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Readings: 4th Sunday of lent

21 March 2014


4th Sunday of Lent
Mothering Sunday

1 Samuel 16.1-13; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-end

Merciful Lord, absolve your people from their offences, that through your bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the chains of those sins which by our frailty we have committed; grant this, heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.

YEARS ago, visiting the Mount of Beatitudes, our peace was suddenly and rudely interrupted, as a screaming, diminutive nun waving a broomstick chased a woman from the church. Her offence? Wearing a sleeveless dress. Someone commented ironically: "The Lord looks on the outward appearance, not on the heart."

King Saul, the handsomest and tallest man in Israel, had proved to have a better outward appearance than heart, so now Samuel had to anoint his successor. But apparently he was still looking on the outward appearance, for Mr Universe. After Jesse's seven sons stood before Samuel, and produced no response from God, the search went out for the youngest.

Preaching on these texts in Durham Cathedral one year, I used the Godly Play approach, which works with children's natural curiosity and imagination to build the story, asking repeatedly: "I wonder what it was like . . ." So, imagine yourself as a child standing in front of someone in authority - perhaps your head teacher - who surveys you in silence. I wonder what it was like.

I wonder what it was like for Eliab to stand in front of the famous prophet Samuel, waiting for him to say something.

I wonder what it was like for Jesse to see his eldest son standing there.

I wonder what it was like for Jesse and his son to hear: "No, not this one."

And then the next, and the next, and the next, down to the seventh: I wonder what each thought on being called, after his older brothers had been rejected.

And still: "No. The Lord has not chosen any of these."

To break the impasse, Samuel asked the obvious question: "Are all your sons here?" Jesse had not thought it worth mentioning David. Unlike the nun with the broom - unlike most of us - God looks not on the outward appearance, but on the heart, and something about young David made him a man after God's heart (Acts 13.22).

I wonder what it is like to be open fully to, or indeed praying for, God's unexpected calling on us, or on people we know.

I wonder how we can help them grow into that vocation.

Alongside this story of God's call of young David is the story of the blind man healed by Jesus. It is a rare significant encounter for which John does not give a time. It just happened as Jesus walked along, and it was entirely at Jesus's initiative. The man was clearly bemused, but did what he was told, and had his sight restored. Jesus did not even wait for the outcome. There is food for thought about chance encounters.

Then there is the almost-comic situation when his parents were called to account for what had happened. Like the situation with Samuel and Jesse, where things did not add up and, in desperation, Samuel asked Jesse: "Have you got any more children?", in this desperate situation, the parents were wheeled in to help. But they were at an impasse.

I wonder what it was like for them to have no explanation for what had happened to their son, and to be unable to protect him from the fury of the religious authorities.

I wonder what it is like to be caught up in the ways of God, when we do not understand what is going on.

I wonder what it is like to sense that God is doing something in our lives that breaks out beyond what our family or our friends expect of us.

And, on this Mothering Sunday, when we hear two stories where parents find their children's being led by God into uncharted territory, I wonder what it is like for all of us, parents or not, to nurture other people in the unexpected ways of God, and to free them to respond to the call of God.

Perhaps our Lenten discipline can be to let our minds wander into the stories we are hearing week by week, and lead us to wonder. Who knows what we will discover?

Finally, notice the man's response to Jesus's questioning: "Lord, I believe." And he worshipped Jesus. That is the response that John has been working towards in his Gospel. But, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, we do not know what happened next. I wonder . . .

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