MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
April 6, 2014
Fifth Sunday of Lent
9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We*must work the works of him who sent me* while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ 9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ 12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight19and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus* to be the Messiah* would be put out of the synagogue.23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ 28Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’* 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir?* Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord,* I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
During this season of Lent, as we have looked at the stories in the gospel of John, we’ve been focusing on the questions at the heart of each of them. Remember that the gospels are full of questions:
In the gospels, Jesus was asked 183 questions.
He himself asked 307 questions. That’s 490 questions.
Jesus answered 3 questions directly.
That means there are 487 unanswered questions in the gospels. (from the first sermon in our series)
It’s my conviction that our life of faith is full of unanswered questions. But it’s also my conviction that a good question gets us much further than an easy answer.
In John 3, we considered Nicodemus’s question: How? How does one get born again? How can all these things be? How does faith work? How is an explanation question, and one that Jesus doesn’t really answer… instead he offers Nicodemus a relationship.
Then in John 4 we hear the Samaritan woman at the well asking the question, Where? Where do I get the living water? Where is God rightly worshiped—Jerusalem? The mountain? Jacob’s well? Jesus makes clear in his encounter with the woman—who is a foreigner—that the answer is everywhere. There is no place where God is not.
Today’s story is filled of questions. Jesus heals a man of blindness, and the rest of the story is of the Jewish leaders going around like a gang of amateur detectives trying to figure out what happened. The question the man… they question the man’s parents… they question the man again… they’d question Jesus if they could get their hands on him, and don’t worry, that will happen soon enough.
But the question at the heart of this story, at the heart of all these interrogations, is Who?
At the beginning of story, the disciples kick it off with their own “who”: who is at fault, this man or his parents, that he is blind? Jesus responds, It doesn’t work that way. I’m about to do something amazing, but God doesn’t punish people with blindness, or illness, because of something they or their parents did.
Then, after the healing, there’s a lot of confusion around who the man born blind is. The Jewish leaders can’t believe this man who can now see is the same man who used to beg in darkness. So they question him; they question his parents. Who is this man, really?
But the bulk of the story is trying to figure out who Jesus is. Who is this man who cured your blindness? Is he one of us, is he from God? Or is he a sinner? Is he of the tribe of Moses?
Who is Jesus?
How do we answer that question?
* * *
I just got back from the annual conference of NEXT Church, a movement within the Presbyterian Church that seeks to encourage vibrant ministry in our changing 21st century context. It has becoming one of the most energizing gatherings in our denomination. We hear from visionary leaders; we get inspired by creative ministry and cutting-edge ideas… and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Some of these folks have such imagination and energy, it’s easy to feel like you just don’t measure up. As the conference goes on, I began to hear from a few people who began to be downright intimidated by the whole thing: I’m just a regular person whom God has called to ministry. Everyone here seems so together. How could God possibly use me?
On Tuesday of the conference, we closed the day with an evening prayer service. The whole assembly gathered in the balcony, which wrapped all the way around the sanctuary. Draped over the center pews below were long sheets of silky fabric in various shades of blue that fanned out like a river. Near the beginning of the service, we wrote down the deepest fears and concerns of our hearts—whatever brokenness we wanted to give to God. These cards were collected in bowls and read aloud as we each placed lit candles on stone tiles at the mouth of the silken stream. Hundreds of prayers were offered for various people and things, but amidst our diversity were two consistent themes—fear and anxiety. (Source for this paragraph: http://nextchurch.net/peace-like-river-reflection-next-graduating-seminarian )
And let me tell you, these concerns were deep. There were prayers that people would stop feeling inadequate. There were prayers for folks with cancer, or that a loved one would stop drinking. One card had a single stark word on it: Debt.
And I realized—these people with such great energy and creativity—these people who appear to be the emerging leaders of the PCUSA—carry a great deal of hurt and humanity and brokenness.
These are Jesus’ people.
We know who Jesus is by the company he keeps.
That’s the answer to the Who question. We know who Jesus is by the company he keeps. And in scripture, and in life, we see him keeping company, not with people who have all the answers. He keeps company with clueless yet well-intentioned disciples. He keeps company with folks trying to figure it all out who just can’t put all the pieces together but who keep trying anyway. He keeps company with the down and out, the broken and the discouraged. And what a relief—because in our heart of hearts, we are all those people.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’
Thanks be to God.
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©2014 MaryAnn McKibben Dana. These sermon manuscripts are provided here for personal use, and are not to be redistributed or otherwise reproduced without permission of the author.