"Grace," Image by David Hollcraft via Flickr, Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
He found him. A seemingly ordinary moment in the plot that is the healing of the man born blind until you realize that Jesus has been gone for twenty-eight verses. Then being found is all the more meaningful. Especially when you’ve been cast out of your community for the second time -- first, for being born blind and then for being able to see.
This is no ordinary healing story. Nothing is ordinary in John. But that’s to be expected when grace upon grace is at work. Jesus does not just restore sight to the blind man but gives him a new identity as a disciple. A quick comparison with the calling of the disciples in John 1 shows this to be true. Jesus finds Philip. Jesus finds the man born blind. The healing of the man born blind is a call story.
And what it means to be a disciple is not just that you are found but that you go out and find others. Philip finds Nathanael (1:45). “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” (10:16). Jesus insists that once you are found expect to be sent out (20:21). To make sure that all have life and have it abundantly (10:10). To invite the world to come and see (1:39; 4:29).
To invite the world means that we go and find especially those forgotten and forsaken, overlooked and abandoned, those left to fend for themselves. To find his first witness, Jesus had to go Samaria. With the man born blind, who knows where Jesus has to go to search out the man the people in charge throw out.
Of course, preaching such a purpose means speaking against some current societal assumptions. Why should we help those when it hasn’t proven to help their performance? What will the blind man now truly contribute to society? What kind of results will he actually be able to produce anyway? Isn’t he just a drain on our society? Wouldn’t he then use up funds meant for hard-working folks like me? Shouldn’t we dole out monies to people who can prove their worth? Shouldn’t we make sure to take care of the ones who demonstrate that they can give back?
But, that is not the definition of grace upon grace. Grace upon grace is not quantifiable. Grace upon grace is not an assessment based program. Grace upon grace is not determined by budgets, sustainability, or checks and balances.
And Dear Working Preachers, grace upon grace is not based on church membership or number of programs, or in my situation, full-time equivalency students. Grace upon grace is not decided by synodical or judicatory reports. Grace upon grace is not bound to measurable results. Grace upon grace is not called into question by supposed underachievement, underperformance, or a lack of demonstrable evidence.
Thank God, literally, grace upon grace is not beholden to a mindset of scarcity. That grace upon grace is not defined by bleak projections and abandonment of hope. That grace upon grace is not controlled by those who have lost trust in the promise of abundant life.
It seems that grace upon grace is possible simply when Jesus is present. And it also seems that Jesus counts on us to bring that presence to others. Grace upon grace happens in those one-on-one moments in ministry you know so well. Grace upon grace happens when the last person you thought was paying attention says, “I heard Jesus in your sermon today, Pastor.” Grace upon grace happens when someone says, “Pastor, that is exactly what I needed this morning.” Grace upon grace happens because they feel it and you feel it at exactly the same time.
Dear Working Preachers, you answered this call because somehow, somewhere, at sometime this is exactly what you felt. God found you, perhaps lost, perhaps rejected, perhaps waiting and wondering and said to you, do you believe?
Find this finding again. Remember what it felt like when God finally found you and said, “Come and see.” Remember what it felt like when God said “I need your help to make sure that the world I love so much knows my love.” Because in the midst and middle of ministry, this feeling is the first thing to fall away. And perhaps during Lent, this is the perfect time to get it back. You might have to work at it some. You might need some help. But then maybe when the darkness of Good Friday settles in, the dawn of Easter morning and its confession, “Lord, I believe,” will sound its truth louder than the trumpets and sweeter than the smell of the lilies. It will sound like it was always meant to sound -- a true witness to the grace upon grace that is our resurrection promise we get to live out here and now.