Wednesday, March 7, 2012

John 9 A Man Born Blind -- Amazing Grace

Grace and peace to you from him who is and who was and who is to come,
            This morning’s gospel text is one of the best-loved passages in the Bible.  The account of a man who was born blind, received his sight, and declared his faith in spite of opposition inspired a former slave trader to write the gospel hymn “Amazing Grace.”  This passage tells us a lot of other things, too – about Jesus and the man to whom he gave the ability to see and ourselves, too, of course.
            For one thing, we see our Lord’s love for the poor.  The blind man’s parents were so needy that he had to spend his days begging in front of the temple; they didn’t have enough at home to care for their disabled son.  When he gave him the gift of sight, Jesus enabled him to take part fully in earthly life, not so that he could bask in luxury, but to free him from a burden.  He could earn his living and even find a marriage partner for the years ahead.  The man born blind had a reason to give God glory, just as we give him thanks that none of us needs to beg.  We don’t live on the streets, and the Lord invites us to trust that we never will.  We thank him for blessing us with the faith that life will go well.
            The gospel text also teaches us a lesson about suffering.  The Pharisees thought that the man was blind because either he or his parents had sinned.  This was the teaching of the day – that suffering came as a result of sin.  This is true sometimes, of course, as when criminals are taken to jail for their misdeeds, but not every instance of suffering is a punishment from God.  The Bible doesn’t explain why suffering takes place, but where believers are concerned, we do know that privation drives us to God.  Hard times refine our faith.  Adversity gives us a chance to share in the sufferings of our Lord.  Jesus promises to transform hardship into good for his own glory and the benefit of his people.  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus said, “but this has happened so that the Word of God might be displayed in his life.”  God showed his power and his will to heal by giving sight to this one blind man.  He sends a message about himself to everyone who reads or hears this story; he is loving, sympathetic to our troubles, and on the side of healing.
            The gospel reading also reminds us that God is in control of the universe.  He is not indifferent.  He acts in the world, though his presence is hidden and he is concealed from view.  We trust by faith that he is the master.  He promises his people new and greater life beyond the gateway of the grave.  Life with him will never end.
            The healing of the blind man also demonstrates that Jesus breaks through tiresome human traditions.  He cured the man on the Sabbath with some clay he mixed with saliva.  There was a law in those days that said you couldn’t do any kneading on the Lords’ day.  A housewife could not make bread.  Jesus was not supposed to mix clay and spit.  There were dozens of other rules that did not serve God’s intentions but worked to exalt the people who thought them up.  Our culture nowadays has gone in the opposite direction. Secular society doesn’t recognize a day of rest at all.  Anyone who wants to work all the time may do so.  Some folks hold two or three jobs just to get by.  We Christians express our freedom in the Lord by welcoming limits.  We fix our attention on Jesus and receive with delight the Sabbath rest he provides .  We don’t work all the time; we don’t bury our noses in a man-made rule book.  Neither do we take part in foolish, sinful recreations.  Like Jesus, we are exceptions to the practices that surround us.
            John used the story of then man healed of blindness to emphasize one of the main points of his gospel – that Jesus is the light of the world.  His light exposes the darkness of sin; it also draws people to new life.  For the Pharisees and others opposed to the Lord, the light of Christ accuses.  For believers – that’s us – it is a light of comfort, consolation, and hope.  For those who at least partly understand their sin and welcome forgiveness through the blood Jesus shed, the light means life and salvation – the blessing of God on his people.
            We’ll switch our standpoint now and focus on the man to whom Jesus gave the ability to see.  He received two kinds of healing that day, physical and spiritual.  We see growth in his understanding of who Jesus is.  He called him first a man, then a prophet, then a righteous man of God, and finally the son of man, worthy of his trust and worship.
            He arrived at secure faith only after a terrific inner battle, for conflicting influences pressed upon him.  His parents were indifferent to spiritual things, for they believed that the best way to survive was by sitting on the fence.  The Pharisees were hostile to the Lord.  Jesus overcame the impediments that held the man back and called him to new faith.  Unlike many others, he chose the Lord.  “I was blind but now I see.”
            We humans usually want to do things on our own.  We like to be our own masters and do everything our own way.  Self-will explains the man-made so-called spiritual laws of Christ’s time as well as the neglect of Sabbath guidelines in our own, along with many other practices that do not please the Lord.  We don’t like to depend on anyone.  The man to whom Jesus gave sight, however, understood his weakness and so he was ready to trust the Lord who had healed him.  There is a hidden blessing in weakness.  When we know we can’t take care of ourselves, we’re willing to accept help.  Children can be especially responsive to God’s word, as can seniors, like some of the people here and folks I used to know in Sudbury.
            People in their most active years can pass through terrific struggles over questions of faith.  People brought up with Christian training at home and in Sunday school know that God wants to help them and guide them and that they owe him their loyalty.  At the same time, the world encourages them to stand on their own, take part in life, and not be held back by what look like restraints or sugar pills.
            The problem is not with God but in human nature.  Jesus’ healing of the blind man contradicts some popular beliefs about the church.  The Lord encourages his people to be active and fully engaged in life. He supports us if we want to be busy and if we find things to do that we like.  He helps us extend our influence into our communities and to take on responsibility.
            The problem is that we don’t truly want what we claim we want.  Isaiah wrote that nobody can be blind the way God’s people sometimes can be blind.  We don’t look for responsibility but easy-going relationships.  We look for fun forgetting that we’re called to set Christian examples. We confuse sentiment with God’s kind of love.  We think that others should live for our benefit.  We come to think that laziness and rest are the same things.  Our hearts are divided.  We’re imperfectly grown up.  We may even believe that the Lord doesn’t want us to do our best.  I’ve heard that owners of sport teams sometimes worry if their players turn to Christ, because they fear that they will no longer be capable of the extra effort.  This is true, of course, if the words “extra effort” refer to cheating or roughhousing or drugs, but as a general guideline the Lord expects his people to do their best.
            It often happens, though, as Martin Luther pointed out, that while our faith grows in strength our old sinful selves also grow and become sneaky and experts at making excuses.  Christians can be as skilled at self-righteousness as the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.
            Our sight is imperfect, but the good Lord sees things clearly, and he has his eye on us.  If we find ourselves in spiritual struggles of one kind or another it’s because he has put us there.  He trains and corrects our wills and teaches us to want wholeheartedly exactly what he wants for us.  We may fool ourselves with deceitful excuses, but we don’t fool him.  He knows that we’ll mess things up if we try to decide on our own what’s best, and so he teaches us the fine art of depending on him.  He brings us through suffering to humble trust in his word.
            So we come back to the gospel song “Amazing Grace.”  By nature we are all spiritually blind, spiritually dead, and enemies of God.  Some of these negatives remain even in the hearts of  Christians, for we are saints and sinners at the same time.  Imperfection will stay with us until we reach the next life.  But God’s grace also accompanies us, and grace is stronger than sin.  The formerly blind man did not make excuses or take credit himself for his healing.  He knew that without Jesus, he would have remained a wretch, lost and floundering.   The Savior’s pardon covered him.  His grace flows down on the world in never-ceasing abundance.  His blood washes away all our faults and transgressions. It renews us and makes us whole, forgiveness is the true healing.
            There was nothing extraordinary about the man born blind.  John tells us his story so that we may stand in his shoes.  Our needs are not very different from his.  The Lord gave him both physical and spiritual sight.  The work of God shone in his life; his healing brought glory to Jesus.  The name of Christ shines in us, too.  Our lives give him glory.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus.  Amen          

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