A sermon preached on the 4th Sunday of Lent, at the 10:30am service
Mud is a reality of living in the Pacific Northwest. On the west side, mud is a byproduct of the wetter climate that is experienced. Here in the Inland Northwest, mud is a reality of our close connection to nature, with our rivers and lakes being sources of recreation, relaxation, and even concern like in recent weeks when they flood, reminding us all that this creation is not containable and we have a responsibility within this creation that must take into account the very real fact that we can only control so much, that we can only avoid so much.
My own memories of mud are tied to some of the best and most frustrating memories I have. From making mud pies in the little patch of mud lovingly made by dirt and hose by my grandparents, the excitement to teach my own child about how awesome mud can be for playing in, to getting stuck trying to navigate an oversaturated field or having mud seeping into the very fresh and clean sneakers I have only worn a handful of times, mud is a part of this creation with which we all have a connection. Mud carries with it many reactions. Mud is a primal part of this earth. That combination of water and dirt that creates something new, creates something that can disrupt our best laid plans, creates something that is the most fun one toddler can have, creates something that can heal, rejuvenate, restore, holds a universal presence and understanding in this world. It is this very basic and universal part of creation which informs our story today. It is this very basic and universal part of creation that changes many fates today.
Here we have Jesus standing in front of a blind man. And not just a blind man, but a man who was born blind, clearly someone whom God has not showed favor upon, someone who is paying not for his own sins but the sins of his parents, of his family. The thought that this is a man who could be healed, is not one that has ever been thought. The temerity of Christ in standing before this man with the intention to heal is shocking. The disciples did not think this man would be healed. They were more concerned with the sin that somehow had caused his blindness. Yet here is Christ. Here is Jesus, a man, a healer, a prophet, standing in the road with a blind man, and he spits on the ground. Then he reaches down to that dirt, mixes his saliva in with the dirt, and brings up in his hands mud. Mud that he has made. Mud that did not exist but now does through his actions. And he takes this mud and places it on the man’s eyes. He takes this universal, primordial substance of mud, and in placing it on the blind man’s eyes seeks to restore sight where sight never existed.
And he gives this man a personal responsibility in his healing. He cannot simply wipe the mud off his eyes and be healed. He has the added responsibility of going and washing himself of this mud. The cleansing and purifying act of washing himself in water finishes the promise that is made in the mud. In following through on this directive the man illustrates his faith. The blind man can only come to see through his own volition, by exerting his own physicality to experience healing, he has to work for it.
And this is where mud changes the discourse. This is where mud becomes a central piece to understanding work, understanding sabbath, understanding Jesus Christ and the example of faith and ministry that has been left for us.
The Pharisees are dumbfounded in meeting the (now formerly) blind man. But their amazement is not in the miraculous healing that has occurred. They are not stirred with great wonder at the power with which Jesus seems to posses, creating sight in a man that has never known sight, through the making of mud with his own saliva. Instead they are infuriated that Jesus would have the nerve to work on the sabbath. “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath!” they decry. For in this act of healing they can only see that Jesus has exerted himself on a day of rest, on a day that should be solely focused on the worship of God. Jesus not only heals on the sabbath, a physical act that requires great energy and focus, but Jesus creates on the sabbath. Jesus creates mud on the sabbath. It’s not as though he found some organic all-natural mud product that had (perhaps questionable) healing properties and advised the blind man to use it in a specific manner, rather Christ creates mud through the dust that we were all created out of and his very own saliva. It’s a gritty, dirty thing to do, and it requires from Christ work, dirty work.
And the work does not stop with Christ. Jesus instructs the blind man that in order to be healed, he too must work for it. He must take personal responsibility for his healing and do work in order to see again. Now between you and me, if I am the blind man, I making my way to the pool of Siloam in as haphazardly, reckless, and fast a manner as a blind man can, sabbath or not.
But here’s where the barrier arises. Here is what the Pharisees cannot come to grips with. How can healing have occurred on the Sabbath? No healer of this time and age would do work, would heal someone, on the Holy day, so who is this healer, this so-called prophet Jesus anyways? How dare he offer such an act? And how dare this supposed blind man (for they aren’t too sure he really was blind), how dare he make such a claim that not only has he been healed through the work of a man and his own work in being physically responsible for his own healing, but that they would commit such an act on this the sabbath!
But how could he not?
How could Jesus, with this great power that exists within him, the faith that his works are ordained by God, not offer healing to a man whom others have labeled as a carrier of sin, born blind because of the transgressions of his parents, or perhaps even that he sinned before he was born in such an egregious manner that he would bear the burden of blindness all his life?
How could the blind man, born without sight, informed that this was God’s punishment for a sin or sins that he didn’t commit, or at least he didn’t actively commit, not take the opportunity to be healed when he comes face-to-face with God in the form of Jesus Christ?
They couldn’t not do this. They couldn’t not do the work that was necessary to create healing, to create a new identity, to create new life. They couldn’t not, and not because they didn’t respect the sabbath, but, at least with Jesus, because he respected the sabbath so much that he knew this act of healing needed to happen at that moment, in that place, with that dust, and his own faith in the gifts given him by God.
This is the example of Christ’s mission laid before us today. It is a reminder that there is no right time, no right place, no perfect circumstances within which we minister to one another, within which we reach out to and heal one another. If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, then we must embrace the physicality that is necessary to create healing in the manner that Christ does. We must embrace the confidence we have within ourselves that the gifts that we have been given, the work that we have been ordained to do, are enough to create healing. We have to know that we can spit on the ground, create mud out of the dust and our own saliva, and create healing in this world. We have to make mud for this world.
Because it is so basic, so universally present, so easy to make, mud for us can come in many forms. Mud for us can be the hours we volunteer to help others even when it’s not convenient for our schedule. Mud for us can be the helping hand we offer to a stranger, a homeless person, even an enemy. Mud for us becomes the tangible way we are living out the work of Christ in this world. Our mud leaves its mark on the lives we touch. And when those who receive our mud are cleansed through their faith that it will restore them, it facilitates a transformation that cannot be denied no matter how hard others may try. We are tasked today to go and make mud to heal this world. We must do this because it is the only way we can show our faith in ourselves, as much as in God, to the rest of the world. Go create mud and change the reality of this world.