In fact, it’s not about me at all. It’s about Jesus Christ. And really, living as part of something much bigger than myself is actually remarkably freeing and anxiety-lowering. That’s one of the gifts that humility bestows right away.
So remember: Jesus is not going to fit Himself into your life. But will you fit yourself into His?
To Jesus Christ Who is the Beginning and the End, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen!