Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 

The story of the man born blind is one of the more complex healing stories in all the gospels.
It directly confronts us with the idea that sin is what causes sickness.
It challenges us with the idea that our sin may have been passed on to us by our ancestors.

The story also serves to show how legalistic thinking and a clinging to the past works against the kingdom of God.

The story challenges us with a black and white, dark and light image
of the works of God and the powers of darkness.

There is blindness and there is seeing.
There is denying and there is believing.

‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

This was a common idea.
That if there was something wrong with someone, it was because of their sin.
If you were sick, it was because you had sinned, and your illness was a direct result.

But what about someone born with an illness or a disability?
How could they have sinned while in their mother’s womb?
The solution was to think that sin was passed through birth lines. The parents must have done something, and this is the punishment. So the idea went.

There are of course many issues with this kind of thinking.
While it may have made sense in some way, we feel that there is something inherently wrong with it.

Jesus clarifies:
 ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’

On a first listen it sounds as if this man was born blind solely so Jesus could heal him, to glorify God.

That doesn’t quite seem right either.
Jesus takes the whole of idea to a deeper level, to teach the disciples something far more important.

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

The point is that whether the man was born blind, became blind,
whether it was through his own sin or his parents sin is all immaterial.
No theorising or theologising or contemplating or navel gazing
can alter the fact that he is blind right now.

How he became blind, or the reasons for that are beside the point.
The fact is he is blind now. The past is of no concern.

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day

Jesus of course heals the man, and sends him away. Jesus accepts the present and works with in it. It is the day.

The story then involves a series of interrogations.
The once blind man is interrogated by the people of his town
Then the  Pharisees interrogate him.
Then the Pharisees interrogate his parents.
Then they again interrogate the man.
He is then driven out of the temple, with the words:
‘You were born entirely in sins.’

For all their questioning of whether Jesus healed on the Sabbath, where he is from, whether he is a sinner, whether the man was born blind or not,
they finish at the place they are comfortable with.

The man was born entirely in sins.

As Jesus moved his disciples to be in the present moment,
the Pharisees dwell back in the past.
Where Jesus was concerned with the man’s affliction,
the Pharisees are concerned with what caused it.
Even with the healed man in front of them,
they are more concerned with what caused his now gone affliction.
It is madness.

They are uncomfortable with the work of God that is happening in front of them,
and would rather dwell on the wrongs of the past.

They are more worried about the person doing the work than the work itself.

They are deliberately derailing and shutting down the Kingdom of God
with their insistence of the way things have been done,
rather than see the light breaking into the darkness.

They believe they can see, that they have the truth.

It is quite a trap.
It is very easy to fall into.
It is easier to blame the problems of the past than face the present.

We are more comfortable with the issues of the past than the challenges that are right in front of us.
Because if we can blame what has happened,
we can ignore what is happening now.

If we refuse to let the past die, we refuse to let the present exist.

Healing and sight can only happen in the present.

To stay in the past is to be wilfully blind and to ignore the light of Christ that works among us.

Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’

Surely, we can’t ignore what has happened.
Surely those things are part of our story.
They are what has made us like we are.

Those things take us away from the Gospel.
They make us blind to the light of Christ.

Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

If we say we see
while we continue to exist in a world that is dominated by what has been,
we are really denying our blindness.

We will miss the fact that it is day, and the day will become night.

And we will be too blind to notice.

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

St Paul advises us:

Live as children of light—
for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

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