A sermon for Lent 4
1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41, Psalm 23
If you watch enough Disney movies, you begin to notice a pattern: you are introduced to characters with wonderful lives; life breaks, often involving death; there is terrible hardship; and with unexpected help the hero or heroine prevails. Think about the book of Job, we are introduced to Job, his wonderful extended family, and his righteous life. We see a side bet between the divine court accuser and God. This leads to a horrific set of tragedies in which Job loses everything. Three friends offer unexpected help, “Confess your sins.” He protests, “I haven’t sinned!” and we know he’s his right. His wife eventually tells him to “Curse God and die.” He doesn’t, he persist in his conversation with God, though sometimes with vehement vim and vigor. God wins the bet; and Job’s former life is restored. Now I mention all this, because Job shatters the link between sin and life’s afflictions. It appears that no one in this morning’s Gospel story, except Jesus, knows the tale.
The disciples see a man born blind; in fact all they see is his blindness. They don’t want to know why he is blind; they know that – sin, they want to know who sinned? his parent or him? Jesus replies: No one. This man was born blind. Let the works of God be known. Then he put mud, made of spittle, a common healing agent of the day, on the blind man’s eyes and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man does; and somewhere along the way his sight is restored, because when he returns, he can see. Notice, Jesus and the disciples are not there.
At this point the story has drawn me to the connection between sin and life’s afflictions. It is the belief of the day. Jesus completely rejects the idea. The maladies of life, horrid and inconvenient happen; let God’s work, God’s glory, or presence, be made know. I suspect that we don’t believe we connect sin to the afflictions and maladies of life as 1st century Jews did; but I’m not sure that is the truth. How often do we hear judgment in: that woman is unemployed, or this man is divorced, or she’s a single mom; he’s a high school dropout, he’s a failure; she’s an alcoholic, she has cancer, or he’s depressed. [i] How often do we hear an ideological or political position, regarding caring for the least of these, grounded in blaming the blind man? Listen for how we use phrases like nature or nurture, or nature or choice. How often do we respond to life’s maladies as our opportunity to reveal the works, glory and presence of God?
There is another gleaning about sin from John’s Gospel teaching. John posits that sin is not a moral issue, but a theological issue, sin is only about our relationship with God through Jesus. [ii] This results in a far greater change than one might think, because salvation shifts from association with Jesus’ death, to arising from Jesus’ life, in other words salvation is no longer sacrificial salvation is incarnational. Gail O’Day writes:
Judgment is therefore based not on what people do, as the disciples and the Pharisees in John 9 assumed, but on people’s embrace of God in Jesus. [iii]
At this point the story changes into two simultaneous journeys: the man born blind into relationship with Jesus; and the Pharisees into denial of Jesus. They are intertwined, but let’s look at them separately, starting with the man born blind.
The man born blind returns from the pool and he can see. His neighbors do not recognize him; at least there is a debate about who he is. It is as if they have never seen him before; as if all they ever saw was that he was blind. [iv] In explaining what happened the man born blind says:
A man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, told me, `Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did and received my sight.
Next he is interrogated by the Pharisees. They ask how his sight was restored and he repeats the story. The Pharisees are also divided, so they ask the man born blind about Jesus. In spite of the implied threat he stands his ground [v] in answering: He is a prophet. Notice his relationship with Jesus changing from “a man called” to “a prophet.”
After the Pharisees interview his parents, they return to the man born blind demanding he give glory to God, and declare Jesus a sinner. The man born blind answers:
I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.
The interrogation increases, the threat is no longer implicit as the Pharisees try to intimidate him with their authority, but undaunted [vi] he answers:
We know that God … listens 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.
As a result, the Pharisees drive him out, of their presence, of the synagogue, of life in the Jewish community. His life has changed. Notice how the man born blind relationship with Jesus is developing, he now professes that Jesus worships and obeys God will.
Jesus reappears, asking the man born blind Do you believe in the Son of Man? He replies: And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him. Jesus answers: I am He replies Lord, I believe. And he worships him.
Sight and blindness are not defined by one’s physical sight, but by one’s openness to the revelation of God in Jesus. The man who had been born blind confession is the culmination of his progression in faith. He received his physical sight, but his true sight came as he moved through his ignorance to recognizing Jesus as the Son of Man, as the light of the world. [vii] The man born blind has become a child of the light, and Christ’s light is shining on him.
The Pharisees’ journey could not be more different. The man born blind is brought to the Pharisees with his amazing story. The Pharisees are divided; some don’t believe Jesus is from God, he worked, made mud, on the Sabbath. [viii] Others say a sinner cannot possibly do such things.
They move on to the man’s parents. It is a court room like hearing. His parents acknowledge he is their son and that he was born blind. They disavow any knowledge of how he received his sight; perhaps out of fear of being thrown out of the synagogue and cut off, in all ways, spiritually, socially and economically, from their community. In short they protected themselves. [ix]
The inquest returns to the man born blind. This time the opening is accusative; they declare that Jesus is a sinner. Later they declare they are disciples of Moses, whom God spoke to.
The Pharisees have moved from questioning to denial. Is it any wonder they fail to recognize Jesus? Scott Hoezee observes that as soon as questions about the miracle arise, Jesus disappears. He notes:
The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus. [x]
In part the Pharisees are blind to who Jesus is because they are holding on to Moses etc. Their behavior is similar to Samuel grieving over Saul; he is having a hard time letting go. How often do we have a hard time letting go of what was, as good as it may have been, and fail to see how God is currently in our lives, [xi] how God is calling us to celebrate the grace and love the surrounds us.
And here we get to another gleaning in Today’s Gospel story. We know by observation and experience there is pain and misery and affliction in the world. We proclaim by faith, that God, in Jesus, by the Spirit over comes it all. And we have a vast ancient and not so ancient set of thoughts, liturgies, and physical settings we associate with God’s presence. And we hold on to them with all the vigor that Samuel is holding on to Saul, and the Pharisees are holding on the Moses, both of whom are of God. But life is not stagnate; it moves, it changes, situations evolve. What was is not what is. God tells Moses I am. Jesus tells the woman at the well and the man born blind: I am. It’s a strange phrase that expresses both present and future being. God is in our present. God is calling us into a divine future. The man born blind journeys into the future Jesus revels to him, and he is healed, he becomes whole. The Pharisees refuse the journey, they reject Jesus’ vision of the future, and they cease being whole, they move into blindness, into darkness.
This is Lent, a time to reorient our lives to God. A time to let go of what was, as good as it may have been, and accept what is being offered. It is a time to see the world for what it really is, not what we are afraid it has become. [xii] It is a time trusts that though I may be blind, in Jesus’ presence, I can see.
[i] David Lose, Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher, Insights, ideas and inspiration by David Lose related to the coming week’s lectionary texts, Identity Theft, Part 2, Tuesday, March 25, 2014 8:42 AM
[ii] Walter Harrison, New Interpreters Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003
[iii] O’Day, ibid
[iv] Robert Hoch, John 9:1-41 Commentary by Robert Hoch – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1985 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 9:1-41
[v] Sermon, worship resources and children’s sermon for March 30th (Lent 4) . March 30, 2014 John 9:1-41 Ephesians 5:8-14 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm Copyright © 1970-2014, SermonSuite / CSS Publishing Company, All Rights Reserved
[vi] O’day, ibid
[viii] O’Day, ibid
[ix] Lose, ibid
Gerard S. Sloyan, Interpretation JOHN, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor
[x]Scott Hoezee cep.calvinseminary.edu , http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php,This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is March 30, 2014 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 9:1-41
[xii] Robert Hoch Michele Bilyeu “With Heart and Hands” (25 September 2012), http://www.with-heart- andhands. com/2012_09_01_archive.html, accessed on 16 November 2013.
Alzheimer’s Prayer: “I pray that [caregivers and family members will care] for their patients and loved ones as the people they truly are . . . and not just who they seem to have become.”