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The Sermon: March 19th, 2023

       I may have shared these experiences before—germane to today’s scripture reading; but they’re worth sharing again.  I remember 2 instances in which I experienced darkness to such a degree that it felt tangible—it felt like you could reach out and touch the darkness, that the darkness had substance, and you could see nothing.

       The first instance occurred back in the late 80’s when we were attending Canadian Memorial UC in Vancouver; Canadian Memorial went to Naramata in the Okanagan every October for a congregational retreat.  We only went 1 year as I was a student at VST during those years. Back in the 80’s there wasn’t nearly as much development up close to the Kettle Valley rail trail as there is today.  There was a standing challenge at Naramata Centre at that time that the long tunnel was be to walked without a flashlight.  That long tunnel is now closed because it is caving in.  Another individual from the congregation and I decided we would take on this challenge, walk the long distance up to the tunnel, passing through one short tunnel and then take the plunge into the long one!  Indeed, we pooh-poohed the challenge and asked, “How hard can it be?”  We started into the tunnel; it got darker and darker.  And by the time we were more or less in the middle, there was a slight turn and we were in absolute darkness—no light penetrated at all.  We were walking side by side, but when we got to this point, we called out to each other and we held hands as we made our way tentatively ahead and into the light coming from the end of the tunnel—that we hoped would be there.  It was a frightening moment because we didn’t know what was around us and we could not see anything!  Thank goodness we had each other even though we didn’t know each other well.

       The other instance was when I was a new minister in Northeastern Ontario.  There was a tour of Manitou Conference for new ministers—12 or so of us on a tour in two passenger vans in 1989.  It was a great way to learn about the issues concerning Timmins, Sudbury, North Bay and other communities.  One of our field trips was to go down a deep mine in Timmins and talk to some miners.  When we were down the mine, we turned off our lamps.  Again, it was unnerving and the darkness felt like it had substance.  When we got to the surface, we talked about the experience and recalled the story from John’s Gospel that Carrie read a few minutes ago.

       Sight has taken on a different meaning for me these days because of the cataract procedures I had done last November.  I chose the multi-focus lens implants and am still having trouble at night with halos and spider-webs around lights.  The point is, like many, I took my vision for granted.  And now that I experience some challenges, I have a deeper appreciation for the language around sight and vision and the deeper meanings of those words.

       When I was on sabbatical in Jerusalem in 2013, I went to the various healing places from the gospel stories: the pool of Siloam where Jesus invited some to bathe when the water was disturbed, other healing pools, the Garden of Gethsemane.  With the man born blind in John’s Gospel, Jesus used his saliva and then asked the man to go to the Pool of Siloam.

       This story is a consequential story for John.  Did it occur?  No one knows for certain.  It’s not recorded in Matthew, Mark or Luke.  There are many layers of symbolism in this story, typical of John.  It is interesting to note that the action of healing took only 2 verses, verses 6 and 7.  The controversy arising from this healing took 39 verses.

       The controversy had more at stake than just the Pharisees’ consternation about sin.  There is a theory that I’ve shared before that for John, this story was really an allegory about his attempt with his early Christian friends to remain part of the synagogue structure of 1st Century Judaism.  Eventually, he was asked to leave because he kept referring to Jesus as the Messiah, as the Chosen of God.  John left on bitter terms and so wrote this story to claim that the Jewish people he worshipped with were actually the ones who were blind.  Sadly, John’s gospel has been used over the centuries in an antisemitic way.

       One of the things as people of faith that we are called to do is to discern and see with our hearts.  The story we didn’t read this morning was the story of the prophet Samuel calling David to be the new king.  Several of Jesse’s sons were paraded before Samuel, many of them big, strapping lads who would have made great warriors.  And yet God rejected them.  Along came David—petite and delicate—and he was chosen.  Samuel, unsure, complained to God and God said, “You must learn to see with my eyes.”

In Ephesians, which we also didn’t read, the writer claimed that in the light everything becomes visible.  I also think of Psalm 139, a beloved Psalm by many; there is the line, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and night wrap itself around me,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”  God calls us to see with our hearts.

       Barbara Brown Taylor, an Anglican theologian who taught Interfaith Studies—now retired—once wrote, “The problem with seeing the regular way… is that sight naturally prefers outer appearances.  It attends to the surface of things, which makes it an essentially superficial sense…”[1]  She goes on to quote from a book called And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran who was a blind French resistance fighter in WW2.  He always had difficulty with his eyes as a youngster, but he fell while wearing large glasses and the lenses shattered and damaged his eyes completely; he could no longer see.  Lusseyran discovered a whole new world beyond seeing with his eyes.  He said that while he was legally blind, the light was still there—an inner light.  He could also hear things that others could not.  He could hear trees, for example, by the sound of their shadows, and tell you what species they were.  Lusseyran was eventually captured and taken to Buchenwald, a Concentration Camp with 2000 other French resistance fighters.  Consumed with anger, Lusseyran wrote that he floundered; he bumped into things and couldn’t navigate because the light inside had diminished.  He calmed his anger apparently and the interior light returned once more and he was able to function.

       John has invited us to learn to see differently, to let the inner light of God’s Spirit illumine us to deeper truths and directions.  We need to develop that inner light as Lusseyran advocated, that light that allows us to negotiate the world with love and hope.

       Another John, John of the Cross, a Spanish medieval mystic wrote about the “dark night of the soul.”  He wrote about what it means to see and that emerging from that dark night, he could see much more clearly.  Maybe our world is going through a “dark night of the soul.”  Maybe we can arise stronger as a human family and see more clearly one another in love and hope.  Can we learn to look beyond superficial things to see a common way forward as humans and the divine light that is in all things and illumines the way?  For the world’s sake, I surely hope so!



[1] See The Christian Century article at

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