Breaking Through (Sermon)

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The gospel reading was John 9:1-42. It’s printed below throughout the sermon, because of the particular way I preached today.

1As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When Jesus had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

For the past four weeks, we have been looking each week at one of the disciplines of Lent that I invited you to on Ash Wednesday. Today’s discipline is “works of love.” Jesus performed a work of love for this man who was blind. An odd work, perhaps, making a slurry of spittle and mud. But that odd work showed a deep and powerful love. The man washed in the pool of Siloam, and able to see for the first time in his life.

And I am tempted to end the sermon right about here. To say something like, this is who God is, what God does for us. Heals us and brings us light and makes everything better. Let’s go out rejoicing! Amen.

Yet we know that life is more complicated than that. And in fact, this story is more complicated than that. I only read you the very beginning of the story. There’s a lot more to go. I’ve split it into six pieces. Here’s part two.

8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “Yes, it is.” Others were saying, “No, it must be somebody who looks like him.” He kept saying, “It’s me!” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Well, then where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Yeah. This is a little more like our lives sometimes, isn’t it? Jesus does an act of love in our lives, and our neighbors don’t always understand it, do they? They just don’t believe. Perhaps they don’t believe because they think that’s just not how the world works. Perhaps they think miracles are impossible. Or perhaps they think that bad things happen to people who deserve them. After all, even the disciples thought that this man must have been born blind because he’d done something wrong, or his parents had done something wrong. Bad things happened for a reason. The world follows certain rules. These neighbors couldn’t see beyond those rules. It must just be someone who looks like him.

But there’s more. Here’s part three.

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the time. They too thought they understood how the world worked, the rules the world followed. In fact, they thought they understood the way God worked, the rules that God followed. And one rule that God followed was that God did not work on the Sabbath, and nor did anyone working in God’s name. And yet, only God could perform a miracle like this. And yet, God did not work on the Sabbath. And yet…and you see that the Pharisees were confused. This just didn’t make sense in their understanding of God. So instead of rejoicing at this work of love, they argued among themselves. But there’s more.

18The Judeans did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Judeans; who had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

The Pharisees called the man’s parents, and they confirmed that yes, this was their son, and yes, he had been born blind. But that was all they would say. Anything else – “go ask him. He’s a grown man.”

Now think about this. This was their son! They had raised him from infancy without sight. And now he saw. How could they be anything but ecstatic about this work of love that Jesus had done! How could they be so careful, watching their words so closely? I think it was fear. Fear of the religious leaders. They were afraid to rejoice. Look at what’s happened. Jesus did a work of love, and what do we have? Suspicious neighbors, angry religious leaders, frightened parents. But there’s more.

24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this Jesus is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but we don’t know where this Jesus has come from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but does listen to anyone who is devout and obeys God’s will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. 33If this person were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

What happened here? How could an incredible work of love turn into this? How? I think I know how. I think that all the people involved, the neighbors, the parents, the religious leaders, I think they all had the world figured out. I think they all thought they knew how things worked. They had the world tied up neatly into a perfect box. And Jesus’ work of love broke the rules they had set up. It shattered their box. And they clung to what they knew. And it led to suspicion, anger, fear, and outright cruelty.

And in some ways that’s our world today. There is so much beauty around us. So much love around us. God is still doing so many works of love in our world. But we so often miss them. We miss so many of them because we are so stuck in our understanding of how the world works. Perhaps we can’t see good in someone if they’re in the wrong political party. Or perhaps we can’t see God working in someone if they’re not our type of person.

Or maybe we do recognize a work of God’s love in the world, but we’re afraid to rejoice in it because we’re afraid of what others might think if they see us rejoicing. Or we feel we can proclaim it, but we have to frame it in a sarcastic way, like a Facebook post that says, “I bet 90% of you won’t repost this.” Isn’t that really a way of saying, “I’m better than you unless you see the world like I do.”

Or maybe we are afraid of doing works of love in the world, for fear of this kind of chaos happening around us.

We all have a way of viewing the world, a point of view. We all have blinders that prevent us from seeing everything. That’s normal, and that’s good! But if that point of view is so rigid, if we cling to those blinders so tightly, that we can’t imagine even God breaking through them, well this story tells us what happens next. But, and here’s the good news, that’s not all. Here’s the last section of the story.

35Jesus heard that they had driven the healed man out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son-of-Man?” 36The healed man answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it’s me.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Jesus. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

40Some of the Pharisees near Jesus heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

There is hope. The man born blind has not only regained his physical sight, but he has also come to faith in Jesus. And in the gospel of John, faith in Jesus means eternal life. And I don’t mean that if you believe in Jesus, you’ll get eternal life, like it’s a transaction. I mean that faith in Jesus is eternal life. In the gospel of John faith in Jesus is not a head thing, not saying, “Yes, I believe that he was born and died and was raised again.” It’s a heart thing. Faith in Jesus means putting your faith, your trust, your hope, in him.

Jesus healed this man. He broke through whatever barrier prevented his eyes from seeing. And he also broke through whatever barrier might have prevented his heart from seeing God’s works of love for what they were. He recognized Jesus as God’s Work of Love made flesh.

The religious leaders missed it. But they didn’t have to. Even at the end, they asked Jesus, “We’re not blind, are we?” Jesus said, “It’s because you think you see everything that you are blind.” Even then, they had the opportunity to let Jesus break through the blinders they had. To break through whatever barriers they had. But they clung so tightly to those blinders, those barriers. They hunkered down in their box. They wouldn’t see beyond how they thought the world worked.

The world is so much bigger than we think. And God is so much bigger than we think. God is working out there. And we can be God’s hands. Let Jesus break into your world. There’s hope. Let Jesus open your eyes to that hope.


Image by creatifrankenstein from Pixabay

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