4th Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the light of the world. Amen
This story always reminds me of my preaching professor Dr. Craig Satterlee,
this is his favorite story,
you see he was born blind
I believe he particularly held onto the part
where in response to the question of the disciples
asking who sinned the man or his parents to cause his blindness
Jesus responds “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
While people didn’t ask who sinned
while he was preparing to become a pastor and professor and now a bishop
they did ask a lot of questions
that showed they doubted that the works of God could be revealed in him.
Yet that’s exactly where God likes to be revealed
in the last place people expect.
In the gospel of John
people didn’t expect God to be revealed in a drunken wedding feast,
they didn’t expect God to be revealed to a samaritan woman at a well
and they certainly didn’t expect God
to work through someone who everyone accepted was a sinner because of his blindness.
And yet there our God appears
when faced with these unexpected revelations
we react in one of two ways,
we embrace the glory of God
and hold onto the experience even if it doesn’t make sense
and even if it changes us
or after the initial shock
we focus on the impossibility of the experience,
and hold so tightly
onto what we understand to be the truth with a capital T
that we refuse to acknowledge the possibility
that God could be working in a new way
and we refuse to be changed by the encounter.
These two reactions
are played out in our gospel
in the characters of the man born blind and the Pharisees
and while we might not hold onto the belief
that blindness or other what we sometimes call disabilities
are caused by sin anymore
there are other ways of thinking
that we hold onto as true
even when confronted by evidence to the contrary
that cause us to miss the glory of God in front of us
So how does this all play out?
Jesus encounters the man born blind,
rejects the notion that his blindness is a result of sin
and gives him instructions that result in his healing.
The man born blind follows the instructions
and comes back able to see (Jesus is gone by this point)
and when he returns to his community able to see
people start to ask questions,
like how did this happen?
He tells them,
a man called Jesus gave me these instructions
and now I can see,
this is the simple truth of his experience.
his answer isn’t satisfying to the people
he’s given them the how
they want to know the why
So the people go and get some pharisees
who are people who have spent a lot of time studying scripture and religion,
thinking they might have some insight,
and at this point
the pharisees seem to agree
that Jesus healed the man
but they are divided on how to interpret the events
some of them are offended
that Jesus healed on the sabbath
but others wonder aloud
if someone who were a sinner
could perform such signs, maybe he is from God.
They are all at about the same level at this point,
they accept what has happened but they don’t understand it.
So they ask the man’s interpretation of who it was that healed him
and this time when pressed to go beyond the simple facts
he calls Jesus a prophet.
His confession is closer to the truth
this does not satisfy the pharisees
and their dissatisfaction begins to lead them further from God.
they begin to question whether the man was actually even born blind,
they are so unwilling to believe that Jesus healed the man
that they suspect that it’s all a trick
and bring the man’s parents forward to testify
and ask them “was your son really born blind, how do you explain it?”
And now his parents are caught in the middle,
they know that their son was blind and that now he sees
and they say this
but they also know that if they confirm that it was Jesus that healed him
they will be kicked out of their community
so they plead ignorance and turn the questioning back on their son.
And now the pharisees seem to have made up their minds,
they bring the man back
and essentially say, we know Jesus is a sinner,
swear in court that he is a sinner.
but the man sticks to his experience
he says I don’t know if he’s a sinner
all I know is that I was blind and now I see.
This doesn’t satisfy the pharisees,
“tell us, what did he do to you” they ask
And this pushes the man born blind over the edge,
“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” and he accepts their charge that he is a disciple of Jesus.
So here we have a man who was born blind,
given his sight back by a man that he never actually sees-
his sight only returns after he washes in the pool-
go from simply telling his story
to proclaiming Jesus a prophet
to becoming one of his disciples,
the more the pharisees push back at his experience of God
the more he believes,
and the more he believes
the more the pharisees become entrenched in their position
resisting the possibility of God doing something new
so much that they intimidate their witnesses
and finally fall back on a childish sounding argument,
“well you were born entirely in sins, you can’t teach us anything”
and they kick him out of the community.
Jesus hears they’ve driven the man out
he goes and finds him and asks,
“do you believe in the son of man?”
“I’d like to” says the man,
“I am he” Jesus says
and the man confesses his faith, “I believe”
he says and worships Jesus.
And it seems like a happy ending,
except Jesus has one more thing to say,
he names the pharisees spiritually blind,
by their willful rejection of Jesus the light of the world
he names them sinners,
which in John means
that they have no relationship with Jesus or the one who sent him.
The grace of Jesus seeking out the man
is balanced with a warning in the story of the pharisees,
a warning that good, faithful, religious people
can get so stuck in their ways
that they miss the glory of God before them
and end up breaking up their community
and alienating themselves from God.
we are called into relationship with Jesus the light of the world
and the thing about the light of the world
is that it seeks out the dark corners of our lives,
it goes to the places where we don’t expect there to be light,
where we don’t expect to find the glory of God
or ever be healed
and yet that’s where the light goes first
revealing and healing our broken places.
Then, forgiven and made whole
we are called to share our story with others,
to tell about the times
when Jesus transformed our brokenness
into a place where God was revealed
we are called to walk as children of the light,
to bring the light into dark places
to be constantly surprised at how God is working in the lives of others
and to be constantly changed by the way Jesus chooses to reveal the glory of God. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.