Monday, March 31, 2014

Lent 4 of Series A (John 9:1-41)

“For judgment I came into the 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 our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago, the account of the blind man from the Gospel according to Saint John, the ninth chapter. Dear friends in Christ: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This seems to be a good question. At any rate, it’s a natural one, one that we ask ourselves when we encounter suffering, and it does have a foundation in truth. Suffering and infirmity only occur because we are sinful and corrupted; yes, even from birth. If we didn’t have any sin, we wouldn’t get sick, we certainly wouldn’t have permanent loss of vision or hearing, in fact, we wouldn’t die. But can we tie specific sin to specific instances of suffering? “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Now, that’s not so easy. Sometimes, yes, certainly suffering comes directly from a sin. If you commit a crime, you’re going to jail, if you abuse the body God gave you, there’s probably going to be some consequences to your health. Our sin does result in some sort of suffering all the time. But can we turn it around? If my specific sins result in suffering, does my suffering always result from specific sins? What does Jesus say? “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Jesus squashes any sort of speculation, any line of questioning, any investigation into this man’s sin or the sin of his parents, and brings forth another answer. You cannot make a judgment on the moral character of any person based on how much they suffer. You can certainly say he or she is a sinner, but that doesn’t make them any different than you or any other person on this planet. You cannot even say whether or not they are a Christian simply based on whether they suffer. As our prayer list makes abundantly clear, believers are afflicted with suffering, too. Jesus teaches us that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Your suffering, or the suffering of any other person, isn’t punishment for sin; that would deny the cross, that would mean that Christ died to no effect. No, instead suffering is where God works, it’s where He shows forth His glory. Does that mean that God caused the suffering, that He is the author of evil? Of course not—suffering comes from the Fall into sin, not from the Creator—but it does mean that God uses everything that happens in this world, good and evil, for His glory. The blind man dwelt in darkness so that Jesus could show Him the Light, He stumbled in blindness so that His eyes could see His Lord in faith.

Like the world, like you and me, the blind man lived in darkness, unable see the God who created him. He was blind from birth, just as we were given spiritual blindness and a nature corrupted by sin at the moment of our conception. But Jesus has come to open the eyes of the blind. He declares, “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” He has come to bring light, to illuminate darkened hearts, to open the eyes of the blind, and He will start with this man right here. He could heal with a Word, but this time, Jesus uses physical means. He calls on the man to wash his blindness away, to go to the pool called sent, literally the pool of the Sent One, and through water to clear away the mud, and with it, his blindness. Imagine the moment that his eyes were opened; put yourself in His place. He hasn’t seen anything for his entire life, and then, when he washes the mud from his eyes, when his Baptism is complete, he sees for the first time. He sees the pool of the Sent One, where the miracle had taken place; he sees people and animals; he looks above him and sees the sun, the sky, clouds. He sees everything—but he doesn’t see Jesus. Not yet.

What he does see is a commotion, a sensation, caused by his bold proclamation: “I went and I washed and received my sight.” He is brought before the Pharisees, who can see clearly enough that this man isn’t blind. Their physical sight is just fine. What they don’t see is the miracle, what they don’t see is Jesus as the One doing the works of God. In His miraculous working in the midst of this man’s suffering, Jesus demonstrates that He is the Messiah, the very Son of God, as He Himself testified and Isaiah foretold: “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.” But these men, who put the healed one on trial, who doubt and question God’s working in the world through Jesus, are those described in our Old Testament lesson: “Who is blind but my servant or deaf as my messenger whom I send? 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.”

The Pharisees refuse to see the Light when it shines in this world; they would rather dwell in darkness. Those who can see shut their eyes and make themselves blind; they will not see Jesus working in the midst of suffering. That is true blindness. Spiritual blindness is not seeing Jesus when He does the works He was sent to do. Spiritual blindness refuses to see Jesus working through suffering. The blind would rather live their comfortable lives without Jesus, without a need for Him, and therefore they only see suffering as an evil. The blind see suffering as punishment for sin, they refuse to see Jesus working in the midst of suffering, knocking away self-made crutches, clearing out all the earthly distractions that keep us from relying solely on Him. The blind don’t see Jesus at work in their suffering, they cannot see what good he could possibly bring from this, and so they don’t believe that He will. Spiritual blindness sees Jesus as a fraud. The blind see suffering as a sign that God doesn’t exist, or if He does, He doesn’t care enough to heal. The blind follow the advice of Job’s wife when suffering enters their lives: “Curse God and die.” As they tell the formerly blind man, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” And spiritual blindness is anything but tolerant. “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out.”

The Pharisees, whose physical eyes work just fine, show themselves to be the blind ones, and they refuse to see God working in Christ, they refuse to see Christ working in suffering. They become more and more blind as their investigation continues. The man who once was blind, on the other hand, sees more and more, and He is cast out from the Pharisees for confessing that Jesus is a prophet from God. Christ has worked through His physical suffering, His physical blindness, to bring forth spiritual sight. This man, like you, like me, dwelt in utter darkness, the darkness of sin, a darkness more deep and more terrible than any physical blindness. This darkness covered the earth, it blinded all people, and it still does. Those who can see all else cannot see their Creator, for He is hidden to them, shrouded in the darkness.

Into that darkness, into that blindness, Jesus shines the Light. “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus has come to open blind eyes, to heal the sick, to comfort the suffering with His presence. As He says through Isaiah, “These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” When we suffer, we have no one to cling to but Christ, all our other self-made crutches and idols have been knocked away by the evil that has entered our lives. Yes, suffering is an evil; if suffering weren’t evil, then Jesus wouldn’t have healed the blind man, or anyone else for that matter. God’s intention was never for you to suffer anything in His perfect creation. But now that this creation has fallen, now that bad things happen to believer and non-believer alike, Jesus works through suffering, and He does His best work when we see what this world is: sinful and corrupted, in need of a Savior. And only eyes opened by Jesus can see Him as that Savior. He asked the formerly blind man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answered, “And who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?” His physical eyes could see Jesus, but the greater miracle was about to happen. “Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshipped Him.”

Spiritual eyes see Jesus as the Savior. Spiritual eyes see that while suffering is an evil caused by sin, it is not only an evil. Through suffering God works His greatest good. The question asked by the disciples in Jerusalem that day could’ve been asked at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or His parents, that He suffers so?” And the answer would’ve been the same: “It was not that this man sinned, or His parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in Him.” Who sinned, that Jesus hangs upon the cross? You did. I did. That is why He hangs there, that is why He suffers so. He did not sin, but yet He suffers, yet He dies, so that the works of God might be displayed in Him. The cross declares to the world, it declares to you and me, that God works through suffering, and He works through suffering to bring salvation. You and I were the ones who sinned, but we do not suffer the penalty; that penalty fell upon Christ. Nothing that you suffer in this world is punishment for your sin; yes, there are consequences for our sins, but the punishment, the penalty is no more. With the eyes of faith, blinded eyes opened by washing at the pool of the Sent One—the baptismal font—you see Christ in your place, bearing your penalty, suffering on your behalf. Your opened eyes see a future where suffering is no more, where no one will ever be ‘blind from birth’ ever again. He has destroyed suffering through His suffering, and He has brought life through His resurrection. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. In the Name of Jesus, who brings sight to the blind, Amen.

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