Hat tip: Especially to Eugene Peterson's The Message translation, which I rely on for the flow and some of my word choices in this sermon. Also, I highly recommended and acknowledge the influence of Paul Louis Metzger's book The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town.
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When I was a student at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena I did an internship at Pasadena Covenant Church. Our internship supervisor, the senior pastor, was a colorful character named John Bray.
John is gone now but he was a brilliant man. After he went to seminary he went on to earn a PhD in history from Stanford University. He was in academia for awhile but gave that up to become a pastor.
He was an outstanding preacher and communicator who had been privileged to lead in the renewal of several older more established churches -- churches which had been plateaued. And he was doing the same in Pasadena. It was an exciting place to be in the early ‘80s.
John’s method of operation was to strategically create messes -- crises, then to step back, and allow the Holy Spirit to bring people together to reshape things. In spite of his brilliant mind and ability to deal with meticulous detail and systems -- to organize and categorize and crystallize -- John excelled in messiness. And God blessed it.
I didn’t really understand what John was doing until a few years later when I read a book by business guru Tom Peters -- “Thriving on Chaos.” Peters argued that organizations don’t really grow well in orderly and well defined environments. You’ve got to turn people loose and allow for -- even encourage -- considerable chaos -- or messiness -- if you want to see signficant change.
John was good at that. Jesus, however, was the master of chaos and messiness. And we see that quite clearly illustrated in John 9.
The blind beggar used to dream of sight. It was perhaps as a child of four years that he first started to realize that there were people who has a sense additional to his. And he began to dream of what it would be like to see more than just shades of light and dark -- to be able to look at a face and to walk without assistance.
It was a dream. But, of course, as time went by the dream came less and less often. And the reality of life as a dusty roadside beggar consumed most of his energy.
Then one day as Jesus walked by with his band of followers, it seemed that he, the blind man had become the subject of conversation. “Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents?”
Jesus responded, “None of the above. You can’t so neatly explain such things. It has more to do with being able to reveal God’s glory. And we better act quickly to do so because darkness is on the way. But while I’m here, I am the light of the world.”
Jesus walked over to the blind beggar, slathered some spittle mud over the man’s eyes and sent him to the pool of Siloam for a bath.
Dream realized. But the fun was only just beginning.
“Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, ‘Why, isn't this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?’" (MSG)
Then came the inquisition. People responded with predictable doubt and confusion. For such healing does not easily fit into conventional categories. You’d think he’d been abducted by aliens -- who did high tech surgery-- and who had then returned him to the road.
The doubters objected -- "It's not the same man at all. It just looks like him. He’s an impostor.”
But the man formerly known as blind, replied -- “Hey, it’s me, I’m the one and same person as the blind guy who would sit by the road to beg.”
Vs. 10 -- “They said, ‘How did your eyes get opened?’
"A man named Jesus made a glob of mud and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' I did what he said. When I washed, I saw."
"So where is he?"
Inquiring minds want to know.
Unsure of what to make of it all they marched the man to the Pharisees.
The Pharisees also used to dream. In their dream everyone was serious about God -- and as people got serious about God then inevitably God’s kingdom would come, the Roman occupiers would be expelled, and Israel would be restored to its former glory. God would be present with his people once again -- and they, the Pharisees, would be his advisory committee.
The Pharisees were the conservatives -- insistent on strict interpretation of the Bible. For, as they understood things, it was only through strict and serious application of the rules that God would act. So they dreamt of rules -- order and structure.
It’s not surprising, then, that the first thing they noticed when the crowd brought the man to the assembly of Pharisaical opinion -- was that this purported healing occurred on the Sabbath -- the seventh day of the week when no one worked. For the commandment says, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don't do any work...” (Exodus 20:8-9 MSG)
And making mud and putting it onto a blind man’s eyes sounded an awful lot like work to them. Everyone knows that under section 8, paragraph 3 of the National Sabbath Code, you can’t kneed or mix anything on the Sabbath -- strictly prohibited it is -- mixing mud is work -- messy work.
Therefore, "It is pretty obvious, that this man Jesus can't be from God,” said some of the Pharisees.
“Others countered, ‘How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?’ There was a split in their ranks.”
You see, not all the Pharisees were on the same page. So they asked the blind man for an opinion. Who is Jesus?
“Isn’t it obvious,” he responded. “Jesus is a prophet.”
That was not the answer that the majority party wanted to hear.
So, they called in his parents -- hoping that they could shed some light on the situation -- so to speak.
His parents, wise in the ways of roiled rabble sought to cover their own tail ends, and said, "We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don't know how he came to see—haven't a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don't you ask him? He's a grown man and can speak for himself."
Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad. It’s always nice to have family on your side.
The Pharisees call the formerly blind man back to the witness stand — and tightening the screws say to him, “Give glory to God and tell the truth. We know this man is a sinner.”
The newly sighted man -- whom I should note has not really had time to celebrate the good thing which has happened to him -- responds.
And I think that this is one of the best lines in the gospel of John. (9:25) -- "I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see."
I’m not the one trained in biblical studies and theology. I don’t have a PhD in this stuff. So don’t ask me to give some complicated dissertation on sin or prophets. All I know is that I was blind but now I can see.
Unsatisfied, they keep pushing and pushing...
"What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
The beggar replied, "I've told you over and over and you haven't listened.” And at that point, exasperated, and with a strong sarcastic wit he goes for the jugular, “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?"
OOOOOH.... nail in the coffin. “Then they cursed him and said, ‘You are his disciple, but WE are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.’”
“‘Why, that’s very strange!’ the man without a seminary education replied. ‘He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t 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 couldn’t 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.”
Well, that was interesting. When he woke up that morning he was blind -- but in good standing with everyone. However, by the end of the day he could see -- but had been ejected from the synagogue -- excommunicated -- because he refused to denounce the man who had healed him.
And you need to realize the severity of excommunication -- and that’s what the term “thrown out of the synagogue” means. The synagogue was the hub of life. And it wasn’t like he could just go across the street to the Lutheran synagogue or the Baptist synagogue. There were not choices. He was banished -- he was shunned.
No more hand-outs. Not much chance of a job -- even though he could finally see and do something productive. It was a mess.
When dreams collide -- life gets messy. When those with dreams of power and control and agendas of their own making -- encounter the dreams of healing, restoration, shalom -- there is a messy collision.
You see, this is really a collision between Jesus and Moses (as he was understood -- or we might better say, misunderstood.) This was a collision between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. And whenever there is collision there is a mess -- messiness and chaos.
Good news for some is disruptive bad news for others. Sight for some reveals the blindness of others.
vs 35 -- ”Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’"
36”The man said, ‘Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.’"
37”Jesus said, ‘You're looking right at him. Don't you recognize my voice?’"
38"’Master, I believe,’ the man said, and worshiped him.
He gets it! No one beside this social outcast seems to capice.
Vs. 39 ”Jesus then said, ‘I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.’"
40”Some Pharisees overheard him and said, ‘Does that mean you're calling us blind?’"
41”Jesus said, ‘If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you're accountable for every fault and failure.’"
When we’re blind we think that sight will make life less messy. But when we see the light -- when we begin to believe -- to truly believe to the point where we are actually trusting God -- we realize that things are just getting messier. Believing is seeing life for how it really is.
You see, the story of the blind beggar is really just a mile marker on the road to the cross -- the place where the mess really hits the fan -- and is splattered in ways unimaginable.
The good news, of course, is that God works through the messiness to restore sight not just to one blind man -- but to the world. “I am the light of the world.”
The light of Christ restores sight -- but in doing so reveals the messiness of life in the world. (Key Point)
Fab and Alisa found something in their shower the other day that was not welcome. A scorpion hiding in the wash cloth.
That got me thinking that it was time to breakout the blacklight flashlight and do a sweep of our house -- even though it is a bit early in the season for that.
So I went through our house on Thursday night. And I didn’t find any scorpions but I did get two beetles. AND I saw a lot of dust -- piles and piles of it along the edges of the rooms. And I saw all the stains in the carpet. These are the messes that you don’t normally see until you’ve got the right light. There are lots of things which floresce but which are not visible normally.
Don’t be startled or confused or discouraged when the special light comes on and you see just how messy things are. For it is because of the mess and through the messiness that Christ is at work.
We’re starting to pick up the pace as we move toward Good Friday and the cross. The poor formerly blind man got excommunicated. Jesus, however, got crucified -- a messy solution to the messiness of the world.
And it is only as we embrace that solution as our own... It is only as we begin to trust Christ, who died for our sinful messy lives, that the transformation of our lives and the messy world around us occurs and things begin to return to the way that God intended them to be. So don’t be afraid of the messiness. It’s just a sign that God is seriously at work -- reshaping things.
As Jesus said -- “I am the light of the world”
And that’s the good news.