Saturday, March 29, 2014

I Once Was Blind

Ephesians 5:8-14
5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-

5:9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

5:10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

5:12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;

5:13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

5:14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

John 9:1-33
9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

9:3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

9:6 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,

9:7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 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?"

9:9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man."

9:10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?"

9:11 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."

9:12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 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."

9:16 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.

9:17 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."

9:18 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

9:19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?"

9:20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 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."

9:22 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.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

9:24 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."

9:25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

9:26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"

9:27 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?"

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."

9:30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

Lynn Williams is a professor of creative writing at Emory University and she has written a wonderful little short story called, “Personal Testimony.”

Personal Testimony is a story about a 12 year old girl who is the daughter of a fire and brimstone evangelistic preacher from West Texas, who every summer sends his little girl to summer camp.  Not just any summer camp, but church camp.  Fundamentalist church camp.  Which means that during the day it is like any other summer camp – softball, sailing, archery, hiking, swimming – but at night, every night, there is a sweaty “Come to Jesus” sermon by some visiting preacher who seeks to woo children into heaven by scaring them out of hell.  Hell is vividly described as a place of fire and brimstone and sulfur and demons and pain and agony.

The unwritten rule of the camp is that at sometime during the week every child will come forward and give his or her life to Christ.  And not just that, but each child will give a personal testimony.

The problem is that most of these kids are just ordinary kids who don’t have a great story to tell during a testimony.

That’s where our 12 year old preacher’s daughter comes in because she has figured out a way to make some extra money at camp – as a ghost writer for Jesus.  She fabricates personal testimonies for the other campers.  For $5 she wrote a personal testimony for a boy named Michael which he delivered tear-stained before the congregation.  It was all about how in his old life he was bad – so very bad.  He would take the Lord’s name in vain during football practice, but now that he has met Jesus his mouth is as pure as a crystal spring. 

Her best work, however, was for a young boy named Tim Bailey, and he was able to say that his life was empty and meaningless until that fateful night, when in a pick up truck accident in Galveston he almost met his death, but Jesus himself took the steering wheel and steered it away from disaster.

Now that one took imagination so she got $25 for that one.

I like that story because it sheds light on a truth about personal testimonies – and that is that in many churches they become so pat, so predictable, so cliché, that they all have the same plot. 

“Once my life was in shambles, but I met Christ, and now everything is wonderful!!!”

“I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, then the master of the sea lifted me, and safe am I.  I once was blind, but now I see.”

And we love that sort of testimony – predictable, pat, formulas that never change – because we like a religion that is predictable, pat, and based on a formula that never changes.  We like it simple. 

And we like our faith simple.

We like a predictable God.

We like having a God who fixes things and makes everything nice for us.

But God is not always simple, or predictable.  And He rarely “fixes things” for us so that everything is nice and easy.

Have you ever heard someone give a personal testimony by saying, “I was living a pretty good life.  Had a nice job, nice family, had a nice home and car.  Then Jesus came into my life and messed everything up.”

Actually, that is what we see in the personal testimony of this man in John chapter nine. 

Here is a person who should have the greatest of all personal testimonies – in fact we have right here in John, chapter 9, verse 25, that wonderful phrase, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

But the interesting thing is that the one person in the world who could never give one of those pat, easy, cliché, formulated testimonies, is the person who said in John’s Gospel, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

Because the day he met Jesus is not the day his troubles ended. 

The day he met Jesus was the day his troubles began.

The passage begins with Jesus walking into town.  He sees a man who was blind from birth, and the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned?  This man or his parents?”

In other words, the disciples want an easy, simple faith. 

We want our faith to be simple.  Why there is suffering in the world.  We want a simple answer.  Why did terrorists kill innocent people on that fateful day in September 2001?  Why does grandma have cancer?  Give us a simple faith.

The disciples buy into the cultural teaching of that day that said if you are blind, you are a sinner.  So they want to know, since this man was born this way, did he sin or did his parents sin.

But Jesus refuses to give a simple answer – he says, “Neither sinned.”

He then begins to give a little sermon in which he says, “We must do the works of God while we are in the light of day, night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Then Jesus spits onto the ground, makes a gross little mud patty, spreads that on the man’s eyes and tells the man to go wash his face in a nearby pool.  He does, and then he sees. 

Now in a simple faith, what would happen next is that the man who once was blind would tell everyone the news.  Everyone would then praise Jesus and accept him as Lord and savior and there would be peace in the valley.

But no.

There is never a simple faith with Jesus.

For the man born blind, once he sees, life gets very complicated and his troubles begin. 

People look at him and ask, “Is this the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some said, “It is.”

Others said, “No, it’s just someone who looks like him.”

But the man kept saying, “I’m the one who was born blind.  Now I see.”

They took him to church and had the clergy, the Pharisees, investigate.

“How did you receive your sight,” they asked.

And the man explained all about the spit and the mud and the pool, but the Pharisees said, “No, can’t be.  He can’t do this on the Sabbath.  We have rules.  He didn’t observe the Sabbath.  He’s a sinner.”

So the Pharisees call in the parents.  “Is this your son?  How does he see?”

And the parents distance themselves from this controversy, saying, he’s an adult.  Ask him.

So they do, they call the man to meet the Pharisees yet a second time for an explanation, but the man has none to give.  “All I know is that though I was blind, now I see.”

There is no simple faith here.  No easy testimony.  For the man born blind, once he sees, life gets very complicated and his troubles begin.  He is hounded by the authorities.  He has to give testimony over and over and over again about what Jesus did for him.  He finds himself in conflict with the social order of his community – he was healed on the Sabbath, which is against the law.  What a mess!

A few years ago Pastor Rick Warren wrote a book that became wildly popular - “The Purpose Driven Life.”   When Rick Warren was on Larry King Live the pastor was asked to explain the success of the book, Warren said he couldn’t understand it.  He said there is nothing in that book you can’t encounter in any church in America.  Spend 40 days in any church, and you will encounter pretty much everything that book teaches.  There is, Warren admits, nothing new in that book.

I’ve thought about this and I’ve come to believe that the success of this book is based on two things.  First is the opening sentence, “It’s not about you.”  The church has been teaching that for 2000 years, but that is a dramatic contrast to what our society is now teaching us.  That opening line was so much of a contrast to what people see on television and in society today, that it drew people in.   Second, the book is so, very, very simple.  I think that once in a while Christians need to step backward and take a class in Christianity 101 and to hear the simplicity of the faith.  Rick Warren’s book does that so well.

But there is a danger to that, and that is that we would just stay right there in the simple faith, and never move forward.

It may be a good starting point, but where do you go from there.

We like our faith to be simple.

We like it unchanging.

We like it unchallenging.

And if we have come to Jesus just for our lives to be easy and simple and for God to fix everything for us, then we’ve made a grave mistake.  Because we have made our faith all about us.

And it’s not all about us.

It’s about God.

And if you really have found Jesus, then you know your life can never be simple, and you can never rest easy again.

You know how those medicines that are advertised on television have a disclaimer.  The commercial begins by telling us what a wonderful product this is, and if we get our doctor to write us a prescription, then our blood pressure or cholesterol or whatever will be managed.  Then at the end, there is a rapid succession of words about how this product may cause headaches, weight gain and in some cases death.

We never listen to that part of the commercial.  We tune that part out.

Jesus filled his ministry with disclaimers.  But we tune that part out.

More than once the Bible speaks of how a true disciple should be prepared to suffer. 

In Matthew 16:  "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. “

Matthew 10:  “I did not come to bring peace to earth, but a sword.”

Luke 21:  “People will hate you because of me.”

When you get in the light of Jesus your eyes are opened and you no longer have a simplistic faith – you have a REAL faith.  A faith that struggles with “why is there suffering” and yet has no easy answers.  A faith that demands that you get up and work.  A faith that often puts you at odds with society.  A faith in which you can no longer rest easy. 

Meeting Jesus does not always fix everything so that your life is now nice, and pleasant and simple and easy.

When Jesus opens your eyes, that’s not when your troubles end.  It’s when they begin.

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor whose eyes were opened to the oppression of the Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany.  He stood up against the Nazis, spoke out against them, and even helped sneak Jews out of the country so they could survive.  He wrote a book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship.”  The world found out what he was talking about when the Nazi’s executed him in 1945.

            You think it is easy being a Christian?  Open your eyes!

            It’s tough.  If you want your life to be “fixed” so that everything is easy and simple, see a shrink.  You want to become a disciple?  See Jesus Christ.

Suzie Scott had a successful modeling career.  She became the Miss May of Playboy magazine.  She got divorced and then married her divorce attorney, who himself was a very wealthy person.  They had a home in California and another in Miami, Florida.  They traveled the world.

Then one day she and her husband found Christ. 

And their easy life vanished. 

All their problems began. 

Suzie found herself moved by pictures of hungry children.  You know the kind.  We see their ads on television all the time – but we don’t really see them.  Children with swollen bellies and some professional actor tells us that for a few pennies a day, this child can be fed and sent to school.

But she saw these ads.  And she opened her eyes.

She found herself traveling to Ethiopia, and to the Sudan.  She tried to use her status as a celebrity model to encourage other people to give money. 

And one day she found herself in Haiti – where she and her husband bought a home.  They opened a hospital for children in the poorest part of the city of Port au Prince. 

Let Jesus open your eyes – and you can never rest easy again.

It’s a lot easier to stay blind.  We can ignore the poor.  We can forget those in need. 

It is so much nicer to have a simple faith.

But remember what Jesus said at the beginning of this text?  The disciples wanted a simple faith – an easy explanation to suffering.  When asked if the man born blind was blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned, Jesus says, “Neither.”  Then without offering a theological rationale behind the suffering in the world he goes onto say, “We must do the works of God while we are in the light of day.”

Open your eyes!

There is work to do.

A few years ago the Presbyterian Women of a tiny little beach community decided to take on a new social ministry.  One thing about the Presbyterian Women is that they have a long history of putting their faith into practice. 

The town was being flooded with homeless men and women.  Some of them would sleep on the porch of the homes of these seasonal residents who came to Florida for sunshine and relaxation.  The homeless would panhandle on the fishing pier and run the tourists off.  They would break into homes to steal food and money.

Somebody had to do something.

So while the police were trying to run them off, the Presbyterians decided to open their eyes and to see them as children of God.

They began to feed them breakfast. 

There were some rules.  They couldn’t sleep on people’s property and they couldn’t pan handle. 

Suddenly the panhandling stopped and the homeless would find places to sleep other than the front porches.

But the members of the Town Council, which happened to be located right next door to the church, didn’t like it. 

So they ordered the church to stop feeding the homeless and they threatened to close the church. 

And they nailed their proclamation on the front door of the church so that worshippers were greeted with this news on Sunday morning.

Yeah – that’s not what you want to do to Presbyterians.

The Presbyterians added lunch to the menu.  Showers were installed in the church.  Doctors and nurses showed up on Fridays to provide health care. 

And pretty soon, every church in town began to send volunteers.

The town council was confused. 

What’s with this Presbyterian Church?  Isn’t this the church that was blind?

No, must be another church.

Don’t they know they can’t feed the poor?  It’s against our laws.  You have to have a licensed kitchen to do something like that.

So the Presbyterian Church got its kitchen inspected and licensed.

And it wasn’t easy.

The program was expensive.  It was always under the watchful eyes of the Town Hall.  If any homeless person did anything the tourists or residents didn’t like, the controversy would begin again.

But once your eyes are opened, hard work begins. 

When Jesus gives us our sight, it is not a comfortable thing – it’s a dangerous thing.  It disrupts our lives and the lives around us.  When Christians open their eyes and see, they can never rest easy again.

Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2014
All Rights Reserved