Picked Last

4th Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2017

1The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
  6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lordsaid, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. – ! Samuel 16:1-13

1As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
  13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
  18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
  24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
  35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” – John 9:1-41
 
 Listen to today’s sermon here: 

Who here can remember a time you were either picked last or not chosen at all? Maybe it’s the classic last kid picked for the kickball team. Maybe it’s the job you didn’t get, the school that waitlisted you, the crush who picked someone else, but most of us know what it feels like to be picked last or not at all.

That’s the story of the famous King David, ancestor of Jesus, writer of psalms, ruler of Israel. He’s picked last. In fact, he’s so far down the list that his father Jesse doesn’t even bring him in from the fields for the choosing. Through some kind of mystical communication from God, Samuel one-by-one goes through the sons of Jesse until none are left, all rejected. And it’s the diminutive David who later, according to the story, slays the mightiest of the enemy in a one-on-one battle with a slingshot as the laughter of his comrades still echoes in the valley. He may have finally come to power years later, but David knew what it was to be picked last.

And the blind man certainly knew what it was to be picked last. To be clear, not picked last because people without sight aren’t as good or better at most things than anyone else – the Immanuel book group a few weeks ago finished a book about a blind man who climbed pretty much all the highest mountains in the world – something many of us wouldn’t even attempt. But picked last because he was different, because a difference in physical ability, then even more than now, meant a life on the margins, a life without much chance to make a living.

So whose fault is it that they get chosen last? That’s the question people want to know right? Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Whose fault is it that people exist at the bottom rung of the ladder? Whose fault is it that some people never seem to get a break?

And there are plenty of people such people these days. Some kids still get picked last for the kickball team. But others have a much more lifelong place at the bottom of the list. Of particular note this week in our national news are those who cannot afford to provide financially for their own essentials, including for healthcare. In a line reminiscent of the crowd who asks Jesus who sinned that the man was born blind, there’s been talk this week in politics and in the media about people living in poverty as a result of poor choices. Not all, surely, but most people who live below the poverty line are there because of things beyond their control and people above the poverty line are surely not without their share of bad decisions. Who sinned that we are a nation in which some people don’t have the same access as others? Whose fault is it that some always seem to be left behind?

If Jesus healed the blind man and everyone just welcomed him in, one might easily walk away from such a story thinking that sin or not, the problem lay in the man’s blindness. But the story just isn’t that simple. Because once the man’s sight is miraculously restored the people who do the choosing, who hold the power, still want to make sure he stays in last place. Which makes one wonder where the problem really lies, and what it is Jesus has come to heal.

The conversations that ensue from this healing story reveal that it might actually be the community itself that Jesus has come to heal. As they wrestle more and more with what to do with this disruption not only to the natural order but to their social and religious order, the man simply keeps pointing to Jesus. And when people start to see Jesus they realize in themselves that they have been missing something, that maybe they are the ones who cannot see clearly. In the course of the story they have to confront the way they limit God’s power to certain days and times, the way they choose to put other people in boxes that they don’t want to ever reconsider, and they have to confront the idea that God might be at work in their midst. None of these things is easy, and these witnesses to God’s work do not come around quickly.

The healing, the real healing that involves the transformation of a community into one that finds a place for everyone and which is attentive and alert to God’s always doing something new, that healing isn’t complete at the end of the story. That healing isn’t complete today. That healing is going to still be unraveling until the eschaton.

But before we start pointing fingers, if it’s true that we can all identify with being the one picked last, I suspect we can also identify ourselves as the ones who intentionally and unintentionally overlook, box in, label, shame, and ignore others. Like David, we are anointed with all our tremendous gifts and our tremendous flaws to be imperfect leaders in God’s work transforming this imperfect community. Like the blind man anointed with mud and spit we are transformed in order that we and others might begin to glimpse God’s presence in our midst.

When we talk about healing here in this congregation, when we anoint with oil as we do today and at our Lenten midweek services this Lent and throughout the year, it’s that kind of complicated healing that we are talking about. It’s not without it’s power to speak to the physical and emotional transformations we experience, but it’s much more. It’s not always the fixing of what we see as something wrong in us, but the anointing with oil to send us forth reminded of our identity as children of God, people who miss the mark, who don’t always understand God, but who become together by the power of God’s spirit, the means of upending a world that runs on putting some people ahead of others. For we have been chosen, washed, marked, and invited to the feast. There are people who aren’t going to like it, people who think the ordered way we do the choosing now is the only way it can be. There are parts of ourselves who feel that way despite out best intentions. But God will keep inviting, anointing, and making room at the feast until there is no longer first and last, but one great celebration of resurrection.

-Pastor Steven Wilco