Sermon: March 22, 2020

Trinity recently announced that we are suspending in-person gatherings until at least March 29th. We have been broadcasting worship services via Facebook Live and posting the videos on YouTube. Here is Pastor Andy’s sermon for March 22. Links to the video and a worship guide can be found at the bottom of this post.

Baptism and Healing

by Pastor Andy Twiton

Grace and peace to you, friends. I have to admit that it’s strange to preach without being able to see your faces.

But I have to imagine that you are on the other side of this camera or reading this sermon in your home. And so I picture myself in the sanctuary, because it helps me imagine the people I’m talking to. Chad and Erica are up here on the left side. We’ve got the choir over there on my right. Then in the back we got a couple of the ushers. I could probably almost draw a seating chart if I tried.

But even if we can’t be together physically at this time, I trust that God’s word continues to speak to us in these new ways. So I hope, even while we are physically distant, to preach with a sense of connection with you all, and I thank you for being with us this morning.

Perhaps you are starting to pick up on this, but I like to talk about baptism. At the beginning of our service, I invited you to trace the sign of the cross on your forehead with water to remind ourselves and God’s great love for us. Touching the water is a physical reminder of God’s amazing grace. In our midweek Lenten services, our theme has been: “Living our Baptism: Five Gifts of Discipleship.”

So that’s been another opportunity for me to talk about baptism. For me, baptism is identity. Baptism is community. Baptism is a deep well of faith and courage. It is the promises of baptism that I cling to most closely in times of fear and crisis, like ones we are facing right now. Our baptism says we are children of God and nothing can separate us from God’s love and Jesus Christ. Our baptism says we are all part of the same family of faith. Baptism says that God’s love for us is stronger than anything we may face, including disease and death.

As I’ve said before, Lent has traditionally been a time for Christians to reflect on their baptisms, going all the way back to the early days of the church. For the early church the season of Lent was a time when new converts to Christianity would prepare for baptism, and then on the Eve of Easter at the Easter vigil, those new converts would be baptized, symbolizing Jesus’s, a journey from death to life. Likewise, they will be baptized into his death on Saturday, and they would rise with him to new life on Easter morning.

Interestingly, this story of the man born blind from John 9 was often used in those baptismal liturgies. In the early church, they would read this story as new converts would be led to the water to be baptized. Some scholars even believe that some of those final verses – verses 38 and 39 – were inserted into the text later so that it could be used liturgically.

“Lord, I believe,” the man says. And we can imagine a new convert having to make a similar confession for being baptized. If we were to visit some of the ancient catacombs around the Mediterranean where early Christians gathered, we would find art on the walls portraying this story as a baptismal story.

But I have to admit that without knowing that background, I might not jump to this text right away and think of baptism. But as I was reflecting on this history of the text, I saw a few themes that are important for us as we reflect on our own baptism.

First of all, there is the healing power of water. Perhaps at this time – more than anytime in my lifetime – we recognize how water can do remarkable things. The number one thing that the CDC reminds us to do is to wash our hands with soap and water. Perhaps you’ve been incorporating prayers and songs into that. We’re supposed to wash our hands for 20 seconds.
It takes about 20 seconds to say the Lord’s prayer. So you can wash your hands, remember your baptism, and you can say the Lord’s prayer. Or you could sing the Doxology, which would also take about 20 seconds. 20 seconds to sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Water is also important when we become sick. One of the most important things that you can when you become sick is to drink lots of fluids, to drink lots of water. So we especially right now, the healing power of water.

So in this story, Jesus says to the man, he says, go and wash off in the pool of Siloam. And after he is cleansed, he experiences this healing. Now, this story at the pool of Siloam is reminiscent of another healing story. If you think back to 2 Kings 5 when the powerful general Naman – who happened to be a leper – came to the prophet Elisha. Elisha tells him to go to the water to be washed clean of his leprosy. So when Jesus sends this man to the pool of Siloam we see again the cleansing and healing waters.

The second way I see this story connecting to our own baptism is the journey that this man goes in his relationship with Jesus. We see an evolution of his understanding of who Jesus is.
If you read the story from beginning to end, you see his progression. When people ask him who, who healed him, he says he was a “man” -just calls him a man. Then they ask them to tell a story again and they say, who was it that did this? And he says, well, he must be a “prophet.” So he goes from man to profit. And then someone asks him to tell his story again. He says, well, he must be “someone from God.”

So his understanding moves from man to prophet to someone from God. But those are only partially right. But it’s still not exactly right. By the end of the story, however, he not only confesses that Jesus is someone from God. He says Jesus is the Lord, the Messiah. And the man worships Jesus. The text says, “Lord, I believe.” And he worships Jesus.

In a similar way, when we are led to baptism, we are brought deeper and deeper into our relationship with Jesus. We gain new understanding of who Jesus is. So we can imagine those new converts in the early church journeying in their understanding. Maybe they had heard of Jesus and then they learned a little bit more. Perhaps they said, “Well, he might be a prophet.”
Then they learn a little bit more and they say, “Oh, he’s probably someone from God.” And finally when they were baptized, they confessed: “Jesus is Lord.”

Likewise, as we return to our baptismal waters, we go, we over time come to understand who Jesus is and what he means for us in deeper ways.

I do want to name today that this text has been used in problematic ways – especially in the ways that it uses sight and blindness as a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment. There has been a way of using this text that feeds into ablelism – that is, a form of exclusion and discrimination of people with disabilities.

Our Scripture translation doesn’t help. Our translation even inserts some words that aren’tin the Greek.

In our New Revised Standard Version – the version we read today – it says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of he who sent me, while it is day.”

But that part that says “He was born blind so that…” is not actually in the Greek. The text with this insertion implies that God somehow caused this man’s blindness so that Jesus could come and perform this healing. So the better translation would say “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but in order that the works of God might be revealed in him.”

Avery Smith writes[1] that this is a more neutral conception of disability. One that would resonate with those disabled people in our own day who ascribe to what is called “the social model of disability.”

The social model of disability argues that disabilities are disabling more because of society’s lack of accommodations then because of any inherent “brokenness.” In other words, in this story, it’s not just the man who is healed, but it is a whole community.

Sometimes there’s a difference between “cure” and “healing.” We’ve talked about this in some of our adult education settings. I think for example, of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a way that was a healing for our whole society. It’s not something that was wrong with a person who couldn’t get into an inaccessible space, but it was a whole society that was healing to allow relationship and full participation.

In a way we could ask who is being healed in the story? Is it just the man. Is it the community? Or is it the new community that will be formed among those who confess Jesus as Lord?
Are the people who are being healed in the story you and me and all of us who hear this story? Perhaps we are people who are being invited to see those who have been pushed to the sides, to see them with full dignity and remove barriers to full community.

Avery Smith also goes on to say: “Those of us who follow the social model of disability sttop looking for a cure for something we don’t see as brokenness. And instead focus on advocating for accommodations and acceptance in our societies.”

I think perhaps more than ever we recognize our interconnectedness. We see the ways how a disease that started halfway around the world can get here in weeks. We can’t live as separate individuals. We need to be healed as a community. My health is connected to your health. That when one person is sick, it affects us all. When one person is healthy, it affects us all. So healing doesn’t just happen with one person. Healing happens in the space between us.
I was reminded of this when I saw a story about the anthropologist, Margaret Mead. Margaret Mead was a 20th century anthropologist who was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture.

And the students expected Mead to talk about the creation of art or tools or fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones. But that’s not where Mead the anthropologist started. She said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur or a thigh bone that had been broken and then healed.

Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You can’t run from danger. Get to water to drink. Hunt or gather for food. You are a prey for prowling beasts, so no animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. But Mead went on to say, “A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has stayed long enough with someone who fell, bound up the wound, carried the person to safety, and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.”

As we go through this unusual time of crisis, we need to remember to stay with each other, to support one another, because that is where true healing happens. We lead one another to the waters of baptism. We remind each other to wash our hands and we look out for those who need extra support. Because this man and his story has something to teach us.

He teaches us what it means to confess Jesus as Lord, because Jesus is our healer. Jesus is our hope. Jesus meets us in those healing waters. Amen.

[1] Avery Smith “Who Sinned?: Rethinking Disability and Centering the Marginalized in Their Own Stories.”
http://www.cccoflouisville.org/covenant_community_church/listen/Entries/2018/2/11_Avery_Smith_Who_Sinned_Re-thinking_Disability_andCentering_the_Marginalized_in_Their_Own_Stories_files/02-11-18_avery.pdf

You can also view the video of the service on Facebook or YouTube. Click here to download the order of service for following along.

For a brief order of worship, including prayers, the Gospel text, and this sermon, click here (PDF).

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