Sermon Title “No Longer Blind” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! It is the fourth Sunday of Lent — after this we will have only two more Sundays before Easter. I have a confession to make about this sermon: the title you may have seen in the bulletin or on your screen is not the title I wanted to use, but I had some reservations about what people might think if they saw that title and nothing else, or didn’t tune in long enough to hear the sermon. The title I wanted to use is Who Needs Jesus? I don’t want that to be taken as a snarky rhetorical question, as in: Who needs Jesus? I’d rather sleep in on Sunday morning; or Who needs Jesus? I can be “spiritual” without being religious; or Who needs Jesus? I’m fine just the way I am. What I want to ask you — an actual question which I believe is addressed in John chapter 9–is Who needs Jesus? And just so there’s no confusion, I’m going to tell you the answer: everybody needs Jesus.
It may be helpful to do a quick overview of the gospel of John before we look more closely at chapter 9 and get the whole story of the portion which Anne read for us this morning. If you have your Bibles, you are welcome to follow along if you can keep up. As you are probably aware, scholars have long agreed that John was the last of the four gospels to be written, probably between 80 and 90 years after Jesus’ birth. John includes material which is found in none of the other gospels, and is structured differently than the other gospels — for instance, the parables we get in Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not appear in John. John tells the story of Jesus in more symbolic terms. One of the ways John does this is to set up a series of 7 signs or miracles which Jesus performs; these increase from less miraculous (if I can even use those words together) to completely amazing, and as the power of these miracles increases, so does the resistance to Jesus and his ministry. By the time we get to the last miracle, the Jews have decided they have to kill Jesus to put a stop to it. I’ll go through these quickly:
- Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding in Cana John 2:1-11
- Jesus heals the son of a royal official John 4:46-54
- Jesus heals a paralytic at the pool of Beth Zada John 5:1-9
- Jesus feeds more than 5,000 people with 5 loaves and two fish John 6:1-14
- Jesus walks on water John 6:15-25
- Jesus heals a man born blind John 9:1-41
- John 11:1-46 we’re going to talk about this next week; it involves a guy named Lazarus
These miracles are an indication of Jesus’ power and his connection to his Father, but another way to look at them is an indication of who needs Jesus: some of those specific everybodys: Who needs Jesus? People who need to extend hospitality. Who needs Jesus? People whose families are in trouble. Who needs Jesus? People who wait for healing. Who needs Jesus? People who are hungry. Who needs Jesus? People who need to be rescued. Who needs Jesus? People who cannot see.
This last one brings us to John 9. There’s a lot going on here, so I will give you an overview of the account, which takes up the whole chapter. It is helpful to know that in Jesus’ culture, a disability or physical imperfection you were born with, was considered punishment for some kind of sin. Possibly not your sin, since newborns don’t have much opportunity to get into trouble, but maybe your parents. Your lack of ability was somebody’s fault. Ypu may be able to imagine the burden that this spiritual scorn would add to being physically disabled. This is why, when the disciples first see this man who has been blind from birth, they ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” It’s a pretty cruel question. One this man has heard his entire life. Jesus spits in the dirt and makes mud with his saliva and puts it on the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man is still blind — he doesn’t see Jesus, and he may not have known where that mud came from. In any case, he goes and washes in the pool, and comes back able to see. The neighbors can’t believe it — some of them are not even sure that it’s the same guy, even though this formerly blind man keeps telling them, Yes, I’m the same person. They ask him who healed him and where that person is now, and the man says, I don’t know.
The man gets hauled up before the Pharisees who ask Who healed you? How did he do it? He must be a sinner, because he worked on the Sabbath. The man replies; here’s what I know: I was blind and now I can see. The Pharisees pull in the man’s parents and ask, Is this your son? What’s going on here? And the parents, who know these are not sympathetic questions say, Ask him — he’s an adult. So the Pharisee bring the man back and say, We know this man is a sinner. Who is he and what did he do to you? And the man answers I don’t whether or not he is a sinner. What I know is that I was blind and now I can see. Why do you keep asking about him? Do you want to become his disciples too? Because if he was not of God, he could not have done this. And the Pharisees tell the man “How dare you presume to teach us — you were born in sin!” And they drive him out of the synagogue.
This is the lead-up to what Anne read from verses 35-41, and it illustrates the level of resistance and hostility that this formerly blind man experienced from the Pharisees. Who needs Jesus? People who cannot see. But of course, the author of John, through the words of Jesus, is challenging our perception of who can see. The man who everyone treated like a sinner needs Jesus for sure. But by the end of the story, he sees Jesus more clearly than the religious leaders who will not acknowledge their own lack of vision. They are so entrenched in their ideas of sin and the law that they cannot see the Messiah who is standing in front of them. The formerly blind man tells Jesus, “Lord, I believe” while the Pharisees bristle and reply “Surely we’re not blind.”
Everybody needs Jesus. This ought to be terrible news, because it means that we’re broken and hungry and lost. But the good news is the other side of the statement, which is God loves everybody. Everybody needs Jesus is the confession that we have all sinned and fallen short and failed to see clearly. If we have everything figured out and we have followed all the rules and don’t need to see from a different perspective, we don’t need Jesus. Jesus is for people who are hungry and broken and lost. God loves everyone, but only the people who confess that they need Jesus experience what it is to be forgiven.
One of the heartening things which has happened since I let you know that I was going to be talking about race and faith during this season of Lent is that some of you have shared stories about relationships with people of color, or instances of kindness and compassion across racial differences. These are glimpses of hope and of what the world could look like, and I believe they are stories to be celebrated and shared. I’m sure you have stories which I haven’t heard; I’d love to hear more. However, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that there is still work to be done. The fact that you are good people and there are other good people out there that there doesn’t keep us from having a continuing problem with racial equality. I have not, and I never will say that you would do anything hurtful or hateful. The problems of race are much more complicated than individual actions. We are part of a system that none of us created and will be very difficult to und0. But I am 100% sure that if we do not think there is a problem with race in America, we will not do anything to address it.
For Mission and Ministry Board meetings in Elgin last weekend, we were given a book, Reorganized Religion. We spent two hours with the author, Bob Smietana, who is an award-winning religion writer. The book is not specifically about race, but looks at some of the challenges facing Christianity in this decade. Here is one of the statistics which he cited which I found relevant. When asked if this country has a race problem, 87% of practicing black Christians said Yes, there is a problem; 70% of practicing white Christians said No, there isn’t a problem. I don’t know how it goes down in your household, but where I live, if I say there’s a problem and my husband Tim says there’s not a problem — there’s a problem. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m right and he’s wrong, although that’s often the case . . . but it does mean we need to figure out why we have a different idea about what’s going on before it turns into something ugly.I know these discussions have been difficult for some of you; they are difficult for me, too. I am deeply grateful to those of you who have stayed with these discussions about race because of your commitment to this body of Christ, even though you don’t think we should be talking about this subject. I know you may be unhappy or angry with me. I believe in the saying that a pastor’s job is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, but would not cause you pain if I didn’t think this was important, and I wasn’t willing to walk alongside you on this journey. I am committed to this discussion because I believe in you and your ability to see from someone else’s perspective. It is a crucial skill for anyone to develop. I am committed to this discussion because I thinks it’s important to confess that everybody needs Jesus, and I will be the first to confess that for myself. Amen