I preached this sermon on Sunday, March 19, 2023 at Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, IN. The lectionary text cited is John 9:1-41, in which Jesus opens the eyes of a man blind from birth.
So, I want to tell you about the best meal I ever had.
It was in Assisi, Italy, back when I was in college and my mom and I were doing some travels through Europe. We had gone to Assisi to visit the holy sites associated with St. Francis, but we were, of course, also very happy to enjoy some good Italian food and wine.
The meal in question was at a simple little restaurant, nothing fussy or expensive. It incuded a bottle of red wine, a plate of ravioli in a light cream sauce flavored with poppyseeds and citrus, and a thick steak so tender that I would put it up against the best you could find at Ruth’s Chris down the street or anywhere else, really.
We sat at a table near the window, the golden evening light pouring in across the table, and both the servers and the other diners seemed genuinely happy to be there–at peace, in no rush to be anyplace else. Now, maybe I was delirious from the beauty and the sanctity of Assisi, or maybe I was just really hungry, but the food was so lovingly prepared and the setting so homey and warm that as I ate, tears of joy welled up in my eyes. Outside of cherished family gatherings, it was definitely one of the best meals I ever ate.
I wonder if you can recall a meal or a particular dish that evokes warm memories for you. Maybe it was on a vacation, too, or maybe it is something much closer to home—a family recipe or food from your favorite local spot.
Now, I am going to do something quite shocking and unconventional in the midst of a sermon. I’m going to ask you to turn to someone next to you or near you (don’t be shy) and very briefly tell them about that food. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy or exotic. Just something you have loved. Take just a moment and tell your neighbor about it.
Feeling hungry yet? Good!
Food can and should be one of the elemental pleasures of life, and our memories of it are often vivid, tied to beloved people and places. I always find it interesting how easily we can call to mind a favorite dish or restaurant and talk about it to connect with other peope. I think that’s because we speak about food from our lived experience of it, our deeply felt sense of nourishment and identity and belonging.
And even if we are not expert chefs, even if we don’t know how to cook at all, we can still probably speak with some energy and insight about our experience of food, of being fed, of what that one magical dish tasted like back when we were a kid, or when we cooked it for our family, or, yes, when the evening light spilled across the dining table in Assisi—in all the little moments and morsels when we encountered a little taste of heaven. We may not know the recipe or the reason why, but we can simply say with confidence, this much I know: I was hungry, and I tasted something beautiful.
In his own way, this is the testimony of the man in today’s Gospel story, the man who once was blind but who now can see, the man who has had a little taste of heaven. He is healed by Jesus through a rather earthy recipe: dirt and saliva kneaded together into a paste and then dipped into the sacred water of Siloam. Not a meal, per se, but rather the satisfaction of a deeper sort of hunger, one the man might have given up on: the hunger to belong, the hunger to be something other than “other.” And so this is what Jesus gives him, and to those around him who witness the healing: a sign, a reminder that in God’s Kingdom, there will be no outsiders, there will be no people forgotten at the roadside, there will be no one who hungers from lack of bread or compassion.
And this man, his eyes having been opened, although he knows not the recipe nor the reason why, speaks with captivating simplicity about what he has experienced. “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see…I was blind, now I see.” I was hungry, and I now I have tasted something beautiful.
And everyone around him, the neighbors and the Pharisees, they kind of lose it over this miracle served up in their midst . First they refuse to believe this is the same man who was blind. Then, after its clear that he is, they refuse to believe that Jesus is up to any good, and they certainly refuse to believe that this is a sign from God. They want to know how, and why, and to what end all of this has taken place. They want the ingredient list, they want the recipe, they want to speak to the chef, they want to send it back, this exquisite, strange gift, this feast of possibility.
But the man can’t speak to any of that. He is not a priest or a scribe, he is not a person of any influence. He doesn’t know yet exactly who Jesus is or where he comes from or why he did what he did. And so he just keeps saying what he knows, what he has experienced: I was blind, now I see. I was forgotten, now I am remembered. I was invisible now I am seen. I was lost now I am found. I was nothing now I am part of everything. I was hungry, and now I have tasted something beautiful. That is my testimony. It is entirely up to you whether you partake of it or not. But it has nourished me. It has saved me.
And I wonder, dear friends—I wonder whether we can speak about our faith like the man whose eyes were opened by Jesus. I wonder whether we can speak with simplicity and confidence about the experience of Jesus in our lives. I wonder whether we can describe how we have been encouraged, how we have been sustained, how we have been healed, how we have been fed by our encounters with the Son of God.
I wonder, really, since we can speak so easily and joyfully about the best meal we ever had, why we can’t always, just as easily, just as joyfully, speak about the One who is the Living Bread, the One who has prepared for us an eternal banquet? I wonder why I hesitate to do this sometimes.
I have a couple of theories about this, at least for us Episcopal types.
First, I think somewhere we got the idea that talking about Jesus means that we need to fully understand everything there is to know about Jesus. (As if we ever could!) Maybe we’re afraid we don’t fully understand every line in the Nicene Creed or that we can’t coherently explain the relationship between the persons of the Trinity (pro tip: nobody can!). Maybe we don’t feel up to the task of defending the history of the church to the skeptical or the confused. Maybe we are even a little skeptical or confused ourselves some days.
But here’s the thing: we do not need to know everything about who Jesus is in order to speak about who Jesus is to us. We do not need to have a degree in theology or church history to describe how we have been changed by an encounter with a loving, welcoming, merciful, dynamic, ever-present God.
As the man says, Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. If we, too, can name the impact that following Jesus has had on our lives, then maybe that’s exactly enough.
The second reason I think we hesitate, sometimes, is that talking a lot about a personal encounter with Jesus sounds like something other types of Christians do—including those whose values and understandings of the gospel differ significantly from our own. We are afraid, perhaps, of coming across as preachy or exclusionary.
But again, here’s the thing: if we take seriously that we are part of God’s life in Christ, then we have to be able to talk simply, humbly about who we are, who we love, what we have experienced of God, without it automatically becoming an exercise in recruitment or conversion. I don’t think I need to tell you that the world desperately needs Christians who can do this.
So my challenge to you, to myself, to all of us in these final weeks of Lent, is this: think of how you described that favorite meal. Think of how it felt to share about it with your neighbor, not trying to convince them that it needed to be their favorite meal too, or even that they have to learn to cook it themselves. Think about how it was simply you sharing the joy of what you have experienced, what you have tasted, what you have known and loved.
And then, I want you think about how you would evoke that same feeling when you talk about what Jesus has done in your life. Commit, if you will, to 15 or 20 minutes this week of writing down or thinking about how you would describe the impact upon your life of following Jesus, of being loved by him, of whatever your relationship is with him right now.
Give yourself the gift of putting that into words, and then, perhaps, God will show you when and how to share it with someone else who needs to hear it. Someone who is hungry for something deeper than food. Someone who is lost, or who cannot see their own belovedness. Maybe you will tell them what you have experienced. Maybe it will save them from despair. Maybe it will save you, too.
Maybe you will simply say, I was blind, but now I see.
Maybe you will say, I was hungry, and I tasted something beautiful.