A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at Christ Church St Lawrence Sydney on Laetare Sunday, 19 March 2023:
John’s Gospel, through which we are journeying during the middle of Lent, is the gospel of the coming of the light into the darkness of our world. The central theme of the coming of God’s light, and its rejection by the world is set out right at the start of the gospel, in the great prologue of the Incarnation. In Jesus—God’s eternal Word-made-flesh—was life. That life was ‘the light of all people’. Jesus’ life brings light. God’s coming into the world as one of us can open our eyes, and help us see ‘even greater things’—even heaven opened, as Jesus promised Nathanael in the first Chapter of John’s Gospel.
Throughout the Gospel of John then, the drama of the light coming into the world is played out. In the first ten verses of the Gospel, John tells us how his story will end: ‘the true light, which gives light to all people, has come, yet the world did not recognise him’. In spite of this incredible gift—light to walk by in darkness, and life to live by eternally—people rejected him. From the very beginning, John lays out the division that the coming into the world of the Son of God brings: those who prefer darkness are unable to recognise Jesus’ light. They seek to extinguish the Light of the World, by killing Jesus.
At the highpoint of the Gospel, which has been sung so evocatively for us yesterday evening, the light of life blazes in judgment on the world. There is no darkness in John’s Gospel at the point of Jesus’ death. The sun is at its peak, as Jesus is crucified. Jesus accomplishes the work of salvation on the cross as the sun shines at its brightest. A reminder to us that even though the darkness can put Jesus to death, the world’s darkness will never overcome his light.
Jesus is the world’s light, and Jesus gives the world life. And, as Jesus wants to open our eyes so that we may see ‘even greater things’: the reality of heaven opened.
This morning, the parable of the battle between light and darkness that underlies all of John’s Gospel is played out in the miraculous healing of a man born blind. All who follow Jesus—even those born blind—may have God’s light of life. While the disciples are trying to score some theological point—‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’—Jesus tells them that this sinless man had been denied sight so that God’s works might be manifested, and proceeds to open his eyes.
Without much ceremony, Jesus made mud. Mixing dust with his own spit, he anointed the blind man’s eyes. Jesus—God’s Word-of-creation-made-flesh—takes the stuff from which all creation comes and to which all creation will return, and uses it to anoint the blind man’s eyes. Our translation lets us down here: the Greek reads ekchrisen—which really means ‘anoint’, not ‘spread’: from the root we get our words for chrism and Christ. Jesus, God’s Anointed, anoints blind humanity and sends the man away to wash in the pool of Siloah.
And just in case we might have missed the point of the story, and John’s Gospel—that Jesus has been sent by God to give people the light of light—John helpfully tells us that the Hebrew name of the pool means ‘sent’. In the same way in which the Father sent his Son so that the world may have God’s light, so the nameless man is sent by Jesus to have his eyes opened and have light. And the man went, washed, was able to see, and came back to his neighbours. And Jesus disappears from sight, leaving the man to explain what happened.
Obviously, the man had never set eyes on Jesus. He was blind when they met. All the man knows about Jesus is his name. When he returned home, now able to see, his neighbours were suspicious: either he had not really been born blind, or he was not the same man. ‘Never since the world has began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind’, the man himself reflects later. And because they can’t understand what has happened, his neighbours take him to the religious authorities, the Pharisees.
Where his neighbours were incredulous, the Pharisees were dismissive. There was nothing to see here. Jesus was not from God because he did not keep the commandments. He had healed on a Sabbath. Therefore, the miracle was a sham: the man couldn’t really have been blind. The final encounter between the nameless man and the Pharisees is a masterpiece of John’s storytelling, as the people who believed that they were specially enlightened—because they guarded the faith—try to get the man to deny that Jesus had given him light and sight.
Increasingly isolated (disbelieved by his neighbours, not really supported by his parents—‘he is of age, ask him’—bullied by the Pharisees), the man has realised that Jesus was much more than a miracle healer. During his three interrogations, he has come to understand the truth: that God sent Jesus to bring light. Where first he called him, ‘the man called Jesus’, he now knows Jesus to be ‘from God’. That conviction—combined with his bluntness and boldness: ‘why do you want to hear my story again, do you also want to become his disciples?’—led to his excommunication.
The Pharisees ‘drove him out’, John tells. Leaving Jesus, who was nowhere to be seen during the man’s interrogations, to search for him. Jesus finds and asks him: ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ And the man who, through three interrogations, had in his heart already chosen to follow Jesus, affirms his choice: ‘Lord, I believe’, he told Jesus. As he had his own glimpse of heaven opened—his own Epiphany—he worshipped Jesus.
Becoming a believer in Jesus, and worshipping him, is the reason this Gospel was written, St John tells us at the end of his book: ‘These signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that you may have life in his name’. People who accept Jesus’ light will live. They will see the world through Jesus’ eyes—in need of God’s life, in need of God’s salvation. They will be able to snatch glimpses of heaven open in their daily lives.
Jesus calls each of us to open our own eyes to that life-giving light. He tells us that have our need for life and salvation is met in him. He charges us to look at the world around us and shine his light into its darkness. He dares us to look at our community through his eyes, and there see glimpses of heaven opened. And most importantly, he tells us to invite others in sharing his life-giving vision and light.
We are invited to shine Christ’s light into the dark places of the world by our advocacy and action. At St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne, we meet together regularly to pray, think and talk about how we as a community of disciples can help shine Christ’s light. Our members help shape our vision for our Cathedral advocacy. Together we decided to shine a light on First Nations Justice. Since 2016 we have been actively working with our First Peoples to seek a more just settlement for Indigenous Australians. During the past three years have appointed three First Nations Canons. Last year, we studied the Statement from the Heart together. This year we want to shine the light of Christ’s justice into our nation, by our advocacy for a Voice to Parliament. When we shine Christ’s light into the dark spots of our life—personal, corporate or national—we can see more clearly what needs to be done to change, and can work together to bring about change.
We are invited to carry the light of Christ into our communities by our welcome and service. At St Paul’s we carry Christ’s light into our city by working for Refugee Justice; being a place of welcome for people from all nations and backgrounds. For more than a decade we have advocated for, and welcomed, migrants and refugees. Our welcome to people who have fled their homelands and our helping them rebuild their lives here in Australia has changed our life as a Cathedral community. We are truly international now, with people from more than 25 nations; some with their own national fellowship groups. When we carry the light of Christ to into our communities, we can not only bring hope and healing, but will be changed by that light ourselves.
We are invited to open our own eyes afresh to see heaven opened in our daily lives by our learning and living. At St Paul’s we believe that, before we go about inviting others to open their eyes to the reality of heaven open, we need to open our own eyes first. Which is why we take Christian formation seriously. We meet Sunday by Sunday to study God’s Word together. We invite people to explore our faith by regular enquirer courses, leading to baptism and confirmation. This consistent invitation bears much good fruit: this Lent, we are preparing 25 candidates for baptism, confirmation and reception on Easter Morning. Our congregations have grown, not only in numbers but also in self-awareness and confidence. In a recent study group, we asked ourselves how we can be better equipped to talk of God’s love with our neighbours or work colleagues. When we let our eyes be opened to Christ’s light, and actively invite others to share Christ’s life-changing vision, we may ourselves see greater things and be given a new and broader vision.
Friends, we all are invited to let our eyes be opened to the reality of Christ’s life-giving light. We Christians are given that light to shine into the darknesses of our world. We each are given that light as a guide on our own journey of life. We each are called to look out for glimpses of heaven opened in the places where we live, work and worship. And by letting ourselves be changed, be suffused by that light, we are called to work to make heaven open a daily reality, not just a distant possibility. ‘I am the light of the world’, the Lord assures us as we journey together with him: ‘whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’.
Thanks be to God.
© Andreas Loewe, 2023