This Lenten season, we have been talking about our sense of identity. We have been reminded that we are children of God, which means that we are so greatly loved by God. Knowing we are loved by God, frees us to live our lives with grace and compassion. This love can even help us stand strong when the fears of life seek to overtake us, when fear seeks to rob us of our identity. We are going to see how this plays out as we take a closer look at the story of the man born blind. I will begin reading in the ninth chapter of John’s gospel. Since the reading is rather lengthy, I am only going to read a portion of it to start, and then I will weave the rest of the reading into the body of my sermon. Beginning at the first verse, listen now for the Word of God...
The disciples were afraid. We can tell by the question that they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Now, I realize that this doesn’t sound like a question of fear, but I can tell you that they were afraid. I know because something similar happened on our street several years ago. We learned that a boy on our street had been diagnosed with leukemia. As you can imagine, this hit as all pretty hard; though, what we are feeling was only a drop in the bucket compared to his family. Part of what made this so hard for all of us was knowing that this was a good kid. He was smart and kind and on top of that he came from a good family. So, deep down fear began to well up. Questions that we would never ask out loud, began to come to mind. If this could happen to him, who’s to say it couldn’t happen to our child.” We want to protect ourselves from that possibility. So, we want to find someone to blame. “Who sinned, this boy or his parents that he has leukemia?” It is the kind of question that we ask routinely when bad things happen to people. It is a question that rises up out of fear. And, when that fear rises up, then we begin to lose a little bit of who we are. Just look at how the disciples reacted when they saw the man born blind.
At this point in the story, the disciples have been with Jesus for quite some time. They have witnessed other miracles and healings that Jesus performed. Yet, what did the disciples do when they saw the man born blind? Did they reach out with compassion and empathy asking Jesus to heal the blind man, which would have been in keeping with their identity as disciples of Jesus? No, they wanted to know who sinned. They wanted to figure out who to blame so that they could protect themselves. Fear had risen up within them and it robbed them of their identity. Of course, they weren’t the only ones who were afraid. Let us listen to some more of the story, continuing at verse 13... The blind man’s parents were afraid. We know this because when they found out that their son had been healed, they didn’t rejoice, or praise God, or give thanks. Instead, they turned their backs on him. They were afraid. Their son had been healed by Jesus and that was a problem because the Pharisees had made a rule that anyone who acknowledged Jesus, would be thrown out of the synagogue. This meant that they would be outcasts within the community. No more worship, and possibly no more job. They would be shunned by people who were once their friends. They would have to move, go to another community and hope to start over. Their life in this community would be over. So, when the parents of this blind man were brought before the Pharisees to explain what had happened to their son. They allowed fear to take hold of them. “Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” Like a scrap of meat tossed in front of hungry dogs, the parents tossed their son in front of the Pharisees. They were afraid of what they might lose. Yet, what they did not realize was that because of fear, they lost hold of their identity as this man’s parents. Of course, they weren’t the only ones who were afraid. Let us listen to some more of the story, continuing at verse 24... The Pharisees were certainly afraid. They were afraid of Jesus. Jesus was doing things that were new and somewhat unexpected, like extending the grace of God to Gentiles. In keeping with his identity as the Son of God, Jesus was loving the people, healing the people, and redeeming the people, all the people. As I said, this was new, but not unforseen. After all, as the gospels writers have reminded us frequently that everything Jesus did had been foretold by God through the Old Testament writers. The problem was that the Pharisees weren’t reading those passages; and so, Jesus’ actions didn’t fit into their understanding of who God was and what God was doing in the world. They didn’t see eye to eye with Jesus, and because of that, it meant that one of them had to be right and one of them had to be wrong. If Jesus was right, then it meant that the Pharisees were wrong. That is why the Pharisees were afraid. They didn’t want to be wrong about what God was doing. So, they had to get rid of Jesus. First, they tried to discredit Jesus. When they questioned the man after he was healed, the Pharisees claimed that Jesus was a sinner, that he could not be from God. When that didn’t work, they tried to discredit the healed man himself. “You are sinner and have been from birth.” Then they threw the man out of the Synagogue. Fear robbed the Pharisees of compassion and grace, blinded them to what God was doing in the world through Jesus. Fear robbed the Pharisees of their identity as those who walk in the ways of God. So much fear in this story. Yet, there was one who was not afraid. Let us listen to the rest of the story, continuing at verse 35... The blind man was not afraid. Why? Because, he was given the opportunity to see, and I don’t just mean in the physical sense. He was given an opportunity to see who he really was. He was able to see himself as a child, as one who was loved by God. As he discovered that he was truly loved by God, he also discovered peace, not fear. Notice that when questioned, the man declared that Jesus was a prophet. When further pressed, he stuck to his story that Jesus was the one who opened his eyes. At the end of the story, when the man finally understands who Jesus is, he never lets go of his identity. “Lord, I believe,” said the man, and then he worshiped Jesus. He stepped into his identity and there was no fear. The Pharisees and the parents on the other hand, they turned their back on who they were because they embraced their fears. Fear seeks to rob us of our identity, cause us to act in a way that is not in keeping with who we are as children of God, as ones who are deeply loved by God. When fear rises up within us, things like compassion, grace, and empathy gets set aside. It is during these times that we are invited to remember what the Apostle John teaches us in one of his epistles. He wrote, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” It is that perfect love of God by which God has called us to be his own, given to us our identity as his daughters and sons. May this season of Lent be a continual opportunity to embrace God’s perfect love and so continue to live into our identity.
Pastor Jim's past sermons:
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.
Ash Wednesday - February 18, 2015
Week 2 - February 25, 2015