Sermon–March 30, 2014


Lent 4—Year A

March 30, 2014

William Bradbury

 1 Samuel 16:1-13 

Psalm 23 

Ephesians 5:8-14 
John 9:1-41 

 This long story begins with the disciples wondering why this beggar was born blind: did God zap him because his parents sinned and or because in utero he sinned?

Today we would ask is he blind because of a vitamin deficiency in his mother’s diet or some trauma in the womb?

We all want to know why, so we can get on with our lives and stop worrying that chaos will bring some random destruction to our door.

Jesus says in The Message: “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.”

I don’t think we can grasp this answer except my asking the real question this story wants us to ask: The important question isn’t, “why is the beggar blind” but “why are the Pharisees blind?”

Why is it that the Pharisees, the most faithful Jews in Israel, are unable to see what God is doing in and through Jesus of Nazareth? They are the most unlikely people to be spiritually blind, yet there it is.

Why is that?

It boils down to one thing: you can’t see what you do not believe can be there.

Their worldview blinds them to anything outside of itself.

So, the Messiah, the Christ, can’t be common white trash raised in a singlewide in a village of 200 in the hills of Galilee. Everyone knows this because the Bible says so.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches the Messiah will fulfill God’s Law, not violate it by hanging out with the street people who are unclean in every sense of that word.

Most of all, the Messiah will obey the Ten Commandments given by God on Mt. Sinai. Yet in this story Jesus is making mud on the Sabbath, which is a form of work.

Richard Rohr thinks Jesus just lay in a hammock for six days, and then on the Sabbath would get up and do his work.

The Pharisees think the Messiah will honor people like them, who pay their tithes, pray three times a day, and care for the widow and orphan. They’re the good guys, yet Jesus challenges them at every turn.

In short, Jesus just doesn’t fit their expectations—so they can’t see who he is.

Which, of course, is the same reason we have so much trouble seeing who Jesus is today.

Here’s the thing: Upper middle class Americans expect a comfortable Messiah, a Christ who fits inside our conceptual world, who fits our expectations.

Yet, a Savior who fits inside our worldview would be too small to save us.

Being so much a part of our world the Messiah would be incapable of setting us free from all the things in our world that enslave and hurt us.

The only Jesus who could heal us is one that surprises us.

 But doesn’t the incarnation mean Jesus is one of us in every way?

No, incarnation means God with us, a dynamic unity of God and human, present with us in the world, but bigger than all worlds. Or as Scripture says, “In the world but not of the world.”

  If we think our world is just fine, then we will not see the Christ.

In other words, we can’t be saved when we are proud.

We can only be saved once we recognize that our concepts, thoughts, habits, and behaviors are the source of our suffering.

Only then do we become humble enough to say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Without this humble reaching out we will not see the divine reaching in that is always there.

 The blind beggar knows he can’t see, so he is open to healing.

 Those religious men and women, who think they mostly have it together, are incapable of seeing because they don’t know their own situation.

 Jesus heals the blind beggar, but on this day all he can do with the Pharisees is point out their blindness to them.

In Matthew Jesus gets real specific: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!… You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! Matthew 23: 24

“…Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.[e] And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” Matthew 15: 14

We are asleep, so Paul says, “Sleepers awake!”

  Let’s be clear: the Pharisees are not in bad shape because they are Jews. All the disciples are Jews, the Virgin Mary is a Jew, and Jesus is a Jew! They are in bad shape because they are human beings trapped in an Honor-Shame System, in which superiority has to be worked for and inferiority run away from.

At any moment another can surpass you and ruin everything, because in this Honor-Shame System it is not enough that I do my best, it is necessary that I do better than others.

As Ambrose Bierce says in the Devil’s Dictionary: HAPPINESS

n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.

 Mostly we are trapped by our binary thinking of either-or, right-wrong, good-bad, smart-stupid, inside-outside.

In this binary world we are blind to the nature of God. Jesus could speak in binary language when he needed to: for instance he says, “You can’t serve both God and money.”

But mostly he lives at the level of non-dualism: “…love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[a] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6

 But some will say, “What do you mean I’m blind. That I need to wake up? I’ve been a faithful follower of Jesus Christ for 60 years—I’m in church most Sundays, I feed the hungry and vote correctly on all the important issues.

I’ve been to seminary! I’ve been to Cursillo. I’ve done EFM. I know the Prayer Book service by heart. I know all the great hymns!

The question for the Pharisee that lives in each of us is, “Have I fallen so in love with my religious resume that I no longer see my need for God?”

Every morning do I ignore God or at best thank God I am not like others; or do I confess my brokenness and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a Pharisee?”

 So every morning we confess our blindness and ask for the Light of Christ to enlighten our hearts for this day—“give us this day our daily light and forgive us our blindness as we forgive the blindness of others.”

 The good news is that life continues to inflict humiliations on us, so we can wake up and reach out to the One who invites us to see    with the Mind of Christ.

 The man born blind receives his sight and then slowly grows in faith toward Jesus.

Near the end of the Gospel John tells us why he wrote it: He says,

” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,[b] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John 20: 30-31

To believe Jesus is the Messiah is to know that I am not the Messiah and that I need God’s help.

Jesus, the Light of the world, has come to us so that in his light we may see the light and follow the One who knows us and loves us best.