Illawarra Presbytery, I thank you for your hospitality.
The prophet Isaiah says Jesus: “had no beauty… ...nothing in his appearance that we should be attracted to him or desire him”. (Isaiah 53:1) .This is about his physical appearance
In 1 Samuel 16:6-7, God impresses upon Samuel as he searches for the one God chooses for him to anoint as King: “Do not consider his appearance……the Lord does not look at the things people look at people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the Heart.”
Isaiah in 53:3 also says that Jesus will be “despised”. This is pretty strong stuff.
The Oxford Dictionary says to despise someone is to ‘feel contempt’ for them, it is to have a ‘deep repugnance’ for them. The word comes from an old French word with Latin roots which means to ‘look down’ on someone.
One wonders about the current argument about changing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Indigenous politicians Linda Burney and Malarndirri McCarthy have spoken about what it is like to be “assaulted” by racial abuse, which sounds to me like being “despised”.
The Australian Government speaks of “free speech” and “relatively minor insults”, which sounds to me more like the root of the word despise i.e. to “look down upon”. The question being asked is what degree of despise, of insult is minor and therefore OK? I would have thought for those who follow Jesus, none.
I note that Keiraview’s general theme throughout the Lent and Easter period is ‘Undone by the Word’. I have to tell you this passage from Isaiah undoes me. I’m undone by what Jesus has done for me and I’m undone - convicted of my own sin. Because I know in my life I have looked at others inappropriately, looked down upon them, rather than felt compassion. I’ve judged based upon their outer appearance and this is to my shame.
I remember at one time setting myself a task, to walk down Darwin Mall, a sea of humanity in all our variety, and ask God to let me see Jesus in each person. An exercise I repeated for a number of months until it became more natural to walk anywhere and see Jesus in those I met or passed by. We all are made in the image of God.
Now let us turn to the gospel story for today, John 9:1-41, and make some observations.
First I want you to note that in the days this was set people thought that physical or mental impairment was a result of sin i.e. it had a spiritual cause. “Who sinned to cause this blindness” or “you were steeped in sin at birth”. Who of you can look at a newborn, perhaps a grandchild or child and honestly believe they are “steeped in sin”? This is religious blindness.
The blind man in this story is like many we see in our cities. He sits and begs, like many I saw in the Darwin Mall, or at Town Hall in Sydney. The religious officials don’t believe him, or don’t want to believe him, so they reject his story just as they reject and condemn him as a sinner. If they had accepted his story it would mean they’d have to change their attitudes to sin and to Jesus.
Jesus is the light of the world. He illuminates. He brings into view what is false and what is true.
This man shows wisdom. He’s unafraid of the authorities unlike his parents who haven’t had an encounter with Jesus. The authorities reject and condemn him because of their spiritual blindness. In contrast to this he has not only his physical eyes opened but the eyes of his heart, his spiritual eyes, and so he believes in Jesus as the Christ.
Jesus the rejected and condemned One, accepts this man. In 1 Peter 2:4 we read: “As you come to him (Jesus), the Living Stone, rejected by humans but chosen by God, and precious to him.”
Friends, you are precious to God, chosen by God, to go and bear good fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
This word, this Word undoes me. Christ suffered, died and was raised to life because God chose me, he chooses you, and we are precious to God. Amen.
I want now to share a contemporary story with you which contrasts rejection and condemnation with acceptance and being chosen, being precious to God.
In Kings Cross in Sydney, Dr Marianne Jauncey is the Medical Director of Uniting’s Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, which has a long colourful history going back to the early 1990s.
I recently put an account of my journey with respect to this Centre titled Fear and Facts in National Update, the weekly E-news from the Assembly. I commend this to you for the wider perspective of what the UCA is engaged with nationally and globally.
20 years ago I would have opposed safe injecting rooms. My view was drugs are bad and that you can’t serve any good purpose by allowing people to shoot up legally. Then I started talking with a GP friend at church about her work with those living with an addiction. She challenged my thinking and reasoning. She challenged me to be more person focussed and less drug and crime focussed.
She showed me that the stereotype of “drug addict” I had was far from the reality, and people medicate pain for many reason. She challenged me to adopt a higher level of compassion for the individuals and their families.
Over the years I’ve followed the trial and then approval of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. The level of police and government support for the Centre is because of the tremendous results. Lives are saved and danger on the streets is reduced. This is contained in the data but for the mums and dads whose daughter or son is alive today because of the availability of this Centre it’s very personal.
There has never been anyone die of a drug overdose in any supervised injecting centre anywhere in the world. At MSIC they don’t just supervise they see the person behind the drug, they seek to support the whole person in all their needs.
I honour the dedication of Dr Marianne Jauncey and her team. I would personally support an MSIC in each Australian jurisdiction. We have to be tough on crime and those who peddle misery for profit but we need a far greater compassion for those who have an addiction and for their families.
One of the great things that’s happened over the last few years is a client asked Marianne if he could have some art supplies in the kitchen area. It’s too hard to keep them on the street if you’re homeless, or if you’re sharing an overcrowded flat. He started painting and others joined him. Soon the kitchen area had become an art workshop and today they mount ‘Art for the Heart’ an annual exhibition. Some clients come to the Centre not to shoot up but just to paint. It’s a self-initiated, therapeutic intervention.
The Easter story of the blind man’s healing, the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre and their client’s stories remind us that we are all chosen by God, in Christ, accepted and loved.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
It’s this light and love at work in our hearts that enables us all to see others as God’s chosen ones, precious in God’s sight and to be loved by God’s people. Amen.