Lent 4, March 22, 2020

Canon Claude Schroeder ( John 9. 1-41)

So today we are continuing our Lenten sermon series, “Becoming the Story We Tell” where, in the Gospel lessons from St. John, we are exploring the meaning of Baptism, our “birth from above by water and the Spirit.” (John 3.5)

St. Paul, speaking of Holy Baptism, wrote, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”( Romans 6.5). Baptism is union with Jesus in His death. What was the death of Jesus?  The death of Jesus Christ on the Cross was a death to sin. It was a death in which He entrusted Himself to God in love and obedience. It was a death unto life with God, and by that death He has defeated the power of death on our behalf, and was raised bodily to life again. 

In these days when so much of what we consider to be “our life” is being taken from us: human connection with one another, our livelihood, our health, our freedom to move about to do what we want to do, our hopes and plans for the future, our coming together on Sunday mornings to worship God  to experience and share His love, and for us some us, the prospect of our actual, physical death – this is for us a golden opportunity to realize afresh the meaning and truth of our baptism:  “If we have been united with Him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with Him in a Resurrection like his.” 

St. Paul wrote of “dying daily with Jesus.”  This is what has been given for us to do: “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” ( 2 Corinthians 6. 4-10)

In the Baptism service in The Book of Common Prayer, the person to be baptized makes a holy oath before God and the Church to trust and follow Jesus Christ into death, and as part of this oath is asked to renounce “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”  

Last Sunday in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we had the example of someone who was caught up  in a “fleshly existence,” which is where we attempt to make life work on our own terms without humble dependence upon God, something which wrecks absolute havoc in our personal relationships. The Samaritan woman had 5 husbands, and the man she was living with now was not her husband. But Jesus washed, forgave, and anointed this woman with His Holy Spirit, which became for her a spring of water within her heart gushing up to eternal life. This washing, forgiveness, and anointing is the promise of God to each one of us in baptism, making possible our worship of God in “spirit and in truth”, that we might “truly and earnestly  repent of our sins.” ( BCP p. 76)

But the problem of sin in the world is to be understood not simply in terms of people behaving badly, and breaking the commandments of God. The problem of sin in the world, in which we are turned in on ourselves, effects our thinking. When, in the baptism service we are asked to renounce “the world”, it is not the physical world of God’s good creation that we are asked to reject, but rather human attempts, to make sense of the world based on our experience of the world.

What is going on here? How are we to make sense of what is happening? The corona-virus outbreak has brought all these question to the fore like never  before.

These days we find ourselves contending with multiple ways of thinking and systems of thought for making sense of our life in the world from atheism, to humanism, secularism, modernism, post modernism, scientism, materialism, consumerism, hedonism, militarism, tribalism, communism, fascism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, fundamentalism, feminism…The list goes on and on. What all these “worldy” systems of thought offer are differing principles around which to organize your life, but they all have one thing in common: They blind us to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Our concern today is with particularly corrupt and destructive religious system of thought known as Phariseeism, which purports to offer an all  embracing explanation for all the suffering and death in the world. You have sinned. That’s why you are suffering. Pure and simple.  If, as it turns out you haven’t sinned, your suffering comes as a consequence of your parents’ sin. The disciples of Jesus had been shaped and formed by this Pharisaical as evidenced by their question to Jesus,  “ Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

This idea that suffering and death are the result of sin is a belief shared by a great part of the human race. In Eastern religion it’s called “karma.” You may have seen the tip jar in the coffee shop that says, “Good Karma.”

It’s the idea that during our time here on this earth, our soul, which cannot die, is working out to all eternity the consequences of our actions, enjoying the fruit of good works, and the suffering of evil. 

There is in this system of thought an element of truth. We live in a moral universe where we suffer the consequences of our actions and those of our parents. The Bible speaks of the effects of blessings and generational sin.

But as the story of Job demonstrates, as a total explanation for why things are the way they are, it doesn’t stand up.  The relationship between sin and suffering is not simply one of cause and effect. To try and make sense of a world that is under the power of sin and death by going back in time for an explanation is doomed to failure and frustration.  We live in a world where the innocent are made to suffer.

So how do we make sense of the darkness of the world?  

In the prologue to his Gospel, John wrote, “The Light, who is Jesus Christ,  shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John1.5)  So, the only thing makes sense of the darkness of the world  is the coming of the light, and the light does not come from below but from above, not from the past but from the future….The only way to  “ make sense”  of the dark world is by allowing  the light to come in to your life, by turning to the light and believing in the one comes as  the light of the world. (Newbigin, p. 120) 

 “As long as I am in the world” said Jesus, “ I am the light of the world.” ( John 9.5)

Jesus declares that the reason this man was born blind is so that the works of God might be revealed in his life, and so proceeds to heal the man of his blindness, to open his eyes, and in doing to open the eyes of his disciples , and to open our eyes, so that we might see and believe.

Having spit on the ground, and made mud with the saliva, and spread it on the man’s eyes, Jesus said to him, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.”

Was this some  kind of homeopathic remedy? 

Not quite.

The healing was not in the mud, but in the command of Jesus to wash in the waters of the pool of Siloam, (which means sent). In the Gospels one of the titles for Jesus Christ is “sent.” Jesus is the One whom God has sent. The man did what Jesus said. He went and washed, and came back able to see.

This is the promise of the Gospel to each one of us, when in faith and obedience to Jesus we come and are washed in the waters of baptism, we are joined to Jesus as members of His Body, and share in His  “sending” out in the world, as those who have passed from darkness to light, and as bearers of the light of Christ.

At this point, the story takes a rather dark turn, as the man whose eyes have been opened is subjected to multiple interrogations, first by his neighbors, and then by the Pharisees.  No one had ever heard of a man born blind having his eyes opened. How did it happen? Who did this?  The man gave his testimony. “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “ Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.  Then I went and washed and received my sight!” ( John 9.11)

What could be more straightforward and simple?

But the man’s neighbors and the Pharisees called into question and ultimately rejected the man’s testimony.

What we do we see happening here? 

We see a number of things.

What we see is how the light that in the beginning of creation shone in the darkness, continues to shine in the simple testimony of those who know what Jesus has done for them. 

If someone asked you,” What has Jesus Christ done for you, what would you say?”

We also see how the testimony of the man who had been born blind results in the blinding of the entire community. The neighbors are blinded by doubt. The man’s parents are blinded by fear. The Pharisees are blinded by unbelief. We also see how the power structures created by these corrupt systems of thought bring the entire community under the rule of fear, for  “the Pharisees had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.” ( John 9. 22).

The only man who sees, and the only man who is free from fear is the man whose eyes Jesus opened.

How ironic.

This is actually how the Gospel works. Jesus said, “ I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do  see may become blind.”  (John 9. 29) It’s “lights out” for those who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Well, we are not quite finished yet with the healing of the man who had been born blind. For though his eyes had been opened, his mind still needed to be enlightened. 

When Jesus heard that the Pharisees had driven him out of the synagogue, and when he found him, he said, “ Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And he answered,’ And who is he, sir? Tell me that I might believe in him.” Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one who is speaking to you is he.” He said,’ Lord I believe.” And he worshipped him.” (John 9.25-38)

What a wonderful and beautiful “coming of age” and “coming to faith” story!

I am wondering how has this illuminated things for you?

Faith in and worship of Jesus Christ is not a precondition for your healing. It is rather comes as consequence of His action in your life. It is the gift of God to you flowing from the preaching of the Gospel and your baptism. 

But make no mistake about it: the coming of Jesus Christ into the world poses a threat to all those who claim to know how the world works. He threatens their worldly ways of thinking, and their worldly systems that hold people in fear, and they will drive you out.

But Jesus, being the Good Shepherd that He is, as we celebrated in our Psalm today, will come searching for you, and when he finds He will make you to lie down in green pastures, lead you beside the quiet waters,  restore you soul, and lead you in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”   And, in these days, as  we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil for His rod and His staff comforts us. Amen.

Works Cited:

Newbigin, Leslie.  The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel, Eerdmans, 1992.