During the blizzard a few weeks ago, Tula and I watched a classic musical, Guys and Dolls, featuring none other than Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. (For a fun look at another side of Brando, watch this film to hear him sing. Who knew the Godfather sings?!) I hadn’t seen the movie for decades.
It was so interesting to see the movie now that I am a pastor, because one of the main characters is a religious woman leading the Times Square satellite office of an organization similar to the Salvation Army. A group of Christians march around Times Square in army-like uniforms beating a drum, singing hymns, and preaching, in an attempt to save sinners. Miss Sarah Brown leads the group. She is played by the actress Jean Simmons. Through a series of events, she is pursued by an accomplished gangster, Sky Masterson, played by Marlon Brando. To win a bet, he takes Sarah to Cuba for dinner at his favorite restaurant there. Sarah doesn’t know it’s a bet, however. She goes with him to Cuba because he’s promised to deliver at least a dozen bona fide sinners to her next prayer meeting if she goes. She needs those sinners because she hasn’t managed to save one soul while she’s been in Times Square.
Well, long story short: Sarah and Sky end up talking about love and Sarah sings the song, “I’ll Know,” in which she states she’ll know, without a doubt, when she meets the love of her life. Here are the lyrics:
"For I've imagined every bit of him
To the strong moral fiber to the wisdom in his head
To the home-y aroma of his pipe. . . .
Yes, and I shall meet him when the time is right.
SKY. (spoken) You've got the guy all figured out.
SARAH (spoken) I have.
SKY (spoken) Including what he smokes. All figured out, huh?
SARAH (spoken) All figured out.
I'll know when my love comes along
I won't take a chance.
I'll know he'll be just what I need
Not some fly-by-night Broadway romance. . . .
I'll know by the calm steady voice
Those feet on the ground.
I'll know as I run to his arms
That at last I've come home safe and sound.
Until then, I shall wait.
Until then, I'll be strong.
Oh, I'll know, when my love comes along."
Sarah is absolutely certain she’ll know when she meets the love of her life because she’s imagined what he’ll be like. He’ll be moral, wise, stable, steady, calm, and smoke a pipe. Well, of course, we, as the movie-watchers, know that Sarah is all wrong about this. She thinks she knows, but she doesn’t. We can see that she is falling in love with just the opposite kind of guy, none other than accomplished gambler Sky Masterson.
The funny thing is, Sky thinks he knows what falling in love will be like for him, too. He’ll know he’s met the love of his life the instant he sees her because of chemistry. He responds to Sarah with:
"SKY (spoken) No, no, no ! You are talking about love! You can't dope it like that. What
are you picking, a guy or a horse?
SARAH (spoken) I wouldn't expect a gambler to understand.
SKY (spoken) Would you like to hear how a gambler feels about the big heart throb?
SARAH (spoken) No!
SKY (spoken) Well, I'll tell you.
Mine will come as a surprise to me.
Mine I lead to chance and chemistry.
SARAH (spoken) Chemistry?
SKY (spoken) Yeah, chemistry.
Suddenly I'll know when my love comes along
I'll know then and there
I'll know at the sight of her face
How I care, how I care, how I care
And I'll stop. And I'll stare.
And I'll know long before we can speak
I'll know in my heart.
I'll know and I won't ever ask
Am I right, am I wise, am I smart.
And I'll stop. And I'll stare.
At that face. In the throng.
Yes, I'll know when my love comes along
I'll know when my love comes along."
Of course, Sky’s got it all wrong, too. He’s falling in love with Sarah, with whom he did NOT have instant chemistry! Both Sarah and Sky think they know, but they don’t know. In the end, of course, both are proven wrong because they fall in love with each other and get married.
Silly human beings: We think we know when we don’t know. Or we think we don’t know when we know. We live our days in certainty when there is none, or in uncertainty when there is certainty. We see this characteristic of human beings in the story of the healing of the man born blind. Throughout the passage there are those who say, “I don’t know,” those who say, “I know,” and those who fall somewhere in between.
All of these statements of not-knowing, sort-of-knowing, and knowing happen in response to the fact that a man born blind has been healed by Jesus. This astonishing fact sends everyone into a tailspin. They’re trying to figure out whether a miracle really took place (Is this the man born blind?), where Jesus is, who Jesus is, how he could heal someone, and if he’s a sinner or a saint for doing so (especially on the Sabbath).
First, we encounter the man’s neighbors and those who had known him since birth. They can’t believe it’s the same man: “’Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man’” (8-9).
These people are so astonished that they bring the Pharisees to the healed man. The Pharisees argue among themselves about whether Jesus was from God or a sinner: “’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’” (16)? They can’t decide among themselves, so they turn to the healed man and ask him his opinion: “’What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened’.” The healed man replies, “’He is a prophet’" (17).
There are those who still can’t believe the man is the same one born blind, so they call the parents of the man and question them: “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see” (19)? His parents, freaked out because anyone who proclaims Jesus as the Messiah will be kicked out of the synagogue, answer very carefully, saying, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes” (20-21a). They redirect the questioning to their son, putting the risk of being expelled from the synagogue onto him, by saying, “Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself” (21b).
And, so, they go back to the son, stating that Jesus is a sinner! The man born blind responds, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (25). They continue to badger him, asking, again, how he was healed.
At this point, the healed man becomes frustrated: “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” (27)? He’s losing his patience, so he throws them a challenge, knowing that if he they say they want to become Jesus’ disciples they will be at risk of being expelled from the synagogue. Their response is sharp, calling the healed man a disciple of Jesus and thus putting him at risk of being expelled. Then they proclaim their faith in Moses as a person from God and their distrust of Jesus as a person from God.
Finally, the healed man lays out the truth: "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (30-33). And . . . he was driven out of the synagogue.
The poor guy! All he did was experience healing and continue to state that he had experienced healing. First, he keeps repeating, “Yep. I’m the one who was born blind but can now see,” as everyone around him is freaking out. Next, he keeps repeating, “All I know is that I was blind but can now see,” while everyone around him is freaking out. He doesn’t really feel the need to figure out where Jesus is, or who Jesus is, or whether it was okay that Jesus healed him on the Sabbath, or whether Jesus is from God or a sinner, or whether Jesus is the Messiah, or anything, really, because, after all, HE WAS BLIND FROM BIRTH BUT CAN NOW SEE! He has never seen anything and can now see everything! Can you imagine how overwhelming and wonderful that must have been? I mean, he is the one who should be freaking out and running around exclaiming about the glories of creation but, instead, he’s being badgered by all these people who have not had the miraculous experience and, well, just can’t believe it or just can’t accept it as it is. They have to challenge, and pick, and argue, and have all kinds of feelings and, basically, torture the poor guy.
Here’s the thing: We don’t know until we know, and the way we know is usually through experience. The man was blind. He met Jesus. Jesus healed him. Now he can see. That is what he knows because that is what he experienced. Regardless of how much he is badgered and questioned, he KNOWS what he experienced. People can argue with him until the cows come home, but he knows what he knows because of his EXPERIENCE. And that experience allowed him to be open, which allowed him to proclaim, later, that he believes Jesus is the Son of Man and worships him (35-38).
We just can’t argue with experience. It is how we come to know what we know. The man blind since birth took a leap of faith when he let Jesus try to heal him. But, after he experienced the healing, he didn’t really have to leap because he knew: “I am the man blind from birth who can now see. Jesus healed me. He is from God. He is the Son of Man. I worship him.”
The others? Well, they were having trouble taking that original leap of faith, so they weren’t open to a miraculous experience and, thus, were not able to know. The first step toward faith is to show up and be open to a miracle. I’ve had a few people in the past month tell me that they wish they could believe in God but they just don’t. As I thought about this statement, it occurred to me that one thing those people could do is take enough of a leap of faith to just show up at a church for a month or so. Just come to worship. Meet people. Sit in a pew. Sing some hymns. Hear some sermons. Pray some prayers. Take a leap of faith and just show up to see what happens, like the blind man with Jesus: “Sure, man, you can try to heal me. Whatevs.” It’s amazing what can happen when we just take a leap and show up.
I know the amazing things that can happen if we just take that small leap of faith because it’s what I did back when I returned to church in my early thirties. I had no idea who Jesus was to me. I knew the Church’s position on Jesus, but I still had to get to know him myself. So, I started going to church, to a particular church, every week. And, slowly, I experienced the miracle of a faith community and began to know Jesus through being part of the life of a church.
I shared with someone this week my first experience of asking the prayer team at that church to pray for me. I hesitated asking them because I wanted them to pray about something that seemed too insignificant to warrant their effort. I was going to be singing at my sister’s wedding and I was anxious about doing so. I didn’t want to get so nervous that my voice shook, so I asked the prayer team to pray for me regarding this.
The fact that the prayer team would be praying for me was like wearing a blanket from God that would comfort, calm, and warm me. And, it did. For the first time, I sang with barely any nerves clearly and sweetly. “Panis Angelicus” floated from my mouth out over the congregation from the balcony. It was a holy moment. My father, who NEVER complimented my singing, remembers that moment to this day. He was astonished at how much I had grown as a singer. While it was gratifying to finally get some praise from a man who didn’t hand it out easily, it was even more gratifying to feel carried by the prayer team. Yes, I had worked hard to improve as a singer, but nerves could have undone all of my hard work had grace not been present, keeping me steady as the sound filled the sanctuary.
Our part in the journey of faith is to take the initial leap and show up. Jesus does the rest. By taking that leap and showing up, we experience miracles and come to know God in our own lives. Like Sarah and Sky in Guys and Dolls, we think we know, but we don’t, until we experience God for ourselves. Then, no one can shake our faith: not our neighbors, not those who are like the Pharisees, not even our family members, because we have met Jesus first hand. We KNOW, and so we WORSHIP. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, on Sunday, March 26, 2017, the Fourth Sunday in Lent.