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 Text: A 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
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.”  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.
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:  Matthew 5:3