March 26, 2017 sermon Lent 4
Seeing More Clearly
We are taking the opportunity during Lent this year to reflect on what it means to us to be Christian people. One of the tools to help us with that this year is a prayer written by 13th century Bishop Richard of Chichester: “Day by day, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly; to love thee more dearly; to follow thee more nearly, day by day.”
This prayer helps us reflect on questions such as these in Lent: What does it mean for us to see God more clearly? What does it mean for us to love God more dearly? What does it mean for us to follow Jesus more nearly?
This year, I have invited 4 people from our congregation to tell you about their faith. Both Joyce Aasland and Deb Saffin have shared parts of their journey as Christian people.
This week was supposed to be Ken Wellington’s turn. He was looking forward to it, but his wife Gwen had a mild heart attack last weekend. So we decided that Ken and I would switch places.
Now, I’m used to standing up here and thinking with you about our faith together. Sometimes in my sermons, I will give an illustration from my own life; but generally I try not to talk too much about myself. After all, it’s not about me.
But today will be different. I’ve asked the others who have done this to speak from their personal experience. Why is it important to you to be a follower of Jesus. So I will do the same.
One of the very important images for me in my personal faith is that my life is a dialogue with God. Sometimes God and I speak words of love to each other. Other times, we argue and fight. Sometimes I just ignore God—and usually regret that later on. It’s kind of like a marriage that way.
Our dialogue is an ongoing process. It shifts and changes with the circumstances of life. But just as importantly, a dialogue is a two–way street. We talk and listen to each other. It’s not just me submitting to God. It’s God and me working together to try and figure things out …
… like this. I grew up in the church. Up till I was 17, we attended the Canadian Reformed Church — a very conservative Dutch church. We went every Sunday without fail. I couldn’t wait till I was 18 so I could tell my parents where to go.
Then everything changed. My parents left that church in a very public way. I still remember a couple of elders coming to our house one night and telling my parents that they were going to lose their salvation.
And I was thrilled. Here was my chance. I could sleep in on Sundays! I didn’t have to get up and be bored out of my mind. So the next Sunday, as my parents started church–shopping, I slept in.
I was just getting up when they came home … and they were laughing and talking with some animation about what they happened in church that morning. There was something very wrong with this picture. You don’t come home happy from church. But I wasn’t going to ask!
The next week, they went back to the same church—Presbyterian—and when I woke up, they were laughing again and talking about how much fun they’d had in church that morning.
Fun? In church? No way!
It happened again the third week … and I was intrigued.
The fourth week, I went with them. By the seventh week, I was the choir director at that church. I was hooked!
Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour?
I discovered a faith in which there is room to laugh, room to enjoy myself, room to be who I truly was and to grow in my identity as a person whom God loves deeply. In my own life, there is a deep joy in this relationship with God, and that joy sustains me in the tough times of life.
Shift ahead about 8 years. I was a student at UBC and living in Vancouver and attending a church there. Every once in a while, I would be asked to preach, and every time I did so, people would tell me I should become a minister.
“No thanks,” I would say. “I don’t like the hours, I don’t like the pay, I don’t like the people.”
And every once in a while, there would be niggling little thought in my head, “You should be a minister”. And I would say, “No thanks. I don’t like the hours, I don’t like the pay, I don’t like the people.”
One day, a friend of mine was talking with me about where his life was going. He wasn’t satisfied with his career choice, and we talked. He suddenly turned to me and said, “You’re going to be a minister, aren’t you?”
I was shocked. Was it that obvious to everyone else, and not to me? So I said, “No thanks. I don’t like the hours, I don’t like the pay, I don’t like the people.”
Well … you know the end of the story. Here I am. Some days, I still don’t like the hours; some days, I still don’t like the pay; some days, there are some people … well, not here of course!
Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour?
Skip ahead about 20 years. I had thrown myself into ministry, and mostly it was very good. My dialogue with God was ticking along. I made lots of mistakes. I did a few things right. I grew in my faith. I learned how to be a priest. I was competent, I was confident, I was on my chosen career path …
… and my life went to hell. My marriage disintegrated in a very nasty way. My friends … well they weren’t as good friends as I thought they were. The church I was serving when this happened … some of the people wondered why God was punishing me, just like the disciples in our gospel this morning—“who sinned that this man should be born blind?” What did Yme do to deserve all this? He must have done something terrible.
I fell into a deep depression. I’ve talked about that before. Today, I see that depression as a gift. It made me more gentle with myself, more gentle with others. It made me a better priest. It made me a better person.
But at the time, all I knew was darkness. I discerned that I had forgotten how to laugh. My life was all seriousness, and it was seriously broken. The faith I discovered when I was 17 had evaporated.
And what happened is that God and I were no longer on speaking terms. We ended our dialogue. Well, I ended it. I didn’t know if God was still speaking. To be honest, I didn’t really care. I fell into the ditch of faith, and I wallowed there.
You’ll be happy to know we’re talking again. Regularly. God and I are figuring out together what life is meant to be. There is a deep joy in my life and in my soul. I laugh. I delight in life. I delight in ministry. There are some days I still don’t like the hours. There are some days I still don’t like the pay. There are some days … and some people… but overall my life is rich and I am doing work which fills me with a sense of meaning and purpose.
In some ways, my life has been much like the man whose story we heard in John’s gospel this morning. Like him, I have come to see more clearly. And the more intimate my dialogue with God, the more I have come to love God more dearly. Sometimes we sing love songs to each other. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes we fight. And as we do so, I am following Jesus more nearly.
God and I—we keep talking. And my life is immeasurably enriched by that ongoing dialogue.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
March 26, 2017 (4th Sunday in Lent)
John 9: 1–41
1 Samuel 16: 1–13
Ephesians 5: 8–14