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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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Admitting There’s Room for Growth (Ash Wednesday, 2/10/16)

ash-wednesdayAsh Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. . . . 16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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.

We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we pray for things. Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in ways that look compassionate and merciful? Are our lives different as our relationship with God grows? Is God’s vision of compassion and love in the world more realized by us than it was a year ago?

In other words, are we actually growing in our discipleship? Are we discovering more about Jesus and God’s vision for the world? Have there been any changes in our lives, our attitudes, our activities to reflect that growth?

Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to begin a deliberate journey of growth in our faith and our discipleship. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads. A sign of our commitment to change, to grow, to more fully join the journey. In other words, a sign of repentance.

This is more than just being sorry for our sins so God will love us and we can go to heaven when we die. No, repentance literally means “to change direction.” Repentance is actually more about changing our minds, changing our lives, changing our direction as people committed to God’s ways revealed in Christ.

The gospel text makes clear to us that we don’t show this sign of repentance—of change—to impress anyone. We don’t wear this ashen cross proudly, but in honest humility. This is a sign to ourselves, to one another, and to the world that LCM is committing ourselves to God’s compassion and justice in the world. So much so that we are willing to begin a journey of change in our our lives in order to follow Jesus more closely.

Jesus was so committed to God’s vision of life and peace that he was willing to be killed for it. Just as the cross is a symbol of that commitment by Jesus to love and mercy and grace, the crosses on our foreheads are a symbol of our commitment to that same vision for the world.

So our first step in this Lenten journey tonight centers on the real, biblical meaning of repentance. That first step is committing to a change in our lives. This is repentance, a willingness to change and to grow.

We enter into Lent tonight. A journey of the cross. A time to deliberately grow in our discipleship. And we begin by using language and symbols of repentance. We begin with a commitment to change.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Sermon

 

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When Was the Last Time You Had a Change of Heart? (Matthew 21:23-32)

In the parable Jesus tells, one son says the right thing but doesn’t do it. The other says the wrong thing but does what is right. Which is better, words or actions? Apparently, what you end up doing counts more than whether or not you say the right thing.

But this really isn’t a parable about “doing the right thing.” It’s a parable about having a change of heart. The son Jesus lifts up started out having no intention to help out in the vineyard at all. But he had a change of heart and went anyway. It’s that process–having a change of heart–that Jesus is saying is important.

That’s why he tells this parable to the religious people, the chief priests and the elders. Their whole agenda concerns Jesus’ authority. Does your authority come from God or from humans? They are obsessing about it because Jesus’ teaching doesn’t match their understanding. They’re trying to find out where they can get a foothold against him. Jesus won’t get into it with, and instead, he invites them to consider a change of heart.

Have you ever met someone who is convinced they are right even though all evidence contradicts their view? That’s who Jesus is dealing with, so he tells them a parable. One son has a change of heart and does what the father wants. The other uses empty words. One son is like the tax collectors and prostitutes who have a change of heart and reveal God’s love. The other son is like the religious leaders who use good words, but end up withholding God’s love. What Jesus is after is a change of heart, not merely right words or correct actions.

So I’m wondering when the last time was that any of us had a change of heart? When have any of us been convinced we were right, that we were saying or doing what God wanted, and then changed? When have we seen things in a new light, saw God in a new way, or recognized that following Jesus meant going the opposite direction?

I think many of us get to that point in our own lives, and I also think this is the point we are at right now as a congregation. I absolutely believe Jesus is telling us that it no longer matters what time or style our worship is. It no longer matters how big or small our budget is, or how many people are on our membership list. I’m more and more convinced that Jesus is showing us a new way to be church together that requires a change of heart. Less about programs and more about supporting one another. It’s less about doing things correctly and more about forgiving each other. It is no longer about the church meeting our individual needs, but rather as church, we be concerned about others’ needs. It can no longer be about making sure we are taken care of, but must be about making sure the world is taken care of.

We will soon be working on the 2015 congregational budget. How much of it will be about taking care of ourselves, and how much of it will be about taking care of others? Watch that, and hold our council responsible to that! Since we base our budget on how much we expect to receive through your offerings, we can say the same thing about our individual giving. We say the church is important, and we’re right. Our “Sharing Our LIfe Together” emphasis certainly reveals that. Will we share even more of God’s love in 2015 or maintain programs? Will we make forgiveness, grace, and compassion an even higher priority in 2015, or will we simply try to do things correctly? Will we be saying nice religious words in 2015, or will there be an even deeper change of heart?

This congregation is already vibrant, rich in love and care. We’ve shown that yet again, just a couple of day ago, as this time we surrounded the Buffington family with God’s love and compassion. Ask them if that makes a difference. Ask the staff and families at Molholm Elementary or Green Mountain Elementary if this congregation makes a difference in their world. We heard from Karl Feth in a few minutes we’ll hear from Joyce Buscher about how God’s grace and love have come to them through this congregation, embracing them and bringing about a change of heart. God has a hold on this place and refuses to let go. One by one, our hearts are continuing to change. Slowly but surely, our hearts are turning more and more toward the ways of Jesus. Year by year, we are letting go of things that matter less, and turning toward things that matter more.

It doesn’t matter whether we say the right words or not. It doesn’t matter whether all our actions are in accordance with God’s will or not. What matters is that our hearts are continuing to change. Our hearts continue to be turned more and more toward God. As a congregation, our hearts are changing, our minds are changing and we are believing more and more in Christ. That does matter. We won’t be right all the time, but our hearts will continue to be turned more and more to Jesus. That makes all the difference.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2014 in Sermon

 

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