Wednesday, March 29, 2017

“Spiritual Blindness” John 9.1-7, 13-17, 34-39, Lent 4A, March ‘17

1.                   Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The message from God’s Word this 4th Sunday in Lent is taken from the 9th chapter of the Gospel of John.  It’s entitled, “Spiritual Blindness,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen.
2.                   There’s a story about Sherlock Holmes, the great detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, and his sidekick Dr. John Watson about a camping trip that they went on.  After sharing a good meal and a bottle of wine, they retired to their tent for the night.  At about 3 AM, Holmes nudges Watson and asks, "Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see?" Watson said, "I see millions of stars." Holmes then asks, "And, what does that tell you?" Watson then replied, "Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and we are small and insignificant. Horologically, it tells me that it's about 3 AM. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?" Holmes retorts, "Someone stole our tent."
3.                   Have you ever had something like this happen to you?  The problem that you were facing was staring you right in the face and you didn’t even notice it.  It’s like when you lost your keys and you search everywhere in your house for them only to find that they were lying on your desk or on your nightstand right where you last left them.  Sometimes people have spiritual blind spots when it comes to seeing plainly what God wants to reveal to us in His Word.  We see that in our Gospel reading for today from John chapter 9.
4.                   A few excerpts from John chapter 9 say, “1As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.   2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.” 34They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. 35Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
5.                   For every effect, there has to be a cause.  Things just don’t happen by blind chance.  There has to be an explanation.  That’s what makes sense to us.  This is the disciples’ way of thinking when they encounter this man born blind.  He’s blind; that’s the effect.  So what’s the cause?  Somebody must have sinned.  So they conclude either this man sinned in the womb before he was born or his parents sinned.  Something was the cause of this man’s blindness.
6.                   So they ask Jesus, “Who sinned.”   Their thinking though is misguided.  John 9:3 says, “It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  This man’s blindness isn’t the punishment for his sin or the sin of his parents.  Instead, his blindness is the means by which the works of God are revealed.
7.                   With these words, Jesus nullifies this type of cause and effect thinking when it comes to sickness and suffering.  Still, many people today succumb to this line of reasoning.  The televangelist announces to his worldwide audience that a recent natural disaster is a result of the nation’s sin.  We saw some Christian leaders do this in 2010 with the devastating earthquake in Haiti, or in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina that terrorized the Gulf Coast of the US.  The Christian wife and mother who’s diagnosed with breast cancer assumes it was because of some past sin that she is now plagued with this terrible disease.  The father whose teenage son dies in a car accident concludes that if he’d been a better father, God wouldn’t have taken his son from him.
8.                   But, Jesus tells us here in John 9 that it’s not someone’s sin that resulted in the suffering and sorrow described above.  We live in a world that is sinful where natural disasters, sickness, and death occur.  God not only displays His works in miraculous events but also in the midst of suffering and sorrow.  The man who was born blind had his sight restored.  Without a doubt, God’s work was displayed in him.  However, God’s works are also displayed when following natural disasters, God’s people respond to serve those affected, providing for both physical and spiritual needs.  God’s work is displayed when those who are sick, instead of turning away from Him are drawn closer to Christ and strengthened in their Christian faith.  God’s work is displayed when those who are grieving are filled with the hope of Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life. 
9.                   God’s works were displayed in the man born blind, and God’s works are constantly displayed in your life.  Whether in prosperity or adversity, abundance or need, God is working to save, help, deliver and strengthen you.  That’s why there’s more to the story of this man who was blind from birth receiving his sight from Jesus.  Jesus not only intended to remove his physical blindness but also his spiritual blindness.  He not only desired for this man to see the beauty of the world that surrounded him, but also to see Jesus and believe in Him to receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
10.               After the man’s sight is restored, his neighbors take him to the Pharisees.  Before the Pharisees he confesses that Jesus is a prophet.  He acknowledges that Jesus is from God, for only one sent from God could make the blind see.  But this confession is too much for the religious authorities.  And the man is thrown out and excommunicated for speaking the truth.  Although he no longer suffers from physical blindness, his suffering isn’t over.  He now suffers for confessing Jesus.
11.               However, Jesus wants this man to believe that He is more than just a prophet, and so He searches for the man.  After conversing with Jesus, the man confesses Jesus to the Son of Man and worships Him.  Now the man who was once blind truly sees.  God’s works have been displayed in him.  His eyes see, and he also sees with the eyes of faith.
12.               God’s works have also been displayed in your life.  You were born spiritually blind, unable to see, groping around in the darkness of sin and death.  But now you do see.  God was working for you at the cross of Calvary when Jesus closed His eyes in death to atone for your own sinful blindness.  God was displaying His works in you when at your Baptism He gave you spiritual sight by giving you the gift of faith.  God continues to open your eyes through His Word to His life, truth and forgiveness.  When Christ comes again on the Last Day, your eyes will be opened once again and your lifeless body will be raised from the dead.  You will see God face to face.
13.               It’s an amazing paradox:  the blind see and the seeing become blind.  The blind man receives both spiritually and physical sight while the Pharisees refuse to see what is clearly revealed.  By their rejection the Pharisees become spiritually blind.  Ultimately, this spiritual sight was the greatest work that Christ worked in the blind man, and there is no greater work that God has accomplished in our lives than when by His grace He made us, who were spiritually blind to see.  Amen.   

“Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son,” Exodus 14, Lenten Midweek #4

1. Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word as we continue our Lenten sermon series, “Coming Home from Exile: The Exoduses of the Scriptures,” is taken from Exodus 14 and is entitled, “Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Thus says the Lord to you, O Egypt: “7 years of famine were barreling toward you, 7 years in which your men would be reduced to bags of bones, your weeping infants would suffer with little milk, and mothers would rip out their hair in agony. But I pitied you, a nation that didn’t even acknowledge me, much less worship me. I sent you a savior, Joseph, through whom I warned you of the famine to come, planned for your deliverance, and made you the hope of all the nations around you. When the famine began, your storehouses were spilling over with grain. And that food lasted you all seven years of famine. Neighboring countries emptied their pockets into your treasury to feed their starving families. I exalted you, Egypt, as the breadbasket of the world.
3. “But, you, O forgetful nation, how have you shown your thankfulness? What kind of thankoffering have you sacrificed to me? The people who were your freedom from famine—my people, the descendants of Joseph—these people you shackle in the chains of slavery. The nation by which your infants were fed, the infants of that nation you rip from their mothers to feed them to the Nile like food to an alligator. Is this how you thank the God of heaven for saving you, by making the stench of your evil drift heavenward? O ungrateful nation! O thankless Egypt!”
4. Isn’t it easy to sit here in America, over 3,000 years and 5,000 miles from Egypt, and wag our fingers at that bad, bad nation? All the while we raise a toast to our piety: “Why, if I were there, I’ll have you know, I’d have been thankful for what God did! Why, I wouldn’t have laid a finger on the Hebrews! In fact, I’d have done everything I could to save the Hebrew children from cruel Pharaoh!” So we boast. We need to stop kidding ourselves. Nobody believes us, least of all God. It’s the old, worn-out “If I were you” thinking, by which we delude ourselves into thinking we’re better than others. It’s the self-trickery we love to indulge in. That’s because the truth cuts us so deeply we’ll do anything to evade it.
5. The truth is that the blood coursing through our veins is Egyptian red. We’ve met the Egyptians, and they are us. Not a smidgen of difference. Even though none of us would be so crass as to say, “God didn’t give me this food, this home, this career—I earned it!” in our thoughts and by our actions we reveal what we really believe. If we survive a famine—in whatever form that may come—it’s because our work ethic or our good planning pulled us through, right? We think we would rescue the Hebrew children, but we’re citizens of a land that has butchered millions of children in those Nile Rivers disguised as, “women’s health clinics.”  By the sinful act of abortion. And what seriously have we done to try and stop the bloodshed? We have no excuse. We’ve gone the way of Egypt—ungrateful, thankless Egypt.
6. And that’s also the way many in Israel had gone, even while enslaved within that country. Though they lamented their bondage, they were, in many ways, happy with life under Pharaoh. Their later words and actions unmask them. No more than a few days after they left their chains behind, they were already bellyaching to Moses about bringing them out of Egypt (Ex 14:11–12). If they weren’t complaining about the water, they were bickering about the manna. And if they weren’t bickering about the manna, they were whining about the land. And it they weren’t whining about the land, they were criticizing Moses himself. That man probably felt as if he was taking care of a nursery of bawling, dirty-diapered babies most of the time. But, so it goes with those with Egyptians hearts.
7. Repent, O Christian, O Egypt, O Israel! Stop evading that sharp blade of truth, no matter how deep it cuts, no matter how much you bleed. For it’s only in facing the truth of who you are as a sinner that you also come to know who God is as your only hope, your only Savior.

8. What God has accomplished for Israel, he’s also accomplished for you. Down into Egypt the Lord sent Moses, staff in hand, as his chosen man. But no Moses did the Lord send down to save you. If you want something done right, do it yourself. So down into this world the Lord himself came, not just to do things right, but to do them perfectly. He came not as an 80 year-old man, as did Moses, but as the Babe of Mary, our own flesh and blood.
9. 10 plagues the Lord leveled against the Egyptians before Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go. But the Lord Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. The only one plagued by Christ was the pharaoh of hell, whom Jesus attacked time and again, not with locusts or hail, but with his living words. In the 9th plague against Egypt, 3 days of darkness overwhelmed Egypt (Ex 10:22), followed by the 10th plague, when all Egyptian firstborn sons died. But when our Lord Jesus came to free you, he endured the 3 hours of darkness on the cross (Lk 23:44), followed by his own death—he, the firstborn of the Father.
10.               The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, let the sin of Egypt, the sin of America, your very own sin, take him away as the final Passover Lamb. His blood now marks not a doorpost but you. For that blood of Jesus has been baptized onto you. The blood of that Lamb has been drunk by you, into you. The destroying angel puts away his sword when he sees that blood, for it is the blood that shields you from eternal destruction, the blessed crimson light that halts his destroying hand.
11.               Not out of Egypt has the Lord led you, but out of a captivity to the grave of death, a bondage to sin. Jesus has shoveled back the 6 feet of soil that covered your corpse, smashed open the coffin in which you lay, bent over you, and, with lungs filled with the life-giving Spirit of God, he’s emptied those lungs into your own. He’s made you not merely alive but full of life. He’s reduced your coffin to ashes, dumped the dirt back into your grave, and erased the date of your death from that tombstone. For you live. And those who live and believe in Jesus will never die. Egypt’s chains are reduced to threads. Pharaoh’s hands grow limp. You are free.
12.               Our fathers, the Israelites, were all under the cloud, and all passed through the Red Sea; all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.
13.               But you, the new Israel of God, how much greater are the gifts the Father has heaped upon you! For all of you were baptized into Jesus in the Holy Spirit and in the baptismal font. All of you eat the food of the Spirit, the body of the Son of God; all drink the same drink of the Spirit, the blood of that Son, for you all open your lips to consume what gushes from the rock struck not by the staff of Moses but the sword of Rome. And that rock is your Savior.
14.               Out of Egypt God called Israel. Out of Egypt God has called you. Out of Egypt and into his kingdom. You are God’s special treasure among all the peoples of the earth. You are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The dark days of exile have come to an end. The day of salvation has dawned, a day that never shall end.  Though you were ungrateful, the Lord called you out of exile.