18. A Sermon on Matthew 11:16–19&25–30

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The original version of this sermon was presented at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church E.L.C.A. in Tacoma, Washington on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (July 6, 2014)

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

The Prayer: Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Text: A reading from the Gospel of Matthew 11:16–19 and 25–30. “To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you did not dance, so we played funeral songs, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The congregation is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Grace and peace of your Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Beware of your own self

The Subject: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is the sin of pride and the invitation of Christ.

The Reason (purpose): The reason why I am preaching on this matter is so that we may challenge ourselves and resist anything that separates us from Christ.

The Points: 1. The Invitation 2. Pride and Humility. 3. The Father and the Son. 4. Come unto Christ

THE INTRODUCTION 

I will begin this introduction with this thought, how willing are we to make adjustments in our lives and in our relationship with God?
Saint Francis of Assisi was a son of a successful merchant and had all the privileges that came with a successful family. As a young man he volunteered for military service and was sent into battle. The horror of war and the conditions that came with being a prisoner of war broke his health, but waken his soul. After being released from prison he returned home and found that the privileges of wealth and success no longer appealing. Instead, he was drawn to a simpler life of service and dedication to the Gospel of Christ. Francis heard the invitation of God and adjusted his vision.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta was a teacher and principle of a school for daughters of the wealthy class in India. By all accounts, she had a very successful carrier as a nun and as an educator. In 1946 she took a trip and while on the train she heard God speak to her. Soon she was awakening to an invitation by God to serve the very poor of Calcutta and she changed her vocation to that of a missionary. Like Francis before her, Teresa adjusted her vision.
Throughout our lives, sometimes we get so carried away with what we think is decent or proper that we are unable to see God working in our lives and in the lives of others. It is at these times that we need to walk away and reflect more upon the Gospels and less on our own convictions. We need to listen to what that voice deep within hearts, not our minds, is saying and adjust our vision accordingly. The Gospel lesson today is about self-reflection and making necessary adjustments to our vision of God. It is about looking honestly at out lives and taking a true inventory of ourselves.
The Gospel lesson is also about God being careful about who he reveals himself to; God does not what to reveal himself to individuals who will only reject the revelation and walk away. Therefore, God only wants to reveal himself to those who will trust him in the way a child will trust a parent. This is the true relation between God and humanity, father and child.
Now let us explore the Gospel lesson and what it has to offer our lives.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON 

The First Point: The Invitation

Jesus spoke against the attitude of the people of his day, because no matter what he said or did they took the opposite view. He looked right at them and did not allow them to soften or re-direct the message of the Torah or the Prophets. Because of this they were cynical and skeptical towards him because he challenged their comfort zones and self-centered lives.

Jesus compared them to children playing in a public square, who invited others to come and join them, but they ignored the invitation and went on playing their own games. To encourage their participation, they sung festive songs, but they simply would not come over to sing and dance. They sung memorial songs, but they would not participate in the memorial. The people of his day, like the second group of children in the square, were unresponsive and ignored the invitation by both John the Baptist and Jesus.

God wants us to heed the invitation he offers us and come to him. He does not call out to us in a demanding voice nor are his words are harsh or demeaning. God calls out to all of us to come over to his table and take comfort from our long journey and listen to his words of wisdom. Yes, sometimes his instructions to us are unpleasant, but that is because God is not going to hide the truth from us, even if it makes us unconfutable. After all, do we want to be around someone who is going to be honest and open with us or do we want to be around someone who is going to hide the truth (so that we can be comfortable) or have hidden agendas?

Sadly, today there are so many individuals who simply do not heed the invitation from God to come to his table and participate in the assembly that encircles the table. These individuals are so caught up in their own lives and self-sufficiency that they cannot hear God gently calling to them and their busy life styles hinders their ability to give the invitation a serious reflection. For these individuals praising what has been created, such as mountain ranges and open prairie in the spring, is easier than taking time to properly praise the Creator who made them. Jesus taught us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” [1] But these busy individuals would respond to this by saying something like, I have an important meeting in three days and I must prepare for it, so don’t bother me with an idea like that. Nonetheless, Jesus still calls out to them and invites them to the table of good fellowship.

In light of this passage, our challenge is to ensure that we are able to hear the “still small voice [2] of the living and eternal God. There are times when God is calling to draw us near to him and other times God is attempting to guide us on a matter. Therefore, the first step in this listening process is to make ourselves available to God through prayer, especially prayer during quite times.

Now let us turn to “wisdom” in this matter. Wisdom is shown to be correct though its results. In other words, actions speak louder than words. In this context what else can be said about wisdom? Listen to the Book of Proverbs. In the eighth chapter we read this about wisdom, “I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment. I know where to discover knowledge and discernment. All who fear LORD will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech.” [3] This passage from Proverbs confirms that good decision making is grounded on knowledge and discernment. Making good decisions requires that we first step away from ourselves and then look at a matter from all sides and opinions. The people whom Jesus was addressing had their own understanding of what was a good decision and it was grounded in their very narrow view. They did not hear that still small voice in their hearts and this led them to ignore the invitation they were offered. Rather than intellectually engaging John and Jesus, they engaged in throwing insults at them. They said John was possessed by a demon and Jesus was a drunk. Although they had seen and heard both John and Jesus, they did not allow themselves to be spiritually awaken. Instead they allowed their pride and arrogance to be awaken, they had no desire to adjust their vision.

The Second Point: Pride and Humility

Jesus said in his prayer, “I thank you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent.” Listen to the commentary written by Don Schwager about this verse, “Jesus’ prayer also contains a warning that pride can keep us from the love and knowledge of God. What makes us ignorant and blind to the things of God? Certainly intellectual pride, coldness of heart, and stubbornness of will – shut out God and his kingdom. Pride is the root of all vice and the strongest influence propelling us to sin. It first vanquishes the heart, making it cold and indifferent towards God. It also closes the mind to God’s truth and wisdom for our lives. What is pride? It is the excessive love of oneself at the expense of others and the exaggerated value of one’s own learning and importance.”

Jesus was grateful that true spiritual wisdom was kept hidden and not revealed to those who would not properly receive it. He knew that those who were filled with intellectual pride would not be able to hear his words and understand his teachings. No matter what John and Jesus said and no matter how dire their warning, these cold hearted intellectuals would not adjust their vision. Pride is the ultimate expression of self-centeredness, when I was a younger man we called it “me, myself, and I.”

There are seven deadly sins, sometimes called cardinal sins. They are wrath, greed, laziness, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony; and many theologians consider pride as the worst of the seven, because it makes the heart cold and indifferent towards the living God. Listen to what St. Vincent de Paul had to say about pride, “You must ask God to give you power to fight against the sin of pride – which is your greatest enemy. The root of all that is evil, and the failure of that is good. For God resists the proud.” There is a kind of blindness associated with pride, it is mentioned in the Book Proverbs, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” [4] There are individuals who are so full of pride and confidence that they believe it is in possible for them to make a mistake. When they do make a mistake, rather than admitting it and adjusting their vision, they often make it appear that someone else did it.

The simple message of the gospel which Jesus proclaimed was being understood and joyfully received by the common everyday person in the market place. But the sophisticated intellectuals who should have recognized it immediately, dismissed it. They may have done so because of its lack of complexity or their unwillingness to associate with those who are not as sophisticated as they were. Regardless of what excuse was used, it would still be an expression of a haughty spirit.

Jesus offered praise to his Father for keeping spiritual wisdom hidden from those filled with intellectual pride, and revealed it to those who are child-like. This brings to mind what was written in the Gospel of Mark, “Anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” [5] There are two characteristics of childhood that are of great spiritual value, they are humility and simplicity.

To be child-like is to accept the words of your Father without question or hesitation. It means that you will not only listen to what the Father has to say, but you will listen attentively. This is how we are to listen to the Scriptures and that gentle call from God. Responding to God our Father in the manner of a child is an act of humility and it demonstrates that we are willing to be taught by the Scriptures and the Spirit. Those who walk with pride and a haughty spirit cannot respond to God in humility and they find it very difficult to approach God in a child-like manner.

This leads us to a reflection upon humility. Humility is not just placing others first, but it is also the practice of placing oneself on the lower step. Humility is the opposite of our human nature. Human nature wants to focus on its own self, first and foremost, for all to know and see. Human nature does not want to think of others, but instead wants others to think of it. While humility is content to wear colors that do not draw attention to itself, human nature wants to wear the bright and unmistakable color that boldly proclaim its presence. Time and time again Christ teaches us place others first, and his entire life among us was a sacrifice that placed mankind before himself. When we practice placing ourselves on a lower step we will be walking humbly with our God.
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Saint Francis was born into wealth and entitlement, he did not have a need and those around him served him without question. However, the Holy Spirit wakened his soul and it became humble and “filled with renewed joy from LORD [and he understood that] the poor will rejoice in the Holy One.” [6] Once that wakening broke forth from his soul, Francis dedicated himself to walking humbly with God. At the end of his life he understood that “humility and reverence of LORD [has its own kind of] wealth, honor, and life.” [7]

The Third Point: The Father and the Son

Let us begin this review with verse twenty-seven of the Revised Standard Bible, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father.” Jesus now changes gears and speaks to the people, but now tenderly, like a Rabbi with his students. In the Gospel of John Jesus clearly stated his union with the Father when he said that we must always believe that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. [8] Here in verse twenty-seven Jesus clearly states his relationship to the Father, and makes three unmistakable claims to having a special union and relationship with God. They are: The Father has delivered all things to him, his relationship with the Father, and the ability to reveal the Father. Jesus has a strong and very personal relationship the Father, and he is very knowledgeable of his true Father.

Listen to how The One Volume Commentary explains this verse: “Jesus now declares that the same authority belongs to Himself, because all created things have been delivered to Him by God. This supreme authority over the universe, which was delivered to Him. Such power could not be given to just any creation, and the possession of it by Christ can only be explained by assuming that He is, as the Gospel of John and the Epistles represent Him as being, both the creator and sustainer of the universe.” This is confirmed in verse three of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, it reads, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” The first chapter of Colossians also confirms this in verse sixteen, it says, “In him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible … all things have been created through him.” Indeed, all things in heaven and earth have been delivered to Christ; and this means that Christ has full and complete authority over everything.

This universal authority of Christ is recognized by both the apostles and demons. In the Gospel of Luke, a demon says to Jesus, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” [9] and in the Gospel of John, Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Holy One of God.” [10] While demons and apostles are generally opposed to each other and have very different agendas, they both clearly agree on one thing, that Jesus is the Christ and the Holy One of God!

Before moving onward to my next point, I am going to say a few words about the Kingdom that has been delivered to Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven is realized in this present world, among the human community. In his book Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Brad Young has this to say about this realm, “For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is: 1. The Power of God – that is, God doing what he wants. 2. The People of God – that is, people doing what God wants.” Simply put, God commands and the people obey by doing it. With this in mind, it is only natural for someone to ask, what are the principle commandments that Christ wants us to obey? The Gospel of Mark answers this for us, in chapter twelve it is written, “What commandment is first of all? Jesus answered, “Hear, O People: LORD is our God, LORD alone. You shall love LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There are no other commandments greater then these.” [11]  Therefore, as the Father loves the Son, and has placed all things in his hands, [12] we are to love God and humanity.

Now let us explore the statement, “No one knows the Son except the Father.” A Father, like any parent, knows his children; he knows their habits, their dislikes, and their strengths. A father knows these because he was there before the child was born and once the child came into the world, the Father witnessed every little detail of the development of the child. For an example, he not only knows the child does not like strawberries, but has witness from the beginning how this dislike evolved into what it is. With this in mind, we have an understanding that no one really knows an individual except the parents.

The relationship between Jesus and God is truly a Father-Son relationship. Like an obedient child, Jesus does nothing without first presenting the matter before God the Father. By living in this manner, Jesus found great favor with God, his Father, who acknowledged this favor at the Baptism of Jesus by saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, whom I am well pleased with.” [13] The communion we see in the Gospel stories between the Father and the Son is the core of their relationship; and this union between them points to their unity in the Trinity. Their shared divine knowledge also points to their shared divine nature; as the Gospel of John stated, Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. Needless to say, this is a great mystery.

The degree in which Jesus was obedient to God the Father was both deep and profound. His desire to please his Father not only meant that he did nothing without first presenting matter before the Father, it also meant a life of self-sacrificing, placing the requests of God before his own wants and needs. This is confirmed in the Gospel of John, when Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, of all those He has given me I shall lose none of them, but raise them up at the last day. For the will of my Father is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” [14]

In this context Jesus is the example we have concerning our own faith journey. God is to be at the very core of who we are and what we do. We are to bring everything to God, through prayer, and lay it before him. We are to avoid the arrogance and pride of the sophisticated intellectuals, and submit our hearts and walk according to the will of God and not ourselves.

The Fourth Point: Come unto Christ

In verse 28 we read about a gentle call from Jesus to his followers and apostles, the words of this call are some of the most compassionate words found in the Christians Scriptures. Here we clearly see the pastoral nature of Jesus and his desire to serve humanity as a shepherd and not as an overlord. Listen to what the Life Application Commentary has to say on this verse, “These words focused on Jesus’ care and concern for his followers his promise of guidance and presence, and the ultimate future rewards. Jesus said, ‘Let me teach you.’ Jesus, their leader and example, was also the ultimate servant, humble and gentle. His path of humble service is the pattern for us to follow.”

In these comforting words of Jesus we also find a harness (the yoke). Here Jesus wants to remind those who welcomed him and received his good news about God are “yoked to his message and his life style.” Through embracing him they are now associated with him and carry his yoke. For many Christians today the yoke is a necklace with a cross and for clergy and preachers the stole is sometimes referred to as a yoke. If you look closely at your lives, you will notice he is not the one placing burdens and heavy yokes upon your life, instead you are. Christ wants us to freely accept him and freely place his yoke upon ourselves. Throughout the Gospel stories Christ invites us into relationship with him, but he does not demand it. We are free draw near to Christ or to separate ourselves from Christ. It is completely our choice, to choose either to come closer to the Light of Christ or to walk away from him. Regardless of what we choose, Christ will always call out to us and invite us. The arrogant sophisticated intellectuals of the story decided to walk away, may we not follow their example.

Now for a final thought on comfort and I will begin with a quote from Billy Graham,God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us the comforters.” Saint Francis makes a similar statement,O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.” While God indeed wants to offer us comfort and rest, he does not want us to be in full communion with the soft and comfortable chair nor does he want us to become disconnected from both the pain and the joy of humanity. He wants us to respond to is Word that gives us comfort and spiritual renewal by going forth and serving those who are in most need of our talents and his Word, our Master.

THE CONCLUSION 

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus is challenging our attitudes and wants to make any necessary adjustments to our vision. Christ does not what us to become so focused on what we think is decent or proper that we ignore his invitation and any possible relationships with our neighbors. God is always inviting us and stirs that small voice in our hearts. What we may experience as an annoyance or inconvenience may well be our heavenly Father trying to get our attention. When we think that God wants our attention we need to say, speak Lord, your servant is listening. [15] Finally, I encourage each and every one of us to develop a strong and healthy relationship with our heavenly Father, for as Christ made his relationship with the Father the center of his life, we should do the very same. Amen.

Written by Dave Pflueger July 6, 2014 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTES: [1] Matthew 6:34. [2] 1 Kings 19:12 RSV. [3] Proverbs 8:12-13. [4] Proverbs 6:18. [5] Mark 10:15. [6] Isaiah 29:19. [7] Proverbs 22:4. [8] John 14:11. [9] Luke 4:34. [10] John 6:69. [11] Mark 12:28-31. [12] John 3:35. [13] Matthew 3:17. [14] John 6:38-40. [15] 1 Samuel 3:10.

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17. A Reflection on Holy Friday (2012)

Today is the day when Christians take time to reflect upon the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Recently while I was doing just this, and I began to think about all the Christians who have been killed because of their unconditional embrace of Christ. They, like Christ, prove that Christianity is all about sacrifices and the intentional distancing of ones self from safe harbors and comfort zones. In his large catechism Martin Luther made it clear that we are to shun the treasures and comforts of this life and place our confidence in our relationship with the living and true God. Like the blood of Christ which enlivens our souls, the blood of the martyrs enlivens the convictions of the faithful. Therefore, through the sacrifices of Christ and his martyrs we are given an example on how uncompromising our faith should be.

As we journey through this day, let us make note of anything in our personal lives that prevents us from sacrificing ourselves, which is our reasonable service, and commit our strengths to removing it from our lives. In closing, I offer this reflection by Oswald Chambers, “Sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. It means to secure and keep all the strength of our body, soul, and spirit for God’s purpose alone.”

Written by Dave Pflueger April 6, 2012 © copyrighted by Pflueger

Apostle’s Creed

I trust in God:
The Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord.
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary;
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell;
the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from here He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I trust in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Universal Assembly,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.
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The earliest mentioning of the “Apostles’ Creed” occurs in a letter of 390 AD from a synod in Milan.

16. A Sermon on John 9:1-41

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This sermon was presented at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church E.L.C.A. in Tacoma, Washington on the Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 30, 2014)

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

Please stand if you are able to do so.

The Prayer:  Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The TextA reading from the Gospel of John 9:1-41. As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing! His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!” But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!” They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?” He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!” “Where is he now?” they asked. “I do not know,” he replied. Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them. Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What is your opinion about this man who healed you?” The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.” The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?” His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, but we do not know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. That is why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.” So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” “I do not know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?” “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Did not you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we do not even know where this man comes from.” “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you do not know where he comes from? We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he could not have done it.” “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue. When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.” “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!” “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus. Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we are blind?” “If you were blind, you would not be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

The congregation is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Stand firm against spiritual blindness

The Subject: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is “spiritual blindness.”

The Reason (purpose): The reason why I am preaching on spiritual blindness is so that we may have a better understanding of God and avoid blindness.

The Points: My message today has three points: The Gift, The Doubters, and Walk Humbly with God

THE INTRODUCTION

I will begin this introduction with this reflection, in this story from the Gospels Jesus is not the central person. He is present when the story begins and at its conclusion, but for the body of the story the one who was blind is the central person of the story and it is he who deals with the Pharisees strong sense of what is right or wrong in religious matters.

This Gospel story takes place over several sites: the temple, the pool, a synagogue, and an unrecorded place in Jerusalem, so our story covers a lot of ground. For an example: The Pool of Siloam (sill-o-ahh’m) is on the outskirts of Jerusalem and the temple is at the center of Jerusalem.

The story also brings to our awareness an ancient practice of humankind. There is a large amount of evidence and historical literature describing the medicinal use of mud around the world from the earliest times. The use of mud for medicinal purposes in folk medicine goes back to prehistoric times. On this subject, Saint John Chrysostom said, “Just as the Word goes out from the mouth of Christ to cure spiritual blindness, so here the Lord Jesus sends out his spit onto the ground as a means of healing the man’s physical blindness.”

Finally, for that sake of better following the Gospel story and this message, I will give the blind man a name, I will call him Samuel.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON

My First Point: The Gift.

With these in mind, let us move to my first point, the Gift. The Gospel story begins with the disciples seeing the obvious and not looking at the bigger picture. They only saw someone who was blind and not how a blind person could celebrate God. In other words, they were also blind.

How often do we find ourselves seeing the disability of someone rather than the entire individual? This limited sight often happens when the symptoms of the disability may cause us fear or discomfort. How often do our concerns for the symptoms of someone prevent us from looking more closely to see what their gifts and talents are?

The disciples not only saw the disability and the hardships it brought upon the life of [Samuel], but they also assumed someone was at fault and they looked for someone to blame for the condition of [Samuel]. This was a common conviction for Jews of that period and it conflicted with their ancient beliefs. This conviction believed that impairments like blindness or an illness was a manifestation of God’s displeasure towards someone who has committed a sin. In this context they saw an impairment and asked was the unrepentant sinner [Samuel] or his parents. Christ had nothing to do with this and said. “Neither this man nor his parents have sinned. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” Jesus was affirming the ancient Jewish belief of original purity and called his disciples back to the basic principles of the Torah. Here Christ warns his followers of dangerous beliefs that can creep into a faith community and corrupt it.
After this rebuke Jesus continued by saying, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” In this statement Jesus is reminding his listeners that his death upon the cross was drawing near and his time for doing works of mercy was becoming short.

Now let us turn to the healing act, the application of mud to the eyes of the man was an aid to his faith and being sent to the pool was a test of faith. In his large Catechism Martin Luther spoke of the positive nature that external things can have upon someone’s faith. He wrote, “Faith has to be external so that we can grasp and understand it with our senses, and thus bring it into our hearts.”

According to Luther faith, complete trust, is brought into the heart through external events that our senses can experience and embrace. For [Samuel] the experience of having mud on his face gave his senses something to embrace and the sensation took it to his heart, which responded by obeying the request of Christ to go, and wash.
What external things does your faith embrace and by doing do so awakens the faith deep within your hearts? For me, it is being out in nature and taking hold of what I find when I am walking in the forest or alongside a river, these external sensations enter my heart and awakens my faith.

After sight was given, [Samuel] was instructed to “go, wash in the pool” and perform the cleansing rite. This rite, known as the Mikvah, would restore [Samuel] to a state of spiritual purity and allow him to participate fully in the temple and its courts. In this request Christ was not only concerned for the physical health of [Samuel], but also his spiritual health. It was not enough to give sight to [Samuel] and send him on his way to a new life with the ability to see the world around him. Christ wanted a full restoration of health, and that included the spiritual health of [Samuel].

Today, many Christians want to find in a good doctor, one who was not only interested in healing and caring for the mind and body, but is equally interested in one’s spiritual health.
This part of the story ends with [Samuel] going to the pool and Jesus departing the area. One could only image the smile and joy upon [Samuel’s] face as he journeyed from the temple area to the pool to perform the ceremonial cleaning rite upon himself. I am sure he was now looking forward to this period of prayer and reflection before telling his parents and family the good news. However, [Samuel] would soon be interrupted by individuals doubting who he was and then being drawn into a debate with a group of Pharisees. In other words, the doubts and stubbornness common to humanity was about to rain upon his otherwise joyous day.

My Second Point: The Doubters

Although it is not clear in the Gospel story when it happened, but the story now moves from the pool into a synagogue. The neighborhood synagogue controlled every aspect of someone’s life. It was the center for civic, recreational, legal, and religious activities. So it is no surprise that [Samuel] would be brought to one for questioning. We should not mistake this for a small gathering of a few Pharisees and friends, but instead a large gathering of Pharisees. Within the Jewish community they had the authority and influence to summon the parents of [Samuel]. Through the words displayed by the parents of [Samuel], the authority of these Pharisees is clearly exposed. In many ways, this was one of the first trails of a perceived follower of Jesus.

The activity that the Pharisees were most concerned with was healing on the Sabbath, because general medical assistance was seen as work. Therefore, it was forbidden to give medical aid, unless there was imminent threat of death, on a Sabbath Day. They were also concerned with Jesus being called a prophet. According to the One Volume Bible Commentary, “It was generally accepted that prophets had authority over the Sabbath.” In this context, Jesus as a prophet would have authority over the Sabbath and therefore could heal someone on this day. This is why the Pharisees could not openly accept Jesus as a prophet, because it would give him the kind of authority that they coveted.

The Pharisees turned their attention towards [Samuel] and wanted him to give glory to God, which is a format for either giving testimony or confessing sin. [Samuel] did not hesitate to give a positive testimony about the gift of sight he received from God and called Jesus a prophet. However, from the sounds of things, the Pharisees wanted a confession of sin instead of a glowing testimony, and one can only imagine the disgusted facial expressions they made when he said he was a prophet.

Have you ever been drawn into a debate that was not your own or to be questioned by others for no apparent reason? All of us have found ourselves in this kind of awkward circumstances, situations often accompanied by a personal reflection on the subject and mediating on how I got in the middle of this. [Samuel] found himself in just this kind of circumstances, and was not afraid to give to God and humanity a testimony about what God has done for him.

When we find ourselves surrounded by individuals who doubt what God has given us because it does not conform to their idea on how God operates, how do we deal with it? Do we challenge them or do we simply withdraw and follow the majority? When God operates outside of the box do we celebrate God’s larger concept of ministry and gifts or do we make every attempt to minimize what God is attempting to do?

[Samuel] has just experienced the power and love of God, and he was not about to back down for the sake of a collective. Until a few hours ago, his entire life was that of a disabled individual and he gained all the survival skills of a blind man living in a major city. Now that he had sight he could take his life to another level and apply himself to it in a manner that would give God the glory. When he was blind, he experienced all the discrimination that came with it, and now that he was no longer blind, he was not going to let the educated elite off the hook very easily. [Samuel] challenged their doubts and questioned their positions, he let them know that their god-in-a-box ideas simply cannot contain the Living God.

The story of [Samuel] challenges us to stand up for Jesus when we are confronted by doubters and circumstances that are contrary to the Gospels of Christ. Stephen is an example of this kind of courage and spiritual strength, when the Holy Spirit came upon him he fearlessly addressed the council. When Peter and Paul were on their mission journeys, they proclaimed the good news of the life and teachings of Christ without reservations or any kind of hesitation.

The Pharisees were so disgusted about the whole Jesus matter that they put forth a claim that they did know where he came from. From the tone of their claim they were making a statement that was centered in their disdain for Jesus. The leading Pharisees involved with civic affairs in Jerusalem knew that Jesus was raised in Nazareth and some of them may have heard stories that his parents escape Bethlehem just before the slaughter of infants. Pretending to be ignorant as a means of legitimizing their position only shows how deep their disdain towards Jesus really was. The Life Application New Testament Commentary brings up this irony about their claim, “It is ironic that the Pharisees claimed not to know where Jesus was from, for that was one item they believed would be true about the Anointed One: No one will know where he comes from.” At some point the Pharisees became so angry towards [Samuel] that they tossed him out of the synagogue.

[Samuel] found a place to collect himself and reflect upon all that has just happened. He had recently been given sight, watched his parents be bullied by the Pharisees, and stood his ground against this highly influential party in Jerusalem.

As he was reflecting, the one whom he believed was a prophet came to him, and said, “Peace be with you. [Samuel], do you believe in the Son of Adam?” [Samuel] answered, “Who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” [Samuel] said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. The one who had received a gift and defended a prophet of LORD, the Eternal God, now laid at the feet of his master offering devotion and praise. In one simple exchange [Samuel] had gone from believing Jesus to be a prophet to acknowledging him as the promised Anointed King and Holy One of God.
[Samuel] did not need any further evidence of who Jesus really was and although it is not recorded in the Scriptures, I am certain that he was soon introduced to the Apostles and the community that would be known to some as the Way.

The Third Point: Walk Humbly With God

As Jesus and [Samuel] were having a moment together, a crowd was gathering near them, and some Pharisees were among them. You have to admire those Pharisees, they have already been tested by [Samuel] and now they make themselves a target for Jesus, these guys just don’t know when to give up and go home.
After his moment with [Samuel] Jesus turned his attention to the people who had gathered and then looked at [Samuel] and told him, “I entered this world to render judgment … to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see – that they are actually blind.”
I enjoy how the Life Application New Testament Commentary understands this, “The blind are those who realize their need for the Savior and humbly come to him for salvation; they will receive sight. But those who think they see are the self-righteous (and self-centered) who think they have all the answers and have no need of the Savior; they are blind because they have rejected (or compromised) the Light of the World.” At this point I will briefly turn to judgment. Jesus did not come into the world to judge it, but instead his coming set a standard for judging mankind, which he will do in the future – at an hour not known to anyone but the Father. The standards that he will use for judging are not found in the Old Testament or in the Epistles, instead they are found throughout the Gospels of Christ, and make no mistake, he will judge.

Now back to blindness.
The statement found in the commentary reminds me of the first petition of the Beatitudes, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” [1] When we realize our need for Christ, we also realize our dependency upon him, and he becomes the Light that shines on our path. When we believe that we are self-sufficient and independent we become blind and the Light of Christ becomes dim and eventually we will stand in darkness. This is the darkness that Christ calls blindness. When we separate ourselves from the Light of Christ we will soon find ourselves in darkness. Without the Light of Christ to guide us, we will be prone to temptation and once trapped by temptation we will eventually surrender to sin and wickedness

Therefore, the Gospels of Christ is the remedy against blindness and when we consume the words of the Gospel and allow ourselves to be governed by them, the Light of Christ shines upon us, and the more we consume the brighter the Light shines. Luther called this growth in Christ sanctification and he wrote, “How does sanctification take place? Sanctification takes place when we occupy ourselves with the Word of God and focus on spiritual exercises.” Therefore, I strongly encourage you to read your Bibles and attend spiritual exercises like worship and works of Christian charity.

THE CONCLUSION

In conclusion, remember that Christ is the bread of life and the light of the world. Through him we have everything we need and we lack nothing. Let us commit ourselves to the Scriptures and spiritual exercise so that we may stand firm in our convictions, so like [Samuel] we can stand firm when confronted by spiritual blindness. Now may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace; and remember Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from the blindness of this world, in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

Written by Dave Pflueger March 30, 2014 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTE: [1] Matthew 5:3