Lent IV 1 Samuel 16:1-13
March 22, 2020 Ephesians 5:8-14
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Let us pray: O God, we come before you, asking for courage to open our eyes. We come trusting your grace, waiting for your illuminating word, longing for your healing touch. Shine upon us, O God, and help us see clearly, this we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
There's an old story about the great golfer Arnold Palmer. It seems he was invited to a convention of blind golfers. He was curious and asked the golfers how they knew what direction to hit the ball. One blind golfer explained that a caddie went out into the fairway or onto the green, depending on the hole, and rang a little bell. Then the blind golfer would then hit the ball toward the sound of the bell.
Palmer was pretty impressed and asked how well it worked. This blind golfer said that it worked so well he was willing to play Arnold Palmer in a round of golf. And just to make it interesting, he was even willing to bet $10,000 he could beat Palmer.
Well, this just blew Arnold Palmer's mind. $10,000 is a lot of money! Palmer tried to talk him out of it but the man insisted so they made the bet. Then Palmer said, "O.K. What time do we tee off?"
And the blind man said, "10:30 . . . tonight!"
I guess you could say Arnold Palmer got blindsided. Blindness is really nothing to joke about. I would hate to lose my sight. I like to read too much. I couldn't see the computer monitor or see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Physical blindness would be horrible.
But there are other kinds of blindness.
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
The entire Gospel for today deals with blindness – but strangely enough it is not the blindness of the man who was born blind that is central to the passage – despite how this man is mentioned throughout it, rather it is the blindness of those around him and most especially the blindness of the religious teachers and authorities that is central to the passage – their blindness and their sin.
The great irony of this story in John‘s Gospel is this: both the disciples and the Pharisees try to make a connection between bad things and sin. “God must have been pretty mad at someone to produce a guy like this,” the disciples say when they first see this blind beggar, “so who messed up, Lord? This fellow or his folks?” That’s how a lot of people operate: you see something bad; you chalk it up to someone’s sin. The world operates on the principle of quid pro quo, of tit for tat. Oddly, though, when the people in this story encounter the profoundly good thing of an awesome healing, they do everything in their power to not connect that good thing with God. Some, it seems, are more comfortable with making God out to be the dispenser of punishment than the vessel of something good.
Apparently, it’s fully possible to be in the presence of the light of the world and still be in the dark. But if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the religious people in this story who seem the most prone to put on spiritual sunglasses to keep out the light, John 9 might be less troubling. As it stands, however, those of us who consider ourselves religious leaders today have plenty of reason to wonder whether—or how often—we fail to celebrate the work of God just in case the shape of that work doesn’t fit the bill of how we think things ought to go. How often do we let our own doctrine keep us from celebrating God’s presence in the lives of others?
“God cannot have been involved in this incident because it does not conform to our rules and patterns” the Pharisees concluded. “Disagree with us, and you’re a greasy sinner. Period. End of discussion.” That’s how the glory of God gets missed, even in the church today. Traditions and scruples and rubrics and books of order and rules and Papal pronouncements can make us spiritually blind just as surely as any injury to our eyes could ever blind us physically. But maybe we’d smile more as God’s people if we found ways to remain open to the endless surprises of God’s Spirit.
It’s curious, isn’t it, to notice that—so long as the wrangling and wrestling and arguing is going on in an effort to debunk the miracle that had so plainly taken place—Jesus disappears from view. From verse 7 until verse 35 the Son of God is nowhere to be seen. I don’t think it’s coincidental. The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus and it’s really difficult to generate amazement over his ever-surprising and always-marvelous work.
Jesus disappears from this story when the main action is an attempt to define what God would or would not do. But once we get back to just the man who is healed, Jesus re-appears from out of nowhere to ask the man such a simple question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Just point him out to me,” the man replies, “I’d love to lay these eyes on the fellow!” “It’s me,” Jesus says, and for the first time in his life, the man discovered what it is to get bleary-eyed with tears. He worshiped Jesus without hesitation, without checking in any catechism or rule book to see if worshiping this man would be an orthodox thing to do.
It’s such a moving spectacle, at least for those with eyes to see. Of course, it was totally boring to the few Pharisees still lingering on the fringes. Their steely-eyed scowls told Jesus and this man all they needed to know. But by this point in the story, even those unbelieving yahoos were not enough to overcome the joy of the last scene. And I imagine that as Jesus eventually went on his way, this man waved at him and kept on waving until Jesus finally disappeared out of sight.
In a scene from the spaghetti western movie “Unforgiven,” a young gun-slinger from the Old West is trying to convince himself he did nothing wrong in having just shot another man dead. "Well," he nervously ponders aloud, "I reckon he had it coming to him." To this, Clint Eastwood's character replies, "We all got it coming to us, kid." That scene is one of those startling pictures of common grace by which a vital religious truth is made clear from the middle of a rather unholy context. We all got it coming to us. It's too easy sometimes to see someone suffer something but then conclude, "Well, he got what he deserved, got what he asked for. She smoked too much, he ate at McDonalds too often, she didn't take her medications regularly enough, he wouldn't listen to his parents. He had it coming to him. She got what she asked for. (And by the way, I'm glad I'm not like that!)"
If the gospel contains good news, it is that by God's grace, we none of us get what we otherwise deserve. That's why grace is good news, and it's not just good news for other people but for me, for you. Does this mean we may never warn someone of the potential consequences of this or that action? Does this story mean we may never draw any conclusions as to what may have brought about a given tragedy? No, but it does mean that we should never do so from some supposed position of spiritual superiority and, above all, it means that we need to be very, very shy about claiming we always know the cause-and-effect relationship of most every situation.
The next time you see someone who is afflicted – in body, mind, or spirit – remember what Jesus said about the man born blind – remember how Jesus said that his affliction happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life and then healed him.
And the next time you see someone else engaged in disputes about who is doing the right thing and who is doing what is wrong – quietly remember what Jesus said to those who were confident of their rightness and all to ready to judge him and most others as less worthy of God's love than themselves. “Now that you say, ‘We see’ your sin remains.”
The only thing that can hold us back from experiencing the healing power of God in our lives and moving on from that to showing His power to others – is our own attachment to blame – our own fondness for bitterness – our own belief that no-one and nothing can help us or our world.
His love can overcome blindness; his love can bring salvation – even to a man born blind.
Let us pray: Lord, open our eyes to your presence, open our ears to your call, open our hearts to your love; that we may give ourselves to you and walk before you as children of light; through him who is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Jim is providing his sermons online during the Corona virus pandemic. Enjoy!