February 11, 2018 Sermon
Light of the World
First Scripture Reading: John 9:1-12
9 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
Second Scripture Reading: John 9:13-41
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 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.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Light of the World
During the past few years, every-time I read the story from our gospel reading, my mind wanders to two places. First, my mind wanders to the song, “All Along the Watchtower”, written and recorded by Bob Dylan and 1967 but then reinterpreted and popularized six months later by Jimi Hendrix.
It might surprise you that I so strongly associate such a seemingly secular song with scripture, but many who’ve tried to interpret the song associate with scripture, believing Dylan was inspired primarily by God’s words through the prophet Isaiah in 21:5-9 when he wrote the song. And…since God is pretty consistent, it makes sense that a song based on God’s word through the prophet Isaiah would also fit well with a story from Jesus’ life, THIS story of what Jesus experienced with the religious leaders of his time in John 9.
“There’s too much confusion. I can’t get no relief.”
Surely, Jesus understood the sentiment of these words. Too much confusion!
Jesus healed a blind man. The man was happy and praised Jesus. It’s a SIMPLE plot. Shouldn’t be any confusion there. But Jesus healing a blind man wouldn’t do for the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, so they employed what seems to have been one of their favorite techniques to do some damage control whenever God decided to do something different than what they wanted God to do – confusion:
- Are you SURE that’s the same man that used to be blind and sat in that spot? Maybe it’s just a guy who LOOKS similar. Confusion.
- To the man himself, they said: If you really are the guy who was healed, and if someone really healed you, where did the healer go? If you can’t produce him, he’s not real. Confusion.
- And then: Wait a minute, you say he healed you on the sabbath. God doesn’t want anyone working on the sabbath, and healing is work. So there’s no WAY this Jesus healed you on the Sabbath…to do so would make him a sinner, and God wouldn’t let a sinner perform such a miracle…so there’s no way he could have healed you at all. Confusion.
- When the man kept insisting Jesus healed him, the religious leaders tried to pressure other potential witnesses. If they could just get someone close to the situation – say the healed man’s family – to say he wasn’t ever healed, the problem would just go away. So they tried to pressure the man’s family to to lie…to create some more confusion.
- And finally, they tried to claim Jesus was sent by someone OTHER than God – implying the devil or some demon…all to create ever more confusion about what happened and who caused it to happen.
“There’s too much confusion. I can’t get no relief.”
I think Dylan was onto something, not just about Jesus’ time…but about the ways of the kingdom of the world throughout time. I told you a while ago that this story leads my mind to wander to two places. The first is Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. The second is to my general frustration about politics and news media in our modern world. I don’t know about you, but for me, reading this story is like reading a typical news cycle these days…and it frustrates me.
I’ll use an example from the news cycle of the past few weeks. And, I know, it’s a political thing. And some of you probably don’t think I should be talking about political things in a sermon. Well, don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you which side you should be on…or even which side I’m on. Sides has nothing to do with my point. I’m just going to point out how frustrating the confusion is…for people who are more interested in the truth than they are in taking sides, anyway.
So…this memo about the FBI and FISA court thing that’s been in the news. I don’t know who to believe, the Democrats or the Republicans. It really doesn’t matter. Like I said, what matters for me is that there’s an obvious attempt from SOMEWHERE to confuse. If one side puts out a memo, the other side puts out a memo. If one side says the Justice Department lied, the other side says the Justice Department told the truth, but the other side is lying by SAYING the Justice Department lied. There’s so much more…and the details hardly matter anymore…because all I see is a whole bunch of confusion. Confusion that makes it almost impossible for average folks like us to know the truth…which is exactly the POINT of confusion. It was the point in our story from John’s gospel, and it’s the point of the people who are using confusion to hide truth today. People with power in the kingdom of the world use confusion to hide truth.
Y’all, this story from out gospel reading this morning is a MADDENING story for me. It’s maddening, it’s difficult, because it’s a reminder that in the kingdom of the world, finding the truth, KNOWing the truth, is almost an impossibility. “There’s too much confusion. [We] can’t get no relief.”
Well, today is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany for 2018. And on this last Sunday of the season during which we remember the ways Jesus’ identity was made known in scripture and is still being made known today, the makers of the narrative lectionary give us this story in which Jesus’ makes his identity known as being EXACTLY what people need who are struggling like I am in a world that seems to care about everything EXCEPT the truth.
And by the way, this being the last Sunday before Lent, before our journey with Jesus to the cross, it’s another way our gospel story reminds me of “All Along the Watchtower.” At the end of the second verse of the song, we find the words, “So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”
As we transition today from Epiphany to Lent, as we discover one last time something about Jesus’ identity, this story about confusion versus truth becomes even more important, more critical. The hour is getting late…Jesus will be taken from us soon…so there’s very little time left to waste on ANYTHING other than truth. It’s time to stop talking falsely.
Jesus knew the hour was getting late. Jesus KNEW the time for truth-telling was getting short. And so Jesus revealed one final piece of his identity, a piece that is all about truth: Jesus is the Light of the World.
But…what exactly does that mean?
As followers of Jesus, it’s tempting to want to say that Jesus as the Light of the World means that Jesus shines so brightly upon all the dark and broken places that they simply cannot exist anymore, that thanks to Jesus there is no more confusion, no more hiding of truth or from truth. It’s tempting to want to say that’s what it means, but…that CAN’T be what it means, can it? I mean, if Jesus is the light that obliterates the darkness, and Jesus has already walked the earth, that would mean there’s no more darkness, right? That would mean if Jesus came along and healed a person today, the unfolding of confusion, the unfolding of darkness all around the event to cover it up – like what happened that first time around – wouldn’t happen this time around. But, I’m guessing most of you agree with me that the unfolding of darkness to eradicate such an earth-shattering event is EXACTLY what would happen. People with power in the kingdom of the world would do anything, everything, to prevent the truth of a miracle from becoming anything more than a jumbled, confused mess.
But – if Jesus as the Light of the World doesn’t mean Jesus is a light that has already disinfected the darkness, so that darkness can no longer exist, what else could it mean?
I would suggest Jesus’ identity as the Light of the World means something really close to the definition I already offered…but with a little tweak. Jesus IS the light that shines on all the darkness and brokenness and sin in the world, like a giant flashlight or beacon of truth, God’s truth, shining bright. But the tweak is that Jesus is a light that can only be seen by people who WANT to see it. The light is always there, but God REQUIRES us to look for the Light, to see it, do something about it, in order for the eradication of the darkness and falseness to take place.
That’s why things went so badly in the story from scripture. So many people didn’t want to see the light. So many people didn’t want to see the truth…because the truth would expose them and their deeds as darkness. Because the truth would take power from them and give power to God.
If you think about Jesus as THIS kind of light, a light that always shines but that requires people to look for it and recognize it for what it is in order for it to make a difference in this world, then Jesus’ light is a light that gives US, Jesus’ followers, a TON of responsibility. Jesus gives US the responsibility of helping/teaching others to recognize his light of God’s truth…and that’s a HUGE responsibility. It means that you can choose to wield darkness to create power for yourself, or you can choose to identify and wield light to create ever more power for God’s kingdom.
But what does this look like on a practical, everyday level?
For starters, it means you’ve got to work really hard to be OPEN to the light. I know, we’re Christians, followers of Jesus, so we think we’re always open to the truth, the light. But look at what happened in the story. Those Pharisees, they were people of God, they thought they were open to the ways God worked in the world, but they closed themselves off to the notion that God MIGHT work differently than they BELIEVED God would work. They closed themselves off the possibility God might be BIGGER than what they believed. Please, DON’T DO THAT. Watch for God to work, however God decides to work. Be OPEN to the light…even if it’s different than what you want it to be.
Second, and this really goes along with the first: INTENTIONALLY study all the ways Jesus did things that go against how you THINK Jesus would do things. When Jesus taught hard stuff, like don’t put the needs of your biological family above the needs of others, or forgive 70 times seven times…even if the person you need to forgive isn’t sorry, or to trust that God will take care of you instead of hoarding earthly treasures to take care of yourself: PAY ATTENTION. Jesus taught TONS of life-giving stuff that most Christians don’t believe with the actions of their lives. We act like we know better than him. Which just creates confusion, distracts others from the light, and allows darkness to spread.
Third, when you give opinions (because we ALL have an opinion), provide the opinion as exactly that…don’t pretend your opinion is fact. There’s an interesting book I’ve been reading lately and sharing with the Elders; it’s called “A Generous Orthodoxy”. And one of the things the author does is define the word “orthodox”. For many in Christianity, orthodox is about doctrine, correct belief. And so very many Christians wield THEIR notions of correct belief as weapons, and they act as if their OPINIONS are fact. But the book’s author, Brian Mclaren, suggests that orthodox is a truth that God knows and we should be aspiring to learn, rather than a truth we mistakenly believe we know. I believe THAT was the critical mistake of the Pharisees in our reading that turned them into purveyors of darkness. They THOUGHT they knew the truth, they were wrong, and then they tried to force others to believe their false truth…all because they forgot the difference between opinion and fact, opinion and truth. Please, please, please don’t make their mistake.
And finally, always share truth when you have the chance, even if it doesn’t appear to be in your best interests. In our gospel story, the bearers of darkness pressured the man’s family with threats of expulsion from the synagogue. Y’all, that will happen sometimes. You will have to choose between shining Jesus’ light or doing what seems to be best for YOU in the moment. Maybe even what’s best for your family and friends. Our job as followers of Jesus is to ALWAYS shine light and truth, even if doing so looks like it could bring harm to ourselves.
As we will discover this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, the darkness is all around us. Time is getting short. The cross is near. The hour is getting late.
Fortunately, Jesus came to BE light in this world of darkness. And he has given us the ability to see, reflect, and share his light. Now, the task is ours. Amen.