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Sometimes You Just Need to Rejoice (Mar 22, 2020)

John 9:1-41

I just need to say, first of all, how much I miss you. Gathering here for worship each week is something, quite honestly, I’ve taken for granted. Every week some of you are here. The next week it can be whole different bunch. But it’s us, together. I didn’t realize how important that is.

I’ve spent too much time trying to figure out how to increase those Sunday morning worship numbers. Rather than rejoicing with those of you who are here, celebrating God’s presence among us, I would at times focus more on the numbers. How can we raise them? How can we get more people to show up? How can we reach new people and include them?

But not today. Today I just wish any of you could gather here. Today I’m imagining the celebration we’ll have the first Sunday we can sit together. Today, I want to pray and sing with you in person. Today I long to share the Lord’s Supper with you and look you in the eye as the bread and wine are shared. Today, I’m realizing my priorities haven’t been great when it comes to worshiping together with this community I love.

Instead of asking “how can we increase worship attendance?” I should simply have been rejoicing that we actually could worship and gather together in the presence of God. I should have quit asking “how?” and started rejoicing that Jesus showed up with whoever was here.

All that makes me read this gospel text differently. Jesus healed a man born blind. No one had ever even heard of that being done before. It was an absolutely astonishing feat, totally and completely marvelous.

But instead of celebrating and rejoicing that Jesus showed up, both the man’s neighbors and the Church leaders kept asking, “How? How did this happen? How did this Jesus character make you see? Are you sure he did it? Are you sure you were actually blind? Are you really the same person who used to beg?”

Jesus has done an amazing thing here. Right in their midst. They are in the presence of God, yet instead of rejoicing that God’s grace and mercy have been revealed, they are only interested in asking “how?”

Our world is different right now. Our lives are turned upside down these days. It’s easy to become despondent or angry. I know I find myself irritable and grumpy. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Why can’t things get back to normal? How much longer will this virus keep us penned in our homes like zoo animals?

Which, again, makes me read this gospel text differently. Jesus is doing amazing things all around us. Have you seen how people all over the place are reaching out by phone or email or online connections? We’ve opened a Zoom account, which is an online videoconferencing program. They’re indicating that requests for accounts with them have skyrocketed. Watch your email for Zoom meetings and gatherings, because that’s how we’ll be connecting for the time being. Have you seen how creative people are becoming in establishing some kind of community?

I saw a guy in Italy standing on his balcony in the middle of a huge apartment complex singing opera to his neighbors.

I saw another person leading an exercise class on his roof so his neighbors could join in.

Some food delivery services have quit charging the restaurants they deliver from so the restaurants have a chance of making payroll.

One of our music copyright suppliers, who permits us to print songs in bulletins and on the screens, has given us one month of free permission to play and sing their songs online—which is how we’re able to sing together.

Celebrities reading stories to kids online.

Those with the means to do so are donating large sums of money to help food banks and food pantries around the country.

Jesus is doing miraculous things right here, right now.

Even though Jesus is moving people in new ways of compassion and care, there will be people who will only ask the “how?” questions. “How much toilet paper can I horde?” “How can I clean out the grocery store even if that means some homebound people get nothing?” And in focusing on the “how,” they’re missing the miracles, the new things that Jesus is doing right here in our very midst.

Yes, I’m reading this gospel text differently. And I’m celebrating that even though we are not gathered in the same room at the same time, Jesus still shows up with us. Whether we’re together in person or in virtual space, we are still in the presence of God together. We are not alone. Jesus still shows up. In that, we can rejoice together.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2020 in Sermon

 

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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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