Sunday, March 22, 2020

If You Know Just One Thing


Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 9th chapter of John, beginning with the 1st verse, “The man born blind.”




As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 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” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (John 9:1-41)

In the light of God, all is made clear. We see how much God loves us and how much God loves all people. We see Christ, the Light of the World, in Scripture and in our lives; and although we once were blind, now we see!


“If You Know Just One Thing”

The Gospel of John is a beautiful book. Its 21 chapters are organized a little differently than the others. He tends to group themes together in order to that the reader can see the theological connections between events, and places, and the teachings of Christ. I have to admit that for as much as I enjoy John, I had never spent much time with the passage (the whole of chapter 9) that we have today. And I don’t know why!

Obviously, something very important is going on here. Not that John divided up his Gospel into chapters when he wrote it (scholars did that much later). Still, there is something to be said for the fact that in a book of 21 chapters, which summarizes the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ, a WHOLE chapter is devoted to this one event.

It is also just a delight to read. When you are aware of the constant struggle that Jesus had with the Pharisees in his earthly ministry and Jesus’ mission and purpose for coming into the world, this account really comes alive. And this account is also just full of life, and humor, challenge, all the while being very poignant. So I thought we might do something a little different today. Seeing as we have a lot of verses to cover, I think that we’ll just go over these verses and enjoy them together.

As we start our reading, understand that Jesus has just been confronted by the Pharisees (the spiritual leaders and law, if they did actually listen to the words, they would have understood that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of God. This did not go over well as we read in the last verse of Chapter 8, “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

So we start in with our verses, “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” This question gives us a lot of insight into the religious thinking of the day. It was a pretty basic premise. If you are good, then good things will happen to you. If you are bad, watch out. So if that is true, then the reverse must also be, right? If I see that something good happens to you, I can conclude that you are doing well with your faith and life. And if I see something bad happen to you, you must be hiding something or falling down in your faith in some major way.

This way of thinking isn’t exactly confined to Jesus’ day, is it? All the way back to the book of Job, we see how his friends are convinced he had done SOMETHING to deserve all the pain and misery heaped upon him. If you turn on your TV to a religious channel, you won’t have to look too hard to see some blowhard excitedly proclaiming that if you only give money to him, God will unleash a flood of cash upon you!

In some ways, it would be great if it were so simple! But you know, many of you better than me, it just doesn’t work that way. I think of so many people, faithful, God-fearing, forgiven and redeemed sinners, who have suffered so much—losing loved ones, facing unemployment, terrible diseases, even the coronavirus that’s going around today. These aren’t the direct result of some sin, but indeed the sinful and fallen condition of life in this world in which we live. There aren’t simple answers! The Teacher of Ecclesiastes knows this well, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecc. 9:11).

So Jesus does not entertain the question in the way the disciples would expect. “Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then Jesus immediately sets about displaying the work of The Light of the World in this man. “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’ (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

With simple means (spit, dirt, water from a pool), Jesus sent him away to wash and came back seeing! This is more than a medical miracle. This was a life transformation like we can’t imagine. Soon after he was born, this man’s parents (whom we will meet in just a bit) would have been so heartbroken to learn that their son would be disabled. There were no therapists, or seeing-eye dog programs, or government programs available to help him. He would be destined to be a beggar, to seek out a subsistence living for the remainder of his life. On top of all this, instead of first being compassionate, people would question what he or his parents had done to deserve this terrible fate. Can you imagine!

The next section made me laugh when I picture it being played out. “His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

Can’t you see it! People arguing back and forth. “This is HIM!” “No way, it couldn’t be!” the whole time he is standing, they saying, “HEY, I’m right HERE, it’s me, I promise!” They ask him how it could be, and he just says what happened: “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” ‘Where is this man?’ they asked him. ‘I don’t know’ he said.”

Well, this obviously wasn’t a good enough answer for them, so they call in the “big guns.”

“They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

And here we begin to see one of the main points of this account. For as blind as this guy was who born not able to see, we begin to see how much worse it is to be spiritually blinded. And this is precisely how we are to see these Pharisees. What is their primary concern upon hearing that this guy was miraculously healed? Not “wow, that is so wonderful!” or “tell me what it’s like to see for the first time!” Or, “please tell me more about this man who did this!” No, for many of them, their main concern is, “you mean to tell me this guy did this on the SABBATH DAY when no one is supposed to WORK! How dare he!” First off, Jesus wouldn’t break the Commandment, what he did violate were the rules about the Sabbath that the PHARISEES had made, not the laws God made. Secondly, aren’t we missing the point just a bit here?

So finally they ask the man what he thinks. And quite plainly, the man, not knowing completely yet who Jesus is, acknowledges at least that he must be from God! Again, such plain truth will not be tolerated. So the Pharisees work another angle. Let’s talk to his parents! This was tricky as John tells us, “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.” Understand that this didn’t just mean they weren’t allowed in the building or the worship service, but that their society would shun them. Terrifying thought! So they only relate the facts, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

When are these Pharisees going to get the point? Just leave it alone, or better yet, be happy for the guy and try to find out more about this Jesus guy. But Jesus threatens their assumptions, and their notions about themselves and their self-righteousness, and self-made rules, and their status in society. Jesus tends to do this to all of us, you know! But these Pharisees are so blinded by all that they have made, and found comfort in, that even the simple truth won’t convince them.

And in the subsequent interaction (which made me laugh for the second time), we see the pure folly of refusing to see the truth. They call this formerly blind man in AGAIN. And they lean into him pretty hard with a leading statement, “Give glory to God by telling the truth. We know this man is a sinner.” Thinking with their status, they once again focus on getting this man to condemn Jesus (this is their primary concern; once again, the healing isn’t even on their minds!).

This poor man, for all that he lacks, and all the knowledge he doesn’t have, is armed with the truth. And with this truth, he once again utterly disappoints his inquisitors, “He answered, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” You might not be concerned with my healing, but I sure am! Try arguing with my eyes! The frustration on behalf of the Pharisees begins to rise: “They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

They have no idea what they are getting into. This quiet, lowly, beggar, is silent no more! “He answered them, ‘I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’” Was he being serious or poking and prodding them, either way, Oh, boy, here we go! “Then they hurled insults at him and said, ‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’” They actually think calling this guy a follower of Christ is an insult when it’s the nicest thing they could ever say of the man. They also show how ignorant they are of what Moses actually preached, taught, and proclaimed—that the Messiah was coming!

The Pharisees, in their ignorance, say, “WE KNOW.” And this man, in all his supposed ignorance, calls them to the carpet: “The man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’”

Having nothing to answer back, the Pharisees take us all the way back to the beginning of the story. They attack this man as having suffered because he was sinful. “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

Think about this. The religious leaders throw this man out. This man who had nothing. Who had just experienced a miracle. They throw him out because he won’t play their game. After all, he won’t just shut up and go along, because he won’t sacrifice what he knows to be true in order to keep up their illusion of righteousness. And here we get to see such a drastic contrast. Where the Pharisees throw this guy out, the Savior seeks him out.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

Jesus proclaims the truth of who he is with the same lips that healed this man. And this man who had nothing finds that this Jesus has come to give him more than physical sight. He has come to remove the blinders in his soul to all that God offers him. All that is truly good and eternal and perfect and holy. And this man sees this truth and does the only appropriate thing. He worships his God.

The Pharisees reject this call, preferring the comfort of their blinders, the false security of their man-made laws, their status, and vast knowledge of the Scriptures (even while being ignorant of their main point). Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

So much we could talk about. But there are a couple of points we need to take with us today. First off, let’s understand who is truly blessed in this story. It isn’t the people who are so self-reliant and self-sufficient and self-righteous. The one who is blessed is the one who has no hope on his own, the beggar who in no way can earn anything for himself, the one who has to rely entirely upon the mercy of God—not only to see him, to recognize him but to heal him.

This is our case, as well. We suffer something worse than some kind of physical ailment. The Apostle Paul accurately describes our condition as one of darkness, of being “Dead in our trespasses and sins.” Dead, nothing to offer, incapable of making any kind of move toward God, or even accepting his mercy and grace. And yet, he saw us, and on the cross, he healed us of our sin, he took what was utterly broken in us, and made us whole by taking our sins from us and paying for them in whole.

What we are left with is a simple truth. A beautiful truth of forgiveness and new life in Christ’s death and resurrection. And for all that, the world around us claims to know. We claim to know one thing and one thing only. As Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 2:1-2) “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Or, as the beggar said,
“One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Let us pray: Lord of life, we surely are a stubborn people. We wail and whine about the darkness that seems to claim our lives, yet we persist in creating that darkness to cover our mistakes and our misdeeds. You are merciful and will pardon and heal us. But we are afraid because we cannot forgive ourselves for our own transgressions. Help us let go of the need to continually hide and punish ourselves. Free us from the angry spirit that dwells so deeply in us and in our land. Give us courage and confidence to be people of love, hope and peace; for we ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.


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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Sermon contributed by Rev. Matt Hoffmann.
In a world where so many people know so much, its good to be reminded of what is most important to know. This is summarized in John 9 by the words of the beggar who was healed:  “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.”

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