Sermon on John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39 for Lent 4, March 22, 2020
- After all matter was created, darkness still covered all. God said, “Let there be light.” It was the first step of bringing order out of disorder and making that creation “very good.”Genesis chapter one is one of the few places we read about physical light—the light that shines on things and helps us see them. Light from the sun, light from a candle, or in our time, light from a light bulb. There are many times in the Bible that we read about another kind of light. Spiritual light. We read about it in the psalms: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear” (Psalm 27:1). And in Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, on those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). And in the Gospel of John, “In him [that is, in Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The true light which gives life to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4,9). The spiritual light brings order out of the disorder of the soul. It is the light of the Gospel of Jesus, the light of the holy wisdom, love and faith that come from God into the darkness and chaos of the world. Jesus Is the Lord of Light. Both kinds of light, both the physical and the spiritual. And by showing us his power and light, he shows us who he really is: The Word who is God, who was with God in the beginning, God who made all things.
- Jesus meets a man who was blind from birth.That’s one kind of darkness—the man couldn’t see the light. When the disciples see him, they ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” That question shows another kind of darkness, a spiritual darkness that comes when we work too hard to figure things out ourselves. “Here’s a bad thing. There must have been some other bad thing that caused this.” “Here’s someone suffering, he must have done something to deserve this.” Those are thoughts that come from darkened hearts. In a dark, twisted way, our sinful flesh wants to compare ourselves with others so we feel superior at someone else’s expense, following this dark way of thinking: “I don’t have a hardship that is that bad so I must not be that bad. God is better to me so I must be better.” “This blind man must have done something really bad to deserve what he has.” At that time this was a common teaching of the Pharisees—like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who liked to feel better about himself by comparing himself with people he thought were worse. The attitude is in us, too. We get too interested in the troubles of others or in the bad behavior of others. Gossip and tabloid headlines. It can even creep into preaching. “Look at these sinners over there and the trouble they get into and how awful it is.” By comparison, we think we look so much better. Remember Jesus’ short parable about comparison–trying to take a speck of sawdust out of someone else’s eye when we have a large plank sticking out of our own eye (Matthew 7:3). Comparison with others means nothing. God compares each of us with his holy law—and by that we all fall short. We are to use that law as a mirror to see our own sins and then turn from them. We are to use that law as our guide for living in love.
- The disciples see the blind man and their thoughts go to comparison.“How bad was this man’s sin that he got this?” Jesus answers by showing compassion—not by comparison. He said “This is the wrong question!” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” In other words, “He was born blind so that I could heal him right now!” So Jesus reaches out to him and takes care of his need. Jesus is moved by compassion. The hardship was not any payback for any specific sin. It was a hardship like many that come with living in a world that is broken by sin and corruption. St. Paul wrote about this in the letter to the Romans. “Since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… Peace even in suffering” (Romans 5:1,3). “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No condemnation because Jesus already took it all. Jesus saw the man’s hardship as an opportunity to help. A time for compassion, not comparison. Jesus said, “…this happened that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The hardships you see people going through may have that purpose, too—opportunities for you to help—opportunities for you to show compassion. Sometimes the sick and the aged people ask me “Why am I still here?” “So the works of God might be displayed.” So that the sick person can display faith in the midst of hardships. So that Christian friends can reflect the compassion of God by serving.
- Jesus shows his true nature by what he does and how he does it.His miracles show his power as God. He could have simply touched him and given him his sight. He did that other times, cleansing lepers with a touch—healing a woman who touched him—raising the dead with a touch and a word. But here Jesus makes some mud and puts it on the man’s eyes. Does that remind you of another time God took mud and made something? Like when God took the dust of the earth and made Adam? Jesus is showing who he is. Through what he does and through how he does it—and how he shows this perfect compassion. He showed that compassion to all—to the sick—and to the sinners.
- There is indeed a lot of sin in the world.St. Paul wrote “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” Sin is still sin. “Fruitless deeds of darkness?” Oh, I’m sure we can name many—all of them the fruits of peoples’ obsession with self. Disobedience in all its forms. Murder in all its forms: hate, disregard for life small and young, old and sick. Adultery in all its forms: Sexual activity outside marriage, marriages falling apart, marriages that don’t’ fit God’s definition. Theft in all its forms: fraud, dishonest dealing. Lies in all their forms: Slander, twisting the truth, half-truth. All fruits of sinful hearts. But what is our response when we see any of these sins? We can be absolutely right in condemning a sin—but still wrong in our response. This, too, is a time for compassion instead of comparison. Looking in the mirror of God’s law, we should be humble. Pull the plank out of our own eyes. In compassion, then, correct the person who is caught in a sin. It’s hard—we need to be careful that we don’t cross the line when compassion fades into comparison. St. Paul wrote about this, too. “If anyone is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). “Gentleness.” That’s another word for “compassion.” “Keep watch…lest you too be tempted.” That’s what will make a world of difference—if we go to a friend with a spirit of gentleness and compassion as we try to show them their sin—instead of a spirit of pride.
- Each of us is the “wretch” in “Amazing Grace.” Don’t we say so at the beginning of each service? “I confess that I am by nature sinful… I have done what is evil and failed to to what is good.” In compassion Jesus came for you and me! In compassion he laid down his life as the Lamb of God—to bring forgiveness and peace. We are all blind—blinded by our own pride. All until Jesus shines his light on us. The light of his compassionate love—what he has done—for you—for me—for a world of wretched sinners who would be lost. But “God so loved the world…”This is the faithful love of your God. He reached out to you to make you his own—so you could also reflect his compassion and give him glory.