After 45 verses of John chapter 9 preachers today (me included) had the challenge to preach in a way that both spoke to the Gospel themes but also the reality of exhaustion! I am so grateful to the theme of FBI (feeling boxed-in) that spoke to me yesterday. From the opening text, questions are used throughout the Gospel to define, constrict, to box in the addressed. It is an awful experience to feel we have no choice, no exit strategy; I came to believe more strongly than ever than the Lord will always, in time, provide the open door; that He will release from the “box.”
The boxes within a box were presented to me during a Vestry meeting after church by a vibrant and contributing member of Trinity; I was very amused and quite moved.
Below the sermon audio is the text of the sermon; the basis, but not the 100% content, of the sermon preached.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday March 26th 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale
Are you FBI? Feeling boxed-in?
As you review all the details about our Holy Week and Easter Day schedules, make special note that the Good Friday Three Hours is accompanied by these words “Come and Go As Please.” One poor soul arrived at Noon last year and felt he had no choice but to stay until 3pm – he was FBI, feeling boxed-in.
It’s awful, wretched to feel that we are confined, boxed-in, without choices.
It’s like being asked that loaded question, “When did you stop beating your spouse?”
It’s like the question that the disciples asked Jesus at the very beginning of today’s Gospel – “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) and Jesus is forced to respond (v.3 Message Translation) – “You’re asking the wrong question? You’re looking for someone to blame.” Come to think of it, that sounds like much of what passes for political discourse these days… but that’s another issue.
Though the question is asked with all deference (“Rabbi”) Jesus has to name the question for what it is (restrictive and prejudiced) and then open the way for truth to enter (embracing and unbiased.)
The neighbors of the blind man try to seduce him into making theological, partisan, controversial statements about Jesus but he will have none of it… “A man named Jesus made a paste, rubbed it on my eyes and told me to go to Siloam and wash. And I did what he said.”
He is marched to the Pharisees who just love to infect others with their disease of narrow, closed mindedness. “Give credit to God,” they say, “this man is an imposter.” The man now able to see in so many ways gives the answer that sets him free, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure… I was blind… I now see” (John 9:25.)
Like our liberated man in the Gospel so Samuel in our OT lection is feeling “boxed-in” and more than a little compromised. God has told Samuel to visit Jesse and choose a king and Samuel’s reaction is “I can’t do that; Saul will hear about it and kill me.” The Lord offers a way forward (slightly shady it seems to me but then… it is the Lord!) and Samuel sets out. After viewing the seven sons, Samuel experiences again FBI, feeling boxed-in… “I was told it was one of the sons, I have seen the sons, so what now?” But then the ruddy, handsome young man with beautiful eyes appears… and this is Samuel’s exit strategy.
It is an integral part of our humanity to experience the wretched sense of being confined, boxed-in, without choices and without an exit strategy; maybe even from the moment, or just before the moment, we make our debut on the cosmic stage we are feeling rather confined and then… all light and noise and heaven breaks loose, yes? Sometimes, maybe often, we feel (in the words of St. Paul) that we are “groping our way through murky darkness” but then “we are in the light, in the open” with an exit strategy of glorious dimension.
In our many and varied experiences of being confined, without choice or exit strategy… know this… the Lord will intervene, grace will interpose. He asks us to stop and name what is happening, to take pause and breathe, to pray and watch for the open door – it will be there. Revelation 3:8 – “I see what you have done. Now see what I have done. I have opened a door before you that no one can slam shut. You do not have much strength, I know that.”
For each us, for those we love, the day will come when we confront the nearness of death; it will be alarming and seem to present us with no exit strategy at all but then, please God, the Shepherd’s words will resound in our hearts and minds, “The valley of death… you will walk through it and I will be with you.”
Thanks be to God,