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“I Could Be Wrong, But . . . ” (4 Lent-A, March 26, 2017)

John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He 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.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then 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.” 16 Some 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. 17 So 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.” 18 The Jews 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 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but 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.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So 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 man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He 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?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 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.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,’ your sin remains.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How many of you use social media, whether Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and so many others?

These can be very useful, very helpful tools. For instance, this congregation’s most used communication is our Facebook page. If you don’t follow @LCMLakewood, you are in the minority. That page is fast, up-to-date, has pictures, is interactive, and easily shared with others. It’s great. Social media is really helpful.

But social media has its limitations. Have you ever tried to convince someone of anything on Facebook? You know it doesn’t work. Ever. Part of the reason is that it’s just not a good medium for that. Any non-personal, non-face-to-face means of communicating just doesn’t have the connecting ability to change someone’s mind. It won’t work.

But another reason social media doesn’t work to change someone’s mind is that we generally don’t want our minds changed. We kind of like the views we have, or we wouldn’t have them. Our views are a combination of our experiences, our education, our thoughts, our feelings, our relationships, and more. But we come to our own views based on a wide range of rather personal perceptions, reflections, and interpretations. We have a lot invested in our points of view. It takes a lot to change them.

When our views are challenged, our usual response is that we dig in and defend them. Sometimes with a lot of force and intimidation. How dare you call my views into question! We can sometimes take that challenge as a personal affront. My views are mine, after all!

This becomes really interesting when there’s a new experience that falls outside the parameters of our current views. If someone shares an experience they’ve had that we can’t explain, we usually do one of two things:

–We either try to pigeon-hole their experience into our already existing views, even if it simply won’t fit. It’s easy to see this in our political environment. “You Democrats/Republicans haven’t done anything to address health care costs.” Obviously not true, but no one’s going to admit the other perspective has any validity. Either that, or,

–we discount their experience as invalid or misinterpreted or even non-existent. People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Depression know this. “Oh, I know what you mean, but you’re just tired.” “You know what worked for me is that I got up in the morning and put on a happy face!” Since we haven’t had their experience, we try to interpret it through our own. We all do it. We all resist having our minds or our hearts changed.

This is what’s going on in this story in John about the man born blind. Everyone tries to interpret the man’s healing through their own experiences and perspectives. Not only are their minds not changed about Jesus, but it reveals their own blindness. Consider how each group sees this man born blind through their own perspectives:

The Disciples assume either the man or his parents sinned.

The man’s neighbors claim he must be a different person.

The Pharisees discount the whole thing by denouncing Jesus as “not from God.”

Even the man’s own parents just try to gloss it over and minimize it.

None of them are willing to have their minds or hearts changed, even though God has done something new and amazing right in front of them. They will cling to what they already know.

In gospel-writer John’s terminology, they are in the dark. They cannot see. They are blind. The only one who can see in this story is the man who was born blind.

Admitting our blindness does take a certain amount of humility, don’t you think? Acknowledging that we can’t see everything means we are open to seeing something new, right? Confessing that we don’t know everything means we can learn more, doesn’t it?

In this season of Lent, we put a lot of emphasis on our spiritual growth, on being in God’s light. Is it possible for us in this season to consider that we might not see everything correctly, know everything fully, believe everything rightly?

When we can do that, admit to the possibility that we might be blind, Jesus says “we would not have sin.” Watch what happens when we begin from a point of humility, recognizing the other might see something we don’t.

Next time you’re tempted to argue with someone, instead of trying to convince them how right you are, try starting out by saying, “Now, I could be wrong about this, but . . .” Watch the entire tone of the conversation soften. It’s amazing what we can learned from people we disagree with! Sometimes they aren’t the complete write-offs we’ve made them out to be.

Seeing something from a new perspective doesn’t mean we’re weak or wishy-washy. It means we are honest, able to admit we don’t know everything.

When we can let go of seeing things through our own well-established lenses, we do run the risk of having our minds—and even our hearts—changed. But then again, sometimes we get to see something amazing God is doing right in front of us. Something we were too blind to see before.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Good News! (for other people) — January 24, 2016

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

This is Jesus’ first public act of ministry recorded in Luke. So this is the action that sets the bar, names the priorities, establishes the direction in this gospel.

In his home synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He looked through it deliberately until he found this particular passage. This is the text he chose to read. And this is the teaching Jesus starts with.

So we ought to pay careful attention to what Jesus does here. He is anointed by God to bring–and to fulfill–God’s good news, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor . . . Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But notice that this good news isn’t general–it’s rather specific. He is anointed for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. What about everyone else? Is Jesus bringing good news to those who don’t fall under these categories? We have a tendency want to make this about us, claiming to be oppressed, captive, blind, poor. But we’re not the primary audience here.

I was talking with someone a few years ago who was very proud of the new clothing bank their church had started. “It’s the only one in this area,” he said. Imagine how unhappy he was when I pointed out there was a reason it was the only one–it was because there was no one in their wealthy area who needed used clothing. “Oh,” he said, “maybe that’s why no one is using it.” That church closed not long after that. Not for lack of effort, but because their good news of clothing wasn’t good news to any of the people in their neighborhood.

The good news Jesus brings–while he’s filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, remember–is aimed at a particular audience. The poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Those who, in that day, were pushed to the edges of their culture or ignored. Those who no one wanted around. Those who were helpless or targets for those with wealth and status. Those who were scapegoated and blamed.

So what about the rest of us? Although many of us experience those things sometimes, it’s not everyday for us. So what about those of us who most of our lives fall outside of Jesus’ categories? Those in this country who are white, who have pensions and savings accounts, who are (at least in name) Christian, who have no significant disabilities? Isn’t there any good news for us? Doesn’t Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, have anything good to say to us?

Sure. Of course. The reign of God, the kingdom of God, the dream of God is for all people–that all will be loved, saved, redeemed, cared for.

It’s just that most of us who are here this morning already have some experience of that good news now. We have opportunities, income, access to healthcare. We have a voice in our culture.

Others don’t. Jesus reads the text from Isaiah that says God also has good news for them.

David Lose, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, compares it to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and he writes: “A colleague of mine [who is an African American pastor] put it this way: ‘When you see a house on fire and direct the firefighters to that house, you’re not saying that all the other houses in the neighborhood don’t matter; you’re saying this one especially matters because it’s on fire.'” Jesus is saying that there are some people whose house is on fire. And God’s priority for compassion and grace needs to go to them.

Here’s why we need to hear this text even if we may not always be the primary audience, if it isn’t always directly aimed at us: This is where Jesus goes when filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Right to the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the powerless. That’s apparently what it looks like when people are empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s priority is to first lift up those who are low. Sometimes we are the recipients of God’s priority compassion. But most of the time, most of us here today are therefore called to be part of fulfilling God’s compassion.

If we’re not poor, captive, blind, or oppressed today, then praise be to God! We’re already experiencing good news. But as the church, the community whose very existence is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we make those who are on the outside, who are powerless, who are victims, who are helpless our priority too.

That’s what being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit looks like. That’s the good news–whether we are receiving it or helping to fulfill it. This is God’s good news for the world: we too are anointed to proclaim release, to give sight, and let the oppressed go free. This is the year of the Lord’s favor, and we get to be part of it! That is good news.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Sermon

 

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