Monday, April 4, 2011

Lent 4 of Series A (John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39)

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, I think that we are all at least a little afraid of the dark. If you have ever visited a cave, you know that inevitably the tour guide will shut off the lights to give you a feel for what that cold, damp place was like before electric lights and paved walkways. As you dwell in darkness so deep that you cannot see your hand in front of your face, she tells you about how the darkness affects the human body. Just a few days in such deep darkness is enough to drive a person insane, and after a minute or two, you are beginning to believe her. What is it about darkness that makes us nervous? Is it the lack of references, the fact that the sense we depend on the most has been eliminated? Our nose, ears, and hands are forced into new roles, guiding us without any help from our eyes. Do we fear those who take advantage of the darkness for evil deeds? Filmmakers get this, using the darkness to inspire suspense and terror. But despite our nervousness, we know that the sun will come up, we know that a light switch will illuminate the cave again; can you imagine dwelling in darkness each and every day?

But you don’t have to imagine, for you know what darkness is. You know that you dwell in a world of darkness, filled with sin. In Psalm twenty-three, King David calls this earth the “valley of the shadow of death,” and you know the truth of these words. Darkness envelops you, it intrudes upon you each and every day. The darkness of broken relationships, lost friendships, failed marriages, conflicts between husband and wife, parents and children. Disease also casts a shadow upon our lives, the very shadow of death itself. For it is death that ultimately causes this darkness, and when it intrudes, we feel the darkness most profoundly. We can light candles, we can flip the switch, but those actions are only compensating for the much deeper darkness we feel in our lives. We can cry out to the God who created light itself; we can put Him on trial, searching for an answer to the darkness that surrounds us, asking with the disciples in our text: “Who sinned?”

The simple answer is that all have sinned. It is our sin that has plunged this world into darkness. When Adam and Eve introduced sin into this world, the shadow of death was cast over this earth. We were made blind, groping in darkness so profound, so deep, that we had no escape. Darkness is not the fault of God; He brought light, He created light, He intended that we would dwell in light. But man sought instead the works of darkness. Now, not every encroachment of darkness upon your life can be linked directly to your sin, but all darkness is caused by sin: sometimes we do suffer the consequences of our own deeds of darkness, but sometimes we suffer because others bring darkness into our lives, and most often we suffer simply because we dwell in a darkened world.

But the story hardly ends there, with you and me dwelling in darkness forever. No, instead the One who created light shone His Light once again into a dark world. The darkness of sin manifested itself in physical blindness for a man sitting alongside a Jerusalem street. Did he suffer because of his own sin? Did he suffer because of his parent’s sin? “Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” Darkness had encroached upon the life of this man, both spiritual and physical, but darkness is no match for Jesus, who will use this darkness to show forth Himself as the Light of the world. “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” Like a candle in a cave, the One who created light sent His Son into a world filled with darkness. This Light, true God born of the virgin Mary, came to shine through the shadow of death, indeed, this Light entered our world to overcome darkness at its source. He came to destroy our sin, to defeat death itself, to crush the prince of darkness. To do this, He freely allowed the forces of darkness to have their way with Him. After Judas departs the company of the disciples on Maundy Thursday in order to betray Jesus, John tells us ominously, “And it was night.” Jesus Himself said in our text, “We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” As Jesus predicted, the night had finally come.

In the darkness of that night, Jesus was falsely accused, spat upon and beaten. The sun did rise that Good Friday, but only to be snuffed out at Jesus hung upon the cross. As the Light of the world suffered in humiliation, God’s created light refused to shine, as if in protest against the powers of darkness. The shadow of death encompassed the Light of the world as Jesus cried out and breathed His last. But in overshadowing Jesus, even in killing Him, the darkness itself was overcome. For Jesus, the Light of the world, died bearing our sin, our corruption, our darkness. His death, though it appeared to be the ultimate triumph of darkness, proved to be instead the victory of light. This was confirmed and proclaimed when light shone upon an open tomb three days later, for the Light of the world had not been extinguished, but instead had conquered the darkness.

“Having said these things, [Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then He anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” The Light of the world came to this man trapped in physical blindness and gave Him the gift of sight. The One sent by the Father instructed him to wash in pool called Sent, and after washing, the darkness had been destroyed. Jesus demonstrated His power, that He had come to bring light into the midst of darkness, pointing to much greater works of illumination to come. “Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him He said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped Him.” This man’s physical blindness was eliminated, and by the grace of God his spiritual blindness was washed away as well. In your baptism, the Light of the world washed your blindness away, He brought light into your dark life. You were washed in the pool of the one Sent from the Father, and now the shadow of death will not have the victory over you, for you dwell in light. Even in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, you can say with David, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Though darkness surrounds us each and every day, we have the confidence that it has been defeated, we know that the Light of the world has the victory. He is with us, comforting us, assuring us of His promise of an eternity where there is no darkness, only the Light of the world.

We realize that we were blind, that we dwell in the midst of darkness, and so we cling to the Light of the world, we cry out to Him whenever darkness encroaches upon us. But there are those who refuse to see the darkness that surrounds them, who deny that they are blind. In fact, they arrogantly believe that they see much better than anyone else. The Lord spoke about His rebellious people in this way in our Old Testament lesson: “Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear.” This describes perfectly the Pharisees in our text for today. They saw the blind man, they heard his witness to the miracle of Jesus, but they refused to believe. “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out.” The man who spent all of his life blind saw things much more clearly than the Pharisees. While he moved from blindness to physical sight and finally spiritual sight, these men plunged deeper and deeper into spiritual blindness.

If you refuse to acknowledge your blindness, then you have no need for the Light of the world. The Pharisees arrogantly believed that they could see; they had no need for Jesus. They couldn’t see the darkness in their own lives, they wouldn’t acknowledge their blindness. How many people in your life refuse to admit their spiritual blindness? How many of you believe that you were not conceived and born blinded by sin? Those who reject the Light choose to dwell in darkness for eternity. They have no need for His salvation, for His illumination, because they refuse to see the darkness. Repent! Acknowledge your blindness, see the darkness around you, and turn to the One who came to heal blindness and bring light into the darkness. Jesus heals our own spiritual blindness, and He has defeated the darkness that surrounds you. He has done all that for you, out of His great love for you. Those who think they see believe that they have no need of healing from blindness; they arrogantly refuse the gifts that Christ so freely gives and cling to eyes blinded by sin all the way to an eternity of darkness.

But that is not your destination, for the Lord has shone His light into your life, removing your spiritual blindness. You were washed in the pool of the Sent One, who gave you eyes of faith to see Him as your Savior from sin and death, the very Light of the world that the darkness cannot overcome. Your eternity will be spent looking toward our God with perfect eyes, as our Introit for today puts so well: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” When we follow our Lord’s resurrection with our own, we will gaze upon the Lord who has redeemed us forever. In the Name of the One who heals the blind, the very Light of the world who has overcome the darkness, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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