|Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,
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Would you like to visit a friendly megachurch and hear what the pastor has to say?
Thursday, April 7, 2011
10:00 a.m. at The Ark Church
450 Humble Tank Road
Conroe, TX 77304
Map and directions: http://www.thearkchurch.com/contact/map/
April 3, 2011 – Lent 4A
1 Samuel 16:1-13 – Humans look on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.
Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd.
Ephesians 5:8-14 – Live as children of the light. Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
John 9:1-41 – Healing of the Man Born Blind
This story comes off as a kind of comedy. It’s long. Consider having a group read it:
Shared Reading of John 9.
For another angle on this text, read "Is the Earthquake God’s Judgment on Japan" at http://bishopmike.com.
There seem to be a great many points made in this multidimensional text. I’ll suggest five scenes. Any one of them could be a sermon.
1. Don’t draw a direct connection between suffering and sin.
Scene 1: "Who sinned?" It’s a quandary. If he’s blind from birth, then who sinned? Did he sin before he was born? Or did his parents sin, and he’s paying for it. What caused his blindness?
Before you laugh, consider the number of children born with AIDS. But before you judge the mother, consider the woman who has AIDS not because of their promiscuity, but because of her spouse’s indiscretions. But still,
someone sinned, right? What about the person with cancer? Must have been something they ate. The person hit by a car? Must have been walking the wrong place. We can’t seem to get past the idea of karma: if something bad happens to you, it must be something that you did.
Jesus seems to discount this explanation. Blaming the victim won’t wash. Suffering is to be met with compassion, not judgment.
Spit and mud. Jesus uses spit in Mark 7:32 and 8:23 as well. We may be seeing through a window into Jesus’ healing style. Using spit was not uncommon among ancient healers. The mud conjures for me God making Adam out of the dust in Genesis. John’s Jesus is one with the Author of life in Genesis.
There are also themes of sin and baptism. We too are sinners from our birth. We too are called to wash in the pool of Siloam, the waters of baptism.
2. Compassion trumps the law.
Scene 2. In verse 13-17 we are informed that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. So the religious leaders, more concerned with dogged adherence to the law than compassion for the blind man, bring the man in for interrogation.
He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.
This man is not from God. He doesn’t observe the Sabbath.
But if he’s not from God, how can he perform such signs?
What do you say about him?
He is a prophet.
This clearly isn’t an an authorized healing. No one should break the law in such a flagrant way, right? Luke’s Jesus says, "If one of you has a child or a donkey that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on the sabbath day?" (Luke 4:5).
3. Triangulation and exclusion.
Scene 3. In verses 18-23 the Pharisees, who suspect the whole thing is a hoax, bring in the parents.
Is this your son, who was born blind?
How does he now see?
Dunno. Ask him. He is of age. He can speak for himself.
They said this because they were afraid:
Anyone who confessed Jesus as messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Well, well. Kicked out of the synagogue.
See also 12:42, "Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; "
And 16:2, "They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God."
There seems to be a theme here. Some suggest that this is an experience that John’s church was experiencing: the exclusion of Christian Jews from the Synagogue. So they resonated with Jesus’ sayings about exclusion.
The list of those who are not welcome in the Temple or Synagogue was staggering. Gentiles, women, the blind, lame, deaf, mute, lepers, anyone unclean. Exclusion became a way to cut people off from community. The law gave the privileged power over others. It is precisely toward these outcasts and sinners that Jesus directs his ministry.
4. Where does this Jesus come from?
Scene 4. In verses 24-34 the investigation continues, preparing us for the punch of the text. The man is grilled again.
This Jesus is a sinner.
I don’t know about that. I just know he healed me. I was blind, but now I see. (Seems like an obvious cue to sing Amazing Grace.)
What did he do to you.
I already told you. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to be his disciples?
You are his disciple. We are Moses’ disciples. We don’t know who this upstart comes from.
This is an amazing thing. You don’t know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. You say God doesn’t listen to sinners, so…
You were born in sin, and you would educate us?
And they drove him out.
Of course they did.
This kind of witness may be the most effective. Rather than a creedal formula, and a doctrinal response, we can say, I don’t really know about all of that, all I know is that he healed me.
5. Beware of spritual blindness.
Scene 5. Verses 35-41 deliver the punch.
Jesus heard that they drove out the man born blind. In character, Jesus seeks him out.
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Who is he?
I came so that the blind might see, and those who see become blind.
Pharisees: Are you calling us blind?
If you were blind, you would have no sin, but since you say, "We see" your sin remains.
In John 3 Jesus talked about being born again. Nicodemus interpreted it as a physical rebirth, but Jesus was talking about spiritual rebirth. In John 4 the woman interpreted it as physical water to be drawn, but Jesus was talking about spiritual water, living water, to quench a spiritual thirst. Here, we find this story about the man’s physical blindness gets interpreted by Jesus as really about the religious leaders’ spiritual blindness.
The real sin is self-righteousness. Hypocrisy. The blind, outcast, unwelcome man is not the sinner in Jesus’ eyes, but those who judge, who think that they know everything, judge everyone. This goes back to Matthew 7. Self-righteousness becomes the plank in our eyes that makes it impossible to take the splinter out of the other’s eye.
The irony is, the more we try to be good (not a bad thing) the greater the danger of feeling morally superior, which is perhaps the greatest sin of all. A smarter person could come up with an equation for this.
I’m not sure what the solution to the equation is. I can only turn to mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. Hope. Compassion. In practical terms, for me it comes down to doing the opposite of the world. The world says, mercy for me; judgment for you. The opposite of that is to have very, very high standards for me, and radical grace and compassion for you, and others. This seems to me to be what Jesus is doing in the gospels.