- A global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time.
- An international service organization whose purpose is to bring people together in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.
- The world’s first and largest fraternal organization, and is based on the belief that each man has a responsibility to help make the world a better place.
These sound phenomenal. Changing the world. Humanitarian services. Making the world a better place. These descriptions are quite alluring and you can see why people would be drawn to these organizations. In the same order as they were described, these are the Kiwanis, Rotary, and Masons. I use these as examples to illustrate how if we were looking for a do-good social organization, church isn’t the only option. There are plenty of fine charitable organizations working to change the world.
The idea of a mission statement I think is an important one because it guides the collective—giving direction and clear purpose. In the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, there is a question that reads, “What is the mission of the church?” The answer reads, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” In constructing our own parish’s mission statement, we looked at this, but expanded on it. You can read our vision statement on the inside of the bulletin:
“We are a community of praise that places a priority on life-changing, hope-giving worship.
We are a community that works consistently toward building friendships.
We are a community of grateful people serving thousands of our neighbors each year.
We are a community that encourages healthy change and growth through the faithful, careful stewardship of rich resources.”
Distinct from these other organizations, there’s something more that draws us early on a Sunday morning and I would suspect that it’s because our lives have been changed or are in the process of being changed by Jesus. Today’s Gospel is an account of a man whose life was changed, in several ways, by his own personal encounter with Jesus.
In many ways, today’s Gospel isn’t just about Jesus doing going and helping this man see. There is a relationship dimension to today’s reading— theologians would say a Christological dimension— meaning a revealing of who Christ is, which presents itself to the blind man as an invitation into a deeper and new relationship with Jesus. Just as much time is spent in the discussion in today’s Gospel about who Jesus is— who the man is that healing the blind man— as is spent about the veracity of the healing. Who is this man that opens the eyes of the blind? How does he do so? Much like Jesus’ revelation of who he is to the Samaritan woman at the well, there is a similar and weighty revelation to this man.
Jesus says to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
This passage is important, as it’s one of the most explicit accounts in the Gospels which reveal Jesus not just as a prophet, but one worthy of worship, which is an act designated for God alone. This points to Jesus as more than a man, but indeed, the Son of Man, a divine title pointing towards his being God Incarnate, Emmanuel.
This notion of Jesus as God is hard to grasp—God being a human— and so many today are left doubting and questioning. It’s easy to pose the question to the unbeliever, “What would it take for you to believe? A miracle?” And in today’s lesson that’s the very thing that happens, and even then the Pharisees are left with hardened hearts, swallowed by disbelief. I think this points towards conviction and conversion being a deeper phenomenon, not something that happens through being convinced or proven, but through the fiber and essence of one’s life being changed through an encounter with God.
What encounters have you had with God in your life? In what ways has your life been changed by such encounters? How has faith and the Christian Way shaped who you’ve become? People can argue against your theology, what you believe, councils of the church have argued over religious issues and churches divided on the slightest ecclesiastical minutia, but nobody can argue about your own person experience and how your life has been shaped and changed by your faith.
So, just the other day I was going to Dutton Hardware to get some felt pads to put under the furniture in the Fireside Room. At the checkout line, while I was waiting for her to charge my credit card, this man next to me in line hands me this card for a Buddhist Organization and tells me that the mantra on the card helps manifest the unlimited potential of our lives and is the starting point toward peace. I took the card. I visited the website. I got in my car and thought, what would it look like for Episcopalians to be so bold in sharing an invitation to the Way of Jesus, or just an invitation to visit this beloved community of All Saints where no matter who walks in the door they are received with a warm, loving embrace.
Episcopalians have not always been comfortable with the idea of a testimonial when it comes to faith, probably because testimonials from the evangelical tradition come of coercive and manipulative, sometimes inducing guilt. Perhaps there is a form of testimonial we Episcopalians can formulate—an encapsulation of how our lives have been changed by our faith. When I meet people, being a thirty-two year old, gay priest they are always curious how I got into this field. It becomes an opportunity to share about my experience of Christ. When I stick to my own personal experience they are usually intrigued and ask a number of questions. I think there’s a power in being able to share such a testimonial and would encourage you to think about how you’ve been changed by your encounter with Jesus. For the man in today’s story, it is as simple as, “I was blind, and now I can see!”
I want to close in drawing attention to one of the most fascinating lines in today’s lesson. Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” In this story, he addresses not just physical blindness, but also spiritual blindness, a closure of oneself to God, much as the Pharisees’ hearts were hardened and closed to Christ, despite the evidence.
Are our hearts open to the ways God is at work around us? Do we have our eyes opened to the small ways God is gently prodding us to grow, the manifold moments in which Christ is present day-to-day calling us into growth? We may have our testimony, or begin today to formulate our testimony of how our lives have been changed by our own personal encounters with Christ—in prayer, church, the sacraments, this community. And we are continually called into change, into growth, deeper into godliness. So I ask you to open your eyes, or the eyes of your eyes…what do you see? What way has God been present in your life, and in what ways might God be calling you deeper in that relationship, in that journey of becoming?
© The Rev. Justin R. Cannon