Monday, April 4, 2011

Sermon for April 3, 2011

Lent: Letting Go of Self-Righteousness
April 3, 2011

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?" Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world's Light." He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man's eyes, and said, "Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam.” The man went and washed—and saw.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, "Isn't this man we knew, who sat here and begged?" They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him on how he had come to see. He said, "A man put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see."

They called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, "Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? How is it that he now sees?" His parents said, "We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don't know how he came to see.. Why don't you ask him? He's a grown man and can speak for himself." (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the religious leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place).

They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind— and told him, "Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor." He replied, "I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see. The fact is, he opened my eyes! It's well known that God isn't at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn't come from God, he wouldn't be able to do anything."

They said, "You're nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!" Then they threw him out in the street.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" The man said, "Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him."

Jesus said, "You're looking right at him. Don't you recognize my voice?" "Master, I believe," the man said, and worshiped him. Jesus then said, "I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind."
Some Pharisees overheard him and said, "Does that mean you're calling us blind?"
Jesus said, "If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you're accountable for every fault and failure."
John 9:1-41, The Message, selected verses
Also read Psalm 23

The year was 1643. A man named George Fox experienced desperate spiritual confusion. He was depressed and suffered frequent attacks of blindness. The advice of the clergy was of no help to him. One told him to take tobacco and sing psalms as a remedy for his state of mind. Another tried to bleed him with leaches, and a third flew into a rage when George accidentally stepped on the reverend’s carefully cultivated flower garden. Ignoring the clergy’s’ advice, George fasted, sought solitude, and mourned his sinfulness. As he prayed, George experienced a flood of light in his inner being and discovered that God was to be found in the human heart. He began to preach his belief in the inner light. He said that it was present in every individual. Instead of assuming that darkness and evil lurked behind everyone’s life, George focused on the light of God. He saw evil as serious and deadly, and he attacked it mercilessly, but it was not more powerful than good. George Fox eventually founded what is known as the Society of Friends, or the Quakers.

If George Fox is right, if all of us carry the light of God in us, then it should make a difference in the way we treat other people. You and I categorize people too easily. We often demand conformity to how we think others should act before we love them. George Fox teaches us an important lesson. He actually got it from Jesus: If God is light, and if we are God’s people, then everyone carries God’s light within. Hope is real for those who feel like the most hopeless of persons.

Think about the blind man who was healed on the Sabbath. He must have felt hopeless at times. He’s looked down upon as a weak street beggar with no future. Everyone, including Jesus’ disciples think his blindness is justified punishment for some terrible sin. No one in his world thinks he has access to the light of God. No one, that is, except Jesus. I think it’s so amazing that Jesus reaches out and touches this man. The man is made whole because Jesus notices something in him that others cannot sense.

The healed blind man basically gets put on trial three times: once by his neighbors, and twice by the prosecution, otherwise known as the Pharisees. They are the religious and spiritual followers of Moses who know everything about everything there is to know about Jewish law. They protect the rules and regulations that exist to reform Jewish social order. During their interrogation, the Pharisees have to show this man who is really in control of spiritual matters. Presenting their charges they say, "Number one: nobody does anything or goes anywhere on the Sabbath unless WE say so. Number two: this Jesus is the object of grave concern because he has teachings about God that defy our tradition. This is outside of our control! This is too dangerous!” And for his willingness to defend Jesus, the healed man gets the religious leaders even angrier. The Pharisees throw him out of the synagogue and back onto the streets. As far as he knows, his connection to community and the last hope of heaven has been taken away from him by his spiritual leaders.

Thank God, because the healing isn’t over yet. The man’s eyes see, but he has not yet seen the Light. Jesus finds the man and helps him out a second time. Sometimes we think of God as the distant consultant. God comes in, does the job, and disappears. Sometimes we think about God the modern-day distance healers I found on the Internet. Did you know, for only $125.00 one famed distance healer will intuitively determine which of over 160 flower or Universal essences would be helpful to your healing process? She will provide timed-release energetic essence bouquets, helping you or your animals clear yourselves of emotional, mental and spiritual issues. She will also provide past life-time healing for $125.00, all this by only giving her your money and your first name over the phone.

Then there is pseudo-science psychic healer, Catherine Wilkins, who will provide “Electromagnetic Radiation Protection” for you and your home for only $325.00. For $90 you can send Ms. Wilkins a photo, and she will send you a four page report detailing your energetic fractal patterning from the picture. She offers what she calls, “the most advanced hands-on-healing available today,” and she does all this hands-on healing through the mail or over the phone. Amazing!

Jesus doesn’t deal with us that way. Jesus heals our pains by finding us, touching us, speaking to our needs, and putting us in a right relationship with God and with one another. Just try to picture Jesus’ tender compassion to the man born blind after his run-in with the Pharisees. Jesus doesn’t go off to the next town and let the man deal with it his problems. He doesn’t heal him and say, “Good luck. Call me later.” Jesus seeks the man out. Up to this point, the man born blind was ignored his whole life. He was seen as a sinner and forced to beg for his existence. And now, perhaps for the first time in his life, the man realizes that he is loved for who he is, and for the first time in his life the blind man really sees. He sees that he’s been touched by the light of God, and he falls on his face in worship. Then Jesus says something that is devastatingly amazing:
“I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”
Notice how Jesus doesn’t just come right out and call the Pharisees blind. If he did they would have one more reason to threaten him. But Jesus does point out the problem. These leaders claim to know where to find the light. They claim elite, special knowledge of God’s will. They think the blind man is a sinner. They think Jesus is a sinner. But their arrogance reveals the real sightlessness in the story. While hindsight is 20/20, it is dangerous to claim to have insight, or foresight. Sometimes, those whom we call blind to the truth are the ones who see well.

The people Jesus accused of being “blind leaders of the blind” knew their Scriptures by heart. They were very prayerful, very religious, very good people. So it is possible to know the Bible cover-to-cover, to know all the theory, to study all the doctrine, and still not really 'see'!

My point is this: This Lenten season, we would do ourselves a favor to give up our self-righteous ways. Because the truth is, sometimes we are less like the victim and more like the hypocrites in the story then we want to admit. If we want spiritual health, we need to realize that the ways in which we have conditioned our eyes to see need some work. What might happen if we eliminate judementalism and arrogance from our lives? What might happen if we open ourselves up to the reality of God’s light shining in everyone?

The reading from Psalm 23 reminds us that even in the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil. People are often stuck in the valley of the shadow and can’t find their way out. Speaking about Psalm 23, Rabbi Harold Kushner reminds us that the role of God is not to explain or justify, but to comfort. God finds people living in darkness, takes them by the hand, and shows them how to find their way into the sunlight again. I think our job is to partner with God is this urgent and holy work. And it begins by taking stock of our own attitudes about pain, suffering, and compassion.

Instead of focusing on others’ inadequacies and shortcomings, instead of blaming victims for their problems, let’s just own up to the times when we don’t always practice what we preach. The self-assured, self-righteous people who claim exclusive rights and privilege to God’s grace, those who keep their wonderful knowledge to themselves while looking down on the poor slobs who don’t have it, those who claim sight and then manipulate others, they lack real sight.

But those who can truly recognize God’s grace at work, those who speak and share the full love of Christ freely, those who are humbled that God would show such amazing grace to a wretch like me, people such as these are on the road to spiritual health. The light of Christ is the light for all people. In response, we humbly let our light shine so others who live in darkness and blindness can know that the light of God shines in them too. Thanks be to God.

  • C. Douglas Weaver, A Cloud of Witnesses (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1993), 84-85.
  • “With Jesus into the Light or, 20/20 BLINDNESS” (March 17, 1996),
  • “Physical and Spiritual Blindness”,
  • "Psalm 23" at Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.

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