Sermon for Gethsemane Lutheran on the Fourth Sunday in Lent
I get to drive and travel a lot. Not as much as any of our professional drivers in the church, but still, quite a bit. This isn’t new for me, before, through much of the country for school, then in New Jersey and back and forth from Ohio, and in New Jersey to all sorts of places for church work I was doing, and now when I drive home. Usually, my habit is to pop in a book on cd and enjoy the story but just as often when I travel I do people watching. People watching in the airport is the best, because you get so many different kinds of personalities, agendas, race and nationalities all mixed together. They’re all so different in their way, but their also so very much the same. Just like all of the people in their cars I see driving by on 76, so different, but so much the same.
That’s the one human story spanning so much of time and history and my little story is found in the vastness of all of that humanity. Current world population estimates are at 7 billion with an estimate of between 9-10 billion living on this little blue ball of ours by 2050. A world, God willing, my grandchildren will know. But for me, 7 billion is simply to big of a number to put in my head, just watching all of the traffic on the highway and being a part of that endless flow of movement is enough to remind me that I am just one in an ocean of humanity. I wonder, what is my prayer to the God of all of creation in that sea of people? What am I that God is mindful of me?
If the reality of all of that is not enough to remind me of how small I am in this world, just take a few moments and think of all of nature on our little blue ball. From micro-organisms to creatures of the deep yet undiscovered, from animals that live in the world to those that are gone from the pages of time. Plants, animals, all living things together who find their start, and source and being in the God of all of creation. Then there is me in my little moment of time. What am I that God is mindful of me?
But what of this incredibly sheltered little ball of blue that we live on? Growing up, my mom always took me to the NASA Glenn Research Center in Brookpark. I grew up looking at the pictures of the planets in our solar system and models of the milky way. In January 2006 NASA sent the New Horizons probe to our planetary frontier and next year it will finally pass Pluto, a trip of 9 years and apprx. 3.5 billion miles. That is only in our solar system, not including the milky way galaxy that our solar system resides within and the billions of galaxies within the universe.
My mind cannot fathom that kind of scale. I thought it was a long drive to New Jersey for the wedding last weekend but it certainly wasn’t a journey of 3.5 billion miles! When I think upon the works that God’s hands have made and that all things find their source, substance and meaning in Him, I wonder what am I that God is mindful of me?
Christians use words to describe God like omnipotent (all powerful), omniscience (all knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time), that put within the context of all that there is, are right on about the attributes of God. But I don’t think we always mean it. We talk about God being all powerful and knowing and stuff but despite all that we have just reflected on about how big God is, not just sometimes, but most of the time, the god that we refer to is a much smaller version of the true God of heaven and earth and we are much too big than we should be. And we’re not alone in this.
The Gospel lesson today from John 9 starts off simply enough, “as Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from birth,” the Gospel author wants you to know that the coming miracle is not a matter of mistaken identity or Jesus just getting something out of the man’s eyes, but this man was blind from birth, everyone knew him, they saw him everyday begging for handouts.
The disciples ask the first question about the man, trying to figure out why this man was blind, did he sin or did his parents? This is a very small god kind of question, like God is a little vindictive god, much like the Greek mythological gods. If a person displeased them, they would come down and poke your eyes out or make you push a gigantic boulder up a hill or turn you into a spider. They were asking if God poked this man’s eyes out. They had made themselves too big trying to hold judgment over the blind man and their god was much too small.
Jesus responds by telling them that the works of God will be displayed in him. The man’s blindness is only a small part of the much bigger story of salvation that is unfolding around him and to him. Then Jesus does something really, really big; he leans down, takes some dirt, spits in it and makes a mud pie that he then places on the man’s eyes. Jesus tells him to go wash his face in the pool of Siloam and he came back with his eyes opened and he could see. This was a big thing that Jesus did, a work of recreation upon the broken creation of humanity. What was blind now could see through the touch of Jesus.
This miracle was much too big for the blind man’s neighbors. They saw this man everyday but the first words out of their mouth are: “this can’t be the same guy, he looks and talks and acts just like him, but he’s not the same guy, he just looks, and talks and acts like him.” They just can’t believe that this could happen so they take him to the religious authorities. For them, their god was just too small for this kind of miracle to happen.
Dragging the poor guy to the religious authorities, his parents are there. But there god is just too small as well and they thought that the ruling authorities were much too big and powerful. Even in view of this miracle done for their disabled son, they didn’t want anything to do with it. Their fear was much too big and their god was much too small.
Then the religious leaders regale him and tell him that God can’t perform his saving and gracious works of healing and mercy on a Sunday! God can only perform saving work Mondays through Fridays from 8am- 4:30p and he’s closed on the weekends and every other Tuesday. They were much too big and their god was much too small.
The blind man that can now see because of Jesus says, “look, I don’t know about all these small god rules, regulations, about who’s in charge or who people think I am; but I know this, Jesus healed me. He did what only God can do, and God is much, much, much bigger than all of this small god stuff you are talking about.”
I find, way too often in my own life, than I’m a lot bigger than I should be and my god is a lot smaller than God is. I find myself sometimes making rules about what God can and cannot do, like God can’t heal on Sundays or like God can’t really heal that person, my god is too small for that. Or I get scared about what others might think if I openly and honestly talk about my faith. My fear and those “other people,” they get to be much too big and God gets to be much too small. I fret and worry about what the future holds and forget who it is that holds the future. I contemplate my own mortality and death seems so big, but how big is God?
When we think about the works that God’s hands have made, the mass of humanity, the vastness of creation, the deepness of space, I get a lot smaller and that’s a good thing. Because I don’t need to be that big. What good will it do for me to be big and God to be small in the end anyways? If I’m not bigger than all of the material problems that I face like bills, death and taxes, how on earth can I be big enough to handle all of the spiritual and eternal problems that are just as real?
No, I have to become smaller, but that is good, because God is really bigger than all of those things, and I need to let God be that big, to be as big as God really is. Because it is only the big, big, big God of heaven and earth that could and would send Jesus to open the eyes of a very small blind man and to save the soul of a very small man like me.
I am His, that is why He is mindful of me.