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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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My God is Bigger than Your God (or Is It the Other Way Around?) Jan. 1, 2017

Matthew 2:13-23

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

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.

My bifocals were becoming less and less helpful. I don’t know what happens to eyeglasses, but they seem to become weaker with time. Maybe they just wear out. Could be…

So this last week I went to eye doctor for an exam. While there, I was talking to the tech who was doing all the preliminary tests and measurements. In the course of the conversation, somehow it came up that she used to go to church, but no longer does. I asked her why, what had happened? She told me that her pastor had physically thrown her across a room, shouting that she was the spawn of Satan because of something she had done.

She later tried a different church, but found it very judgmental and condemning. So she hasn’t been back. For her, God isn’t found in the community of church. God is experienced only in private. “I believe in God,” she told me, “but shouldn’t the church be less hateful and more supportive? You know, more like God?” I invited her here hoping she could experience church—therefore God—differently.

Her perception and experience of God is different than mine.

A couple of months ago, I made an appointment with the Imam at the Rocky Mountain Islamic Center here in Lakewood. Though a very proud U.S. citizen, he was born in Syria and has a deep sadness from his experiences of the civil war going on there. We sat down and talked about God, religion, politics, and more for about an hour and a half. His experience of God is that God has pretty high expecations. Forgiving, yes, God is absolutely forgiving. But that doesn’t let anyone off the hook for living a life defined by devotion, service, peace, and justice. The pillars of Islam aren’t to be trifled with.

His perception and experience of God is different than mine.

In conversations with my Black friends and my LGBTQ friends and my Spanish-speaking friends, they all have perspectives and experiences of God that are different than mine.

Our high school and middle school students in this congregation think about God differently than I do. My own children believe in God differently than I do. My wife’s experiences with God are different than mine.

In fact, with everyone I have any kind of a conversation with at all, I discover their perception and experience of God is in some ways different than mine.

I guess there are at least two ways to deal with that: 1) my perception and experience of God is the correct one, so all the rest of you are wrong. 2) Another thought might be that other people’s perceptions and experiences of God are just as valid as mine, and maybe I don’t know everything about God after all.

I’ll admit that if everyone believed what I believe and thought the way I think, life would be a lot easier. But our understanding of God and how God is active in the world would be pathetically narrow. We’d all miss so much of the depth and vastness of God’s love and how that love changes people’s lives in different ways. We’d miss out on so many chances to recognize God’s love present and the opportunities to share it in ways that matter.

I’m mindful of this today as we hear about Jesus and his parents being forced to flee Israel and become refugees in Egypt. I wonder how much their understanding and experience of God was changed by living in a foreign country and getting to know people whose perspective of God was way different than their own. They had already had their view of God pretty much blown out of the water what with angels and Mary’s pregnancy and visits from Magi and such as Matthew records.

Could their belief in God, as expanded as it had now become, keep pace with the way God was working among the Egyptian people? Or would their perception and experience of God need to expand yet again? Could they stlll believe—and follow—a God who was bigger than their experience? Could they actually continue to trust in a God who always seemed to be working outside of their understanding?

Thank goodness they could! Their trust and following God wasn’t dependent on their perceptions of God, but of a recognition that God exists beyond their perceptions. Beyond their experiences.

We here at LCM are primarily white, middle class Americans. There are some differences in our God-experiences, but beneath those subtle differences are some pretty common perceptions. That’s doesn’t make us bad or wrong, just less able to recognize God at work in ways outside of our white, middle class perspective. When our experiences of God are limited, we are the ones who get shortchanged.

Which is why one of our council goals for 2017 is to become more inclusive and diverse, reaching out to and strengthening relationships with people who aren’t white, aren’t middle class, aren’t straight, aren’t Lutheran, or aren’t even church-going. “Provide for and initiate opportunities to foster inclusivity and continue LCM’s outreach efforts with more diverse communities, e.g., racial diversity, LGBTQ, and beyond.”

Jesus and his family returned from Egypt with a fuller awareness of how God works in the world. I imagine that being told not to return to Bethlehem, but rather go to Nazareth in Galilee was, at this point, no longer a big deal. Sure Galilee is Gentile territory, and Nazareth was a nowhere village lost in what most Jews considered to be godless Galilee.

But Jesus and family had come to know better, I think. A Messiah could just as easily come from a remote pagan village as from Jerusalem, the center of all that is holy. Because God, they now knew, was bigger than that.

Imagine how much better we could be part of God’s work if our recognition of God was larger! Imagine how much more confidently we could follow Christ if we experienced God outside of our current understanding!

I hope my vision technician from my eye doctor’s office last week shows up here some day. Not just so she can experience God differently, but so that through her, we can too.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Perspective and Action (March 23, 2014)

3rd Sunday of Lent

Acts 10:23-33; Acts 17:19-21

Do you remember the first time, as an adult, you went into an elementary school bathroom? When you were little, everything normal sized, but now everything is so small? When did the porcelain shrink? You gain a new perspective as an adult.

When I moved from Salt Lake City to St. Paul, MN, I was warned about the cold there. “I have a coat, ” I said. “How cold can it be?” I gained a new perspective very quickly.

When my children were small, I’d talk with parents of teenagers and think, “Just tell them what they should do. Reward them if they do it, and punish them if they don’t. How hard can that be?” Then my kids became teenagers. Teenagers are wonderful, just not the same as young kids. It’s an experience that will gain you a new perspective.

There are experiences that simply change our perspective. And when our perspective changes, we do things differently.

Peter in Acts 10 understood God’s love and God’s law. He knew who was in and who was out. It made sense. And then this whole thing sheet thing happened with clean and unclean animals and God telling him that profane and holy aren’t as clear-cut as he thought. It was an experience that changed his perspective. And with a new perspective that God loves people who shouldn’t be loved, he is doing things differently.

So when three men sent by the Roman centurion Cornelius (obviously not a Jew) come to him, he goes to Joppa with them “without objection.” Only after he gets to Cornelius’ house does he ask, “Why did you send for me?”

The Athenians in Acts 17 recognize that what Paul is teaching is new. They don’t have a frame of reference for this information about someone named Jesus being raised from the dead. So wanting a new perspective, they ask to know more.

There are experiences that simply change our perspective. And when our perspective changes, we do things differently.

So, I’m wondering what new perspectives have we gained from God? As a result of an spiritual experience, how do we do something differently? What has God shown us that would cause us to “get and go without objection?”

Let me give you some examples:

As a result of spending time with these chapters in Acts as well as some others, passages like “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean,” my perspective on our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers changed. Those who God has made clean I can’t call unclean. My perspective on immigration was clarified so that it doesn’t matter to me whether someone has proper documentation or not. These are just more people that God loves and should be treated exactly that way.

As  result of new perspectives, I do things differently surrounding those two issues, and many others. When God shows us something that changes our perspective, we do things differently.

One more perspective that may be changing as a result of an experience with God. What if holy communion wasn’t for the baptized, but was the responsibility of  the baptized to provide it to the world? If we trust Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, bringing forgiveness and life, why aren’t we taking this meal, as a church, to the park, the shopping center, the coffee shop?

And what about LCM? How has our congregational perspective been changed by an encounter with God that has caused us to do things differently?

I believe God is speaking to us, showing us that God is active in our neighborhood outside the church building. And that we are most fully the church not when we’re in here, but when we’re out there–with God. That’s why we have embraced ministries like Hope, Green Mountain Elementary Homework Helpers, Abrazos a Molholm. That’s why we have so many people from here who are joining God at The Action Center, with Habitat for Humanity, and all the others that we’ll be able to see and celebrate on April 27th right here on our Celebration Sunday.

God shows us God’s work, and our perspective changes. And we end up considering possibilities like mentoring Green Mountain and Bear Creek High School students in career possibilities.

Peter’s perspective was changed by a vision from God. As a result, a Gentile and his household were baptized into Christ.

God comes to you now in love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. Let that sink in. As forgiven people, experiencing unconditional love, how might you see the world differently? With these new eyes touched by grace, new ears touched by forgiveness, a new perspective from God, how will you do things differently now?

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Sermon

 

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