Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the LordÖ

My car was experiencing a minor problem which in the next few months would cause major discomfort. The air conditioner and heater were working, but the blower was not. I could get air at full blast, but not at any of the other levels. When I took it to the mechanic, one guy joked, ďWait a month and you wonít need the other levels.Ē That might have been true, because it can get terribly hot here in Texas. But quite frankly, Iíd rather not run the air conditioner at full blast for long periods of time. It is too noisy and it gets much too cold. I would rather have the option to run the air at low constantly, which will keep the car cool without creating the other problems.

Iíve had this problem for a number of months, but Iíve waited because I was concerned about what would happen when I took the car in to the shop. Iím sure weíve all experienced it: the car goes in for a simple fix and the mechanic finds a problem. By the end of the day, the bill is ten times what you expect and you are stuck without a car for hours, perhaps even days.

So, I went to my usual guy and told him what was happening. As it turns out, the solution was simple. The part was cheap and the work would not take very long. We made an appointment for this morning, and the guy told me it should take about half the day as they worked my car into their other jobs. The guy ordered the part immediately so that it would be available when we needed it. I arrived at the shop early this morning, prepared to leave my car. He had a ride for me, but asked me to wait a few minutes, ďPerhaps we can get this done right away.Ē

He came in a few minutes later and said it was done, but he wanted the mechanic to take a quick look. ďIt has been a few months since weíve seen your car, letís make sure everything is good. Of course, I held my breath because the last thing I wanted was for them to find something wrong. A few minutes later he came back with good news. ďEverything looks great.Ē I was pleased. The trip took a half hour and cost me less than a hundred dollars. And now my air works great, just in time for the hot Texas summer.

Iím not always so lucky. Last year we had a series of problems with the car, not related but happening one after the other. Each time I took it in, they gave me an estimate but throughout the day found problems under the surface. The bills stacked up, and I kept thinking that I could probably buy a new car for less than it was costing me to fix that one. That wasnít true, but it seemed like it could be.

We donít always know what is hidden under the surface, with our cars or with our lives. Iíve known seemingly healthy, athletic people who have died from traumatic health issues. Businesses and professionals can appear to be successful, but have deep secrets buried in their closets. A yard can look lovely and green but have swarms of killer ants just waiting to break through the surface to attack anyone or anything that dares tread in their path.

But those evils buried under the surface need not be a death sentence. Disease can be found by a doctor and cured. Businesses and careers can be saved. Once the ants break through the surface, exterminators can poison the colony so that it will no longer present a danger. But for any of this to be fixed, the problem needs to be revealed. I might have preferred to not have the repair bill for my car, but I could tell the difference in my car once the problems were fixed and the car has continued to serve me well, including several very long trips. What would have happened if I had allowed those problems to stay hidden? I might have broken down in the middle of nowhere, along a lonely highway with no one to help.

We are, by nature, imperfect, despite having been created in our Creatorís image. We are darkness, with secrets hidden from view. But Paul writes, ďFor ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord.Ē Jesus comes into our life, shining His light and revealing whatís hidden in our darkness. This isnít the most pleasant experience. We donít like to hear how we are failures. We donít like to hear that we are sinners. We donít like to have our skeletons brought out into the open. But unless they are revealed, we canít deal with them. But thatís how we areÖ weíd rather not deal with them.

We canít live in that darkness and serve God. We canít bear the fruit that comes from holding on to our skeletons and expect to glorify God. Paul warns us that what is hidden will be revealed, that Godís light breaks through the darkness to expose the secrets in our hearts. In Christ we are called to live in that light, not in the darkness of our sin. That means dealing with our sinfulness and using the lessons learned to help others deal with theirs. As the light shines, it will reveal that which is hidden in the darkness, calling others to wake and rise from the dead.

There is an unfortunate reality when it comes to our sin. Sin causes suffering. Now, Iím not saying that suffering is the punishment for our sin, but sin hurts others. Sin brings dis-ease. Sin ruins lives. Sin causes men and women to lose their jobs. Sin, darkness, shatters our world. There are those in our world who have taken this reality to an extreme, claiming that all suffering is attributed so someoneís sin. In other words, if you sin, you will suffer. Or: if you suffer, you sinned to get that way. While it might be true that sin brings suffering, we canít always blame specific suffering on specific sins.

It isnít helpful to do that anyway. Whatís the point of focusing on a lifetime of bad habits when someone is sick? Whatís the point of bringing up every failure when friendships are broken? Yet, it is natural for human thought to question why something has happened. In Jesusí day, the assumption was that suffering was brought on by some specific sin. The disciples didnít think it was an odd question they were asking about the blind man that day. ďWho sinned?Ē Iím sure it didnít make sense that the man himself was to blame; after all he was blind from birth. But it is equally hard to believe that God would punish a man for the sins of his father.

Jesus answered, ďNeither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.Ē This might be the hardest explanation of all. Would God really cause such suffering just so that He might be glorified? Jesus wants the disciples to look at everything from a new point of view. The man was blind, he wasnít being punished. They had an opportunity not to blame someone, but to glorify God.

Is that how we approach our own suffering? Do we ask why? Or do we stand firmly in the promises of God? Do we try to find a reason for the suffering or do we look for a way of shining the light of Christ on the world?

The interesting part of this story is not the healing, however. In this story Jesus glorifies God, but it is not really Jesus that is being seen glorifying Him. As a matter of fact, Jesus disappears before the man can even see Him. The blind man could not pick Jesus out of a crowd, but he knows that it was Jesus that gave him his sight. Over and over again, the man tells the people that it was Jesus who healed him and how He did it, to the point of frustration. The leaders did not believe him because it would be impossible for a man of God to do something unlawful on the Sabbath. But, others argued that a sinner could not do such things. Their confusion fell on the manís shoulders. ďWhat do you think?Ē they asked.

He believed in Jesus, but the people were unable to accept the story as it was being told. They questioned him some more, insulted that a blind man might act as if he knew more than they did about Godís business. After all, if he was blind, he must be a sinner! They even turned to the manís parents to see if they could give them some answers, but they refused. They were afraid to be witnesses because faith in Jesus meant rejection. They would have been kicked out of the community. It was better to lose a son than lose access to everything they need for life.

As the story continues, the people commanded the man to give glory to God and not to Jesus. They said that Jesus could not do such things because He is a sinner. The man didnít care. ďWhether he is a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.Ē The reality here is that the man was giving God the glory by witnessing for Jesus. Whatever the cause of the manís blindness, he fulfilled the very purpose of his life: to glorify God.

That brings us back to that question: Would God really cause such suffering just so that He might be glorified? But thatís not the point of this lesson. The point is that in his circumstances, the man glorified God. The point is that whatever our circumstances might be, our very purpose in life is to glorify God. Whether we are sick or in health, rich or poor, successful or an abject failure, we now live in the light and that light is meant to shine so that God will be glorified. Our circumstances are not given for the purpose of glorifying God, but we can glorify God in all our circumstances.

Spiritual blindness means seeing Godís grace upside down. Instead of seeing the blessing of the manís healing, they insisted that they were more blessed because they had never been blind. They still did not see the reality of their sin and failure. They were blind to what God could do for them, but claimed they could see. Jesus said, ďIf ye were blind, ye would have no sin: but now ye say, We see: your sin remaineth.Ē If they were still in darkness, then Jesus would be patient with them, but they claimed to have the light. They refused to see what Jesus was revealing in His light, however. Until they saw the truth, they would continue to dwell in their sin.

Of course, the Old Testament lesson reminds us that the outside doesnít really matter to God: God sees the heart. In the case of David, Samuel expected the chosen king to be one of his older brothers. David was not even invited to the banquet. He was not sanctified with the rest of the family, but instead was outside with the sheep. Over and over again, Samuel looked at the sons of Jesse and thought he saw a man of authority and strength, but thatís not what God is looking for in a leader. He is looking for men (and women) who will turn to Him for all things. David was that kind of man. It might have been hard for others to see, because he was just a boy, but he was the one God chose because God knew that David would seek Godís will.

Was David perfect? Of course not. We know that David sinned. His desire for Bathsheba led to the death of Uriah the Hittite and the death of his son. But when the light revealed his sin, he repented and turned to God for mercy. He didnít blame anyone else. He didnít try to avoid the reality of his sin. He glorified God, even in his losses.

David knew what it was like to walk in the shadow of death. He knew what it was like to experience darkness. He knew what it was like to suffer the consequences of his failures. But he believed in his heart that God was merciful and right. He trusted that God would make his mistakes into something good. He glorified God at all times, even when it seemed like nothing was going right. His prayer in Psalm 23 is exactly why God chose him to be anointed that day by Samuel. I can hear his voice from the caves where he hid from Saul. I can see David singing this prayer when he was mourning over his dying son. I can imagine that David found these words even when God told him that he could not build the Temple. He didnít try to blame others or get around Godís Word. He simply accepted Godís Word and did what He could, glorifying God not in the building but in the preparation for the work his son would do.

We might not like to have the light reveal our imperfections. We might not want to deal with our sin. But once we have seen the light, there is no holding back from the transformation that God has promised. Once He has opened our eyes, we canít pretend that we canít see.

What would have happened if the auto shop guy found something else wrong with my car? I would probably have asked how severe the problem was and how long it would last before I needed to get it fixed. Perhaps I could go about my usual driving for weeks or months without dealing with it, especially since I donít usually drive very far from home. But once the problem is revealed, I know I need to deal with it. I need to get it fixed.

The same is true in our spiritual lives. Once God reveals the reality of our sin and the darkness in which we live, we have to deal with it. We have to deal with our sin. We have to admit our failures and experience His mercy. We have to repent, turn to God, seek His forgiveness and let Him transform us into the people He has created us to be. It wonít be comfortable. We might even suffer. But we can go forward like the people in our Gospel story, rejecting Jesusí word and continuing to walk in the darkness. Or we can live like David, using all our circumstances to glorify God. In Him we shall not want, for He provides every good and perfect thing.

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