Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 30, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“That the Works of God Might Be Displayed” (John 9:1-39)

            I didn’t know it was against the Law to make mud pies on the Sabbath.  That’s apparently what the Pharisees believed.  They seemed to be upset about the fact that Jesus made some mud and put it on the eyes of a blind man.
But why DID Jesus use mud and tell the man to go wash?  If he wanted to—and at other times he did—he could just say the word, and the man would be healed.  We don’t know for sure why Jesus did what he did in this case.  We can take an educated guess, though, seeing how the Pharisees reacted.
For one thing, Jesus was probably sending a message about the foolishness of man-made traditions and laws that had been added to God’s Word and by which people thought they were gaining God’s favor.  One of those laws was that you weren’t supposed to knead dough on Sabbath.  That would be work, something you weren’t supposed to do on the Sabbath Day.  “NO MUD PIES!!!”  And so Jesus broke that man-made law by kneading some mud together.  Or perhaps the Pharisees thought that making mud was the work of a bricklayer, again something you weren’t supposed to do on the Sabbath.
When he reached down to the dirt, Jesus may also have been pointing us back to the book of Genesis.  In the beginning, God’s creative power was shown as he took some dirt and made a man.  Here, Jesus’ creative power as God was shown as he took some dirt and made a man see.
Even the place where Jesus sent him to wash has significance.  On the last day of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, water from the spring-fed pool of Siloam was taken and poured out at the temple.  And throughout the feast, a huge menorah gave light in the temple courts.  Perhaps Jesus told the man to wash in the pool of Siloam to emphasize that He is the living water who gives light to blind eyes.  Remember how last week we heard Jesus tell the Samaritan woman at the well that he would give her living water.  And here Jesus says in the hearing of this blind man, “I am the light of the world.”
All this was meant to show “That the Works of God Might Be Displayed” in this man’s life through Jesus.  That was the issue at hand for the disciples, when they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  That was the common belief in those days.  Not much different than today, either, is it?  When bad things happen to us, our first questions may go something like this: “Have I done something to deserve this?  Is God punishing me for my sin?”  We might also blame our parents for something that has gone wrong in our life, rather than take personal responsibility and admitting our faults.  Moreover, when tragedy strikes, people often begin to wonder where God is in all of it.
Jesus used this occasion to teach his disciples—and you and me—that our circumstances are not necessarily the direct result of any particular sin.  Regarding the blind man, Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents.”  That’s not to say they were not sinners.  They were.  And we all live in a broken world where bad things happen…like blindness or other diseases.  Or tragedies, like mudslides that bring death and destruction.  But Jesus explains that this man was born blind so “that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  And that’s the way you can look at anything that happens to you.  God can use the circumstances and events of your life and display his works in you.
The works of God were displayed in showing the blind man mercy (1-7, 13-17).  Jesus first showed mercy to the man by explaining his ailment.  You can be sure the blind man heard what Jesus had to say.  The blind often have a keen sense of hearing, so this man probably hung on every word that Jesus said.  Not only that, but Jesus was right there in his presence, talking to the disciples.  Having heard what Jesus said, you can imagine the relief which he felt after years of guilt and resentment.  He probably thought, like everyone else, that he was being punished for something.  That’s why he was blind.  But Jesus offered him hope, when he mercifully declared, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents.
Also, Jesus showed mercy to this man by giving him attention and touch.  This man is representative of all who are overlooked in the world, all the lonely and hurting whom we pass by without giving a second thought, but for whom Christ also died and rose.  Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”  Notice that Jesus says, “we” must work.  You and I share in Christ’s work as we show mercy to others.  He has given us daylight—every day of our life—to work for him…to serve others with his love and mercy.  There will come a day when no one can work…the day of our death.  Our time is limited here.  Therefore, God calls us to take every opportunity to reach out to others with his love and mercy so that the works of God might be displayed.
The works of God were also displayed in leading this man to Jesus (35-38).  But first, our text says, “They had cast him out.”  The Pharisees kicked him out of the synagogue.  This poor man went seemingly out of the frying pan and into the fire…from blindness with its accompanying guilt to excommunication with its accompanying condemnation.  And all this because of his confession that Jesus was a prophet, acknowledging that his healing came from God.
But Jesus never loses sight of those in whom he has taken a personal interest, and so he seeks the man out.  He earnestly desires to draw this man closer to himself, to lead him to a saving faith.  Likewise, Jesus never loses sight of you!  He has taken a personal interest in you, and he earnestly desires to draw you closer to himself.  And isn’t that obvious, considering all that Jesus has done for you…going to the cross for you, washing you in the waters of Holy Baptism, giving you his very own body and blood in Holy Communion?
            Like the blind man, God can work in the midst of your suffering to draw you closer to Jesus.  As we do the work that God has sent us to do, sharing in Christ’s work, we can bring Jesus to others, too, helping them to endure their troubles and tragedies, their illnesses and ailments…even if physical healing does not occur, even if things don’t get any better.  Jesus is still with us and will give us strength to endure…because he gives us his light to SEE in the midst of our darkness.  With the light of Christ, we can see the bigger picture.  We can see that God is working even when absolutely awful events occur.
            Patricia St. John was an English author who spent over 25 years of her life as a missionary nurse and aid worker in the Middle East and Africa.  At one point, she was in Sudan serving war refugees.  They had suffered terribly and had lost everything, yet those among them who were Christians still gave thanks to God.  One night, she stood in a crowded little Sudanese church listening to those uprooted believers singing joyfully.  This was a life-changing moment for her.  “We would have changed their circumstances,” she said, “but we would not have changed them.” She realized that God “does not always lift people out of the situation.  He Himself comes into the situation … He does not pluck them out of the darkness.  He becomes the light in the darkness.”[1]
The works of God were also displayed when spiritual life was worked in the former blind man (38).  You know, a person can have perfect 20/20 vision, but still not see Jesus…not know the true God…not know who Jesus is.  That’s the way it was for the man in our text today.  Jesus had to come and work spiritual life in this man.  He could now see, but his spiritual sight was still imperfect.  He had been a part of the synagogue.  He had heard the promises of the Messiah.  Perhaps he even trusted in those promises.  Now, Jesus graciously reveals himself to this man.
The understanding of this man about Jesus grew from a man he had never seen but only heard, to a man he saw with his eyes and confessed to be a prophet, to a man in whom he trusted, a man whom he worshipped.  The eyes of his heart were opened, and he truly saw Jesus for the first time…not just as a prophet, but as God.  Jesus received the man into a new life, apart from the old ways, apart from man-made laws and traditions, into a life of faith in Him.
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”  That is the terrible judgment that is laid upon those who cling so tenaciously to their own self-righteousness.  For the Pharisees, their hearts were hardened even more.  Even though they could see with their eyes, they were in reality truly blind.  But for the man who was once blind, his heart was opened to faith, he was truly enlightened.  And that is the gift that God gives to all who come to him, acknowledging their own blindness, and receiving true sight to know Jesus as their Savior.
            The faith that God gives assures us that suffering serves a great purpose.  God uses suffering to mold and shape us.  God uses suffering to drive us to his Word and promises.
More important, however, than what our suffering does is what Christ’s suffering has done for us.  Christ’s suffering served a great purpose.  The works of God were displayed at the cross.  The Light of the World endured the darkness of the sin of the world and shined forth when the stone was rolled away from the tomb.
Jesus is the Light of the World for you.  He has put the mud of his creative power on your eyes, so that you can see him for who he is.  You have been washed in the pool of Siloam which we call the font, and the Spirit was poured out upon you so that you might believe and worship Jesus … so you can rightly see how the works of God are displayed in your life.

[1] “He Becomes the Light in the Darkness”, found at

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