Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 3 Sermon (4th Lent)


It was the question he kept asking. The doctor could only say the medicine had stopped treating his cancer. They would try other medicines.


As chaplain that summer at the infusion center at Mt Zion Hospital in San Francisco, he turned to me for some ultimate answer to the question. I had no answer. I had prayers and presence, but I could not answer his question.


Its question we all ask when we have such a diagnosis, or something terrible happens to us or someone we love. Why did this happen? It is a question that the writer JRR Tolkien explored in his writings in the Lord of the Rings.
When Frodo, the Hobbit complains: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

It is the wise Gandalf who responds to him, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
It is what we do in response, in the time that is given to each of us, that matters most. For the young man whose cancer recurred, he decided to return home to see his parents, with whom he had been estranged for some years. I don’t know what happened to him, I pray that he is cancer free today, but I do know he tried to make the most of the time he had, to repair the relationships he had.

None of us know when our time will be up (not even the guy putting up the billboards who thinks its all over on May 21. Sorry, he’s wrong.) At our Lenten Study on Wednesday we heard a parable about a rich man who prospered and stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! He thought to himself. Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’

Our lives aren’t about our stuff the parable reminds us, but more important for us today, is the notion that none of us knows when God will welcome us home. So it matters what we do with the time that is given us, even as we ponder the question of why.

The disciples were thinking about the why question when they encountered a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "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 him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work…"

Too often, when something happens, we point the finger. It was that person’s sin that caused the calamity to come upon them. You hear it especially after a terrible tragedy when someone will say it is God’s way of punishing them/us for sin. But in the response from Jesus to his disciples, it reminds us that this is not how God works. God did not make the man blind because of sin, but through what has happened, God’s works may be revealed in him. No one is defective, or throw a way, or a mistake. God has made each of us, and through the God given gifts we have, God’s works may be revealed through us. Think of
· Helen Keller
· Beethoven
· Stevie Wonder
· Stephen Hawking
And we could name so many others who have been gifted which opens our eyes to see that God works through us all. There will come a time when we cannot do the works that God asks of us, so while it is day, we need to use our gifts, Jesus says; or else we may fall into the trap of not seeing God at work in others and all around us. We might become like those Pharisees who failed to see God’s actions in the healing of the blind man, and become blind to what God has in store for us and others. It reminds me of a Zen story from Japan…
Once there was a man named Zenkai. Zenkai was the son of a respected teacher in Japan. Zenkai became the secretary to a royal official in the city of Edo. But Zenkai fell in love with the official's wife and their affair was discovered. In the confrontation, Zenkai killed the official and fled with the woman. To survive, Zenkai and the woman became thieves. The woman was so greedy that Zenkai finally left her. Realizing the evil he had done, Zenkai turned to a life of prayer as wandering beggar.

To atone for his sins, Zenkai resolved to devote whatever days he had left to accomplishing some great work. Zenkai knew of a dangerous road over a cliff that had caused devastating injury and death to many travelers. Zenkai resolved to cut a tunnel through the mountain there. For thirty years, Zenkai worked. He would beg for food during the day and dig his tunnel at night.

After three decades, Zenkai's tunnel was a half-mile long. Two years before the work was completed, the son of the official Zenkai had slain found the old man. A skilled swordsman, the son had come to kill Zenkai in revenge. "I will give you my life willingly," said Zenkai. "Only let me finish my work. On the day the tunnel is completed, you may kill me." So the son awaited the day. Several months passed as Zenkai kept digging his tunnel. The son grew tired of doing nothing but wait, so he began to help in the digging.

After he had worked with Zenkai for more than a year, the son came to admire Zenkai's resolve and strong will, as well as his humility. At last, the tunnel was completed and people could use it and travel safely. "My work is done," Zenkai said to the son. "You may kill me." But with tears in his eyes, the son said, "How can I slay my teacher?" [From One Hundred Zen Stories.]
In today's Gospel, Jesus cures a man born blind - but the greater miracle is opening the eyes of those around him to "see" God working in their midst.

In the Zen story, the eyes of Zenkai are opened both to the evil he has done and the possibilities for forgiveness and atonement within him; the son of the slain official is able to see beyond revenge and anger to embrace the lessons he has learned from the old tunnel digger.

The Christ of Lent opens our eyes, enabling us to see beyond labels and stereotypes, self-interest and old scores, to recognize the love of God present to us in everything that God has created which is good. [adapted from Jay Cormier]
And it is what we do in response to God’s gift to us, in the time that is given to each of us, that matters most. So what will you do today? Amen.

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