STRETCHING OUT BEFORE THE JOURNEY
TWENTY THIRD PSALM
John 9: 1-11
March 19, 2023
This morning, we heard or some recited one of the most beloved and most memorized chapters of the Bible … actually, I think it is the only chapter of Scripture that every day Christians and Jews know by heart … the Twenty Third Psalm. It is restated at most of those services referred to as funerals and sadly … sadly this beautiful passage of Scripture is all too often associated with death and the end of life.
But if you have ever attended a Celebration of Life ceremony that I have led you have heard me declare to those in the congregation that the Twenty Third Psalm is a Psalm for the living … it is a Psalm for you and me. It is a reminder from God that many of us … based on what I heard this morning … do not even have to open up our Bibles to hear the words. We have heard the words … said the words … memorized the words … THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD … I SHALL NOT WANT. HE MAKETH ME TO LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES … HE LEADETH ME BESIDE THE STILL WATERS … HE RESTORETH MY SOUL.
That’s where I am applying the brakes today for our WALK with JESUS not only for this Lenten Season, which is quickly vanishing, but also for the year 2023 and beyond.
Friends, we need to be absolutely and positively focused on the restoration of our souls. If we were going to run a marathon … ok … maybe a half marathon …. Uh …. 5K slow walk … if we were going to hike the RIVERWINDS nature trail … we should stretch out and be restored before our feet start to carry us forward. We need to be ready to take on the paths of our journey … no, we are not going to take a nap and fall fast asleep instead of walking forward but to walk forward we need to stretch … we need to make sure we are ready … we need to be restored before we take another step and that is where we are today in Lent with God … with Christ … and I hope with a longing in our hearts to be led by God’s Holy Spirit into a world that needs our faith activeness.
In our Gospel lesson for the morning, we return to a familiar healing moment in Jesus’ journey. When we walk with Jesus, we begin to notice those who are hurting and those who need help. When we walk with Jesus, we rush across the road to care for the beaten down … when we walk with Jesus, we get caught up in His Light … we remember God … we treasure the moments of our faith histories … fully alert to the fact that God is with us … ALL the TIME … that God’s love never has abandoned us … we remember. But in this journey we need to be restored. We need to live as the people we claim to be.
Jesus spotted the blind man, and His disciples thought the blindness was caused by sin. You know, all too often throughout history church going types have declared that individuals who are suffering deserve their suffering … individuals who are poor deserve their poverty … individuals who are homeless have brought it onto themselves … individuals who are hungry well they should starve because they must be bad bad people or their parents were bad or their race is bad or their country of origin is bad … Good church going Americans declared that my Irish ancestors were evil and should be shipped back to the Emerald Isle or thrown in jail but they did that to my Italian friends’ ancestors too and continue to make such declarations to this very day. Always fun to judge with the crowd as long as your type is escaping the venom and the bullying, isn’t it.
Jesus assured them that the man’s blindness was not caused by sin. His parents did not cause his blindness and neither did he but the man was in the right spot at the right time to be a teaching moment for people of faith … a teaching moment for you and me … in this Lenten Season of renewal … in these days we are living through … as we approach Easter 2023, we need to find our focus … we need to remember that we have two choices for our life and one is to walk with Jesus Christ so that “God’s mighty works can be displayed through us” as Jesus tells His disciples and us or we can choose the world.
Have you been considering your life’s journey lately? Especially in relationship to your faith walk, it is the season of Lent after all. It seems like every day at this stage of life I am given a reminder of the fragility of our very existence. This week, a friend of mine just a year or two younger than me was ready to celebrate her birthday but on that very date when her mother gave birth to her my friend went into the ER with heart issues skipping the cake and meal her husband had planned for later in the day. Her trip to the ER followed by birthday time in the ICU and no one was singing Happy Birthday Kathy to her amidst the rushing doctors and nurses. She is doing better in the ICU this morning and said she might worship with us from there.
If you were in the ICU today … would you be considering worshiping with us? If someone asked you about your religion … you know, your faith walk … your life’s path … would you smile and declare … “A man they call Jesus washed me clean and then I could see.” ‘I believe … I know the God of Creation and have faith in Christ!’
Do people notice your faith journey? Have your neighbors, co-workers, and family members ever asked each other … “I wonder what changed in him? Did you notice a difference in her?” Do some say, just like the Gospel lesson’s blind man’s neighbors did, “Nah, it’s someone who looks like them … they would never become “RELIGIOUS.” Did you ever escape to God and come back changed?
We do worry about the name tags, don’t we … the adjectives people use for us … RELIGIOUS … CHRISTIAN … BIBLE BELIEVER … JESUS FREAK … perhaps your faith has always been there since the start of your life journey and your faith is one of the first things people would state about you in a eulogy … Martin was such an amazing Christian who always lived like Jesus taught. Or perhaps no one knows ….
That would be a shame … Jesus declares in today’s lesson, “We MUST do the works of Him who sent me.” That’s another one of those Jesus MUST statements not a maybe or a ‘if you have the time’ but a MUST … we, as followers of Christ, as Christians, as Jesus believers, yes as Jesus Freaks … we MUST DO THE WORKS of God because we are the only ones who can shine the light of Christ into today’s world. We MUST love God … we MUST love all of our neighbors … we MUST care for the poor.
So, how do we get there … how do we stay in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake? I believe it takes some faith stretching … it takes some pausing … it takes us going away from the world to again be washed in the pool of faith. Quiet places … disconnected realities where it is God and us. Jesus said to the blind man, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam (SEELOEM)” And, we heard that the blindman “went away and washed … when he returned he could see.” And the Psalm declares “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me besides the still waters … He anoints my head with oil and my cup runneth over.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught … “When you pray, go into your room and close your door.”
The stretching exercises of faith are exercises we all need. The essence of preparation is escaping to regain the focus and flexibility that comes from knowing that God is essential to our days and nights. I could never play a game of basketball without stretching because my body would not have the flexibility needed. To go on a hike I need to stretch … to walk in faith I need to escape from the world and so do you. We need to rediscover God along the riverbanks or the Ocean or in the mountains or merely in the quiet of a room where the TV, cell phone and frankly others are closed out on the other side. We need to go for quiet drives in the country with praise music being the only sound resonating … or perhaps no music and just out loud conversations with God.
I frankly drive to Longwood Gardens many Thursday’s and I go up in one of the treehouses … I bring my I-Pad to do work but amidst those beautiful gardens I find quiet and restoration. And, every once in a while I recite the Twenty Third Psalm outloud … where is your special place for faith restoration? Do you value having one or are you not really excited about the journey with Jesus that lies ahead? Are you interested in having God’s rod and staff comforting you?
I had a conversation with an actor friend of mine this week. She has been an actor for most of her adult years and continues to teach acting and just recently was named the lead in a play that will debut at the end of May. As we talked about her classes this semester the subject of memorization came up. Her one class of non-theater majors was required to memorize five lines … just five lines … college students in their late teens and early Twenties but one of the students came up to her after class and asked, “Can’t I just read the lines off of a paper?” I imagine the student really wanted to read the lines off of her cell phone.
I asked Eileen whether it was hard to memorize lines for her role as an actor? Lines that would help her develop into a character that audiences will believe is a fictional human rather than my friend. She said, “I have to repeat the lines over and over again … walking around my house in the quietness just repeating and repeating and slowly adding another line until I have it memorized.” My friend said that only after this alone time … this quiet time is she ready to face the audiences knowing who she has been transformed into.
Friends, you and I need to be the people who are transformed by God. We can’t take on the role … we cannot be changed unless we find the quiet time to stretch … to learn … to close our the world and then to bask in the light of Christ. And, we need to be changed … our Christianity cannot be read occasionally from some paper but we need to live it.
We know the King James version but I want you to hear the Twenty Third Psalm as Eugene Peterson has recorded it in THE MESSAGE … same Scripture but just a different look … a different listen … still God’s Word but hear the call today.
1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. 4 Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure. 5 You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. 6 Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”
Take time to catch your breath … to allow God’s beauty and love to catch up with you. Realize that you and I don’t need anything when we have God’s love but we need to take the time to stretch and reconnect so that we together are back home living for God and worshiping God with joy in the house of God for the rest of our lives. AMEN