Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 42:14-21
Psalm 142
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Who is blind, but my servant? Or who is as deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is as blind as he who is at peace, and as blind as Yahwehís servant? You see many things, but donít observe. His ears are open, but he doesnít listen.

I love to travel. Many of our road trips take us from one place to another with little time spent along the way, but it is worthwhile to stop for a day or two to take in the sites. I took a trip a few springs ago to help my daughter move into an apartment on the East Coast. I didnít rush home; I stopped in Chattanooga for a few days and did the tourist thing. Bruce and I have taken several mini-vacations to cities only a few hours from home. Even on those overnight stops along a journey, I like to find something interesting to do.

I do a lot of research, checking the Internet for information about the best places to eat and the best attractions to visit, but I always hope that someone at the information desk will have ideas that are off the beaten track. They are locals, so surely they should have some ideas, right? Unfortunately, too many have no ideas. We went to a small town north of us for Independence Day last year, and the desk staff didnít even know where we might find fireworks displays to watch. Iím surprised how many times I ask about something Iíve seen on the Internet and they have no idea what Iím talking about.

Granted, I usually stay at one of those national hotel chains, one that does not have a person on staff to act as a concierge. The front desk staff are employees who arenít paid a great deal of money to do their job. However, they serve the tourist industry; it is always my hope that they will be able to answer my touristy questions. I expect a resident to have some knowledge of the history, attractions and the local flavors. At the very least, there should be a reference guide at the desk that gives information beyond pointing to the rack of brochures in the lobby.

I like to watch those fix it shows where the expert goes in to help a business owner overcome the challenges that are destroying the business. Most often the biggest challenge is a lack of knowledge. The expert is always amazed that someone would buy a restaurant or a bar and not have any idea of the work involved in making it successful. Have you have had a similar experience? Have you sought help from a person who should have knowledge about the subject but who have no idea what you are asking?

The Pharisees were educated and knowledgeable, a class of men who were very familiar with the Law and the scriptures. Their strict observance to the traditions gave them an air of superiority. Their knowledge should have given them insight into what was happening in and around Jesus Christ. There are none so blind as those who will not see. They rejected Jesus because Jesus did not fit into their expectation of the Messiah. They rejected Jesus because He was turning their world upside down; He was casting doubt on everything they knew and believed. Sometimes the people who should know the most are those who have the least knowledge.

Jesus was giving the people a new understanding of God, of sin, of the Law and of faith. He was healing people without the usual requirements of the Law. He was bypassing their authority. He was claiming to be God.

Sadly, Godís people have always been blind and deaf. They refused to see or hear that they were not in a right relationship with God. Though they thought they were righteous, they turned the world and Godís Law upside down to appear righteous. They could not see that the Law was given so that they would turn to God; it acts as a mirror to show us our sin which causes us to seek Godís mercy and grace. Instead of being justified by God, they justified themselves by their strict observance of rules, traditions and ceremonies. Jesus was showing them

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 see our sin and we repent, turning to God, seeking His forgiveness as He transforms us into the people He has created us to be. It isnít comfortable. We might even suffer. We can respond like the people in our Gospel story that rejected Jesus and continued to walk in the darkness.

It all began with a man the disciples happened to see along their way. He was blind from birth. They asked a question based on their understanding of the world. ďRabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?Ē They thought that any sort of dis-ease was the punishment for sinfulness, so someone had to be at fault for the manís blindness. This is, unfortunately, a point of view still widely held today. Many churches even teach that blessedness is a reward for goodness and curses come upon those who lack faith. Jesus answers that this divine encounter is not about the man or his parents. It is not even about the healing. It is about God being glorified.

Once again we have Jesus being in a place where He can make a life-changing impact on a single person that will touch many to follow. Last week, He broke down borders and revealed Himself as the Messiah to the Samaritans. In this weekís Gospel text, He healed a man born blind.

This was a particularly troubling act of healing for the Pharisees. The rabbis taught that there were four particular miracles that would identify the Messiah. Now, these were healings that they themselves could never accomplish, so they taught the people that these could only be done by the one whom God selected, to cover themselves from the disappointment of the people. They were always concerned about keeping their power and control, so they justified their failure by claiming it had to be done by the Messiah.

The first of the four miracles was healing a leper. Leprosy was punishment for sin, which is why the lepers were cast out of the villages and separated from their people. Since only God could forgive sin, it was taught that only God could heal a leper and in doing so also provided forgiveness for the sin that caused the leprosy. This is why the healed lepers were sent to the temple to show themselves to the priest; they would make the final determination whether those healed could return home.

The second miracle was the casting out of a demon from a mute person. The priests were only able to exorcise the demons if they knew its name, and so when dealing with a possessed person they asked the demon to identify itself. They could proceed when they knew its name. However, a mute demon cannot speak its name, so they canít provide healing. When Jesus cast the demon out of mute and blind man, the people began to see that He might possibly be the Messiah. After all, the rabbis taught that only the Messiah could do what Jesus did, so they questioned whether He was the Son of David for whom they waited.

The fourth miracle is found later in the story: the raising of a man dead for four days. The reason why this was extraordinary is that the rabbis taught that the spirit left the body at three days. The spirit gave life, and if it was gone, there was nothing left to be resurrected. Jesus purposely waited two days to go to his friend Lazarus; he was dead four days when He brought him back to life. Mary and Martha were so upset because they thought there was no hope. The raising of Lazarus showed the people that there was hope.

The third type of miracle is the one in todayís Gospel lesson. By now the religious leaders were more than curious about Jesus. He was doing what they said He would do, but they were beginning to see how this might put a damper on their power and control over Godís people. When Jesus healed the man born blind, He showed them that He really could do what they claimed no one could do, and that He was from God. But they had to find a way to make the people believe that He was a fake. They questioned the man and his family to catch them in some sort of lie. They twisted the miracle into something demonic. They ridiculed the man for being a follower of Jesus and not of Moses.

Last week Jesus took the woman at the well from fear to hope to faith. A similar transformation took place in the man born blind, but it was brought about by the questions of the Pharisees. As a matter of fact, Jesus disappears for most of it, as the Pharisees interrogate the man about his healing. The more they tried to shake the manís excitement, the more he came to believe that the miraculous experience he had came from God.

The blind man never saw Jesus, so he could not pick Him out of a crowd, but he knows that it was Jesus that gave him his sight. Over and over again, the man told 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 mixing mud was against the Sabbath law. It would be impossible for a man of God to act unlawfully. Others argued that a sinner could not have healed the man. They turned back to the man who was healed. ďWhat do you think?Ē they asked.

He believed in Jesus, but they could accept the manís story. They questioned him 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 needed for life.

As the interrogation continued, the Pharisees 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. ďI donít know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see.Ē 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.

The passages for this day help us to see the reality of Godís kingdom in this world. God is not glorified by fulfilling our expectations; He is glorified when He is revealed through Jesus Christ. He shines His light through the witness of those who believe. He reveals what is hidden and we are called to bring His light to this world so that what is secret might be exposed. In seeing our own sin, we can turn to Christ for forgiveness.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees who were listening to Jesus did not see their sin. It is uncomfortable having our sin revealed. How is it an act of grace and mercy? Unfortunately, the Pharisees who overheard Jesus talking to the man did not recognize their own sinfulness. They asked Him, ďAre we blind?Ē Jesus answered, ďIf you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ĎWe see.í Therefore your sin remains.Ē They claimed to see God, to see His kingdom in this world. They believed they knew God better than the others. Yet, they were unable to see that Jesus Christ was the one for whom they were waiting. In rejecting Jesus, they stayed in the darkness that leads to death, thus remaining in their sin and rejecting the forgiveness He so freely gives to those who believe. They used the Law to bind people to their expectations; Jesus held them to the same standard. Since they claimed to ďseeĒ they would remain guilty.

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 you 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 about our 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 are... weíd rather not deal with them.

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.

Sadly, those who should be able to see most clearly are the ones that are most blind. Those who should know more are often the most ignorant. I like to think that I have a solid understanding of the scriptures. Iím not theologically educated, but Iíve spent years reading and studying and savoring Godís Word. I hope I would not reject Jesus if I encountered Him like the Pharisees, but I am a sinner. The truth is that Godís word in Isaiah is as true for me as it was for the Pharisees. ďYou see many things, but donít observe. His ears are open, but he doesnít listen.Ē

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. They were blind to what God could do for them, but claimed they could see. 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.

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, experiencing Godís forgiveness and being transformed by His grace.

What is truly amazing about this story is that Jesus did more than heal a man blind from birth. He healed a man who was suffering something even greater: he believed that he was worthless and hated by God. This man needed far more than physical healing. He needed spiritual cleansing. Heíd been blind from birth, convinced by the world that he was a sinner unworthy of anything spiritual. He would have been healed, but uncomfortable with entering into the lives of the faithful because nothing was changed. He was no longer blind, but how could that overcome a lifetime of rejection?

Though the Pharisees were trying to get the man to reject Jesus, the interrogation led the man to the understanding of what it meant to believe in Jesus. We grow in our faith, too, as we live our life in this world. We were once blind, but now we see. We are children of light, spiritually cleansed by the grace of God. As we grow in our faith in Christ, we see how we must change. We see, by His Word, that the things of darkness are not fruitful and so we turn to the things in the light.

That is why we practice disciplines like we do during Lent: to grow in our faith and mature into the people God has created and saved us to be. As we pray, study, fast and worship, His light reveals the world as He sees it, so that we might repent and walk according to His ways. The darkness is revealed by the light. When we see the truth, we are set free to live according to Godís Law as He meant us to live: in the glorious light of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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