John 9:1-41

A Man Born Blind Receives Sight

As he walked along, he saw 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. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10 But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11 He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ 12 They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16 Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20 His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesusto be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ 25 He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26 They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27 He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ 28 Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30 The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34 They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ 36 He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37 Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38 He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39 Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41 Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Last week we talked about “God Encounters”…I had a question for this week:  Are God encounters always notice?  Do we recognize them while they are unfolding?  

What do you think?

This week, we see a man born blind in front of Jesus on the Sabbath…He didn’t ask to be put in that situation…actually, the disciples presented him with a  question to Jesus on sin.  Folks at that time often believed that sin caused physical ailments.  If you were blind, or crippled somehow, it was because you or your family had somehow sinned.  Jesus responds that this man, nor his parents had sinned, but Jesus also saw him in his blindness and saw an opportunity for God’s power to be at work.

What was that blind man thinking though?  I wonder…he’s only known darkness in his life.  Yet, here he is, in front of Jesus and he’s hearing these words that it’s not his fault that he’s blind.  He’s probably heard all of his life that somehow God caused his blindness because of something he had done or his parents had done…his view of himself and of God was probably complicated at best, more likely bitter or disillusioned.  

And, yet, Jesus healed him.  It was a strange healing, wasn’t it.  Jesus put mud in his hands, then told the blind man to go to a pool and wash his eyes out…the man did, and he was healed!  No one asked Jesus, he just did it.  Why saliva?  That sounds gross, but given that some folks back in the day thought saliva had healing powers. 

Now, today, we know that’s not true!  So, don’t go around spitting on people to ward of the coronavirus!  That will give us a different outcome I believe!

The man goes and tell his neighbors and friends, and they were astonished and wanted to meet this Jesus.  

Of course, the pharisees and religious leaders had questions of their own…they were threatened by pride and wanted to keep the status quo.  So, they formed an inquisition…they did not want the status quo to be shaken.  

Yet, this man’s disruption of being healed did just that!  They were mad, they drove him out, brought in his parents, questioned them as well.  But, the parents did not try to rescue their son, they allowed him to have agency and put it back on the Pharisees!  Brilliant!  

The formerly blind man was brought back in, he gave witness to being blind and now being able to see, a second time!  He was kind of snarky…I liked his response…ultimately telling the pharisees that the they don’t see God when God is right in front of them…confronting them of their blindness!  

So, they excommunicate him.  At that point, I don’t think the guy cared.  Jesus found him after Jesus heard what had happened…and he found a true friend in Jesus.  He believed out of Jesus’ belief in him.  

Now, friends, we may be walking around blind these days.  With all that’s going on, a common theme with this pandemic, is that we know that we don’t know.  With the pandemic that still has a lingering effect, and so much in life, we are blind.  Maybe even a bit lost (or a lot) lost in our blindness.  If you feel that you are, I would encourage you…being lost means you are getting closer to finding God or God finding you.  It’s part of the process really, the process of growth, illumination, conversion, transformation. 

This season that we find ourselves can be a time of tremendous possibility for growth and becoming the people that we went to be!  

We are not alone, even as we stumble about.  

A good friend of mine, Rev. Nancy Ross-Zimmerman read this poem called “I Stand by the Door.” at the church we both served a few years ago.  The poem reminds me a lot of what we’re talking about today, so I wanted to share the first stanza:

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world-
It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind people,
With outstretched, groping hands.
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it …
So I stand by the door.

Friends, no matter where we find ourselves today, may we know that God is with us…that we stand by the door.  We may be lost, we may be blind, but God’s divine flow is at work. May we crave to know where the door is, may we not be satisfied with our blindness, or lostness, but may we also know that we are connected to a God who loves, a Jesus who shows us how to live, and the Spirit of God that guides us when we listen and connects us to God, to one another, and to ourselves.  


John 4:5-30

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17 The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25 The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26 Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28 Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,can he?’ 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

Encounters…are we open to them in conversations?

I know that this past week has been full of encounters.  And in each one of them, there have been nuggets of beauty, some amazing connections, even if just small ones.  But, often those small encounters become so much bigger in time.

I had one conversation this week over coffee early in the morning.  Something was said that continued to grow within me throughout the morning.  I had to text my friend and share some of it with him.  It was a God encounter in the midst of our vulnerability together.  

God encounters are everywhere around us, the key is being able to be open to those encounters in the everyday…that takes a lot of curiosity and really, a sense of moving beyond ourselves.

Our gospel story this morning was a God encounter that surprised the Samaritan woman at the well, a good surprise that she was open to and changed her world.  It didn’t happen in a temple, a church, or even on top of a mountain…it happened at a common daily experience for this woman, getting water from a well.  

It caught her by surprise in so many ways…first of all, it’s the 1st century and she’s a woman.  Men didn’t approach women randomly like that, much less a Jewish rabbi initiating a conversation with a woman from a marginalized community with a potentially sketchy personal history.  But, didn’t matter to Jesus…Jesus saw humanity, all of humanity, in a different way.

I say “potentially sketchy personal history”, because the context of this text may yield a different story other than the one passed down through oral history.  Friend and author, Alexander Shaia says this about the well and the woman at the well”

…(Jacob’s)Well appears to be of like importance to the Samaritans as is the Jerusalem Temple to the Hebrews. And it appears that in the First Century, Jacob’s Well was connected to the worship of Baal and a select group of Samaritan women priestesses ministered The Well.

Yes – most likely – in the text Jesus the Christ is speaking with a Woman priest – her village’s spiritual elder. Also consider that a Samaritan priestess was considered the bride of Baal (their primary god – and a powerful fertility god.) Further, Baal was believed to have five faces – or five aspects.

If Alexander is correct, and I believe that he is, then this woman had a pretty good voice and understanding of her people and especially with women.  This story also comes after Jesus’ late night discussion with Nicodemus that we talked about last week.  Just like last week’s chat, where Nicodemus comes at unusual time and meets Jesus away from the temple, Jesus meets this woman in a common area away from the places where we may normally associate where one would have God encounters.  The writer of John seems to be sharing these stories to remind us that God surprises us with chance meetings, conversations, in the most ordinary of places.

Again, Alexander Shaia says this about the context of this text coming right after Jesus’ encounter with the woman:

In my mind, we should be outraged that many today will continue to portray this great and powerful woman in demeaning terms. In the Gospel, she is contrasted with Nicodemus who exhibits no growth by his meeting with The Christ. While she – an equal spiritual teacher and priestess – shows humility and transformation in receiving Jesus the Christ and his teaching about oneness.

This woman was going to get water, it was a task, she needed water.  She probably came here regularly.  Now, this was also an unusual part of the day more than likely, Jesus was hanging out there, and this woman probably didn’t want to come into contact with folks…not only because Jesus was male, Jewish and a rabbi, and she was a woman, Samaritan, and potentially had a history that was different from his…she wasn’t used to folks simply striking up conversations, much less men like Jesus.  Regardless of her being a priestess or even an outcast, the different genders had different ways of interacting and it was unusual for such a conversation to take place.  

Yet, Jesus asks her for a favor…a drink of water…he was thirsty and he was showing to her a humility of being able to ask for help.

The woman gives a response of why ask me, Jesus responds with this “if only you knew this gift…” and to talk about living water.  Now, living water was a common term back then…it meant flowing water…and they were probably at a spring.  But, Jesus gave this living water a deeper meaning…this water flowed from the very heart of God…and she would never be thirsty again.

Jesus was probably picking up that this woman seemed a bit lonely.  She was hungry for a deeper sense of connection…Jesus is saying that he was there to offer her friendship with himself, friendship with God, connection to others through God’s Spirit and the living water of God’s flowing relational love.  

She wasn’t understanding the theology of the moment, she may not have clued in to all that Jesus was saying, but she knew that she wanted this living water, that there was something there.

But, then Jesus has to make it a bit uncomfortable…go get your husband…come back.  She says she doesn’t have one and Jesus affirms that, but says she’s had 5 husbands…she doesn’t deny it…but, sensing that this Jesus isn’t judging her, she’s a bit uneven, that’s not what she’s used to…so, she try to change the subject, saying he must be a prophet…and tries to throw out some theology herself and making statements about where Jews and Samaritans worship…Jesus doesn’t jump into her argument, doesn’t own her anxiety…he knows who he is and states that…and then has a huge statement when she says that they are all waiting for the Messiah….Jesus says, well, the wait is over, the Messiah is here, in front of her.

Alexander Shaia says this about the “five husbands” as well:  

“(It)…is more likely a reference to her being a bride to the five aspects of Baal than to any form of a physical marriage.

I don’t know where you’d identify with this story, or what you think about the context, but this is rich with application.  Friends, know that God encounters happen all of the time, in the most ordinary of circumstances.  God wants you to have living water flowing from God, through Jesus and by the power of God’s Spirit into you…giving you life, life that is abundant and without end.  And, life that starts NOW!  It may make you uncomfortable, it may be risky, but the example of the Samaritan woman is good for us today.  We may feel like we have things to hide, or there may be things we don’t understand and we don’t want to risk being vulnerable in conversations, we may try to avoid God encounters as they can make us uncomfortable, we may argue with God or with others or have others argue with us, but when one takes risks, engages in active listening and conversations with a God who simply loves us…then we are transformed.

The Samaritan woman bears witness to this growth.  She goes and tell her friends and crowds came to meet Jesus.  The power of transformed life brings transformation to others.

When the disciples show up, they were surprised to see Jesus speaking to a woman, and a woman with a unique history…yet, Jesus breaks down walls that keep folks from being in relationship…that’s what God does…God came to save, not condemn, and God came to make sure all were included and loved.  

And, we, the body of Christ, are called to be open to God encounters with others and to even be looking for those God encounters.  You never know what may happen by simply walking down to the UDF, through the neighborhood, or right around the corner, or anywhere and being open to listening to others and engaging in authentic conversation.

My bet is that those God encounters with others will have a profound impact on you, they do on me when I’m open to them.  Now, we don’t go into those conversations thinking, hey I’ve got to meet x amount of people and get them into the church…no, do what Jesus does, simply engage folks in a loving way and let living water flow…and, when our lives are being transformed, we want to share it with others…and, others may also be looking for living water and want us to take them to this Jesus, this Immanuel, God with us, to hear about someone who knows all about us but doesn’t judge us, but loves us and gives us life brimming with living, cleansing, loving, water without end.  


John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesusby night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘Youmust be born from above.’ The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I’m going to ask you to do something a bit different this morning.  All of us, sit here for a moment, quietly with our eyes closed.  Just for a moment.  Now, as you sit, think about what’s going on in the air around you.  Atoms colliding, bouncing off of each other, air flowing.  Maybe you hear someone breathing.  Now, think about the space between you and the person sitting closest to you, or between you and me.  What’s filling that space, what makes space, space?  

Now, think of the activity going on around you.  God is present, God is moving, God is still, God is all around you.  Even inside of you.  Now, think of your body, your breath, your heart pounding.  God is moving deep inside of you, flowing through your blood, flowing through your heart…think of your breath, you are breathing God in and out, God is everywhere.  

Now, open your eyes.  This presence of God all around is happening every day, we catch glimpses of it, those are called moments of transcendency.  Yet, often we are in the dark, we can’t always see what’s happening around us.

Our new testament story happens in the dark.  It probably wasn’t pitch dark, but we think it was at night, or dusk. Nicodemus, a religious scholar who was interested in the words of Jesus came to Jesus at night time.  I’m not sure if there is much significance in the time of day that Nicodemus came, but he came and possibly the author had him come at night to symbolize Nicodemus was able to see some shadows, but he couldn’t see clearly, he was in the dark.

What Jesus shared with him was much like trying to explain what was happening with Isaiah.  There are things happening all around us, a deeper reality, that we only catch glimpses of…we are in the dark, yet, we have been given a light to see through Jesus and the inner and outer workings of God as being 3 in 1 persons, the Trinity.  

Jesus and Nicodemus had this conversation, and there were probably others around.  Jesus, as a rabbi and Nicodemus as a scholar, both had disciples, and those disciples were always around.  Jesus said everything out in the open, he was pretty transparent, yet, different folks maybe heard different things, even if they were around him.  One of the things that I’ve learned over the years as a leader and as a pastor, you can say things, a lot, even over-communicate, but folks are probably going to hear from their perspective.  I’m the same way.  We all are.  Jesus’ disciples were like that, they heard a lot, yet they had so many different ways of hearing what Jesus was saying.  It really is an amazing miracle, and a testimony to the power of God’s Presence that eventually led the disciples into a place of unity.

Nicodemus had some very good questions, he may have been timid in asking them, or afraid of what others thought, or simply curious and not sure how to ask them.  Yet, he came to Jesus and asked.  

He wanted to know how to enter the Kingdom of God, how to be in God’s Presence just as Isaiah was.  Jesus tells him that he has to be born again, or anew, or afresh.  That phrase “born again” used to get a lot of press, but really means a sense of seeing and experiencing things in a new way, with a new perspective or change of heart.  

The phrase “born again” literally translates into being “born from above”.  And Jesus goes on to say that this isn’t an action that humans can evoke, but that it’s a movement of God’s Spirit and Water.  Water in this case would be symbolic or a metaphor of a flow of love over us and through us, a cleansing, a making things new.  The Spirit is God’s action in our lives that gives us life and moves us towards a sense of God’s expansive love.  Nicodemus gets hung up on the idea of someone literally being born again, going back into the mother’s womb….but Jesus is using this phrase to literally say that there is a birthing, we have to go through a birth canal out of a protective mode of being and into the realities of life…and that God goes through the pains of childbirth along with humanity.

You know though, that’s a hard concept for us.  Birth is beautiful and filled with expectation and possibility.  But, we don’t want to leave the friendly confines of the womb.  We want to stay comfortable and in control, yet God moves us towards birth, towards maturity, towards a new way of living.

Jesus doesn’t mess around with Nicodemus, doesn’t play games, he goes straight to a hard saying…and then says that God’s Spirit is also like the wind.  The Hebrew word for spirit is the same for wind, Ruach…it’s also Pneuma in Greek.  It blows where it pleases.  The question for the readers of this passage, do we have our hearts, our bodies, our lives towards God’s Spirit?  Do we try to bundle ourselves up in scarves or jackets of anxiety, control, identity in something, even church to shield us from the wind, or are willing to turn into the wind and let it carry us where God’s Spirit intends?

Nicodemus doesn’t quite get it though, and begins to think linear, or binary.  He can’t see that there’s a metaphor being used of being born anew.  But, he stayed in the conversation.

Jesus goes on to say that entering the Kingdom, or recognizing that existence of a deeper reality of God’s presence required water and spirit.  That God is like a seed being planted in this world and that the Spirit is like water causing it to grow.  It’s also symbolic of an old life being buried in water and rising again to being something more than it was before.  

This is an ongoing process also.  I’ve been born “from above” or anew often…even in the 5+ years that I’ve been here as your pastor.  I’ve asked a lot of questions, I’ve been curious, I’ve shared fully who I am as best as I can.  I’m amazed of so many of these discussions have shaped me and us together.  Our hopes and dreams here at Fleming Road UCC are starting to come into view by many of us, it’s still a bit fuzzy, but we all seem to be asking similar questions.  Yes, we’ve had to figure out some things and we are still in that process, but as we share and have conversations…sometimes even in the dark, many of us are experiencing what it means to be born anew, to have new life, new beginnings, and to dare to dream some awfully big dreams together as we work on relationships.

That’s the essence of what John is sharing in the third chapter.  God’s nature is relationship.  God’s desire and character is relationship.  The trinity is a relationship.  God the father honors the Son the Son honors the Spirit and vice versa…no particular order, they mutually indwell in each other.  Out of that relational force, the beautiful relational physics of it all, we, and the earth were created, we were saved, and we are sustained.  

This 3 in 1 God is one with us, we are not God, but God brings us up into the communion or relationship of the trinity through the Son.  Jesus is both divine and the one true human.  We related to Jesus, he is our brother…our redeemer kinsman who brings the full force of the relationship of the creation, death and resurrection, and rebirth and sustainment into our lives, into humanity.  

Then we come to the last two verses…we know John 3:16, we see it on the TV almost every time we watch a major sports event…someone is holding up a sign with those words on it.  That’s great, but I wonder if that person realizes the world that is unseen that’s at play.  We are called to  believe in something unseen, yet experienced deeply.  

It’s also a message of Jesus not coming to condemn as it says in vs. 17, but to save!  The world!  All of us!  And it gives us the message of life, real life.  When the bible talks about eternal life, it’s talking more about the quality of life, not the quantity.  

Here’s what I know, I’m willing and I’m experiencing that same willingness in this church with you…and in this community.  It’s happening, we are all being born from above.  God’s Spirit is moving, drawing us into the relational and loving character of God, while reshaping us and the world around us.  Let’s live into that eternal reality…which, in Christ, is not only quality, but it truly is forever.