4 LENT—3-22-2020—JOHN 9:1-41
I came across a “fascinating list” that carried this intriguing title: “Great Truths About Life That Little Children Have Learned.” Let me share a few of these “great truths” with you.
(1) “ No matter how hard you try you cannot baptize a cat.”
(2) “When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair.”
(3) “Never ask your 3-year-old brother to hold a tomato… or an egg.”
(4) “You can’t trust dogs to watch your food for you.”
(5) “Don’t sneeze when somebody is cutting your hair.”
(6) “School lunches stick to the wall.”
(7) “You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.”
(8) “Never wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts… no matter how cute the underwear is.”
Now, it is virtually certain that the children learned these “great truths” and came to these bold new insights after some dramatic eye-opening experience in their own personal lives. Can’t you just see in your mind’s eye, some children trying to baptize a cat, and learning that this is just not a good thing to do. The point is clear: A dramatic personal eye-opening experience can give us new insight, new perception, new vision.
Sometimes our ideas about what makes life worthwhile, about what we “deserve,” about what constitutes a blessing from God, stand in the way of us understanding God and living a life of meaning and purpose.
Usually, when someone comes to Jesus with a question, Jesus answers with another question, or with a parable. In fact, author Philip Yancey says he once heard a theologian say that Jesus was asked 183 questions in the Bible, and he only answered three of them directly. Three out of one-hundred-eighty-three.
So sit up and pay attention. This is one of the most important questions of human existence. And it’s one of the few instances when Jesus answers a question directly. Why was this man blind? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him . . .”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam.” So, the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
Notice that there are two acts of healing in these four verses. There is, of course, the physical healing. What a great joy and blessing this man received because he stepped out in faith. He received his sight!
But I think the first act of healing occurred when the blind man heard Jesus say, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus’ words gave the man hope and healed his sense that his disability was somehow a curse that made him a lesser man. And this hope is evidenced by the fact that the blind man got up and went to the pool of Siloam to wash the mud off his eyes.
Have you ever tried walking across your bedroom in the dark? Most of us are reluctant to do that. So, can you imagine how far that man had to walk in the hopes that this stranger wasn’t lying to him, wasn’t tricking him, but actually had the power to heal him? We don’t know for sure where the blind man was when Jesus healed him. But one commentary writer says, “A trip to Siloam and back from the nearest wall of the temple, for example, would be about 1,300 yards.”
Would you walk blind even half that distance on the word of a stranger? Jesus’ words gave this man so much hope that he was willing to take that risk.
A well-known professor in the field of management has said something profound about suffering: “There’s some pain that needs a solution, and some pain that needs a story.” In this moment, Jesus gave the blind man both a solution—physical healing—and a story—that he was not disabled by some sin that either his parents or he had committed. I want us to focus on that fact today because most of us know what it is to carry around certain pains in life for which there is no solution. An unanswered prayer. An undeserved burden. We beg God for a solution. What if God gives us a story instead?
I think the first part of this story would be that God can use every part of your life for His glory. Many of us settle for a wimpy calling. We are content if we are just good people who go to church and help our neighbor occasionally. We are not a shining example of the love, the strength, the power and the grace of Almighty God. Part of the reason for that is because we hide our suffering and questions and pains from each other. We think that our weakness makes us less of a witness for Christ. Instead, it’s walking in faith through our pain that causes others to see God’s glory in our lives. Let me give you an example of a woman who discovered God in her weakness.
Sheila Walsh is a best-selling author, Christian singer and former co-host of The 700 Club. She struggled with depression for years but tried to deny it. She had spent her adult life in a very public ministry role. She couldn’t dare let down her guard and admit how hopeless and sad and burned out she was. One day, a guest on The 700 Club said, “Sheila, you ask us every day how we’re all doing, but how are you doing?” And this question broke through Sheila’s carefully curated image. She began to cry uncontrollably, right there on air. By that evening, she had checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. She gave up her co-hosting job. She took a step back from her ministries. And she admitted that she didn’t know who she was anymore.
Today, Sheila Walsh is back in ministry, speaking and writing and sharing her struggles with depression. Instead of being rejected or put to shame for her condition, she discovered thousands of women who struggled with the same issue and needed to know they were not alone. God did not miraculously heal her of her depression; instead, God has used her depression to draw her into a deeper relationship of trust with Him and increase her ministry to hurting people. As Walsh says, “The Good News will never be good news until you know that God knows all of your bad news.”
And not only does God know all your bad news. God can use all your bad news. God is most glorified in the way we handle our suffering. Our blessings do not draw people to God. No one is in awe of a healthy, smart, wealthy person who achieves great things. We are in awe of those who overcome hard times, who choose joy in the face of sorrow, who choose love in the face of hatred.
So every blessing and every hardship, every joy and every sorrow in our lives is an opportunity for God to work out His plan through us. Does that mean that God plans everything that happens to us? No, I don’t believe so. There is suffering that comes from the sins of others, like abuse or neglect or divorce. There is suffering that comes from impersonal forces outside our control, like CoVid19 or drought or recession. God did not intend for us to endure this suffering. He does intend to work through this suffering to strengthen us and make us better able to demonstrate His glory in all circumstances. People need to see the character and power of God in how you handle your suffering.
The second part of our story is that you do not have to understand everything about God; just share what you do know about Him. When the formerly blind man is questioned by his neighbors about his healing, he says, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes.” A few verses later, the Pharisees interrogate the man harshly. But this man turns his hard time into an opportunity to share the truth of Jesus. He still does not know who Jesus is or why Jesus healed him. He thinks Jesus might be a prophet. He did not let what he didn’t know prevent him from sharing what he did know. It does not stop him from speaking truth to power.
There are some wonderful lyrics to a song titled “My Story” by Big Daddy Weave. The song begins, “If I told you my story You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go . . . And if I told you my story You would hear Love that never gave up . . . And if I told you my story You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine . . . If I should speak then let it be Of the grace that is greater than all my sin . . . Of when justice was served and where mercy wins . . . Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him. “
The formerly blind man’s story is a story of hope and love, of life and grace. It’s the story of what Jesus did in him. And he refused to be silenced by the fear tactics of the Pharisees. The next time they interrogated him, they accused Jesus of being a sinner. And the formerly blind man said, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
And the final part of our story is that we never know who needs to hear God’s story through us. There is a beautiful story on the Divine Opportunities blog by a man named Larry. Many years ago, Larry was driving down Highway 240 in Memphis when he saw a car pulled off on the side of the highway. He felt strongly that God was leading him to stop and help. He pulled up behind the stopped car and saw a young woman standing by the side of the road, staring off into space.
When he asked if she needed help, she began to cry. This young mother had just come from St. Jude Children’s Hospital where her two-year-old son was undergoing treatments for leukemia. Her husband had walked out on the family not long after their child’s diagnosis. And this flat tire on the side of Highway felt like the final straw for this young woman. She felt so lost and alone.
Larry did not have a solution for this woman. But he did have a story. He knew now why he had felt the urge to stop. Eight and a half years earlier, when Larry’s little son was just two years old, Larry’s wife had died of leukemia. He knew what it was to be grief-stricken and confused. He knew what it was to be a single parent. He knew what it was to feel alone and helpless. And he knew what it was to rely on God for his strength. And so, Larry began sharing the story of how God worked through his grief and anger and loneliness. He shared how God had helped him to be a single parent to his little son. As Larry wrote on the blog, “It was a God thing. I don’t recall a lot of what I said—it’s like it came in and went out, a lot like a gift of the Spirit. It’s not necessarily something I thought about and said. It just flowed.”
Larry sat with the woman while she cried. Then he changed her tire and prayed with her. And when Larry drove away that day, he understood in a new way how God had used his pain to bring comfort and strength to someone else in need.
As the professor said, “There’s some pain that needs a solution, and some pain that needs a story.” You may never get an answer to your “Why?” So change the question to “How can God use this?” We ask God for a reason; God gives us a purpose.
In this lifetime, you may never get a solution to your pain. You may never experience healing. You may never see how God is using it. But if you give your pain to God, you can have a new story. It will be the story of how God is glorified in our weakness, not in our strength. God is glorified in our perseverance more than our power. God is glorified more by our attitudes than by our achievements. And God is using our pain to grow us into people who reflect His glory and draw others to Him.
We ask God for a solution; God gives us a story instead. Someone needs to hear the story of God in your life. How can you share it? Not just the shiny, happy parts. God is glorified in the tough parts. The good news is that God can use your bad news to share the good news. Will you let Him?
It is my sincerest hope that this finds you all doing well. It is my intention each week that we are physically apart to bring us together in every other way that is possible. So, I am including in this email worship resources for this coming Sunday, March 22, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The next email will contain my sermon for this coming Sunday. And If all goes according to plan, the video I have made of that sermon should be appearing soon on our website, along with the written materials that I am sharing with you now.
I miss you all and count the days until we can be together again. For now, this is the best way we know of to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourself.
SUNDAY, MARCH 22, 2020
FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR A
Baptism is sometimes called enlightenment. The gospel for this Sunday is the story of the man born blind healed by Christ. “I was blind, now I see,” declares the man. In baptism God opens our eyes to see the truth of who we are: God’s beloved children. As David was anointed king of Israel, in baptism God anoints our head with oil, and calls us to bear witness to the light of Christ in our daily lives.
Confession and Forgiveness
All may make the sign of the cross, the sign marked at baptism, as the presiding minister begins.
P: Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God, who is present, who gives life, who calls into existence the things that do not exist.
P: If you were to keep watch over sins, O Lord, who could stand? Yet with you is forgiveness, and so we confess.
Silence is kept for reflection.
P: Gracious God,
C: have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned away from you, knowingly and unknowingly. We have wandered from your resurrection life. We have strayed from your love for all people. Turn us back to you, O God. Give us new hearts and right spirits, that we may find what is pleasing to you and dwell in your house forever. Amen.
P: Receive good news: God turns to you in love. “I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live,” says our God. All your sin is forgiven in the name of ☩ Jesus Christ, who is the free and abounding gift of God’s grace for you.
Prayer of the Day
P: Lord Christ, bend your ear to our prayers and come among us. By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Samuel anointed David even though he was the eighth-oldest son of Jesse and did not match his brothers in height or other physical characteristics. With the anointing came endowment with the Spirit of the LORD, designating David as the LORD’s chosen successor to Saul.
1The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.” 7But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
1The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
2The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
3You restore my soul, O LORD,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
Because we now live in the divine light which is Jesus Christ, we conduct our lives in ways that reflect the light of Christ, so that our activity is truly pleasing to God.
8Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Gospel: John 9:1-41
Jesus heals a man born blind, provoking a hostile reaction that he regards as spiritual blindness to the things of God.
1As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The 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?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He 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.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then 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.” 16Some 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. 17So 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.”
18The 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 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but 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.” 22His 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. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24So 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.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He 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?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus 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.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
Prayers of Intercession
P: O God our Healer, show your compassion for the whole human family that is in turmoil and burdened with illness and with fear. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Come to our aid as the coronavirus spreads globally, heal those who are sick, support and protect their families and friends from being infected. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Grant us your spirit of love and self-discipline so that we may come together, working to control and eliminate the coronavirus. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Heal our self-centeredness and indifference that makes us worry only when the virus threatens us, open ways beyond timidity and fear that too easily ignore our neighbor. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Strengthen and encourage those in public health services and in the medical profession: caregivers, nurses, attendants, doctors, all who commit themselves to caring for the sick and their families. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Inspire, give insight and hope to all researchers focused on developing a vaccine. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Sustain all workers and business owners who suffer loss of livelihood due to shut-downs, quarantines, closed borders, and other restrictions… protect and guard all those who must travel. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Guide the leaders of the nations that they speak the truth, halt the spread of misinformation and act with justice so that all your family may know healing. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Heal our world, heal our bodies, strengthen our hearts and our minds, and in the midst of turmoil, give us hope and peace. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Hold in your gentle embrace all who have died and who will die this day. Comfort their loved ones in their despair. Hear our cry, O God,
C: Listen to our prayer.
P: Remember all your family, the entire human race, and all your creation, in your love.C: Amen!