Sunday, March 6, 2005

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

One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.

It would be very easy to choose one of today’s scriptures to write a sermon, for they all contain powerful messages of God’s grace and mercy on man. It is more difficult, however, to find some common thread between these passages, a thread that binds them together or a common message for us today. I love when the thread is obvious, because those devotionals almost write themselves. Yet, sometimes the more difficult texts are the ones that have the greatest blessings because we have to listen more carefully for what God is speaking into our hearts and lives.

The scripture from Samuel is one that I love to use when teaching about looking beyond the surface. I emphasize the fact that David was not the type of person that Samuel expected God to choose to be the king. After all, David was slight of build – a shepherd rather than a warrior. He did not fit the description of a powerful man. However, Samuel learns that God does not look at the cover; He knows the hearts of men. David was not powerful in flesh, but he had a heart for God. When David needed help, he turned to God.

This is obvious in today’s Psalm which is one of the most beloved songs of praise ever written. How many people use the Shepherd’s Psalm to get them through difficult times? How many find comfort in those words when they are facing illness or death? In this short but powerful passage, David praises God for His many good works. One day I would love to report the importance of all these works as described in the Phillip Keller book “A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23.” David was a shepherd and he knew what was involved with keeping a flock of sheep. They needed to be led, tended, fed, cleaned and loved. He saw the same loving care coming from His Father, the Lord God Almighty and confessed faith in the Shepherd of us all.

Ephesians tells us what it is like in the darkness, perhaps even that dark valley David knew. God knew that David was a man after His own heart, but He also knew about David’s sin. He exposed the sin against Uriah the Hittite – exposed it not only to Samuel but also to David himself. David did not see his own sin until it was revealed through the grace of God.

We might think it would be an unpleasant experiencing such revelation about ourselves – how could this be seen as an act of grace and mercy? However, by seeing what he had done, David repented and turned to God for forgiveness – forgiveness which He received. Saul did not turn to God when his sin was revealed, so he lost his crown and his life. Paul warns us that what is hidden will be revealed, that God’s 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.

Finally, we can see a message of healing in today’s Gospel lesson. The man was born blind, but Jesus brought him out of the darkness into the light – not only in the physical healing of his sight, but also in spirit. Jesus opened his eyes of faith so that he could see the Christ and believe. He not only believed, but he worshipped Jesus. This worship was not in response to the healing, but because he saw Jesus, the Son of Man.

I suppose in this way the passages fit together, the thread being a chain that brings one passage into the next. Yet, there is a more important message for us in today’s world.

In today’s Old Testament lesson Samuel says to God, “How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me.” God called Samuel to go to anoint David. Unfortunately, there was still a king of Israel – a king that Samuel did not want to anoint in the first place. The people’s request for a king was an insult to Samuel and to God. Now, God was putting Samuel in the uncomfortable position of anointing a new king, thus rejecting the most powerful man in his world. It was a dangerous thing to do and Samuel was afraid. However, God gave Samuel a way out of the danger. He gave Samuel another reason to go to Bethlehem – to offer a sacrifice in the presence of the elders. While there, Samuel anointed Israel’s true king, David. He did not want to go to do this work, but he went obediently in faith that God would take care of him.

Isn’t it interesting that David was not even present at the sacrifice since he had been sent into the fields to keep the sheep? Though a son of Jesse, he was rejected, left to the sheep rather than welcomed at the celebration. As the youngest of such a large family he could not expect to accomplish anything of great importance. His oldest brother would receive half of his father’s estate; the other sons would split the rest. Since David was not well built, he would never have honor or glory in war. By the accident of birth, David would be nothing but a shepherd boy.

By the accident of birth a man was born blind. We hear his story in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus was walking with His disciples when they came across this man. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?” The assumption by the disciples was a common misunderstanding of that time. They assumed that any physical disability or illness must have been caused by some specific act of sin. 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 answered the disciples, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” This is not about the man or his parents. It is not even about the healing. It is about God being revealed to the world.

This passage is rather long, but very little of it has to do with the actual healing – two verses out of forty-one. Most of the passage describes the experiences of the man after he was healed. He was interrogated numerous times. Even his parents were called in to testify to what happened to the man. At first the people who knew him thought he must be someone ‘like him.’ No one who had been born blind had ever been healed before in the history of the people. He had to be a look alike, but he kept insisting he was the man they knew.

They kept asking him, “How then were thine eyes opened?” Over and over the man described his experience. “The man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to Siloam, and wash: so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” The people began to argue over this incident. Some thought that Jesus could not be from God because He did work on the Sabbath. Others thought that Jesus could not do the work unless He was from God.

It might seem odd that we would spend so much time talking about this part of the story, after all the miracle was found in the healing. Yet, when we look at the ultimate purpose of the miracles in John – actually signs – we realize that this interrogation is quite important. See, these were a people who were expecting a Messiah. The scriptures were filled with prophecies describing the promised Savior and many people saw in Jesus the fulfillment of those prophecies. Ancient Jewish tradition also offered some expectations of what the Messiah would do when He came. He would heal a leper, cast out a demon that left its victim speechless and heal a man who was blind from birth.

Jesus was already making some claims about Himself and His relationship with the Father that had the religious leaders of the day upset. If they believed what He said, then they had to believe that He came to accomplish the work of God. However, they expected that the Messiah would come to set them free from the oppression of the Romans and Jesus was overcoming other oppressions that made them upset. He had already spoken against the Jewish authorities. In the previous chapter, Jesus called them children of the devil.

This is not what they expected of the Messiah, so they were determined to prove Him to be otherwise. Unfortunately, this was truly a miraculous event. A man who had been born blind could now see. They had to find some way of disproving this event to convince the believers that Jesus was nothing but a phony or false Messiah. John tells us that the Jews did not believe that the man had been blind until they called in his parents who testified that he was their son.

Then they wanted the parents to describe the healing. The man’s parents were frightened because they knew the only way they could describe what happened would be to show faith in Jesus. Such a confession meant expulsion from the synagogue and rejection from society. They answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: but how he now seeth, we know not; or who opened his eyes, we know not: ask him; he is of age; he shall speak for himself.”

I’ve often looked at this comment with negativity – I saw the parents as wimps for not confessing faith in the man that healed their son. However, the reality is that his parents can not tell their son’s story. He has to tell his story. They can’t share what it means to be healed by Jesus because it did not happen to them. They can tell what they know, which is that their son was blind and now he sees. They may not yet have even met Jesus for themselves. They may not have had faith to confess. They may have been afraid of the Jews, but we have to realize that for them the idea of Jesus as Messiah was not yet a reality.

As we listen to the testimony of the man, we can see his story developing slowly but surely. First he just told about the healing – that Jesus put mud on his eyes, he washed and he can now see. Later, the interrogators wanted to know what he thought about Jesus. First he said that Jesus was a prophet, later that he did not know whether Jesus was a sinner or not. Over and over again he kept saying, “I was blind and now I see.” This was his story.

Finally when the Jews asked him another time to tell his story, he said “I told you even now, and ye did not hear; wherefore would ye hear it again? Would ye also become his disciples?” No matter how many times the man would tell his story, they would not hear or believe. Yet, in this telling, the man offered an invitation to the Jews, “Would you like to become his disciple?” I have always read this question as if it was spoken with sarcasm, and yet is not the purpose of our own storytelling to give us the opportunity to invite others to know Jesus?

Imagine how the Jews must have reacted to this question. The lesson tells us that they answered, “Thou art his disciple; but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God hath spoken unto Moses: but as for this man, we know not whence he is.” The man, becoming more and more confident in his own faith, told them from whence He came. “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

Isn’t it strange that at this point in the story, the man had not yet even seen Jesus face to face? When they asked him where Jesus was, the man could honestly say he did not know. To him, except by faith, Jesus was a complete stranger. He could have been standing right next to him and he would not know that it was Jesus.

The Jews were upset by the man’s teaching. “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?” They cast him out of the synagogue, but Jesus found him. “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” At this point the man knew he believed but did not yet know in whom he believed. “And who is he, sir, that I may believe on him?” Jesus answered, “I am he.” The man answered, “I believe” and worshipped Him.

The passages for this day help us to see the reality of God’s kingdom in this world. God is not glorified by fulfilling our expectations; He is glorified when He is revealed to the world. 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. They asked Jesus, “Are we blind?” Jesus answered, “If ye were blind, ye would have no sin: but now ye say, We see: your sin remaineth.” They claim to see God, to see His kingdom in this world. Yet, they were unable to see that Christ is 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.

David confessed faith in God through many of the psalms, particularly the Shepherd’s Psalm. He knew God through his own experiences and saw God in the language of his life in this world. To him, the LORD was his Shepherd. Through we find immense comfort in the words of this psalm, it is not necessarily our story. How can we, who have never cared for a flock, know what it means to be cared for as a sheep? We have or own story. We can only testify about what God has done in our life. No one can tell our story and we can’t witness for others.

We have difficulty with this, however, because most of us do not even know our story. A great many Christians do not even know they have a story. They can’t tell about a miraculous healing like the man born blind from birth or share an incredible story of conversion like Paul. We can’t say that God chose us out of a huge family to be king of Israel. What do we have to say? We may not have an incredible story, but we do have a story. We are called to be witnesses to the glory of God in this world, so that His light will be revealed in the darkness of this world. Our biggest problem is that we have not practiced our story. We have not told it to others over and over like the blind man, so we have never become comfortable with it.

We need to tell our story over and over again, become familiar with the work God has done in our lives so that when the opportunity comes we can tell others about His mercy and grace in a language we know. When we tell our own stories, we open up the opportunity to invite others to see God, to become His disciples. God saves us – heals us and opens our eyes of faith – so that we can testify about Him to others. They only story we have to tell is our own. Let us sing our own psalms of praise and thanksgiving for all that Christ has done in our life. Thanks be to God.

Back to Midweek Oasis Index Page