Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 12, 2010 Who's was the Sin?

Whose was the Sin?
John 9.1-11

I. Blindness
A. We don't have many incurable diseases in our day. Even our tough diseases can be managed and controlled so that we can live even as the disease continues. By contrast, in ancient times many diseases were incurable. And there might have been more except that most people didn't live long enough for the modern diseases of old age to develop. Further, many children in ancient times simply did not live to the age of five; childhood diseases took a terrible toll. // One of the conditions that could not be cured in ancient times was *blindness*. As heartbreaking as blindness is for us in this day, it was even more so in the ancient world.

If you saw the movie, Slumdog Millionaire, you remember the scene where the scammers were taking children from the garbage dumps, then blinding them, so they would be more pitiful and more effective beggars on the streets of the city. Such intentional cruelty makes us shudder. The blind of the ancient world were reduced, like the blind in poor countries of the modern world, to begging.

It is no wonder that the story of Jesus healing the man born blind was remembered and cherished in the Gospel according to John. Knowing first hand how terrible blindness can be, our spirits are lifted by the memory that our Jesus had the power and took the time to heal a blindman. What act or miracle could be more life-changing than this?

[B.] As you read the story, the drama leaps off the page. There is the blindman, his parents, his relatives and neighbors. Of course, the Pharisees are the constant bad guys in John's Gospel; they got into the story, too. The event that started the drama was simple enough: Jesus was walking down a street and came upon a man who had been blind from birth. Apparently, the disciples knew about him and called him to Jesus' attention. So, Jesus went to him, and healed him.

Now, the real drama begins.
1. His relatives and the neighbors see the man born blind now healed and start asking about him. It's almost a comedy scene. The healed man is standing right there among them, but his relatives and neighbors keep talking *to each other* but *around* the man. They treat him like he is not even standing there.
"Is this the man who was blind?"
"Blind from birth, really!"
"How about that?"
All the while, the man who has been healed stands in the middle of the crowd repeating, mostly to himself, "I am the man. I was born blind. Now I see." He could have been invisible for all the crowd of people is concerned. They are talking to each other but not to him. I can imagine someone in the crowd running into him, not seeing him. It makes you wonder who is truly blind in this scene.

2. Next, the drama moves to the Pharisees. It is the Sabbath day, you see. They are the keepers of all that is Sabbath. Again, they suffer from a greater blindness than the real blindman suffered. They talk about the Law; they talk about the Sabbath; they talk about the guilty. But, they miss entirely the Good News that a man born blind has been healed by the power of God by the hands of Jesus.

[C.] It is no surprise that this story was symbolically important for the early Christian Church. Tradition holds that this story was read as part of the preparation of new Christians for baptism.

1. The scene where the relatives and neighbors could not understand what happened to the blindman is like the response a new Christian will get from her own relatives and neighbors. A young Christian needs to be prepared for the neighbors to talk.

2. The scene where the pharisees called the blindman to explain what had happened to him are just like the interrogations that new Christians would get from the rulers of the synagogues. A young Christian needs to be prepared to answer the disapproving questions.

3. The continued role of the man born blind, who answers with his own experience, even though he cannot join the big theological debate, is offered as an example to every young Christian. A young Christian needs to know that their own experience is their best answer.

D. At church this morning, we are celebrating Christian Education Sunday. On this day, we affirm the importance of teaching well Christians of all ages.
1. We all need to be ready to answer when we are asked about our faith.
2. We all need to make this faith the powerful force in our lives that God intends it to be.
3. We need to remember that the most powerful explanation of the Christian faith that we can give is simply telling our own experience. Like the man born blind said to the Pharisees when they tried to intimidate him: 25 "I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see."

This story stands as a reminder of the importance of serving as a teacher in the Church School. As teachers,
1. We prepare young Christians to answer for their faith;
2. We prepare our students to think like Christians at the decision points all people encounter;
3. We add to the store of our students' knowledge of God that enriches their living.//

II. The basic question the disciples confronted in the blindman was the one they asked at the beginning:
"Who sinned that this man was born blind?" Did he sin in his mother's womb? OR Did his parents sin and their child's blindness is God's justice meted out? OR did the sin come from some other, totally unexpected quarter?

A. The Pharisees began with the same assumption that the disciples began with: Somebody sinned; there is a price to be paid. They were not sure who sinned, but the blindness is evidence of the BIG SIN, so somebody has to pay. If you begin here, then punishment is the logical result.

This is the same logic that drives the news today:
+Rev. Terry Jones, Pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, like all of us, sees unspeakable acts of terrorism which seem to come from Islamic radicals, so he decides that he should burn the Koran. There is a sin; there should be Punishment.
+The 9/11 terrorists saw America as their enemy, so they laid the plan to fly airliners filled with innocent travelers into the towers of the World Trade Center. That there were people inside those towers of many nations, including their own, and people of many religions inside those towers including their own, did not matter. There was a sin; they should provide the punishment.
The blindness of the man was evidence of the BIG SIN, so somebody has to pay. If he gets healed too easily, then our sense of justice will be violated.

This is the reason Jesus' flagrant healing on the Sabbath is so offensive. He not only took away the punishment, which took away the evidence of the BIG SIN, he did his healing on God's Sabbath. They might have written this healing off as some do-gooder's over-exuberance if Jesus had done this on any other day of the week. But, when Jesus healed the blindman on the Sabbath, he demonstrated that God Almighty didn't have the least interest in punishing anybody and even less interest in revealing the person guilty of the Sin.

Now, you can see why the Pharisees' acted as they did: If he deserved his blindness before Jesus healed him, he still deserved to be blind after Jesus healed him. By saying the healing was not of God, they could narrow the focus to man and his blindness. He must be wrong to claim that God has healed him; shut him down. We have the whole problem in our hands, and as soon as we stifle his claims and restore the punishment, the world will make sense again.

B. In addition: saying that the healing was of God, would open the whole world up to the reality that God is acting in human life. And, if God is acting in human life, then God is acting in ALL human life.

The convenient boundaries by which we make sense of the world are shown to be the toy fences they have always been.
+our prejudices cannot contain the conviction that God is the creator of all peoples;
+our hatreds cannot stifle the great heart of God – which is to love the world so that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him...
+our knowledge about God is proven to be a puny rumor that wilts before the Holy Presence we cannot control.

The power of this story is that it does not leave us at the mercy of the guys holding the argument. From the beginning, we are in on the life-changing truth that God is acting in human life in the hands and the life of Jesus Christ. To know that God was acting in Jesus is assurance for all of us who would follow Jesus. But, much more, to know that God was acting in Jesus presses on us the game-changing vision that God is at work in all of life. God is at work
+in the nursery down at the hospital where our precious babies are being born;
+in the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan;
+in the Preacher Jones' church down in Gainesville, Florida where they are piling up copies of the Koran to burn;
+in the streets of Cairo and Teheran where people are marching in protest.
God is at work in all of life.

1. The place Preacher Jones got off track was in his conclusion that his job as a Christian was to stifle Islam like the Pharisees tried to stifle the blindman's claim.
2. The opposite conclusion that we should just give up and give into Islam would be the same kind of mistake. It would stifle conviction of the blindman that God was moving and at work in human lives like his.
Burning a pile of Korans and burning Preacher Jones in effigy are two sides of the same coin; they are only trying to stifle the bigger truth.

What the world needs is a vision of the future based on the conviction that God is too great to be contained and is at work across this world.
Faith in God through Jesus Christ opens us to see possibilities that we could not see without faith.

[Illus:] Henri Nouwen in his book, The Wounded Healer, said, "A Christian community is a *healing community* not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision (3).

The man born blind, meanwhile, was looking right at it: "Lord, I believe," he said when he laid eyes on Jesus at last. And then he did the only thing that makes sense when you realize that you have been carried into the very presence of God. He worshiped.

There is a wonderful hymn by Frederick Faber, which expresses this conviction beautifully:

There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea.
There's a kindness in God's justice,
which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind. ("There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" UMH-121)





Notes:
3. Nouwen, Henri. The Wounded Healer.

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