Sermon for Lent 4, Year A – 2020
Title: How then shall we live?
In the past couple of weeks, our world has been turned upside down. Our nature is to be social…and yet we are told to socially distance ourselves from practically everyone. A pandemic virus threatens lives around the world and down the street. The social and economic costs are staggering and are only getting worse. We want to do something to help…we want to fix it. We want to be able to go back to our normal lives. We want to be able to go to church. Yet we are told we should stay at home as much as possible and try to avoid interactions with other people. How are we supposed to live in such a time of suffering and confusion?
Our circumstances this week reminded me numerous times of a quote from the Lord of the Rings. Specifically, as the Fellowship has entered the Mines of Moria and yet faced with the monumental task of trying to destroy the Ring of Power, Frodo expresses his desire that “it need not have happened in my time.” Ever the wise sage and, in some ways the spiritual presence of the story, Gandalf replies “So do I…and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us”.
Like many before us who have faced wars, famines, and plagues, we did not choose to live through a pandemic. But like them, we must figure out how to live and what to do with the time that has been given to us.
The gospel passage for today provides some perspective to help us understand how we should live in these days. You will hear me say this again, but a great way to study a narrative passage of Scripture like we have in John 9 this morning is to imagine yourself being one of the characters. For this passage, it could be helpful to consider yourself as a disciple who sees the events take place or to imagine the life of a Pharisee, the blind man’s parents or his neighbors. But today, I want us to focus in on the life of the blind man himself who is the one living a life full of challenges.
As we encounter the scene in the Gospel this morning, we immediately hear of Jesus coming across a man that has been blind since birth. Few, if any of us, can imagine never having been able to see. To have lived a couple of decades and to not know the color of a cloudless sky. To not have known what we really look like. We struggle to image the difficulty of moving around and learning to walk and navigate stairs safely. There was no option for corrective lenses or advanced surgeries to help him. All his life, his only option was to acknowledge the challenge and pursue as best he could. And based on what little we know of him, he appears to have understood and accepted the reality of his situation and lived his life accordingly.
How does that inform us in our current situation? First, I think we need to recognize the reality of our own situation and the hardships that we face. One of the best encouragements I ever received was the challenge to acknowledge that something that I had gone through actually hurt. Whether that is the added challenge of not being able to go out to dinner, struggling to find necessary items at the store, being unable to gather together at church or just to have coffee with a friend…we need to own the fact that this is hard.
We need to recognize the challenges those around us face. The sick, the dying, those who have or may yet lose a loved one. Those who work at hospitals, emergency services, gas stations, and all other places in which they have no choice but to be exposed to potentially sick people, but who strive to provide health and some normalcy of live for themselves and for us.
We need to have the freedom to say that this is hard and many of the Psalms show us that we have the freedom to go to God in our frustration and confusion and let him know how we really feel. But then we, like the blind man, must seek to live our lives in this new, yet hopefully temporary normal, that we find ourselves in. What should this look like for us as Christians?
Returning to our story, the blind man has an encounter Jesus. You and I are a step ahead as we are already at least somewhat familiar with the life and work of Jesus. However, try to imagine the blind man’s experience. A stranger and his friends happen to pass by near where you are. This has probably happened a few hundred times to him already. Maybe a group of kids make fun of him or someone has some charity and gives him some bread or some money.
But this time, it’s different. You hear the stranger say something about doing the works of the light, you hear him spit on the ground near you and maybe feel or sense him bending down. The next thing you know, he is rubbing mud on your eyes and tells you to go down to the Siloam pool to wash. Who is this man and what the heck is he doing? Why would I do what this man is asking of me? And yet, without any comment or question, John tells us that the man went and did as Jesus said…simple obedience.
How should we live in a difficult time? Step one is simple obedience. We already know Jesus and we have the Bible and can read or listen to the call of God upon our lives to live in obedience to all that he has commanded. This is part of the Great Commission. We need to continue to study God’s word and to allow God to slowly conform our lives and our behavior to be in line with how he tells us to live. Whether through online services and Bible studies or simply reading your Bible at home, we can increase our knowledge of God and allow Him to be at work in us to change how we live.
Why does God allow suffering? Why was the man in our Gospel lesson born blind? Those are among the great questions of all times and certainly don’t have easy answers. However, our story presents a theological truth we can all learn from. While the blind man himself is silent, everyone else in the story has an opinion.
The disciples assume that either the man himself or his parents had sinned such that he was born blind. Someone had to be at fault. This is the idea of karma…bad things happen to people who deserve it. The Pharisees think the same way, that the man must have been born in sin and is therefore worthless in their society. Someone did something wrong. The people who lived near this man even had a hard time accepting his healing.
The only people that don’t question why God allowed him to be born blind are the man himself and Jesus. Karma is not a Christian concept. Jesus broadens the list of possibilities and in this case, declares that the man was born blind so that God’s works could be made clearly known in his life after years of hardship.
Who is to blame for yet another massive human tragedy? Like the people in the Gospel, many of us simply want to know whose fault it is and whether they are going to be held accountable for it. Our Gospel suggests that while it is possible that someone could be at fault, God may have other reasons for allowing yet another pandemic. Other than a constant reminder that we and our world are broken by sin, we may never know the reason or reasons why we are living is such a time.
However, it is possible that God yet wants to make himself way known through this pandemic. Perhaps he want trying to capture our attention and turn our thoughts and actions back into obedience to the Scriptures. What we can certainly learn from this story that God is in control and that we can and should trust him. Beyond the story today, we know that there is hope of resurrection beyond this life. And as we heard last week, we should be more concerned with the state of our souls than the state of our flesh.
Lastly, but certainly not least, we must consider the conclusion of today’s Gospel passage. Having been kicked out by the Pharisees. Having been disbelieved by even his neighbors. All on top of a long life of hardship already, the once blind man again encounters Jesus. In this encounter, now seeing Jesus clearly, he learns that Jesus is the Son of God. His response is faith and worship.
The response of the once blind man should also be our response. We too know that Jesus is the Son of God. We have clearly heard the Gospel message that Jesus came to forgive us our sins and to win for us reconciliation with God. Furthermore, we have the hope of the resurrection. We know that Jesus. We know that we can trust God, because he has shown himself to be trustworthy. Trust in God allows us to be able to worship him, to respond to Him with reverence and adoration. Not only on Sunday mornings, but each day and throughout the day. Such is how we should live.
While acknowledging our own suffering, we need to strive to be obedient, to trust in the sovereign God, and to respond to him in reverence and adoration.