4th Sunday of Lent
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
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
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
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 . . .