A Sermon for Sunday March 26, 2017 (The Fourth Sunday of Lent) John 9:1-17 and 24-41
One of God’s greatest gifts is…mud. Glorious, messy mud.
For many children, playing in the mud provides endless enjoyment.
Mud puddles to stomp and splash in after a good thunderstorm—brand new rain boots spattered with artful gray streaks.
Mud creeks to explore for signs of tadpoles, minnows and crawfish—squishy clumps wedged between the toes in that cool water.
Teens relish moments romping in the mud too.
I have a fond memory from seven years ago when the high school youth from this church did mission work in Houma, La in July. Nearly every day there was an afternoon downpour.
By the middle of the week, there had been so much rain that a pool of water, a couple of inches deep nearly 30 feet in length had formed on our lodging site—a muddy oasis that had to be experienced by a group of teens who had worked hard all day doing construction work. They spent more than an hour running and sliding through the giant puddle, giggling and shouting the entire time.
Did you ever have those exhilarating experiences growing up? Do you remember what it was like to play in the mud as a kid and the unbridled fun you had?
Of course, there are also plenty of adults who don’t mind playing and working in the mud. On mission trips to Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic or even a couple hours away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s impossible to avoid getting filthy.
After a long day of digging holes, carrying rocks, pouring concrete, laying bricks, building homes, adults—caked in a muddy mixture of dirt, cement and sweat—wear their grime as badges of honor. I’ve seen many adults tease each other over who has worked the hardest by the amount of mud they have on their clothes.
There is something exhilarating and satisfying when we are covered in God’s earth, isn’t there?
In the book Dangerous Wonder, author Michael Yaconeli recounts how a friend did a one-man show on Jesus’ life in which he imagined Jesus and the disciples taking a break in the Jordan River after many days of travel and doing ministry. The scene plays out like this:
Jesus and the disciples were all in the river taking baths when the beloved disciple, John, reaches down to the floor of the river and brings up a huge mud pie. Preoccupied with their washing, none of the disciples notices. John takes careful aim at his favorite target, Peter. SPLAT! The mud pie strikes Peter in the face. John immediately ducks underwater as though he is scrubbing.
Peter reaches for his own mud pie, takes careful aim at Matthew and lets it fly. WHAM! James wastes no time responding with his own mud pie, and soon bedlam breaks out amongst the disciples. A full-fledged mud fight is under way.
Philip and Bartholomew sneak up on Judas, whom they didn’t particularly like anyway, and nail him with two mud pies.
Simon the Zealot…lets loose with a huge mud pie. John ducks and the mud missile hits Jesus right in the middle of his forehead. All the disciples freeze. After a long silence Thomas leans over to Simon and says, “You idiot! You just hit the Son of God with a mud pie…He’ll turn us into turtles!”
Jesus gazes slowly at each of the disciples, each one fearing the worst.
With a knowing smile, Jesus stops when he sees Simon, who refuses to look Jesus in the eyes. Jesus reaches down into the mud and comes up with a very large mud pie and—BAM!—Simon is hit squarely on the top of his head, and as the mud slithers down his face, everyone, including Jesus, breaks into laughter.
During Jesus’ day, mud was a treasured substance that had many practical and enjoyable applications for daily living.
Mud was the prime building material people used to make things—jars, pots, plates, tools, ovens, art, tablets, roads, homes and other structures. Additionally, it was used to heal wounds on the skin or give relief to aching muscles, i.e. the mud facial and mud bath.
Now, as far as anyone knows, mud was not considered a cure for a more serious infliction like blindness. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from mixing spit and dirt into mud and placing on the blind man’s eyes.
Mud is an essential part of life and it is also sacred because it is of the earth that God created and formed out of darkness and brought into the light. Thus, it’s no surprise that Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, uses mud to create something new, to give sight to a blind man who was born unseeing.
More alarming is the Pharisees’, the religious leaders’ judgment of the blind man and Jesus. In spite of this extraordinary act of compassion, the Pharisees believe the blind man is a sinner from birth who is undeserving of healing and that Jesus is a heretic.
The Pharisees have become so self-righteous and full of absolutes and lofty ideals that they’re no longer grounded in God’s ways. They care more about their own status and prestige than getting their clothes dirty by helping their brothers and sisters in need.
The Pharisees have become completely detached from those they are called by God to serve. They claim to be all knowing about God while ignoring the God who dwells with the poor, sick and oppressed, the Christ who is willing to get mud on his hands to show love to another human being. They’ve forgotten the beauty and joy of playing and working in the mud and being in relationship with others.
The Pharisees behave as no one else matters but them and their absolutes about how God works. And sadly our history shows there have been hard-nosed religious folks who’ve acted just as arrogantly and dogmatically ever since.
The late science historian and mathematician Jacob Bronowski commented on this egotistical behavior of some human beings in the 1973 BBC documentary Ascent of Man:
“It’s said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That’s false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken.”
I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”
Jesus, according to the Gospel of John, spits on the ground and makes mud with his own saliva and touches the blind man’s eyes. And minutes later, after washing his face in a nearby pool, the man is able to see for the first time in his life!
Christ’s actions are a reminder that we as his followers are supposed to touch people—to reach out and dirty our hands if necessary to bring love and life to someone else. We as followers are called to meet Jesus in the mud.
And it will be clear and beautiful… if we have the eyes to see it