Harrowing Of Hell
March 19, 2023

Adulting Faith

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

When I was a kid, I lived in sort of a wooded area. And winding through the woods was a series of paths, well-trodden by me and my friends on our journey toward adulthood. Now one of the dangers that we had to contend with were the bottomless pits of quicksand, hidden at the edges of the trails. Quicksand was one of the great enemies in the imagination of a young adventurer running through the woods in his backyard… the mire inescapable, the muck that could suck him down, down, down into the abyss.

I remember laying at the edge of the trial, having slipped off the path, fingers digging into the dirt, calling for my friends to save my life. They would hear my cry, and scurry to grab a big stick, and extend it to me… just in the nick of time. And then, with great effort, they would pull me out, back onto the well-trodden path where safety was to be had. It was a big deal, with a lot of drama, and excitement; life and death stuff all the time right there in my backyard.

And my life can sometimes still feel like that. So, I have a confession to make.  It is a Lent, after all… I can still get mired in the muck of my own imagination: the muck of perceived grievances, the muck of unresolved issues, the muck of poor past choices; even the muck of the cultural wars that are dividing in this nation.

We encounter muck in the Gospel today as well: the parents are mired in it, while their son seems more the adult, standing sure footed on the well-trodden trail. Here is what is going on in this pericope. There is a debate taking place about sin. A young man born blind is the exhibit presented by the Pharisees to challenge Jesus’ message that everybody is loved by God. Clearly not this guy, born blind, as a result of some sin committed…at least that was the cultural narrative. Jesus pushes back, then punctuates his point by enabling the young man to see. Jesus then leaves the scene, and the young man is confronted by the Pharisees.

HIs response is to speak the truth: “I could not see and now I can see.” The problem with this truth, however, is that it confronts the framework of thinking that empowers the powerful, represented by the Pharisees. Their narrative is: If you have things; If you have resources; If you have good looks; If you have a bunch of children; If you have a ton of sheep; If you studied with the right rabbi; then God loves you. The more you have, the more God loves you; and the less you have, the less God loves you. That was the narrative,  and the one the young man was brought up in. That’s how his parents raised him, and they were invested in this false hierarchy of a preferential God. Which is why, even though they saw exactly what happened to their son, they were unwilling to acknowledge this reality to the Pharisees. They were mired in the muck.

The young man on the other hand,  had no framework for what just happened to him, no experience with this person Jesus. He had not seen him feed 5000, or walk on water. He had not heard his teachings by the Sea of Galilee. Nor did he know he was a rabbi, but he did know that once he could not see and now he could see. He did know from whom this transformation came: a man, who put mud on his eyes, and told him to go wash in the pool of Salone.

And I imagine that on his way there he dared to hope, even though he had no reason to do so because he was blind, because God didn’t like him, that was the narrative, and yet he went, walking by faith not by sight. He washed away the mud. Suddenly he saw, and this he attributed to Jesus, even at the risk of being ostracized;it was the truth, and claiming it was the responsible thing to do. It is what adults do.

My daughter calls this adulting. It means taking responsibility given the reality of the circumstances one finds themselves in. It is what adults do. They see the situation, accept the truth, and they respond accordingly.

The parents, in today’s Gospel, did not do this. They continued to support the false narrative of the Pharisees which left them mired in the muck. A present-day example of this might be Tucker Carlson’s false reframing of the January 6  attack on the nation’s capital. That is a myriad of muck mire.

There is faith and there is fiction. There is being an adult, and there is being mired in the muck. The young man sees this, his parents choose to remain blind. Maybe the young man was never actually seeing-impaired at all; maybe Jesus just gave him a reason to grow up in faith; maybe Jesus just gave him a reason to see the world as it really is, and the courage to say it.

And yet, fiction is often safer than faith. The young man, after all, was attacked by the Pharisees for defending a man he didn’t even really know, Jesus. What makes the young man an adult here is his faith; defined in the letter to the Hebrews as: “Faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11)

To be an adult in the faith is to be assured that the path you are on leads to something bigger and better than yourself. To be an adult in the faith is to face whatever is in front of you, whatever obstacles, whatever odds, whatever pain and suffering with an evenness of spirit, because of your confidence in the road upon which you stand. It is to seek reconciliation. It is to seek connection. It is to be the backstop, the holding pen, for the anxiety and insecurity revealed by those stuck in the muck. It is to be the person standing on the well-trodden trail extending a stick to the person stuck.

We can feel the solid ground under our feet. Feel it? Look down.See the ground. Stomp your feet – like you’re at a Queen concert (which would make me Freddie Mercury). We know when we are standing on solid ground because we made the decision to do so.

Coming to church is an expression of faith, a decision, not made because we “feel it” every Sunday; not made because we “believe it” every Sunday; but because we choose to say God is at the end of the path upon which we journey. That’s a decision. It is a decision that is not about us, but something bigger than us, and it makes us trustworthy, because it enables us to see around corners. The faithful adult has curved site line that allows them to see that it is better to fail in a cause that will succeed, than to succeed in a cause that will fail. And the cause that will succeed always aligns with God’s preference.                   

We witnessed this with the young man. He may “fail” in his life, now that he’s been kicked out by the Pharisees, and left on his own by his parents. The rejection by his community may “ruin” his life as he hoped it could be lived, and yet, his cause is God’s preference, and as such will succeed; for while the Pharisees are a footnote in the muck of historical irrelevance, the young man’s story sits central in the Gospel of John, and we are talking about it today.

My expectation for us is that we are adults, and we let this be known through our faith. That we own our capacity to sees around corners, because we know the destination toward which we are headed… It is responsible to do this. It is the adulting process that happens day by day, irrespective of how old we are. It is growing up in the faith, to use the words of the apostle Paul. It is owning the faith, not because we believe everything, not because we always feel it, but because we act faithfully, with feet planted on the well-trodden trail. It is solid ground packed firmly, by millions upon millions who have gone before us.

Here is what adult faith looks like. Stopping on the path upon which we journey. Standing still, next to someone in need. Extending to them an invitation to join us on solid ground. Maybe it looks like holding the hand of a friend who got laid off; maybe it looks like being kind to a harried ticket agent; or a weary attendant caring for you while you are in the hospital; knowing, by faith, even if they aren’t feeling it, even if they aren’t believing it, that God is around the corner. Maybe it is hearing the rant of a friend over a grievance perceived, or an issue unresolved, or a past choice lamented, or even a cultural battle over which they froth, listening without fomenting ourselves. Standing on the well-trodden path extending a branch knowing their muck is less real than the God who is around the corner.

The world needs us to be faithful adults. To know the ground upon which we stand. To be sure footed and confident, seeing around corners because we know who is at the end of the trail.