A Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41
I am 64, and Angie is just a few years younger. We understand why our children are the right age to raise children. Towards the end of last year’s Razorback football season, Michelle and Russell got tickets to a Hogs game. They asked if we’d keep LG. Of course, we would; what a silly question. Our answer was an exuberant yes. And we had a good time. At 2 LG kept us going. She got to us about 10 that morning and didn’t stop till she dropped asleep just about 9 that night. I slipped out to come here for Sunday morning about 7:30. LG was still asleep, and I am not sure when she got Angie up except that I’m sure it was earlier than Angie’s expectation. I got home, and they were off on some 2-years-old adventure. We packed her up and took her home. I’m not sure who was happier to see Michelle and Russel more, LG or Angie and me. We had a good time. But we were done. LG is all toddler disrupting every expectation, we had. We were glad to get back to our usual expectations.
About a month ago, we picked up Angie’s service dog in training, Burt. He is a mastiff shepherd mix. You have heard me say he is like having a 120-lb. toddler in the house. Just his size and exuberance has disrupted our expectations. On top of that, his arrival introduced a new player into the pack. Little rivalry has shown up. If Nugget comes to see one of us, both show up. If Nugget wants his head scratched, so does Burt. If Burt wants his tummy rubbed, so, does Nugget. Together 200-lbs of canine disturbance has been injected into our carefully choreographed daily expectations. Progress is being made. Not every canine move is now matched with a competing move. However, I have noticed it is a lot harder for Angie and me to see the disruptions than we thought it would be. And it is even harder for us to figure out how we should respond; where do we make adjustments? where do we enforce existing rules? What is really hard is to for us, is to change our expectations of what is right and our related behaviors. I feel just a touch, no more than that, I feel real empathy for the Pharisees and authorities in this morning’s, Gospel story because Jesus has arrived on the scene and has completely disrupted all their expectations.
The story begins with one of my favorite bible verses Jesus’ disciples asked him,
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. (John 9:2-3)
A quick side note. We can all understand how the man’s parents might have sinned, at least we think we do, but that will come in a bit. But how in the world does a fetus sin? Well, it turns out it is a bit of Jewish Midrash speculation, think bible commentary on Gen 25:19 the story of Esau’s and Jacob’s fetal growth and birth, which was difficult enough to cause their mother, Rebekah, to plead to God (Sakenfeld). Why this is one of my favorite verses is Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question. It is the thinking of the day that any kind of suffering is the results of some sin or another (Ellingsen). Jesus rejects that idea completely saying: (and this is a little bit of a different translation)
Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that God’s works might be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who sent me (Vena).
Sin was not the cause of the man being born blind, neither was some mysterious divine need. He was just born blind. Now ~ now it is necessary for us, for Jesus and his disciples, to work the work God has given Jesus. Rejecting the notion of a connection between life’s suffering and sin, is the first disruption Jesus brings.
The Pharisees and authorities proclaim that Jesus is a sinner because he healed on the Sabbath (John 9:16). Jesus has previously argued, that if you can circumcise on the Sabbath, you can heal on the Sabbath (John 7:23). This is a rather broad argument. But here the sin is not just general healing but physical kneading, making the mud, and kneading is explicitly forbidden (O’Day). This accusation is very specific, and Jesus rejects it too.
Now the Pharisees, the leaders, some of the people and the, as of yet, uncertain, disciples seem to be thinking both the man and Jesus are sinners. The evidence against the man is that he is blindness. The evidence against Jesus is a violation of Sabbath rules. If you think there seems to be more than an incidental disagreement about the nature of sin here; you are correct, there is. In 1st century Israel, everyone understands sin is defined by moral behavior revealed by one’s actions. Jesus disrupts the world’s expectations by defining sin as a theological behavior, one’s relationship with God, specifically, accepting Jesus as a revelation of God (Harrelson) (O’Day). It is a far bigger disruption, affecting many more expectations than healing or keeping Sabbath.
We see how the man’s neighbors, some Pharisees, and even his parents step away from him when the controversy arises. However, they have actually stepped away from him much sooner. Anyone could have helped him by giving him some meaningful thing to do, some purpose for life well before Jesus ever showed up. No one ever did (Kubicek). Karen Lewis drags this disruption right into the middle of our lives. She notes the questions we might ask:
- 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 (Lewis)?
It sounds like an argument in many legislative chambers whenever supporting the marginalized is the subject of debate.
Everyone in Jesus’ day thought, and many people today think, sin is a moral behavior defect. We may argue about a specific moral action, say some sexual expression or another, or some financial scheme, but we rarely, if ever, debate the nature of sin. So, if sin is not a moral behavior defect, what is it? Jesus teaches that sin is all about our relationship with God; specifically, our accepting him, Jesus, as the one sent by God. This means that Jesus takes away the sin of the world simply by being here, and his being here means that through Jesus we can change our relationship with God. It is an invitation for us to allow ourselves to be transformed by the divine love that comes to us in the incarnate Jesus (O’Day). It is an invitation to see how Jesus’ world, how our world, marginalizes people, who are different than we expect, by legal and cultural subtlety that deny them the opportunity to support themselves or to be the image of God they are, with dignity (Vena).
In a blog this week Steve Pankey wrote:
The authorities’ unwillingness to see their stubbornness is most dangerous, it is easy to see only what we want to and this means we miss the good and the bad in our midst and also that the way of God is out of [our] sight (Pankey).
My Lenten questions for us are:
- what are we, what are you, unwilling to see that obscures the good and the evil that surrounds us, that surrounds you?
- What are you so unwilling to see, you accept that the way of God is out your of sight?
The Lenten challenge is:
- are you willing for these expectations to be disrupted by the arrival of light of Christ?
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 26 3 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 3 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Kubicek, Kirk. “Light! Lent 4(A).” 26 3 2017. Sermons that Work.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher On Being Found. 26 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.
O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.
Pankey, Steve. On being blind. 26 3 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 9:1-41. 26 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.