Monday, April 4, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent A (2011)

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 9:3
Theme: In Service of Glory

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God Himself bears the reproach of sin. He accepts the responsibility. Full stop! Christ is the scapegoat in the truest sense of the word. Not that God is the author or architect of sin. Sin has its origins in Satan and wayward human nature. Yet God alone, in the person of Christ undertakes to rescue us from sin, death, and Satan’s power. There is no other escape from the bondage of sin and its consequences. This truth is the core of Christianity.

The situation of this blind man today is a microcosm of humanity. Though the attendant circumstances of your life may be vastly different the spiritual realities are unchanged. You, in your present day context of Broadband, nice cars, advanced medicine, and comfy homes face the same spiritual issues as this blind man who relied on oral communication, travel by foot, ancient remedies, and meager accommodation. The consequences of sin are not limited by the era or context. Sin knows no ancient or modern distinctions. But neither does grace. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”1

We are launched into the story with the pressing question at the forefront of the disciples’ minds. Who sinned? Whose fault was it? Who is to blame? What is the cause of the terrible misfortune this man has been facing? We quickly see the assumption that underlies their question. There must be a direct and discernable cause for this misfortune. But now comes a highly significant response from the Lord, “‘Neither this man nor His parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’”2

Now this is a daring assessment from the Saviour! Yes, it means that Jesus dismisses the idea that the man was guilty of a particular sin. That is important. It’s much more satisfying to human reason to think that the condition was brought on by some wickedness of himself or his parents. It also leaves open the possibility- at least in theory- that the individual can undertake some measure of correction or compensation to right himself with God. But there is a greater implication still. Here Jesus is brave enough to judge that this man had been suffering blindness his entire life for the purpose of this moment. He was waiting until the time this encounter arrived. Who else could have the authority or audacity to make such an assessment? Think of the implication. It means that this man suffered through life in ancient society meeting with great disadvantage because of his blindness to glorify God at this moment. It hardly seems fair. Who determines what is fair and just? And on what basis?

That’s a thorny topic, isn’t it? And is the cause of much angst, conflict, dejection, and even polarization. How should Christians approach this? Our Lutheran Confessions give this guidance, “Troubles are not always penalties for certain past deeds, but works of God, intended for our profit, that the power of God might be made more manifest in our weakness.”3 “As a rule, these troubles are punishment for sin. In the godly they have another and better purpose, that is, to exercise them so that in their temptations they may learn to seek God’s help and to acknowledge the unbelief in their hearts.”4 Are your prayers in the midst of trial tempered with such patience? Do they persevere with such persistence and hope?

Dear friends, take comfort in knowing that when God allows you to suffer trial He intends to exercise and strengthen your faith. He would have our trials lead not to resentment or despair, but to desire for His mercy, to perseverance, and finally comfort. Faith is not exercised by conditions or circumstances that move us on an independent trajectory from God. That is, whenever we are moving in the direction of spiritual self-reliance we are moving away from God. We are not speaking here of growing in our knowledge of the truth and confidence in our witness. These are good things that mark maturity in our faith. We are referring to any and every situation, or circumstance or even ‘spiritual’ pursuit that would dampen our desire for forgiveness or diminish our appreciation of His grace.

What may seem somewhat obvious here is actually a powerful opportunity for the devil to deceive. Sometimes people falsely believe they have grown in their faith when they have gotten past the need to continually and regularly receive forgiveness. But maturing faith moves in the opposite direction. The more clearly sin is identified the greater grace is appreciated. The passion of our devotion follows accordingly.

In their effort to discredit Jesus and His miracle by disgracing this blind man the Jews investigate the parents. His parents respond very carefully. He can speak for himself. John immediately tells us why. “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.”5 In other words, recognition of Jesus as the Messiah resulted in exclusion. The ecclesiastical equivalent today would be excommunication from the congregation. Public, open and unrepentant sin should be addressed for the well-being of the unrepentant sinner and for the good of the worshipping community. It’s a discipline the church rarely practices today and one symptom in the decline of the church’s vitality.

The situation here is actually more serious yet. To be banned from the synagogue was to be also cut-off from all the hopes and blessings of Israel. It involved being treated like Gentile unbelievers. It had far-reaching implications for one’s standing in society. The blind man’s parents would not risk it. There was too much at stake.

Inevitably God must bring us to that time and place when we see what’s at stake. The Lenten season reminds us of the implications of bearing the cross. To be identified with Christ is to be a follower and confessor of His truth. This may seem easy when there is no resistance. But when personal hardship and sacrifice are demanded then our devotion is really tested. It can be no other way because there can be no harmony between the truth of Christ and the falsehood of the world.

That Jesus directs the blind man to the pool of Siloam is no coincidence. It was used in the sacred rites for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Siloam means ‘the One Sent.’ Jesus fully intends to identify Himself as the Sent One, the Messiah. He has been sent to bring cleansing, healing and the water of life. We see here a baptismal connection. Those, who through baptism are born again, now have cleansing and spiritual sight.

In bondage to sin’s power only Christ, the great physician, could initiate our healing. Christ became the victim of the curse of the cross not by coercion, but by the free expression of His love for humanity. His grace far transcends the obligation of pity from a well-resourced benefactor. There is no self-interest at Calvary. His is a redeeming grace that seeks the most unlovable of objects: wicked, disobedient, sinful human beings. His is an unmerited, unbridled compassion.

With the eyes of faith believers see the world differently. St. Paul said earlier, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”6 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”7 No darkness, spiritual blindness, or physical malady can overcome the light of Christ. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday In Lent
3 April, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 13:8 2 John 9:3
3 AP XII 207, 160 4 AP XII 206, 151
5 John 9:22 6 Ephesians 5:8-10
7 John 9:5