Sermon: “Believe Without Seeing”
Scripture: Psalm 16 and John 20: 19-31
April 19, 2020
Jesus, Savior, Resurrected Messiah,
we come before you from different paths: some of us certain
of your joyful presence in our lives, some of us not so certain
of the hope of being touched by your joy.
Yet we are all here, reaching out to you: for understanding,
for hope, for joy and for peace. Amen
Scripture reading today is from Psalm 16 and John 20:24-31
One of my personality flaws is that I can, at times, be eager to accept what someone says. Someone hits a hole in one on the golf course. I’ll believe them. Why would someone lie about that? Occasionally, I’ll ask someone, have you been reading your Bible every day? And they respond, of course I have. I believe them. Or, everyone’s favorite, I caught a fish and it was this big. Of course, there are not lying.
So, what if someone told you that they had just seen Jesus. That Jesus had just appeared in the room and they had a conversation with Him. If it was me, I would probable say something like … you need to take just a little more or a little less of your medication. But this crazy story of Jesus appearing and speaking to the other Apostles is exactly what happened to the Apostle Thomas. Thomas, or doubting Thomas as he is known today, had not been with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them after the resurrection. When they told him about seeing Jesus his first reaction was a normal one – he did not believe them.
Thomas had a healthy skepticism, and like most people he would not believe until he first had some proof. And he did not hesitate to tell the others that unless I see the nail marks in his hands”, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe it”.
Like Thomas, we want some evidence before we accept what other people tell us, particularly when they are describing something that seems impossible.
Like many of us, Thomas would not believe until he saw for himself the marks on Jesus’ body. I believe that no one can fault him for that, particularly since he was being confronted with a story that simply defies human comprehension. If you remember, Jesus had said numerous times he was going die and he would rise again, but nobody seemed to understand him or really believe him. I doubt if anybody seriously expected Jesus to come back to life. I mean, healing the sick and feeding large crowds is one thing. But coming back from the dead after having been killed by Roman crucifixion is something entirely different. Despite all the times he had told his friends he would rise again on the third day, Jesus was buried. And I doubt any of them are expecting to see him alive again. But the post resurrection Jesus is different from what Jesus was like before he was crucified. He can now appear and disappear at will. And he suddenly appeared in locked rooms to the astonishment of His disciples and friends.
In our world today, there are many issues that Christians in different churches disagree on, such as theological truth, the inherency of scripture, what books are in the Bible, the nature of the Eucharist, which theories of atonement we accept, and so on.
I believe that the resurrection of Jesus is essential to the Christian faith. People who identify as Christians must believe Jesus is risen from the dead. And I firmly believe that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the Church would be little more than a new age self-help club. St Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12-14 “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is worthless, and so is your faith.”
Because of our sinful ways, humankind was estranged from God, but we were given a way to be reconciled. And that way was for God to become fully human in Jesus the Christ. Jesus went to the cross with self-sacrificing love, and he triumphed over death and sin with his resurrection. And because of his sacrifice, we too share in his risen life.
Brothers and Sisters, all of us have scars somewhere on our body, which have accumulated over the years, and more often than not, there is a story connected to these scars. Because these scars are reminders of one experience or the other. Some of these scars serve up pleasant memories, and some scars are a badge of honor. However, other scars serve as painful reminders of bad decisions and willful mistakes on our part. Some scars are mysteriously present, and we are not quite sure as to how they got there in the first place. And although some scars may be small and insignificant, or barely visible. Yet, we still wish that we could trace their origin.
Our lord Jesus Christ’s, most visible scars were proof that he had changed the course of history. It was those scars, left from the nails in his hands and feet and from the spear thrust into his side, that enabled the disciples to identify him as the risen Lord.
Jesus freely showed them his scars so that they would know that he was indeed fully alive. His friends could touch him to prove to themselves that he was no figment of their imagination. Those scars bore a special message too, that pain and suffering are inescapable. Every one of us will have these experiences of pain and suffering, in varying degrees, but we can rise above them and become transformed by the power of the risen Christ.
Perhaps the most difficult scars to deal with are those not visible to the human eye. The most painful are those scars which now mark the surface of our heart. The origin of these scars lie in the stories of things done and left undone. Some of these scars we are responsible for; and some scars other people may be held accountable for. Yet, when we see in our minds the scars on our hearts which we are solely responsible for, we want desperately to remove them right away.
On the other hand, the scars left on our hearts by others, allow us to maintain them as resentments because for us they are reminders of our right to be angry over the mistakes of others. These are the scars which are used by us to distance ourselves from those other people. And, this, in turn, grants us the opportunity not to forgive them. The invisible scars we carry around day after day, year after year are the ones that create all kinds of problems in our minds. And until they are removed, by accepting the risen Christ as our Lord and Savior, God is unable to make his presence strongly felt in our hearts…because we are blocking Him out of our lives.
Just like when have a reaction to our physical scars, our psychological scars, develop fears about loving, trusting, feeling, and forgiving. Just like us, when we are living in fear, the disciples had withdrawn themselves from the public eye and had resigned themselves to a secret room in fear of the Romans. But Jesus’ appearing to them brought a new perspective.
First of all, His very presence suggested hope. And, contrary to their current thinking, all was not lost including their faith. The fact that Jesus willingly showed them his scars was an indication to them that he understood their fear and he held no grudge against any of them. And the way he spoke to them confirmed his never-ending love for them.
As we endure to live and to grow, we will continue to gather scars, both visible and invisible. But with faith in the Easter message we can cast away all doubt of God’s love for us. We don’t need to see the scars in Jesus’ body to believe. God has given us the Bible. So, as we read the scriptures, we know the story is true. We understand that the disciples would not have given their lives for a false story. People don’t spend their lives traveling around the countryside telling the story of a risen Messiah unless it’s true. And when telling the story, they didn’t ask for money, or fame, or recognition. All they wanted was for the people they encountered to believe in Jesus and be baptized. In other words, how can we know that the resurrection story of Jesus is true? To put it simply…people don’t die for a lie.
So, what about you? Will you believe without seeing? Will you trust in the story of the resurrection?
Do you believe without seeing that Jesus is alive and sits at the right hand of God? Or, do you need more proof than a story that has remained unchanged for 2,000 years. And by the way this story also comes with a book, called the Bible. And this book corroborates the story of Jesus.
Friends, the choice is yours. Will you continue to live in doubt? Or, will you make a decision today to believe in the risen Christ without seeing him standing in your home? Amen
Let us Pray
Gracious God, as the disciples were locked in a room of fear, bring Jesus to us as we live in quarantine. If we act like Thomas, full of doubt, we pray that Jesus turns to us and gives us comfort.
God, we continue to pray for all those affected by the corona virus. Please give then the strength they need to endure and to triumph over this disease. We pray for health and happiness of all those in our church family. Give us all peace and comfort during this time of separation.
God, in Your great mercy, I pray today that you grant us a new birth into a living hope, for it is the risen Christ who stands in our midst and says, “Peace be with you!”
Help us to cast away the scars of our heart so that we can truly be the hands and feet of Christ during these difficult times. Amen
April 12, 2020
Sermon: Easter Sunday
Scripture: John 1:1-20
As we celebrate Easter this morning, many of us might feel a bit anxious and isolated due to the restrictions put in place in order to stop the spread of the Corona Virus. Across the nation, nonessential businesses have been shut, schools have been closed, and public gatherings are banned. It’s like living in a Sci-Fi novel. There can be no doubt about it, Easter 2020 is not Easter as usual.
Well, we are not the only ones having an odd Easter morning. In our Gospel Lesson for this morning our story begins in darkness. And in a very real way, Mary Magdalene herself was feeling socially isolated. After all, here she was, coming to a tomb, by herself in the darkness. The pain she was experiencing was beyond description. What she had experienced on Friday was burned into her mind. She had watched as Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior—her best friend, was beaten, nailed to a Cross and left to bleed and eventually die. His body had been taken down and instead of leaving it for the birds, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had gone to Pilate and asked for it. They wrapped it in spices with strips of linen and laid it in a tomb—where it would stay—all by itself. Then a large stone was rolled over the entrance—sealing it.
Saturday was the Sabbath. And what an awful day that must have been for the followers of Jesus. What a feeling of loneliness and despair must have come upon them and threatened to swallow them up. They must have felt so helpless…so confused… and in shock. They had heard Jesus tell them that He would be arrested and killed—but they had never really believed it would actually happen. It seemed to awful to be true. They had dropped everything in order to follow Jesus—their jobs, their dreams, all their plans. They had been with Him for three amazing years. They had heard Him talk about God and watched Him love in ways no one had loved before. Jesus had fed 5,000 people with a few fish and a couple loaves of bread. He had healed the sick. He had raised the dead. He had made the insane… sane. He had become their hope in the midst of the despair of this life. He was the missing piece of the puzzle. And now He was dead and gone—forever. How could they go on? What were they supposed to do now?
Can you imagine the darkness? Can you imagine the pain? Can you imagine the feelings of hopelessness and despair? Perhaps some of you can.
All of us are living in a whole new reality right now. It’s like nothing we have ever seen nor experienced. T-V anchors are broadcasting from their homes. People are walking the streets with facemasks on. We aren’t supposed to have parties. Kids can’t have friends over to play. The entire world is living in a sheltered in place scenario. Most of us experience our social interactions with family, co-workers, friends and church. Most of these things are not available right now, and we don’t know when they will return.
So, how are we to celebrate the Resurrection while many of us are isolated and anxious? On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene stood outside Jesus’ tomb crying. She had come to mourn and show her respects to the One Who had meant everything to her, but when she got there, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. Now, not only was she empty and alone, so was Jesus’ tomb. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse…someone had stolen Jesus’ body.
As Mary wept, she bent down and looked inside the tomb one more time. And what she saw were two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and one at the feet. The angels asked Mary why she was crying. She said, “They have taken my Lord away,’ ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.” And then, we are told that she “turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize it was Jesus.” She didn’t recognize him because she wasn’t looking for a Living Jesus. She had come looking for an unrecognizable dead body…the way Jesus had looked when He hung on the Cross.
At first, she thought Jesus was the gardener. The gardener was only person she would have expected to see around a tomb that early in the morning. But Jesus called her name. And when He did, she allowed her eyes to refocus and everything changed.
So, what you? Have you heard Jesus calling your name? If so, have you allowed your eyes to refocus, and welcomed the new discovery that changes everything in history?
Throughout His ministry, Jesus ministered to people who were isolated, often breaking the rules of social boundaries. In Mark Chapter 5, Jesus casts demons out of a man who had been isolated from society. He had been living alone in the tombs. When the townsfolk found Him with Jesus, we are told that he was in his right mind—sitting at Jesus’ feet. He was a brand-new person and had been integrated back into the community.
In John Chapter 4, Jesus is traveling through Samaria. While resting near a well, a woman comes along—who has been isolated from her community. She is surprised when Jesus speaks to her, let alone asks her for a drink of water. Jesus and the woman become involved in a lengthy conversation, which eventually leads to her integration back into her community as she leads others to Christ.
Whenever you feel isolated and alone, remember that Jesus has a special place in His heart just for you. And Jesus has experienced the ultimate isolation Himself—when hanging on the Cross He cried out: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus can relate to whatever we are going through; He has compassion and empathy for everyone.
So, again, how are we to celebrate Easter in these isolated and anxious times? Well, we find on Easter evening that the disciples gathered behind locked doors, afraid, anxious and isolated. And they weren’t sequestering themselves for health reasons, but because they were afraid that their own leaders would come after them the way they’d come after Jesus. And so, they were “sheltering in place,” feeling isolated and afraid. And then, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” Then, “he showed them his hands and side.” And, “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”
It’s true that we can’t celebrate Easter in the way we usually do this year, but the Bible reminds us… that the risen Christ doesn’t need the traditional trappings of Easter in order to appear and be present in our lives—and neither do His disciples. Instead, like always, Jesus comes to us in our loneliness. Jesus comes to us in our tears. Jesus comes to us in our fear and anxiety. He stands among us, and compassionately whispers to us all: “Peace be with you.”
Even though it may not seem like it, things are going to be alright. And that is because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The tomb is empty. God is with us always and forever. And that is all that really matters.
We may not be together in one place this Easter morning, but we are not alone. Jesus’ triumph over the darkness, and the loneliness of death, is our hope. The resurrection of Jesus Christ brings us new life. It overcomes our isolation and fear. Because with God in charge, we are never alone. Amen.
April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday: Who is this?
Who is this man? Is precisely what was said when Jesus entered Jerusalem in the closing days of his ministry. He’s not riding on a white horse like a conquering king. No, Jesus is simply riding on a donkey. Now, that’s nothing special in and of itself, in Jesus’ time that’s kind of like driving your Chevy around town. But what makes people take note of Jesus is the crowd that’s following him into the city.
So here comes Jesus entering Jerusalem, and people can’t help but take notice because he’s surrounded by huge crowds that are singing, and waving palms, and throwing their cloaks down on the ground before him. Naturally, the people observing this great parade ask, “Who is this?” But the way these people are treating Jesus seems to indicate that he is so much more than a prophet. I mean, the last time a prophet was around, it was John the Baptist, and he was way out in the wilderness, and people weren’t throwing him lavish parades. No, Jesus is getting the royal treatment here.
There is a famous story of Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh was one of the great explorers during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I of England. On one occasion, Raleigh was with the queen when she walked through London, and they came to a place where rainwater had made the ground very muddy. Raleigh quickly took off his coat and placed it on the ground so the queen could walk over without getting mud on her feet. Now this tale may or may not be true. Yet the story of Raleigh taking off his coat for the queen has become famous, probably because it’s not the sort of thing that happens every day. It’s a very special gesture, especially if the cloak placed down on the muddy ground is the only one you’ve got. Such an action says, quite clearly, that you are celebrating and valuing this person about as highly as you can. It seems to imply that, if need be, you would be willing to give them anything else you had as well.
Most of the crowds around Jesus that day probably didn’t have a second coat, but they spread theirs on the road anyway. As they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Festival, they might have remembered the old scriptural stories like that in 2 Kings 9, when one of Israel’s famous kings was declared king in defiance of an existing one, his followers spread their cloaks under his feet as a sign of loyalty. These crowds around Jesus were determined to make a statement about what they thought was going on.
“Who is this guy?” the baffled people of Jerusalem continue to ask. Not only are the people throwing their cloaks down before Jesus, they are waving palm branches and singing “royal” hymns or chants, welcoming Jesus as the “Son of David.” As the crowd parade into Jerusalem with Jesus, it is as if they are saying, “Here is the king we want, this is our king.” But Jesus knows, and the gospel of Matthew has told us, that nothing is that simple. We know that Jesus has come to Jerusalem not to be enthroned, like David or Herod, but to be killed. And the meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called “triumphal entry” is quite different from the meaning the crowds want to see. And that is where this story becomes significant for us.
History reports that on the same day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey to the great praises of the multitudes, Pontius Pilate entered the city from another gate riding on a great white stallion. But when the Roman governor went through the city gates on that day with only some foot soldiers following him, he was not surrounded by a praising crowd. He was basically ignored, or perhaps even heckled. The people then, as now, need more than just an earthly king. And though on that day of Jesus’ triumphal entry they treated Jesus like a king, they probably did it because they recognized in Jesus something greater than a longing for power and prestige. Whereas royalty come determined to rule, Jesus came determined to serve. Whereas monarchs spend time building their ego with the trappings of their office, Jesus came in humility. Whereas royalty come on the back of a mighty stallion or in the luxury of a private jet, the Bible tells us this king came on the back of a donkey. Not a horse. A horse represents for war.
Now, that may have been what the people wanted; a king to set them free, a leader to help them rid themselves of Roman oppression. But this king came on a donkey, a symbol of meekness, peace, and humility. And while most kings set themselves up to rule, Jesus came facing the cross. The people wanted a prophet, but this prophet was going to tell them that their beloved city was under God’s imminent judgment. They wanted a Messiah, but this one was going to be hung on a pagan cross. They wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression, but Jesus was going to rescue them from evil in its fullest depths, not just the surface evil of Roman occupation and exploitation by the rich. Precisely because Jesus was the Savior, he was also going to be something wholly different from what the people expected him to be. When the crowds cry “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “This is the Prophet,” they say the right words, but they still miss the point. They have all the notes and none of the music. They have the theology, but in the end, they still end up rejecting Jesus and calling for his death. Knowing the truth is not the same thing as doing the truth.
Everybody loves a parade. Everybody loves to cheer. But Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus came with a choice. No one can be neutral. We can stand and wave, we can join the crowds that cheered for Jesus on that day and watch him pass by. Or, we can follow him and stand with him at the Cross. It’s easy to shout, but it’s harder to serve.
So, the question for us today is this, who is this Jesus for us? Is he simply a conquering king who sweeps in to defeat whatever distresses us in the moment, or do we follow a different sort of king? Is Jesus our Savior, worthy of our complete praise and devotion, or is it easier to ignore him when he comes marching into our lives?
The path that lies before Jesus as he enters Jerusalem is a dangerous one. He is not headed to the luxury of a grand castle. But if he truly is our King, we must follow him, even down the troubled road that lies ahead. And following Jesus as our King may mean missing out on the earthly pleasures marching past as this world’s offers us ill-gotten riches and rewards. Following Jesus will lead us to service. Following Jesus will require our love and devotion; it will demand our life and our time. So, we will have to make sacrifices. For Jesus was on his way to the cross. Jesus was on his way to suffering and even death. But he was also on his way to his Father’s throne. And when we follow Jesus as our King and give him our devotion, we march with Jesus as the Father leads us.
There is a story from the days of the Civil War about a woman who sat crying on a park bench outside the White House. Her husband had died on the battlefield, and when her son heard the horrible news, he left his post on the battlefield to comfort and support his mom. But when he got home, he was arrested for desertion and was now going to be shot by a firing squad. The woman had come to the White House to see President Lincoln in hopes that he might intervene. But, to her dismay, she had been turned away at the gate. She had been told. “The President was too busy to see her.” So, she sat on the park bench, crying. After a while, a young boy walked up to her and asked her why she was crying. She told the boy her story and ended by saying that all she wanted to do was to see the President, because she knew that he was a fair man and her son would be pardoned. To her great surprise, the little boy asked her to follow him. As they approached the front gate, the little boy said to the soldier, “She’s with me.” To her amazement the soldiers, stepped aside and together they made their way into the White House past generals and cabinet officers. Finally, the little boy pushed inside a great room, and running, he jumped on the President’s lap. “Daddy,” he said. “Here’s a lady who needs to see you. She needs your help.” The little boy who had stopped to talk with the woman was Todd Lincoln and upon hearing the woman’s story, President Lincoln issued a Presidential pardon and the woman’s son was spared.
Like that story from the Civil War, God’s Son has come to speak to us. He is offering to lead us into the Father’s presence. Palm Sunday is a great time to become a follower of Jesus Christ. What the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday didn’t realize was that God was offering them the opportunity to do something more than cheer. God was inviting them to join Him in doing something amazing.
Who is this? This is Jesus the Prophet, the King, and our Savior. Let’s follow him wherever he leads. Amen
Prayer for Matthew 21
God, You are a God of compassion and love. Time after time we have experienced your care and provision. Time after time You’ve answered our prayers and met our needs—often in ways we could never have dreamed possible. We praise You for Your faithful love toward us.
Today God we especially pray for all those that are affected with the corona virus. We pray for a speedy recovery for the ill and for rest and peace for the healthcare workers that care for them.
Heavenly Father, we see so much pain and suffering in our world. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the needs around us. But we continue to bring our prayers to You in faith, because we know that nothing is impossible for You. You are the God who rained down bread from heaven and made water flow from a rock in the desert. You are the God who resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead, and who brings new life and hope to all who believe. For You God, all things are possible.
Remind us God that to be a true Christian we must always act and respond to the needs of others with compassion in our actions as well as our hearts. Amen
March 29, 2020
Sermon: “It’s Time to Start Believing What We Believe”
Scripture: John 11: 1-45
Have you ever had a day when everything started out wrong? And no matter what you did you were unable to restart your day in a positive manner? Well I have compiled a short list of warning signs for you that will tell you that you might have a bad day ahead.
You know it’s going to be a bad day when:
1. You get pulled over by the police and you haven’t even left your own driveway.
2. Or, your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.
4. You know it’s going to be a bad day when, the blind date you had anxiously been awaiting turns out to be your sister.
6. Last but not least, you know it’s going to be a bad day when you wake up to discover that your waterbed broke, and then you remember you own a waterbed.
When Jesus was present on this earth, even He had bad days. And today’s scripture lesson is about one of those bad day’s for Jesus. In our scripture lesson today, a man named Lazarus was sick, and he was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Jesus knew this family well. You may recall that Jesus had dinner with them in their home, when Mary had poured perfume on Jesus feet and wiped them dry with her hair. They had a special relationship and had spent time together. I guess you could say they were intimate friends. It is only natural that Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Now keep in mind that they didn’t explicitly ask Jesus to come and help. Perhaps they thought Jesus would automatically come out of his love for Lazarus and when he heard Lazarus was sick.
In any event, according to day’s scripture it is clear Mary and Martha expected Jesus to come to where they were and heal Lazarus. But for some strange reason, Jesus waits four days and Lazarus dies. So why did Jesus wait four days?
In the Jewish tradition, of that time, people believed that the soul resided in the vicinity of the body of a deceased person for three days. They believed the soul was hoping to rejoin the body. But, after four days, the soul gave up and departed, because there was no more hope for reconnection to the body. The fact that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days meant that there was no possibility of his soul rejoining his body.
At this stage, Martha has already witnessed her brother’s death, prepared his body for burial, placed him in a tomb and sat with for him for two days. There is no way that Martha’s belief in Jesus’ healing powers, her faith in his restorative capabilities, could not be mixed with a healthy dose of doubt. Martha has stared death right in the face. But when confronted with this crisis, it is Martha’s belief that sends her running to meet Jesus before he could even reach the boundaries of Bethany.
Martha believed Jesus could have saved Lazarus. Her voice trembles with disappointment when she says to Jesus, “why didn’t you come and healed Lazarus? Jesus, we trusted you, we believed in you and now my brother Lazarus, the one you said you loved is dead.”
Martha did not even realize the depth of her convictions. Not until she stands before Jesus and hears his messianic confession – Jesus says to her “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And now Martha realizes that this is indeed what she believes. When push comes to shove, when it was a matter of life and death, Martha believed.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet. She is weeping, not just crying, it is an uncontrolled, unrestrained wailing and shrieking. From the Jewish point of view the more unrestrained the weeping the more honor is paid to the dead. You can still see this in some cultures today. Mary also says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And, Jesus wept. Jesus wept because of the death of his friend, but even more so, Jesus wept because he saw the pain that Lazarus’ death causes his sisters.
I believe that in our darkness moments, in the depth of our own personal pain and suffering, Jesus comes to us and shares in that pain and suffering. Our God is not an impersonal God – a God who does not care – who is distant and separate from us.
God is the companion of the broken hearted.
God is the great counselor.
God is the one who brings good from the ruins of life.
And He is the God that even in the midst of our tragedy is in control.
And here is the remarkable thing, Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew Lazarus was going to die. He knew that there was going to be pain and anguish for Martha and Mary. And He knew that Lazarus illness was for God’s Glory.
So, what does all this mean? It means that Lazarus’ illness, and Lazarus’ death provided an opportunity for people to see the presence of God in their midst. I am not saying that God killed Lazarus or made him ill. But that God allowed it to happen so that this event will be a witness to God’s power, and for us to experience God’s love. It means that even in the tough times of our lives, in the times when we think God has all but deserted us, in the times when it seems as if four days have passed and there is no hope. Don’t ever give up on God.
Do you remember the TV show Get Smart? In the show, secret agent Maxwell Smart would always come up against a bad guy from whom he had to escape. Smart would try to intimidate his foe by scaring him off with some hopelessly transparent exaggeration: Smart would say, “Right now, there are 50 armed police officers surrounding this place.” When the adversary doubted him, Smart would counter with: “Would you believe 20 police officers and an angry dog?” With the crook still not impressed, Smart would finally suggest: “How about a troop of Girl Scouts on a cookie-sale drive?” How many of us are willing to put what we believe on a similar sliding scale like Maxwell Smart?
When we were young, we were able to believe almost anything we were told. Our parents, our teachers were always sources of truth and integrity. If any one of them told us something, it must be true. But when we grew older and more “sophisticated” in our thoughts, we learned to stop believing things simply because an authority figure told us it was true. And that can be good. But, for too many of us, the entire concept of believing in God can eventually erode completely away. If I can’t see it, taste it, touch it, or smell it, then it can’t be real, so we stop believing.
We can stop believing:
About God’s active involvement in the life of Israel,
About God’s new covenant in the person of Jesus Christ.
About the place of Jesus in history.
And, about the relevance, and the authority of the Bible itself in our 21st century world.
Jesus had a difficult time convincing some people that God was alive and well and still at work in the world. The story of Lazarus is another attempt by Jesus to convince the Jews that God is not an absentee God. That God is real and is always active in our lives. Yes, we may go four days without seeing God at work in our lives but that does not mean that God is absent.
What is standing in the way of you saying yes, I believe? Is it your friends, family, or coworkers? Did you read an article that says if God didn’t exist humans would make one up just so we can have someone to blame for all our problems instead of taking responsibility for our own actions? Or, is there something you saw on the internet that is trying to convince you that God is not real, and Jesus is a myth?
Yes, the Bible is full of extravagant promises. The Bible says the same spirit that worked wonders at Pentecost dwells in you today? The Bible says you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you? The Bible says the resurrection power that raised Lazarus from the dead can be at work in you today if you want it to.
Your challenge for this week is simply this; are you ready to open your eyes, are you ready to change your hearts and minds and believe in the God that raised Lazarus form the dead? Amen
March 22, 2020
Sermon: Spiritual Blindness
Scripture: John 9:1-41
In today’s world it’s so easy to get caught up in our selfish pursuits that we become blind to what is going on around us. We can become blind to the needs to our family and friends. We can become blind to what is going on in our community and in our country. And if we don’t wake up, we can become so laser focused on ourselves that we don’t want to wake up. We simply keep our heads down; live our lives and we want to be left alone. When this willful blindness to our surroundings occur, we can develop Spiritual blindness as well. Spiritual blindness is going through the motions in life. Yes, we go to church, we volunteer, but we become spiritually disconnected from God, spiritually disconnected from the other people in our lives, and we become spiritually disconnected from ourselves. When this happens, we are susceptible to influence from outside sources that usually do not have our best interest in mind. In other words, if you walk around spiritually blind you will slowly drift away from God and from yourself. And now without God in your heart your ego takes over. You become ridged, selfish and like the Pharisees in our story today, you become accustomed to walking around in the dark.
One of the goals of Jesus’ ministry was to awaken people from their spiritual blindness and when called upon He would heal them of their physical blindness. In today’s scripture, we see Jesus healing a man’s physical blindness, and in the process, we discover the spiritual blindness of some of those watching the miracle.
The story begins with Jesus and his disciples encountering a man who’s been blind from birth. The disciples look at this man and what do they see? Do they see a man in need of healing? No, they don’t. They’re blind to his pain. They ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” The disciples totally ignore this man’s problem. They are more interested in theology than compassion. But then, Jesus turns the tables on them and immediately points out their own blindness. Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. The disciple’s assumptions have blinded them to the possibilities of the situation. Their understanding of the man’s blindness is in fact no different from that of the Pharisees.
In ancient times everything in their world consisted of cause and effect and todays scripture is no different for the disciples. So then illnesses must be the result of God’s judgement regarding sin. Whether it’s the person’s sin or his parents doesn’t matter. Clearly sin must be involved for this man to be born blind. But Jesus blows that idea out of the water. He says God’s intentions with this man’s blindness are that God’s works might be revealed in him. There’s nothing sinister about this illness. There’s no sense of revenge, on God’s part, associated with it. In this case, God is going to use this man’s illness to reveal his glory.
Jesus always knows what to do. He spits on the ground, makes some mud and uses it as a salve for the man’s eyes. Then He sends him off to the pool to wash and then he comes back able to see. As you might expect, this causes something of a disturbance in the crowd.
The people gathered that day have known this guy all his life. He’s been blind since birth and now he can see. And so, people want to know how it happened. Who did this? They ask the man, are you really the man we know who’s been a beggar all his life? The formally blind man he assures them that he is the same man, and that Jesus has done this miraculous thing.
If this happened today, we’d be taking the man to an eye specialist to check what’s happened. Was he blind? What’s happened to his eyes that he can now see? The people in today’s scripture don’t take him to the doctor; they take him to the Pharisees. They think there’s something supernatural going on here and they want the religious experts’ opinion. And here’s where we see spiritual blindness come to the forefront.
The Pharisees of course know all about Jesus, they’ve already reached their conclusions about him, and it doesn’t take long for them to discover that he’s been up to his old tricks again; healing on the Sabbath.
What’s the Pharisees verdict regarding this situation? They can’t deny the reality of the miracle. The man can clearly see the mans has been healed, though they do their best to find a loophole by suggesting that maybe he wasn’t blind to begin with. But no, it’s established that he was blind and has been healed. So, they put their heads together and begin to make a judgement about what’s happened. The Pharisees say, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” He can’t be from God if he doesn’t follow the law. And we begin to see how their traditions, their old interpretations of the law, their ridged lifestyle, and their egos blind them to reality.
What do the Pharisees do? They fall back on what they know by saying, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man responds in amazement, he says, “Here is an astonishing thing. You do not know where he (meaning Jesus) comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. “Since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
The reality of Jesus’ origins is blatantly clear to this man, yet the Pharisees refuse to acknowledge it. Faced by this snub from an ignorant peasant they return to their traditions. The Pharisees respond to the man by saying, “You were born entirely in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Like the disciples, they are confident that blindness is the judgement of God regarding sin, so they can dismiss everything the man says because obviously he was born in sin.
Here we have a man who was blind but now can see. A man whose ability to see clearly goes beyond the physical to the spiritual, while those who are meant to be the spiritual guides of Israel are shown to be spiritually blind. That’s not the end of the story. Jesus goes looking for the man and when he finds him, he asks him, not whether his eyesight is better, but whether he believes in the Son of Man.
We can see the discovery the formally blind man has made made. Jesus is the Son of Man, the one who in Daniel 7 is given all authority and dominion, who in John’s gospel is the one who will be lifted up, and who will judge all the earth. Not only does this man acknowledge that the son of man exists but he also puts his trust in him. The response of the man is to not only acknowledge his belief in Jesus, but to worship him. His eyes have been opened to the whole reality of who Jesus is.
Jesus’ response is to say: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who are listening realize that Jesus is talking about them. They ask whether he’s accusing them of being blind. Jesus reply is puzzling: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” They are blind in fact, but their claim to be able to see establishes their fault. The passage from John 3:19-20 says: “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” The Pharisees claimed to be able to see, but when the light of Christ they appeared in their midst they became confused and ran from it. Jesus’ very presence among them blinded them to the things they should be able to see, even as Jesus opened the eyes of others who perhaps didn’t have the enlightenment of the learned Pharisees.
So, how is our spiritual vision? Are you open to seeing God at work in every circumstance or are you narrow-minded by your theological or professional or rational assumptions? Or, is your vision clouded by the various traumas of life you have experienced.
There are many people in our world who are so convinced by a rationalist scientific worldview that they refuse to admit the possibility of miracles, either today, or even in Jesus’ time.
So, they argue away the miracles of Jesus, perhaps even more strongly than the Pharisees did. Ignoring the miracles of Jesus is to blind ourselves to the possibility that God might indeed intervene in our world. And then we shut our eyes to what God is doing around us. Similarly, there are those who have been so hurt by events, or people, in their past that they can’t acknowledge the possibility that God might be doing something good.
Conversely, many of us have inherited a theology that expects that God will bless us in everything we do, so when tragedy happens, we’re confused, even disillusioned about our Christian faith. The danger with this way of thinking is that we judge from a standard we have created rather than from reality. We judge from what we’ve heard from others, or from what we’ve worked out by ourselves, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves.
That’s the contrast in today’s passage. The Pharisees looked at what had happened and got out their play book to help them pass judgement. While the man that was healed looked at what had happened and let the facts speak for themselves.
And what was the result? Judgement was passed, but it wasn’t the judgement that the Pharisees had in mind. The judgement that was passed was that those who had eyes to see saw the miracle, while those whose eyes were blind to the reality of Jesus’ work, had their blindness made clear for all to see. The only people that reminded blind were the Pharisees. They simply couldn’t comprehend that God was at work that day just like he was at work at the time of Moses.
Are you looking to see God at work in the world? Are you pointing out those works of God to others so they can see too? Think about these words of Jesus, He says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” These are words for us today as well as to the disciples. When God shines his light on the world we need to be ready to point out how God is at work in people’s lives, so we can give him the glory, and so we can bring people from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.
Ask yourselves these questions: Do we let outside influences dictate our spirituality? Have we become so set in our ways, so frightened of life that we are willfully blind? Have we become spiritually disconnected from God, spiritually disconnected from the other people in our lives, and have we become spiritually disconnected from ourselves?
If you can honestly answer yes to these questions. Wouldn’t today be a good day to reconnect to God? Wouldn’t today be a good day to open your eyes to the world and what’s going on around us? And wouldn’t today be a good day to say no to spiritual blindness and to the darkness that infects our world, and say yes to spiritual power of God and the eternal light of Jesus? Amen.
Prayer for John 9
Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the Bread of Life for the world. Forgive us for elevating earthly appetites above devotion to you. Feed us with the knowledge of Christ so that we recognize our sin and gladly repent in his name.
God, we pray for those whose daily need for healthy food, clean water and proper shelter goes un-met, and for those misusing what they have in the vain pursuit of pleasure. Forgive those that horde food and supplies instead of giving to others. Feed them with all the good things of Christ for life now and in eternity. Have mercy on those whose lives have been broken by violence and crime and disease. Feed them with hope and a new life in Christ.
God, we pray for all those infected with the corona virus. We pray that you inspire the medical professionals to create a vaccine as soon as possible. Be with those that have lost loved ones to this virus. And strengthen the doctors and nurses that care for the sick and hurting.
Today God, we pray for all those that are spiritually blind; for all those that are lost and seeking fulfillment in their lives. Help us to be the ones that reach out the lost and to the lonely. Help us, as the body of Christ to be your light of hope in our broken world.