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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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Like a Seed (John 12:20-33)

A seed is planted in the ground. The darkness is a difficult place to be. In the darkness you are alone, isolated. In the darkness, none of the things that used to work, that used to bring light into your world, will work any more. In the darkness none of your strategies will bring the light, none of your efforts make any difference, none of your talents or knowledge or experience have any impact. Even everything we thought we knew about God is useless in the darkness. You are helpless and cannot find the light, much less be a light. It the darkness it just won’t work.

Sometimes the darkness descends on us individually. Other times the darkness descends on us collectively. Maybe you are living in the dark today. Our whole world can seem dark sometimes. Some feel that this is the experience of LCM, that darkness has descended on us as a congregation. Many things that used to bring life is working. Some of our efforts seem to be failing. We keep trying different things to recapture life and light, and yet the darkness doesn’t lift. We desperately look to what we know and what we trust to get us out of the darkness.

We fix worship styles and music styles, but there is no new life.

We seek to reinstate a dead Sunday School institution because it used to work, but there are few kids.

We want to start new programs, correct our doctrine, get the new members to bring life and energy. But the darkness isn’t lifted.

We cling to memories of the magical days of the 1960s, or 70s, or 80s, or whenever, wondering why those days seemed so bright and today seems so dark.

We tweak and we work and we struggle in the dark. We argue and we look for someone to blame and we defend what we love, and the darkness still permeates.

When you are in the darkness, nothing you do or know or try has any effect. You can die in the darkness.

So it makes sense that we would cling to anything, to everything that we think can give us life. We cling with desperation to the things that made sense before the darkness descended. We even cling to our former notions about God and call that faith. But the more we cling, the deeper the darkness.

Eventually, in the darkness everything will be stripped away. All our notions and preconceptions. Our pride, our justifications, our desperation, our knowledge, our certainties. Even what we know–or thought we knew–about God will all die in the darkness.

And then can new life emerge.

Like a seed.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Some Greeks came up to Philip and wanted to see Jesus. Jesus replies, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” If you want to see Jesus, it will involve darkness. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” To see Jesus, to follow Jesus, to live in Jesus means a journey into the darkness. Like a seed being planted in the darkness of the ground.

A seed can cling to anything in its former life as a seed. Sunshine, birds flying by, life hanging out on a branch or a stalk. But clinging to that won’t bring it life. A seed has to be buried in the darkness of the earth in order to spring forth in its new life, a life bearing fruit.

The very core, the very breath, the very heartbeat of Christianity is that there is a God who brings life out of death, light out of darkness.

Like a seed growing up from the darkness of the ground.

Like a crucified body rising up to life from the darkness of a tomb.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Are you in the dark? Is the world around us in the dark? Is LCM in the dark? What is being stripped away in the darkness? What is being opened up, made new, given new life in the darkness? What is emerging from the darkness that will bear much fruit?

What is dying in the darkness so that something new and fruitful and alive can be brought forth? This is what God does. This is what we say we believe. This is the heartbeat of our faith: God brings life from death. God brings light from darkness.

Like a seed. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” Jesus says. Then he goes on, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We have a God of light who is with us in the darkness. And new life comes.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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