Third Sunday in Lent by Suzy Jeffreys

March 24, 2019


Exodus 3:1-15

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

Psalm 63:1-8

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

When I told my husband that I was going to talk about darkness this morning, he said, “You’re not going to make it one of those interactive sermons where you ask everyone to close their eyes, are you?” He’s not a big fan of audience – or congregation – participation, if you couldn’t guess. If you’re like him, rest easy. I am not. But I am going to say something that as a young person going to church I would’ve loved to hear a preacher say – feel free to close your eyes during this sermon. As I was preparing for today, sitting on our couch at home in the evening, I found myself frequently looking out our front window at the darkening night sky as I considered how we talk about darkness, how we behave when we come upon it and what we might be missing when we behave that way.

In our western, technologically-developed, white-dominated society, when we say darkness, we often, almost always, are speaking of something negative. We talk about dark moods, being afraid of the dark, people who are the “black sheep” of their family. And like no one else in the history of our world, we push the literal darkness out of our lives. We yell to our kids to “come inside, it’s getting dark.” Even after we close our eyes, we leave nightlights on to show us the way, our electronics blink in the corner of our rooms, in my room the humidifier and the baby monitor both shine bright. If I got to the kitchen for a drink of water, the microwave and oven clocks provide all the illumination I need. That is the absolute totality with which we, in our society, have shunned darkness, because we believe about darkness being inherently scary or evil.

So if that’s a baseline for how we talk about darkness, it’s no wonder how we typically behave when we encounter it. We run, we turn our backs, we lock the doors, we pull the covers over our heads, we ask our parents to reassure us that everything will be ok. I don’t know if this is just me, but man can I literally let my own thoughts about darkness, not even the darkness itself, terrify me. I’ll be going to bed, slowly turning out lights as I head toward the bedroom where my husband is already asleep, and my feet will start to move quicker, my heart rate goes up, my gut just tells me to move through the darkness quickly and get to my bed, to my little reading light.

That’s why Moses’ encounter with the burning bush in this morning’s reading is so unusual to me. Now a story about a burning bush in what may have been the middle of the day may seem an odd reading to provoke a conversation about darkness…but I’m going to use the definition of darkness that Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor gives in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark. She writes, “darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me – that I want no part of – either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out.” And there’s no doubt that fire is one of those things that invokes fear, whether it’s opening the oven to flames to just smelling smoke somewhere it shouldn’t be to the absolutely devastating and terrifying impact on life and livelihood we saw in the California wildfires last year…and in the Gorge the summer before. Fire is a force that, rightly, makes us turn and run. It is a powerful darkness.

So we might expect Moses to behave the way we humans typically do when we encounter something terrifying…turn and run, possibly even leaving behind our flock that our father-in-law had entrusted to us. In the grips of fear, we take flight and put as much distance between us and the darkness as we can. But Moses didn’t do this.

First, we hear that “the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed,” which suggests that the fire maybe didn’t look like a typical brush fire. No, this blaze is described as being different, as not consuming the thing that it was burning. That gives us the sense that something strange, something unknown, something maybe to fear, was present. And yet Moses’s response is “I must turn aside and look at this.” While he would go on to have many more direct encounters with God, this was Moses’ first. It’s not like this was a common occurrence for him, God showing up in dazzling form. It’s not like Moses knew what to expect, or that he could assume from past experience of God’s presence that he ought to investigate. We get the sense from the reading that Moses was compelled and curious, and it’s at this point – when the Lord sees that he’s turned aside to approach the burning bush, that God then speaks to Moses, calls his name. And then Moses is afraid and he hides his face.

There is a lovely children’s book by the author Lemony Snicket called The Dark that I read to our kids about a young boy named Laszlo who we’re told at the start is afraid of the dark, the dark that lives in the same house as Laszlo, in the closet, behind the shower curtain, in the basement and, at night, across all the windows and doors of the house. Every morning Laszlo opens the basement door, stands at the top of steps and says “Hi” down the stairs to the dark, hoping that by visiting the dark in its room, the dark won’t come to his room. And then one night the dark says “Hi” back and tells Laszlo it wants to show him something. So Laszlo follows the dark around the house, finally down into the basement, where the dark shows him a chest of drawers full of lightbulbs. Laszlo says thank you, and, as Lemony Snicket writes, “The dark kept on living with Laszlo, but it never bothered him again.”

Who of us, if we heard something in the dark – the dark itself – asking us to follow it to show us something, would go along? Who of us, if while out walking alone saw a bush consumed by a strange blaze would get closer to investigate? And if we chose not to, who of us might miss the voice of God? Might miss hearing God call our name? Might miss being given a gift to help us understand and see our darkness. Might not see the “the way out” that Paul writes to the Corinthians about in his first letter to them that we heard from this morning.

There’s a lot in that passage we heard from 1 Corinthians. First, Paul is reminding the Corinthians of their heritage in the Israelites who were led into the wilderness by God through Moses, a journey that began with Moses encountering God in the burning bush. Second, Paul is reminding the Corinthians of the destruction and death that befell thousands of those Israelites, their ancestors, because of their turn toward evil. Why bring this all up? Why remind the Corinthians of these terrifying ends that many Israelites met at the very hand of God? Because, as he says in the final sentences of the reading from this morning, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.” He is reminding the Corinthians that despite the centuries they have on the Israelites, they have not somehow succeeded in separating themselves from the darkness of temptation, whether through special knowledge or spiritual awakening or even proximity to Jesus Christ. They are still confronted by darkness too. And then Paul writes – in one of the most perplexing statements in his writing – and there are many – “God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.” That verse has always sent my brain into spirals.

Paul says God will not test you beyond your strength. What would it look like to be tested beyond your strength? When my mom died in 2012 after seven months with brain cancer, I was not enduring. I felt tested way beyond my strength, and so I did two things – I drank a fair bit of wine and I slept a lot. All I could do for months was avoid the darkness of her death, and alcohol and sleep facilitated that avoidance.

I’ve often fixated in those verses on the idea of God “providing a way out” and asked what that looks like. But I think maybe it’s the “ability to endure” that is the way out. In the Greek the word translated as “ability to endure” has the connotation of “to carry on under,” which is to say to be burdened by, to feel the weight of the burden, the weight of the darkness, of the temptation. For me and the death of my mom, it was finally feeling the weight of the darkness – picturing my mom ill, recounting conversations we’d had in her final months, thinking about my own immortality – that was the way out. The way out was to go further in.

There is a risk here in romanticizing darkness. In terms of literal darkness, the places on our planet that are best lit are not the ones that are most populous only but the ones that are most populated by the wealthy. Many people on our planet do not have or have been denied access to electricity, and therefore to the ability to light the darkness, and in many places and many ways this contributes to poor health, to oppression by those with resources and power, and to individual harm. In addition, we risk ignoring that there are privileges in whiteness, in seeing and in mental health that allow some of us to simply to explore the dark areas of our lives and the world when it’s most convenient for us. I think we combat this by practicing darkness in the way we do the spiritual practice of prayer or meditation: by saying yes to exploring dark things when they become known to us, not just when we choose. By making attention to darkness an everyday part of our lives. By believing and amplifying the voices of those whose skin color, whose mental health, whose life circumstances, mean that they experience darkness regularly and without warning or without their choosing.

Lent means, literally, springtime. The sun is out, at least it was, the days are longer. But our rebirth in Lent must necessarily come out of the darkness of winter. There are wonderful opportunities in Lent still to explore both darkness and rebirth, to accept that God may inhabit the darkness in our lives and to go to God there. I wish I could say that when I went deeper into that darkness of losing a parent, I discovered a loving and kind God of comfort. I didn’t. I discovered that I believe fewer things about God than I once did, but that the ones I still believe I do so more deeply and fiercely than ever. Was that worth it? No. I would rather have my mom alive. But I can say that to the God I know now, the God I would not have met had I not gone into the darkness.



Fourth Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Martin Elfert


March 11, 2018


Numbers 21:4-9

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Are there times when a poison is its own cure?

Today we hear the story of Moses and the people of Israel meeting snakes in the wilderness. It is an extraordinary story, a weird story, and yet somehow a powerful story. With Moses’ help, with God’s help, Israel has escaped from slavery in Egypt. And as sometimes happens, the glow of freedom is fading. Like a young person who has moved out of their parents’ home and, after a week of saying, “I’m free – I can do whatever I want!” they are now beginning to grumble and say, “I’m lonely, and no one seems to be washing the dishes.”

They start to complain. They say to Moses:


Why have you brought us out Egypt to die in the wilderness?

There is no food and no water and we hate the food.

(That is a line that suggests to me that the comedy of scripture is underappreciated.)

It is shortly after the people pose this question that the snakes show up.

Now, somewhere along the way, when folks first started telling this tale around the campfire, it became part of the story that God sent the snakes to bite the people, that God sent the serpents to teach an ungrateful people a lesson. I don’t know if I think that God does that sort of thing, but I admit that I kind of love this element of folk-tale comeuppance. There is something satisfying about the kind of Brothers Grimm slapstick justice: here is an echo of the guy who in boastfully announces that he is invulnerable and then is promptly crushed by a falling piano.

Regardless of why it happens, the snakes are here. And the people are soon dancing around in pain and grabbing their freshly bitten ankles, more than one of them falling over dead, X’s drawn over their lifeless eyes.

They turn to Moses and say, “help us.”

And Moses, who probably could be forgiven for celebrating this development –after all, the people of Israel can be pretty obnoxious – jumps into action. He resumes his ongoing conversation with God, he prays to God. And God tells him what to do:

Make a serpent. Put it on a pole. And then have everyone look at it. They will be cured.

Moses digs out the collection of bronze and his hammer and his fire and he gets to work. He puts the serpent on the pole and, the people look at it.

And they live.

The poison is its own cure.

Now, if you have ever taken a course on classical literature and mythology, then you may be noticing right now that there are echoes in this story of the Ancient Greek god Asclepius, the god of medicine, whose symbol is a pole with a serpent wrapped around it. (The pole and the serpent remains the symbol for medicine to this day.) Somehow across the Ancient World, there is this notion that if you have been hurt by a snake, you need to encounter a snake. There is this notion that drawing near to the thing that hurt you (or at a minimum to a safe or symbolic version of the thing that hurt you), is what is going to make you well.

And maybe that sounds odd until we remember that this notion of a poison being its own cure is not confined to the Ancient World. The famous and suspicious home remedy that involves trying to cure a hangover by consuming some of “the hair of the dog that bit you” – in other words, by getting up in the morning and drinking more alcohol – is an identical strategy. Or if you prefer a more evidence-based, or at least a more sensible, perspective on reality, consider what a vaccination is: a vaccine is a sterilized version of the very disease that it protects us against. I understand that a lot of anti-allergy medications are manufactured in a similar way.

And speaking of snakes: we cure the poison from snakebites by administering an anti-venom which is made out of… snake venom. (You may have seen a nature show in which one of those somewhat misguided animal experts wearing khaki shorts “milks” a snake to get venom out of it.)

Similarly, the psychological notion of exposure therapy is about doing the thing that you fear: if you are afraid of heights, go climb a ladder; if you are afraid of looking silly, go out in public wearing a goofy outfit; if you are afraid of rejection, give people opportunities to say “no” to you. This is the very thing that your Mom or your Dad told you when you were learning to ride a bike and you had your first really good crash: get back on, start riding again. This is what is going to let you test your limits, to grow.

Two weeks ago, Corbet shared an amazing sermon with us about resiliency. And the notion that the poison is sometimes its own cure is related to what he shared with us. Corbet talked about the research that says that resilient people have a vigorous support network, are able to reframe the stories of the things that hurt them in a way that gives them meaning, and they are adaptable. It is adaptability that we are talking about today. When we encounter the poison in a symbolic or safe way it frees us up to walk through the world with greater freedom.

Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be safe. There is fascinating research that says that children who have had a significant fall – say out of a tree – are actually less afraid of heights than those who have never had such a fall. That is the opposite of what you might expect. My guess is that what the research suggests is that the opportunity to test our limits – to get hurt and say, “that was bad, but I was able to survive it” – invites us into resiliency. That’s an important and hard lesson for those of us who are charged with the care of children. We have an instinct to protect our children from as much hurt as possible. But if we get carried away, we may end up inadvertently nurturing brittle people.

There are, of course, real and significant limits to a poison being its own cure. If you have a hematoma under one of your fingernails, you aren’t going to make it better by whacking it a second time with a hammer. If you are afraid of cars, the solution is not to run back and forth across the I-5.

Could we think of building the bronze serpent as a parable? A parable about appropriately and generatively engaging with the poison that has hurt us.

Three things happen when we follow the example of Moses’ parable. First, we name our pain out loud. Second, we allow the possibility that our hurt might have something to teach us. And third, we open ourselves to the presence of God in our hurt.

I’d like to spend a little time with all three.

First, naming. As Moses creates the serpent, he says: This is the thing that hurt you. He names that out loud.

There is something powerful and insidious about unhealthy secrets. They can end up having this huge gravitational pull over our lives. There is a reason that, in the Harry Potter books, Harry and Dumbledore refuse to participate in the practice of not saying Voldermort’s name. They are unwilling to give him that kind of power.

My cousin Mike – this is a sad story with a happy ending – was a closeted gay man well into his forties. (This was not 50 years ago: this was in the early teens of the 21st Century.) My read is that Mike had a story that his Dad, my Uncle, could not handle hearing the truth about Mike’s sexuality; that his Dad would blow up or disown him, that the news would kill him. Mike had a partner he had been with for 18 years. And his partner was never mentioned in the Christmas letter, never at a family gathering.

I don’t know what happened. But Mike – maybe with his partner’s help, maybe with his community’s help – found the permission to come out late in his Dad’s life. There was recently on Facebook a photo of Mike and his partner and his Dad and their whole family. It was a glimpse of the Kingdom, of what can happen through naming.

On a justice front, something similar is happening right with now with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. This is about what happens when people have the courage to name something. A year ago, it was an accepted and immutable fact that Harvey Weinstein was untouchable. And then some courageous women named his behaviour. And that changed reality.

It’s a big deal to name hurt out loud.

Naming leads us into learning. Vaccination, which we talked about earlier, is about allowing your immune system to learn from an illness, to become resilient. Our hurts, if we allow them, give us a similar opportunity.

I want to be careful here. Because I don’t want to get into a facile theology in which everything happens for a reason and God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Those are problematic statements; they are often more about consoling the person speaking than consoling the person who is in pain.

What I am trying to get at belongs more to the realm of paradox. I think about certain griefs, certain hurts in my own life. This is stuff that I didn’t want to happen, stuff that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.


Somehow if I know anything about compassion it is because these things happened. Somehow if I know anything about justice it is because these things happened.

I have, as I’ve told you before, lost track of how many people have said to me: the time after the car accident was a spiritual awakening for me; the time after I got sick was a spiritual awakening for me; the time during my divorce was a spiritual awakening for me. Even though I didn’t want this thing to happen, it allowed me to understand something about myself, about my neighbour, about God.

I we allow them, our hurts will be our teachers.

Last, as the people look at the serpent on the stick, they are invited to see God in their hurt, to recognise that God is present in their woundedness. I don’t mean that God is responsible for their woundedness, that God sent the snakes (although that is a way of reading this story). Rather, I mean that they are invited to see that God shares in the pain.

My guess is that this is why John draws on the imagine of the snake on the pole when talking about Jesus on the cross. The message of the cross is that God endures and accepts the worst kind of violence and humiliation. And because of that, we are able to say that God shares with us in our suffering. There is no pain or lostness so great that we cannot say to God: You know what this is like.

If indeed we can read the story of the snake on the pole as a parable about naming, learning, and seeing God in hurt, then the question for you and me is:

What are the serpents that have bitten you and me?

We all come here wounded. We all come here wounded by trauma, grief, by an experience of unfairness – the list goes on. What would happen if we were to name these things, to learn from them, to see God in them?

We might be able to look at the serpent on the pole, to look at Jesus on the cross, and live.

Third Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Martin Elfert

March 4, 2018


Exodus 20:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

Psalm 19

One of my theological heroes, the Franciscan priest and author and activist, Richard Rohr, has said that in all of his years of attending church he has never ever heard a sermon on the Tenth Commandment:[1]

You shall not covet.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s ox or donkey or sports car or lawn mower or flat screen TV. You shall not wish you were dating your neighbour’s spouse (let’s broaden the lens a little here from scripture, and not assume a heterosexual male perspective). You shall not covet someone else’s stuff or someone else’s life.

If Rohr is right about never encountering Commandment Ten as a sermon topic (and anecdotally, his experience is consistent with my own: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on this subject myself) then: how come? How come those of us who have the privilege to preach are ignoring or dodging God’s prohibition on covetousness?

Well, maybe preachers recognise that covetousness is an almost universal phenomenon and we are nervous about a subject that is likely to touch a nerve in, well, everyone. Covetousness certainly has been and remains a part of my own life. During those times in the theatre business when I was underemployed, I coveted the career opportunities that some of my peers had. During high school, when I was telling a story about how everyone but me had a girlfriend, I coveted the romance that some of my classmates had found. And to this day, I kind of covet the effortlessness with which some folks appear to navigate social situations; I don’t share the common fear of public speaking – standing here is pretty natural for me –but I find cocktail parties mildly terrifying.

Now to be clear, there is nothing wrong with wanting any of the things that I just named: it is good and fine to want to gainfully and steadily employed, to want romance in your life, to want to navigate social encounters with a degree of ease. What distinguishes covetousness from a dream or an aspiration is that covetousness assumes a perspective on the world based around scarcity and resentment. It assumes that, if I am to have the things that I want then you need to not have them. I need to take them from you. If I am going to win, you have to lose.

Richard Rohr’s guess – and maybe this is a variation on what I just said – is that preachers don’t touch covetousness because we recognise that so much of our society is built around it. To look at the ads at the Oscars or on the bus or on a billboard is to see one monument to coveting after another. Here in the ad is a bunch of young, athletic, beautiful people. And they are having the best time on a beach or at a party while surrounded by their equally young, beautiful, and athletic friends. The message is clear: if you want to be young, beautiful, and athletic, if you want to be happy, if you want to be lovable and loved, you need the goods or the services that the people in this ad have.

Occasionally, Madison Avenue will wink just a tiny bit in one of these ads. I remember a Home Depot spot that kind of mocked the competition between two neighbours, both of whom wanted to have the most beautiful lawn. But the ad didn’t wink too much. It said: even though a lawn war is silly, even though coveting your neighbours grass is demonstrably ridiculous, you should probably still buy our lawn care products.

Better to be safe than sorry.

I have wondered, sometimes, why I find it so demoralising, so draining to walk through Lloyd Center. Maybe what wears me down so much is the unexamined and unnamed religiosity of the place. In that building there are a thousand and one messages that say: this is the place where you will find your freedom. We have the keys to the kingdom here. If you are to find healing, you need this stuff; if you are to find belonging, you need this stuff; if you are to find meaning, you need this stuff.

Most of us have tried entering into the contract that Lloyd Center and places like it offer: we have bought the new necktie or phone or whatever. And for a while it worked: we had a rush of satisfaction and happiness for a few hours or maybe even a few days. But then it wore off and we realised that we needed something else, something more if we were to be happy if we were to fill the hole in our lives. This built-in dissatisfaction is, of course, by design. The consumer model would fall apart pretty fast if you could buy one and only one iPhone and then be happy forever.

I think that I have told you before about my friend Barbara. Barbara is in her nineties, she is one of the people whom I see when I preside at the Eucharist over at Holladay Park Plaza. I look forward to seeing her every month. Much like the recently deceased Charlotte Creswell, Barbara has a palpable joy and palpable faith – a joy and a faith that she has chosen despite some significant suffering in her life. Barbara said to me once:

We have to be careful about what we worship. Because we will worship something.

You and I will worship something.

I spend a good part of my time talking with folks about faith. And pretty often, someone will say to me about one of the things that we say in church:

I don’t know if I can believe that.

And you know what? Good. God invites us to question. God expects us to question. I just wish that we would expand that questioning, so that when we stand in the middle of Lloyd Center and see its promises that our credit cards will allow us to buy love and freedom, we might say to ourselves:

I don’t know if I can believe that.

Scholars who study rabbinical interpretation, who examine the long Jewish history of interpreting scripture, tell us that the Jewish tradition tends to give special attention to the first and last items in a list or a sequence, that these items are set apart or emphasised versus the rest of the list, that they are tied together.[2] Thus, in the Ten Commandments, this final commandment – you shall not covet – is tied to the first commandment – I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me.

This linking makes a lot of sense to me. Because it seems to me that coveting is all about directing our love and our energy towards something that isn’t God, about having other gods before God. What we find at Lloyd Center – call it capitalism, call it consumerism – in a very real sense, is a religion: it is a promise that you and I will find healing in stuff, that we will find belonging in stuff, that we will find meaning in stuff.

At the far entrance, there is actually a statue within a fountain made out of coins. Could we call that an idol to money? It isn’t too hard to imagine Jesus outside of Lloyd Center. It isn’t too hard to imagine him seeing that idol, picking up his whip of cords, and going berserk.

To let go of covetousness is hard. It is an act of vulnerability and hope. It is a choice to go through the world saying that there is enough, and that I have enough, and that who I am is enough. I need to be something more, I don’t need to get something more in order to be loved by others or by God.

Keeping the commandment to not covet, in other words, isn’t just good for our neighbour, it isn’t just good for creation, it is good for our very souls. Setting aside covetousness allows us to be genuinely happy for other folks’ successes. Keeping the Tenth Commandment, hard though it may be, allows us to follow Jesus’ commandment: to love God, to love our neighbour, and – amazingly, amazingly enough – to love ourselves.

[1] Richard Rohr’s Meditation: Community as Alternative Consciousness. Accessed March 03, 2018.

[2] “Lent 3B.” Girardian Lectionary. Accessed March 03, 2018.

Second Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Corbet Clark

Feb. 25, 2018


Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

Psalm 22:22-30


Is suffering necessary?

Is suffering redemptive?

The human experience is that suffering is inevitable. We have all experienced pain and suffering, from illness or injury, or the indignities of aging, from failure and setbacks in school or in work, from community disasters, from losses of family and friends. Our suffering is not all the same, but we all experience at least the everyday suffering of things gone wrong.

Human beings are remarkably resilient. Resiliency is that ability to cope with failures and disasters large and small, to confront them, to move through them and emerge from them, often in positive ways. We know that resiliency is an essential skill for navigating adult life, and most of us learn the skills, usually through bitter experience.

Resiliency has become a hot topic among educators. We know that it’s essential for young people, as they grow up, to develop these skills, and most young people are able to do that. But in recent years there has been an increasing number of young people, from adolescents to young adults, who don’t seem to be able to cope with even modest personal challenges, who seem overwhelmed by setbacks and disappointments. In my work with high school students at school we have seen an increasing number of young people experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, or depression that prevents them from functioning in daily life. Why is this? And how do young people develop the ability to bounce back from personal challenges?

Resiliency seems to be like a muscle – it needs to be constantly exercised in order to gain strength. We all want to protect our children from terrible things happening to them, but the paradox is that when we as adults intervene too frequently or forcefully in their lives, we may be preventing them from developing the resiliency they need. When kids get into trouble and parents step in to fix the problem for them, when students fail at school and parents intercede with teachers or principals on their behalf, when young people experience disastrous social relationships, and adults try to manage that, we are probably doing our children no favors and may actually be keeping them from learning the hard lessons and gaining the confidence in themselves that they need to be mature, resilient adults.

What does resiliency look like? What are the skills we need to learn? Resilient people are able to draw on people around them to provide support and encouragement – not people who will solve their problems, but who will stand beside them and encourage them to solve their own problems. Resilient people are flexible and are able to adapt to changed circumstances, to alter their course when they face a dead end. “My major didn’t work out, so I switched to a different one.” “This relationship wasn’t going anywhere, so I re-thought my priorities and made a change.” “I lost my job, so I decided to pursue a completely different career.”

And resilient people are able to re-write their life narratives in ways that give them a sense of meaning and purpose. We all have a life narrative, a story about our own lives that gives our lives a sense of coherence and ideally a sense of meaning. So that our story is not just “This happened and then this happened and then this happened,” but more like “this happened, and it was hard, but it set me on a new path that has been very fulfilling.” For example, “I had a hard time my freshman year in college and decided to drop out. I spent a year working in the wilderness and came back from that with a new sense of what I wanted to do with my life.” We are constantly revising our life stories, as new things happen to us and as we make new life choices, and resilient people are able to find meaning even in the sharpest setbacks and failures, giving them strength to move forward in life.

This, I think, is exactly what Jesus is doing with his disciples – trying to instill in them the skills to cope with failure. The disciples are going up to Jerusalem with Jesus full of the expectation that this will be a moment of triumph. God’s reign is going to be established and Jesus will make it happen. When Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer and die,” he’s telling them it’s not going to be like that. He is going to suffer and die because he is human, and it is the lot of all humans to suffer and die – there’s no escape from that for any of them. When he tells them to pick up their cross, he’s telling them that by confronting the suffering that is to come, they will find the purpose that God has for them – if they accept it and deal with it, they will find meaning in it. God will show them the way.

Christianity is a very resilient religion. Think about it: Jesus’s followers expected imminent triumph and instead Jesus was arrested, tortured and executed, and his followers were scattered. That should have destroyed the Jesus movement, but somehow they managed to carry on. The found strength in their community and in supporting one another, they were able to re-frame their mission – how and why they were going to move forward. And most importantly, they rewrote their narrative. They took the cross – a symbol of defeat and death – and they made it into a symbol of hope and new life. And Christians have been doing the same ever since.

I came to my school, OES, thirty years ago. Just before I arrived the school had experienced a catastrophic disaster, when nine members of the school, both students and faculty, were killed in a mountaineering accident on Mount Hood. It could have meant the end of the school, but somehow it survived. People found strength and comfort in one another, not to make the pain and loss disappear, but to bear the pain together. And the school rewrote its own narrative, to incorporate that terrible loss and to reshape the school’s mission to one of care for the whole student and service to the larger community, which had offered the school care in a time of crisis.

I think the same kind of thing is happening now in South Florida. In the midst of the incredible pain and grief of this human catastrophe, the community is finding ways to be resilient. They are drawing together to support one another. They are bearing one another’s pain. And they are rewriting their narrative by taking on a new mission: working together with others to make change in our society to stop the violence associated with guns. In the process they are giving themselves hope in the midst of despair and a sense of meaning and purpose, so that the loss of those children will not have been in vain. We don’t know how that will come out, but it’s a sign of great hope.

How do we cope with suffering? How do we develop those skills of resiliency, as individuals and as a community? We commit to supporting one another when we are in pain. We practice compassion, whose root meaning is to “suffer with,” for those in crisis. When we confront failure, we adapt to new circumstances. If our mission is failing, we don’t dwell on that failure but seek out new ways to move forward. And we continue to rewrite our life narratives, as individuals and as a community, to find new meaning and purpose in the midst of defeat and failure. We take up our own cross, confronting hardship and pain directly and finding in it God’s purpose for us, so that the cross of defeat and death becomes the cross of hope and new life.




First Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Feb. 18, 2018


Genesis 9:8-17

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

Psalm 25:1-9

This is a Gospel story. It is a Gospel story that takes place in an apartment building.

My friend Darcy is a residential property manager. His job takes him all across Canada, to apartment buildings in the North of British Columbia and in the South of Ontario. At these apartments, Darcy works with his staff of local building managers – with what another generation called superintendents – to make decisions about maintenance and renovations and interactions with the city and about the thousand and one other things that make a building into a place that people want to live. And at these apartments, Darcy meets with those especially attention-getting residents whom the building managers have saved just for him.

One of these residents was something of a legend. He was the source of constant complaints from his neighbours: the thumping music and the shouting at his almost nightly parties kept the whole building up well into the wee hours of the morning. He was selling drugs out of his apartment. And he and his many guests had damaged the building on several occasions, pulling doors off of hinges and kicking holes into drywall, although no one could say if the damage was a consequence of something as deliberate as vandalism or, rather, if it flowed out of plain-old drunken carelessness.

As many of you know, eviction is really hard. It is an expensive and time-consuming pain. That made Darcy wonder if there was another way. And so he decided that what he was going to do was to metaphorically “stand beside” this tenant. He wanted to see what would happen if the two of them could look at the horizon from the same perspective, if there was a way that they could discern a path that they could walk on together.

Looking at the world from his tenant’s perspective, Darcy immediately saw that this man’s goal was pretty clear: he wanted to party all the time. Darcy said, “I don’t understand that. I can’t understand that. And I don’t have to understand that. What I have to do is to reconcile his goal to party all the time with my goal that the party happens somewhere else.”

And so Darcy got on the internet and found a house for rent, all by itself at the end of a lane, perfect for parties. Then he went to a couple of contractors who were working on the apartment – they had a truck, now empty of the lumber and other equipment that they had installed – and he said to them, “If I keep you on the clock, would you mind helping someone to move?” The contractors said, “You bet!” And then Darcy knocked on tenant’s door. And he said:

“I’ve found you a place to live, I’ve got a truck and a couple of guys ready to move you. If I give you $300, will you move out right now?”

The guy said, “Okay.” And, just like that, he was gone.

Now, that story kind of amazes me. I think I’m amazed because most of us – myself included – when confronted with someone who was behaving like that tenant would probably say: That son of a gun. I’m going to fight this guy. I’m going to win. He’s not going to get a nickel out of me. I’m going to teach him a lesson. 

But Darcy didn’t do that. Instead, he took an action that saved him a heap of time and his investors several thousand dollars. Think of the cost of eviction, the rent that the tenant might have defaulted on during a protracted legal battle, the damage that he and his friends might have continued to do to the building, the ill-will that another three or five months of all-night parties would have created with the other tenants, the stable tenants who would have refused to move in when they heard that the apartment was party central For $300 and a couple of hours of overtime, Darcy solved his problem. That was an extraordinarily shrewd entrepreneurial move. But, more than that – and this is why I’m telling you this story this morning – it was a Gospel move, it was a Kingdom of heaven move.

Notice. Notice that Darcy’s interaction with the tenant was not predicated on win/lose model. When the tenant said “yes” and moved out, nobody lost. Everybody won: Darcy got a quiet apartment in which the doors stayed on their hinges and the drywall stayed undented and the tenant got a new venue and enough money for several kegs of beer. Notice that this “yes” flowed out of empathy. Darcy stood beside his tenant and looked with him at possibility. Notice that the empathy that Darcy extended was unilateral. And notice that his empathy was one step ahead of where the tenant was.

It is that unilateral and one step ahead empathy that really gets into Gospel territory. Darcy somehow figured out how to let go of all of the complaints of the playground: It’s not fair; He started it; Everybody thinks that he’s mean; I’ll only say I’m sorry after he says that he’s sorry. Darcy decided that, even if his tenant wasn’t going to move an inch towards reconciliation and a common solution on his own, Darcy was going to move towards him.

So. It is the end of the flood and Noah and his family step out of the ark and onto the miracle of dry land. We tend to concentrate on the earlier part of this story. And we tend to tell that story to children: countless picture books feature a boat overflowing with cute animals. In many ways, that is a strange choice. The flood is a hard story, a disturbing story, a story that demands that we ask: does a tale that features God killing everyone tell us something true and real about God?

But that’s another sermon.

Today, I’d like to focus on what we might call the moral of the story, the moment when God places his bow in the sky. This is not a cutesy rainbow, not a rainbow that has a bowl of Lucky Charms at its end or features My Little Pony dancing across it. This is the bow that is part of God’s bow and arrow – it is a weapon, like a sword or a dagger or a club. God places it in the sky, God hangs it on its rack like a rifle, in order to announce: I will never turn violence on humanity again.

What is extraordinary about God putting away the bow is that humanity doesn’t have to do anything to get God to behave this way. Humanity doesn’t have to apologise, to make a sacrifice, to go church, to write a cheque, anything. God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s empathy is unilateral and it is a step ahead of humanity.

God hopes that we will respond with empathy of our own. God wants us to respond with empathy of our own. God calls us to respond with empathy of our own. But God is going to give us this gift, God is going to hang up that bow, God is going to engage in unilateral, one step ahead empathy whether we reciprocate or not.  

God knows that extending this kind of empathy is a risk. Sometimes, when God unilaterally extends empathy to us, we don’t respond – or we respond with hostility. We remain as selfish as ever. And sometimes when you and I unilaterally extend empathy to another, we are greeted with cynicism or apathy or anger.

The story of Jesus’ life is that of unilateral, of radical empathy. And the story tells us that this empathy will not always be welcomed, that sometimes it will be greeted with violence. That violence comes because those who are invested in the status quo, those who like things pretty well the way that they are, find unilateral empathy to be profoundly threatening. In God’s empathy, all of the labourers in the vineyard received the same wage no matter when they begin their workday and the first are last and the last first and prodigals are welcomed home with parties.

To participate in the Gospel empathy is a risk. But the promise of the Gospel is that the risk is worth it.

Darcy’s story has an epilogue. I don’t think that it is an epilogue that he ever expected.

Months after he found his tenant a new home and, thereby, found quiet in the apartment building, Darcy ran into someone who knew the tenant. “Have you heard about Mark?” the mutual acquaintance asked, “You know Mark, the guy you got to move out?” Darcy said he hadn’t heard anything about him.

“Well,” the mutual friend said, “When you got him to leave, something changed for him. Mark was shocked, I think: no one had ever talked to him the way that you di before.

“Mark has stopped drinking. He’s stopped dealing drugs. He’s got a honest job doing roofing.

“He’s going to church now.”

We can’t know. When we engage in unilateral, one step ahead empathy, we can’t know what seeds we might be planting. We can’t know what new covenant we might be inviting into being. The Gospel tells us that this empathy might lead us to the cross. And it promises us that it will lead to resurrection.

Palm Sunday & Sunday of the Passion by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 21:1-11

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew:
Matthew 26:14- 27:66



When my wife, Phoebe, goes out of town, I often take the opportunity to go see horror films. A week ago, Phoebe and our three children were in Victoria, British Columbia for spring break, and so I went over to the Hollywood Theater to watch the horror/comedy movie Get Out.

I enjoy being surprised by art – by movies, by plays, by paintings – and so I chose to go to Get Out entirely based on its genre, based on a broad understanding of its subject matter or plot, and based on the recommendation of a friend whose opinion I really respect who simply told me:

Go see this movie.

And so I didn’t watch the trailer or anything – trailers tend to give away way too much. I just went.

I’d like to preserve the surprise for you as much as I can. This will be a sermon as much as possible without spoilers: if you are thinking of buying a ticket to Get Out – and I would totally encourage you to go see it, it’s actually the kind of horror movie that even Phoebe would probably like – you don’t need to plug your ears or recuse yourself from the church.

What I’d like to talk with you about this morning are two broad, spoiler-free elements characteristics of this movie that caught my attention. The first is something that I have been fascinated with for a while, and that is the use of horror to talk about a serious subject. And the second – and I’m less sure how to categorise this idea – is about how audience reaction completes a work of art, about how an artist might plan for that reaction and actually build that reaction it into her art.

First, horror as a vehicle for talking about something important. Horror – and I hope that I won’t shock or offend anyone by saying this – is an intrinsically silly genre. We are drawn to horror in part because it is a safe way of encountering something dangerous, of exploring our primal fears of death and of the dark and of decay. But we are drawn to horror as well to because of its marvellous, over-the-top absurdity. Monsters in their lairs and people jumping out of closets and guys wearing masks running around with hatchets are equal parts fearsome and ridiculous.

Because of horror’s absurd element, I was surprised and fascinated when I first realised that a lot of artists have used horror to talk about really serious subjects. The 2005 movie, The Descent, is about the aftermath of trauma; the more recent Australian film, The Babadook, is about grief; and Stephen King has long used his books to explore alcoholism, faith, loneliness, healing, parenting, aging, and so on. To paraphrase the movie reviewer Glenn Kenny, there is a lot of horror out there that is using its ridiculousness in a remarkably purposeful way.

Get Out is part of this unexpectedly serious tradition. In many ways, it is firmly rooted in the “dangerous cabin in the woods” tradition: young people leave the city and go into the woods and there they encounter fear. But Get Out uses the trope of the dangerous trip into the countryside to explore the thoroughly serious subject of race.

Get Out is about being black in America. Its primary character is an African American man in his mid-twenties, the sort of person whom we know is disproportionately likely to have a bad experience with the police, to go to prison, to be turned down for a job interview. The film’s director and writer, Jordan Peele, has said that Get Out had its genesis in his childhood, in a public school experience in which he was required to fill out a standardised form and check a box indicating his race. And he understood that the box that he was checking marked him as an outsider.

As is typical in horror, the Get Out begins in a fairly realistic or naturalistic place – the racism and micro-aggressions that the young man encounters in the movie are based on reality, on a tragically commonplace story – and then the film accelerates into something more magnified or exaggerated or intense.

Because horror movies – like adventure movies and romantic comedies – invite you and me as audience members to identify really heavily with the protagonist, the overwhelmingly white crowd around me in the Hollywood Theater had the singular experience of accepting Jordan Peele’s invitation to spend two hours looking at the world through the eyes of a young African American man.

From the safety of our seats in the Hollywood Theatre, my fellow white people and I got to have the horror of racism directed at us.

And that leads me to the second thing that caught my attention in Get Out, and that is how audience reaction completes a work of art. Jordan Peele is a really smart filmmaker. And my suspicion is that, in this movie, he is using our heavy identification with the lead character to turn a mirror upon us. Yes, through this film, Peele hopes to build up empathy between white folks and people of colour. But I suspect that Peele is simultaneously interested in obliging white folks to examine the ways that we carry ourselves in the world, the way that we think, the way that we act, the stories that we tell about the world and about ourselves.

Get Out presents white people with a deep temptation. Having spent two hours having this intense vicarious or simulated experience of being black, the temptation is to say: I understand what it is to be black in America. The temptation is to say that, because I cheered for the hero, because in a way I was the hero, I am absolved of my complicity of racism in America.

Peele makes particularly effective use of the tropes or the rules of horror in shaping audience reaction. In many ways, Get Out follows the narrative arc or rules of horror really closely, including ending the movie with cathartic violence, with the satisfaction of revenge. And Peele seriously tempts the audience into assuming our pre-assigned horror role of cheering for this violence, of celebrating as the hero with whom we identify engages in violence. During the screening that I attended, there was actually applause during a moment of violence, during a moment when one of the villainous white characters was killed. I saw an interview with one of the actors in the film who said that this kind of cheering is commonplace during screenings of Get Out. Somehow, our absolution is tied up with our approval of the onscreen violence.

These are the moments when Peele turns the mirror on us hard, when challenges his audience, when he challenges us to ask ourselves:

Who am I watching this movie?

Who am I to imagine that two hours with a bag of popcorn in my lap somehow has allowed me to understand the African American experience and that it has absolved me of my participation in racism? I am walking out of the theatre as white as ever, as free from anxiety about being pulled over as I drive home as ever. Who am I to cheer for violence? Do I really think that redemption or justice looks like turning violence away from one person and onto another? Yes, Get Out flips the script from the movies of an earlier era, wherein the violence is initially perpetrated by a person of colour – think about Westerns, about Cowboys and Indians – and then the audience satisfaction comes when the white folks get revenge. In this case, it is the person of colour who gets revenge.

But does that reversal make the violence better? Does that make the violence okay? Is violence good or holy provided that the right person, the member of the right group, is its victim?

Maybe the reason that I am so drawn to this film, is that it seems to me that a lot of the strategies that Jordan Peele uses in creating Get Out are the very same strategies that Jesus uses in the last week of his life, that Jesus uses beginning today as her rides into Jerusalem.

So. Jesus is a member of an occupied and an oppressed people. He is almost assuredly poor – his parents can’t afford a room or a crib when he is born, his friends are predominantly subsistence labourers, fishers, and farmers, and tradition has it that Jesus himself has followed his Dad into the carpentry business. Jesus is a person of colour and the occupying soldiers are white people. The Son of God, in other words, lives on the margins.

But as he enters Jerusalem today, Jesus takes on the role of king, he – and could we think of Jesus as artist or director, in this moment? – he performs the role of king. His entrance into Jerusalem is an imitation of a royal procession, maybe a satire of a royal procession, in which a peasant rides into the city like a conquering hero. Jesus is seated not on top of a stallion – the budget won’t allow for Jesus to get one of those – but on top of a donkey or a colt or maybe, somehow, a donkey and a colt at the same time.

And you and I: Jesus’ audience. We stand on the side of the road and we shout Hosanna, we shout our adulation. Somehow, this brown-skinned peasant, this impoverished member of an occupied people has become the hero of our story. On this day, it is easy to see the world through his eyes. It is easy to imagine ourselves elevated high into the air, seated on the donkey above the crowd.

In less than a week, Jesus will be elevated high into the air again.

This time as he is nailed to the hard wood of the cross.

Jesus will be sent to the cross by another crowd, a crowd that is hungry for blood, a crowd the celebrates violence, a crowd that shouts Crucify him!

Scripture doesn’t tell us how many people are in both crowds, how many of us shout both Hosanna and Crucify him! But my guess is that a good number of us, to our shame, are in both places.

And through his action, through his sacrifice, Jesus invites us, challenges us, to ask ourselves:

Who am I watching all of this? Who am I participating in all of this?

What does it mean to see the world, however fleetingly, through the eyes of one on the margins? What does it mean to be passive when violence is done to that marginalised person? Maybe even to facilitate and to benefit from the systems that do violence to that marginalised person? What does it mean when, as Jesus tells us in this story and throughout actions and his parables, the one on the margins, the one to whom the violence is done, is the Christ himself?

Great stories change us. A movie like Get Out changes us. And the greatest story of them all, the story of the Gospel, changes us. These stories of solidarity with those on the outside, with those who endure violence, change us not because the two hours of Get Out or the 28 chapters of Matthew magically eradicate our privilege and make us completely understand what it is to be black or poor or gay or live under occupation.

That’s way too simple, way to neat, way too easy.

These stories change us because they show us injustice. Because they invite us into empathy for and solidarity with the one to whom the injustice is done. Because they turn a mirror on us and show us our passivity or our complicity in injustice. Because they invite us to have the deep and humble curiosity to ask: Who am I watching all of this? Because they invite us to change. To participate with Jesus in grace and love and hope and life. To participate in resurrection.

Fourth Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17


This is the second of three Sundays on which we encounter a reading from the Gospel of John that the church has long associated with Lent and, in particular, that the church has long associated with the catechumenate: with that period of preparation for baptism or, if you are already baptised, with that period of deepening our encounter with God and with neighbour. This trio of readings began last week with Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, they continue this week with Jesus healing the man born blind, and they wrap up next week with the raising of Lazarus.

The Johannine scholar, Sandra Schneiders, whose work has profoundly shaped my understanding of the Gospel of John and, in particular, whose work has profoundly shaped what I am going to share with you this morning, describes these three readings as Archetypal New Testament stories, each of which could be synopsised with a single word. As Jesus comes to the well, we discover Water. As Jesus heals the blind man, we discover Light. As Jesus raises Lazarus, we encounter Life.

Water, Life, and Light.

These three, Water, Life, and Light are the central images of baptism – Schneiders suggests that we could also express them as Washing, Illumination, and finally Initiation into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today we sit with the middle of these three stories: Light or Illumination or, if you prefer, just plain old Seeing. This is an unusual story within the Gospel of John insofar as it has parallels in the Synoptic Gospels, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Most of the time, the individual or the community that wrote the Gospel of John drew from its own tradition of stories about Jesus and, outside of the Passion narrative, that tradition doesn’t overlap a whole lot with the other three Gospels. Today’s story is among the exceptions to that rule. All four Gospels tell us about the healing of a blind person. John and Mark even share the extraordinarily earthy detail that Jesus heals the blind man by using his saliva, by pressing his spit into the man’s eyes.

Because of the shared nature of the story, we have the opportunity to do something that we don’t get to do all that often, and that is to contrast the themes that John underlines with the themes highlighted by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Let’s begin with a question: what is the general structure of a healing miracle in the Synoptic Gospels? In broad terms (and there a lots of exceptions to this rule), we could say that these miracles tend to have four or five acts. First, someone in need of healing seeks out Jesus: the women with the hemorrhage grasps his garment; the man on the stretcher, with his friends’ help, gets lowered through the roof; the blind man – or, in some cases, the blind men – call out to Jesus, Have mercy on me! Second, Jesus heals the person or people, usually through physical touch, through his hands. (That part is the same as what happens in our story today.) Third, there is some kind of dialogue between Jesus and the healed person. Fourth, the gathered crowd is amazed. And fifth, Jesus will often tell the crowd or the healed person or the disciples to tell no one about what has happened.

Now consider today’s story.

Notice that the man whom Jesus heals does not call out to Jesus or seek Jesus. When the blind man or men call out to Jesus in the other stories, they inform those of us hearing the story that they know that Jesus heals, that they know who Jesus is. John’s blind man, by contrast, is almost passive in this interaction. Jesus is walking along the road. Jesus sees the blind man. And then Jesus initiates the healing. Both the seeing and the seeking, in other words, are reversed. The blind man – and this is one the many places in scripture where the boundary between the literal and the metaphorical vanishes – doesn’t see Jesus. That is a literal, physical reality: the man’s eyes don’t work, they haven’t since he was born. And nor does he see or understand Jesus spiritually. He begins the story blind in every sense.

Notice as well – and this is where I am going to spend some more time – the forensic or courtroom nature of John’s telling of this miracle. This reading is full of argument, some of it aggressive, most of it heavy with irony and double meaning. As soon as this passage begins, Jesus’ disciples present him with a theological question that borders on being a legal question: Whose fault is it that this man was born blind, the man or his parents? Jesus says that it neither he nor his parents are at fault. Then Jesus heals him. And the real argument begins.

The players in these arguments include the formerly blind man himself, the man’s neighbours, the man’s parents, the religious authorities, and finally Jesus himself. Even though everyone but Jesus and the healed man are part of a larger group, from a dramatic perspective there are never more than two characters on stage at any given time. That’s because the neighbours and the parents and the religious authorities all function in more or less the same way as Greek chorus: these groups speak together, there are no individuals whom we encounter. Each of them see – or not – in their own way.

The neighbours simply can’t believe what they have witnessed. At one level they see just fine: there is no question that the blind man is healed. But at another level, they don’t see at all. In a lot of ways, these folks are like many of us today: scepticism runs deep in our culture – we often speak of it as though it were a kind of intellectual virtue – and the upshot is that when we encounter something mysterious or miraculous we reflexively dismiss it. That just can’t be true. Even though the healed man is the same person whom the neighbours have know for years – his healing doesn’t change his appearance, after all – the neighbours say, “It can’t be him. It must be someone like him.”

The man’s parents cannot make a similar mistake or engage in a similar rationalisation – if you are a parent, there is no being unsure of whether or not someone is your child. The parents see that the miracle has happened but, because of their fear of the religious authorities (a fear that may be pretty darn reasonable – I want to be careful that we don’t get smug in our piety and judge these folks), they won’t name what they have seen out loud. When the religious authorities come to them, they say, “Go ask our son.”

And then there are the religious authorities and the healed man. These two characters (again, I’m conceptualising the authorities Greek chorus-style, so as effectively a single entity) have kind of mirror image one another over the course of the story. The man understands and articulates more and more about who Jesus is as the passage wears on: he initially refers to him as “the man called Jesus”; in his next conversation, he identifies Jesus as prophet; in his third conversation with the authorities he identifies Jesus as being from God; and in his final conversation – this one with Jesus himself – he sees. He confesses that Jesus is Lord and he worships him.

The religious authorities, by contrast, begin in a place wherein we might give them the benefit of the doubt, wherein we might assume that they are genuinely searching out the truth. But as the truth mounts, as the truth becomes increasingly incompatible with their world perspective, they become more and more hostile. When the man born blind proves to be an unsatisfactory witness – when he doesn’t give them the testimony that they want, the testimony that says Jesus is a charlatan or a phony – they declare the man to be a criminal himself, to be hopelessly lost in sin, and they drive him out.

Both the man and the religious authorities get a final conversation with Jesus. Jesus says to the one whom he has healed: you have seen. You have seen the Son of Man. By the story’s end, all of his blindness, real and metaphorical, is gone. He is healed in every way.

The religious authorities, by contrast, end in almost the opposite place. They had a glimpse of the truth, of the light. But they made a heroic effort to close their eyes. But John leaves a glimmer of hope at the story’s end. Because the authorities, at the very end, have this little burst of humility, this fleeting instant of holy doubt in which they say to Jesus:

We’re not blind –

Are we?

And the story ends with the possibility that they, too, will be healed. They too will see.

Jesus sometimes tells parables. And in encounters such as this one, he lives parables. This is a parable about how God sees us and seeks us. It declares the good news that, even when we can’t or won’t take a step towards God, even when we are resisting or rejecting God, God is still looking for us and loving us.

And this is a parable about seeing that, in a funny way, is also a parable about the necessity of becoming blind first. The religious authorities can’t see because they have convinced themselves that they have seen already. There is a cautionary tale here for all of us who spend a lot of time reading about Jesus and thinking about Jesus: we are always at risk of making Jesus into an object of study rather than someone with whom we have a lived encounter.

Somehow, in order to have the openness to meet Jesus, to be transformed by Jesus, to be healed by Jesus, we need to begin by acknowledging our blindness. We need to begin by acknowledging that we don’t see. Amazingly, it is in our blindness that Jesus seeks us, that Jesus touches us, that Jesus heals us. That Jesus leaves us blinking with surprise and wonder as, for the first time, we see the light of the Son.