Ministry of the Word – 6 March 2005

I?m not preaching this morning ? there is a baptism in church which takes the place of the sermon today. However, for anyone looking for a reflection on this morning?s readings, here is a little Bible study on the three readings.

First let us look at the old testament reading. The calling of David the shepherd boy.
It is a strange story ? it is difficult to imagine what went through this boy?s mind. It seemed as though God had plucked him at random and chosen him to be king. Samuel the prophet seems to have been the one to make the choice. What must it have been like to hear the old prophet say ?this one, this one is the Lord?s anointed.? It is a bit like the stories of the way they chose the Dalai Lama of Tibet. Somehow, out of the blue comes a prophet who is going to change this young boy?s life.

I wonder whether people here can relate to this. It is a bolt from the blue ? perhaps God has spoken to you like that. It does happen ? you are my anointed. You are my chosen one. You are beloved. You are my child and I love you. It happens, though God speaks to a lot of people in a lot of other ways too.

If God has ever spoken to you like that, then you will know the truth that David the shepherd boy would learn in the days ahead. It is all very well being the Lord?s anointed, but that alone keeps us neither out of harm nor out of mischief.

David?s story is not simply of being the Lord?s chosen one, but also the Lord?s forgiven one. The boy David grew into David the king and he was the one who sent a man to death in battle so that he could run off with the man?s wife. David sinned greatly and ultimately he was forgiven greatly by God.

He is a reminder in Lent, the period we are now in that God?s passionate love calls us back to him whatever we do, and however many times that love is needed.

The story of David?s call then reminds us that God can speak like a bolt from the blue but that this is the beginning of a story, the start of a relationship, the first step of a lifetime journey of faith.

Turning the pages to the Epistle, we find that we can pick up some of the same themes. The Epistle was written in the name of Paul the Apostle ? Paul the one whose life was changed just as abruptly as that shepherd boy was to become one of the great travellers and preachers, bringing the good news to all whom he met. His story of faith begins with the same kind of bolt from the blue. God speaks to him on the road to Damascus and blinds him, such is the strength of the encounter. (We will come back to blindness in a minute or two of course). Whoever wrote the words that we read this morning put Paul?s name on them and probably knew him or his thought well. These words may well have been written by someone exploring what it meant to live the life that Paul preached. Paul of Damascus, the tent-maker who had been struck blind went all round the known world preaching about a God who brought light, not blindness. Quite an extraordinary thing for him to preach about when you think about it.

In this reading this morning, we have a fragment which is a bit like a ray of light. ?For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light?. These are words that conjure up a very visual experience of coming to faith. It was as though a light had been lit and that light illumined everything for the rest of Paul?s life.

Yet Paul was the one who described himself as the chief of sinners, not simply before his Damascus Road experience, but also after it. ?Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;? of whom I am chief.? Said the same man writing to Timothy. Paul knew what it was to be called out of one life and into another just like David. And Paul knew too that he was still a sinner and still needed to immerse himself anew into the love of God on a daily basis.

And finally, what of the man in this long Gospel reading. The disciples ask whether the man or his parents had sinned. That is a question that is asked in hospitals up and down the land on a daily basis ? I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say ?What have I done to deserve this?. How many parents faced with illness, death or disease in their child have said ?What have I done?? Yet it is a question that Jesus brushes aside. It made no sense to him then and it makes no sense to God now.

Sin has not made this man blind. In his encounter with Jesus, he has something just as abrupt and staggering as ever David the shepherd boy had. He has something as unbelievable as the tent-maker on the road to Damascus. After his encounter with Jesus, this man could see.

In every generation since there have been people who upon encountering Jesus Christ have said, yes, now I can see. Once I was blind, but now I can see.

But for this man, it was physical. Jesus touches him with spittle and his eyes clear and he can see.

But in this story, we can see that the man, although he could see took some time to work out what had happened to him. First he says that Jesus is his prophet, but eventually he recognises him as Lord as well.

And that gives us the key to all the readings this morning. Something dramatic happens in all of the, a bolt from the blue if you like. The choice of the prophet was a bolt from the blue for the shepherd boy. The ray of light was a bolt from heaven for the one writing in Paul?s name in Ephesians. The sudden clearing of the eyes was similarly dramatic for the blind man.

These things happen, but they are the start of the story. If there is any message to link these readings it is this. Bolts from the blue happen but they are the start of the story, not the last word. For David it was the start of a lifetime adventure with God, being called back into God?s love time and time again. For Paul it was the same. The chief of sinners was who had his bolt from the blue on the Damascus road had to live an ongoing life, living as one of the children of light. And the man born blind had to journey from his recognition of Christ as prophet into a life of discipleship where he recognised that Jesus was his lord too.

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